Due to inclement weather, we had to reschedule our School Market.  The School Market will be held at Greensville Elementary on Tuesday, September 25, 2018 starting at 4:30.  Free food items will be first come, first serve.  Tia Powell with the Virginia Cooperative Extension will be on hand showcasing food demonstrations and the Virginia Health Department will be there with free blood pressure checks!  We hope to see many Greensville Elementary parents and guardians for a fun family event! 

 

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Alexandra Sosik

A New Generation Takes the Forefront in Gun Control Debate

(Editor's Note: This is part three of a four part series by the Student Journalists of theVCU Capital News Service. Alexandra Sosik has prepared a timeline of school shootings that is available here.)

By Alexandra Sosik and Fadel Allassan, Capital News Service

For the second time in as many months, thousands of students throughout the country united in a national school walkout last week, demanding government action on gun control with their piercing cry of “never again.”

The walkout marked 19 years since Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris opened fire in Columbine High School in Colorado, murdering 12 fellow students and a teacher. In the aftermath of that bloodbath, President Bill Clinton urged Congress to pass gun control laws. But nothing happened then – or after the mass shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007, Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016 or Las Vegas last fall.

But after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day, the political winds seemed to have shifted in favor of gun control. What made the difference? Generation Z – roughly defined as those born in the mid-1990s through the early 2000s.

On March 24, 17-year-old Harry Kelso stood atop a van with a megaphone in one hand and a piece of paper in the other. He looked at the crowd of some 5,000 gun control advocates gathered before him at the Richmond March for Our Lives.

“I pray for the school year without the drills and the hide-and-lock exercises we’ve experienced since elementary school that remind us of the ever-present danger we face,” Kelso, a senior at Hermitage High School in Henrico, told the crowd. “I pray for the day I don’t have to pray about this anymore.”

Cameron Kasky – the 17-year-old firebrand and Marjory Stoneman Douglas student who made a name challenging Florida Sen. Marco Rubio during a CNN town hall – echoed a similar message at the main rally happening simultaneously in Washington, D.C. More than 800,000 people attended that demonstration.

“My generation, having spent our entire lives seeing mass shooting after mass shooting, has learned our voices are powerful and our votes matter,” Kasky said. “We must educate ourselves and start having conversations that keep our country moving forward. And we will. We hereby promise to fix the broken system we’ve been forced into and create a better world for the generations to come.”

Kelso and Kasky, in Richmond and D.C., respectively, were two of the many voices participating in the March for Our Lives – a protest sparked by the shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14. The protest, like a school walkout staged 10 days earlier, was organized primarily by high school-age youths.

It all started Feb. 16, two days after the shooting in Parkland, when the hashtag #NeverAgain began trending on Twitter. That became the impetus for a rally that was originally planned for Washington but then spread to cities and towns across the nation and world.

The movement, inspired by tragedy and fueled by anger, has used social media to galvanize members of Generation Z. Among other tactics, they have confronted businesses and excoriated political leaders who accept financial donations from the National Rifle Association.

The students have had some success. Just weeks after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, Florida enacted a gun-control law that bans rapid-fire “bump stocks” and raises the minimum age for buying a firearm from 18 to 21. Although Virginia did not follow suit, Democratic legislators have formed a committee to consider ways to stop gun violence, and Republican lawmakers appointed a panel to bolster school safety.

It’s not unusual to see Kasky or other survivors of the Parkland shooting such as David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez on cable news promoting their cause nationally. In Richmond, students such as Kelso and Armstrong High School freshman Corey Stuckey lead the charge.

The recent activity among young people surrounding gun control has been a long time coming.

Since 1982, there have been 98 shootings in the U.S. in which three or more people were killed. Sixteen of those incidents happened at schools. Of all mass shootings, Marjory Stoneman Douglas had the seventh-highest number of fatalities; Sandy Hook ranked fourth; and Virginia Tech, where 32 people were killed in 2007, was third.

On Dec. 14, 2012, 20 children and six staff members were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. In response, parents created the Sandy Hook Promise to “prevent gun-related deaths due to crime, suicide and accidental discharge so that no other parent experiences the senseless, horrific loss of their child.”

But the Sandy Hook tragedy did not prompt governmental action on gun control. After the Columbine massacre in 1999, Larry Sabato, founder and director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, explained why such incidents don’t necessarily result in new laws.

“The Columbine shootings have energized the gun-control debate, and moreover, they have given the emotional edge to the gun-control advocates,” Sabato told the Denver Post. “However, an edge in a debate is not an edge in Congress or the state legislatures.”

Today’s generation of students advocating gun control faces a similar test, and questions remain about whether they can impact the 2018 midterm election.

“One of the most difficult times for a movement is after the initial burst of energy when grinding work needs to be done,” said Derek Sweetman of the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. “The movement will not end on Election Day, but I do expect many students in the movement will view the results as a measure of their influence, and therefore will work toward that date.”

The Sandy Hook survivors were too young to understand the magnitude of their tragedy, much less utilize technology to express their emotions. The Columbine survivors lived in a pre-digital age. The students leading the #NeverAgain movement, Sweetman said, are in the right place at the right time.

“Our political environment has destabilized some established political truths, and that has left more room for real action than we saw after Sandy Hook,” Sweetman said. “The students are taking advantage of that.”

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said the students’ efforts have already been more successful than previous attempts to influence gun policies. For example, Kaine noted, Walmart agreed to stop selling firearms to people under 21; Kroger decided to stop selling guns altogether in its Fred Meyer stores; and Dick’s Sporting Goods announced it would stop selling assault-style rifles.

Kaine, a Democrat, also credited activity in Congress to young activists. A spending bill passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in March lifted a decades-long ban that prevented the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from conducting research on the causes of gun violence. In addition, the bill prods federal agencies to upload records into the background-check system for gun purchases.

“I had grown somewhat despondent in my efforts with the General Assembly and Congress. But then I saw the students of this country ... standing up and saying to adults, ‘What matters more – our safety or political contributions?’” Kaine told students at the March rally in Richmond. “Now I have more hope because of you.”

Scott Barlow, a member of the Richmond School Board, said he has been inspired by the students’ grassroots activism.

“Students haven’t had the opportunity to lend their voice in this debate. Now they’re bringing the perspective of people who are most impacted by school shootings, and the most impacted by gun violence in our city,” Barlow said about the rally. “It was the first time in a long time I felt optimistic about our ability to legislate gun safety.”

From Doughnuts to Dancing, ‘The Bachelorette’ Films in RVA Hot Spots

A group of men participate in a group date at the Capitol where they debated why each of them would make the best partner for Becca. April/8 (Credit: Reality Steve)

 

By Alexandra Sosik, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Bachelorette is in town and looking for love – and Richmonders love to look for her.

Fans of “The Bachelorette” have been in a frenzy since photos of the hit ABC reality show filming in Richmond surfaced on social media over the weekend.

Rebecca “Becca” Kufrin, the show’s current love interest, was spotted filming a one-on-one date at Sugar Shack Donuts on Lombardy Street on Saturday. The shop posted that it would be closed to the public from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“She seems super down-to-earth and the kind of person that would live in RVA in real life,” said Peyton Hannon, 23, who attended a taping of the ABC reality show on Monday night at the Carpenter Theatre in the Dominion Energy Center.

Hannon said she and more than 1,000 other fans were told to arrive at the theater at 7:30 p.m., but Kufrin and contestant Leandro Dottavio arrived closer to midnight. The pair danced on a stage surrounded by fans as they were serenaded by Australian country music singer Morgan Evans.

A Twitter account by the name of “TheBachelorTV” invited Virginia “Bachelorette” fans to participate in the show’s taping with a tweet on Thursday: “Virginia #bachelornation it’s your turn! Come on a date with Becca and her men this Sunday 4/8!! Email BachelorRSVP@gmail.com now to save your spot #thebachelorette.”

Kufrin, 28, is originally from Minnesota. She was announced as the next bachelorette after unedited footage was televised showing bachelor Arie Luyendyk Jr. breaking up with her to pursue a relationship with runner-up Lauren Burnham.

Reality Steve, a “Bachelor” blogger, officially tipped off fans that the cast and crew had arrived when he tweetedphotos of Kufrin and Chris Harrison, host of “The Bachelorette,” filming at the Quirk Hotel on Saturday.

Kufrin was also spotted by fans several times on a private trolley ride around Richmond, making stops at the Veil Brewing Co. and the Edgar Allen Poe Museum.

On Sunday, a group date was filmed at the Capitol, where a banner displayed “Beccalection 2018.”

“The group date was essentially an election debate,” said “Bachelorette” fan and VCU nursing student Sarah Daniel.

Daniel said Harrison, Becca and men dressed as Abraham Lincoln and George Washington asked the contestants questions to decide who would be the best partner for Becca.

Harrison has been spotted by many fans trying to guess where he might pop up next.

Melissa Hipolit, a reporter for CBS 6 News (WTVR), said she and her friends decided to eat dinner at Graffiato, an Italian restaurant next to the Quirk Hotel, hoping to catch a glimpse of the action. They never thought Harrison would walk through the doors.

“We never expected to be sitting down to eat and have him literally sitting behind us,” Hipolit said.

Sherri Zhang, who was with Hipolit, said she was surprised when Harrison initiated a conversation.

“He saw my friend taking a pic of him, and when he walked by our table to be seated, he actually talked to us first,” Zhang said.

Hipolit said Harrison asked them how the food was and even took an interest in their jobs. She said Harrison told her he watches the local news wherever he travels. “I told him I was a local news reporter, and then one of my promos came on the television and I pointed to it.”

Season 14 of “The Bachelorette” premieres on May 28 on ABC. The Richmond episode is expected to air in July.

Huge Crowd Fills D.C. in ‘March For Our Lives’

By Adam Hamza and Alexandra Sosik, Capital News Service

WASHINGTON — Hundreds of thousands of people from around the country rallied in the nation’s capital Saturday to send a single message to lawmakers: Enough is enough.

David Hogg, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior and event organizer, said it’s time to remove politicians supported by the National Rifle Association because “this isn’t cutting it.”

“To those politicians supported by the NRA, that allow the continued slaughter of our children and our future, I say: get your resumes ready,” Hogg said.

The demonstration was the work of Hogg and fellow students at the Parkland, Florida, high school where a gunman killed 14 students and three staff members on Valentine’s Day. Saturday’s March for Our Lives — and more than 800 sister marches around the world — was a response to that massacre.

Georgia native Adam Marx, 27, said he was most impressed by how the students have risen up in this movement.

“These students are leaders,” Marx said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re 16, 17 or 27 … age is a number. [Having a] mission, passion or vision for what we want to have for people living here, that’s not restricted to a number. It’s that simple.”

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School sophomores Jorgie Garrido and Anna Bayuk were among many of their fellow students at the nation’s capital. They described the atmosphere in one word — unity.

“To see all the people that came out, the students, and especially the non-students, it’s really reassuring,” Garrido said. “It provides a sense of unity where you can see how many people are standing with you, how many people are supporting you, and how many other people are also demanding change in this country. “

Garrido knew Helena Ramsay, 17, and Carmen Schentrup, 16, and Bayuk knew Jaime Guttenburg, 14, who were killed in last month’s shooting.

“I know that my friends, if they had survived and other children had died, they would be here too,” Garrido said. “They would be fighting for the same things we are. To know that we’re trying to guarantee that no other child ends up like they did, shot dead in a classroom, I think that that’s the best way to pay respect to them.”

Bayuk said she and her classmates will be transitioning back into their routines after they travel home, but they will keep advocating for stricter gun laws.

“We’re going to be moving on and trying to get back to everyday life, but there’s a new normal, and we can’t just sink back into complacency and sink back into being quiet,” she said.

In Walkout Over Guns, Richmond-area Students Say ‘Enough’

Photos of victims from the Parkland massacre were placed in remembrance around a rock at Jamestown High School in Williamsburg. (Photo by Amelia Heymann, Virginia Gazette)

By Sarah Danial and Alexandra Sosik, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – One month after the massacre that killed 17 students and staff at a Florida high school, Richmond-area students joined their peers across the country and walked out of their schools at 10 a.m. Wednesday to protest gun violence.

The international protest was promoted by EMPOWER, the youth branch of the Women’s March. Students around the world participated in #NationalWalkoutDay by leaving their classes for 17 minutes to honor the 17 lives lost when Nikolas Cruz opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14.

“We’re taught from Day One to stand up for ourselves. That’s what we’re doing,” Maxwell Nardi, a senior at Douglas. S. Freeman High School in Henrico County, wrote in an essay published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “We’re walking out of school to say we’ve had enough. We’re walking out for our lives.”

More than 20 Richmond-area schools participated in the walkout. At Freeman High School, students gathered on the baseball field with signs stating, “Enough is Enough.”

National Walkout Day

Karen Allen, a mother of three Freeman High School graduates, stood outside the high school holding a sign that read, “In solidarity with the students!” Allen, who has grandchildren in grades ranging from kindergarten to middle school, said she and her children worry about their safety.

“People have stopped listening to adults,” Allen said. “Maybe if the kids come out and say what they think – they’re the ones in danger right now, and they’re having an impact on this nation right now.”

The nation will have another chance to echo their message on March 24 in Washington D.C. at the March for Our Lives, organized by Parkland survivors. So far, about 740 marches have been registered worldwide.

The Richmond March for Our Lives will begin at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, 1000 Mosby St., and go across the MLK bridge to the state Capitol grounds before ending at the Bell Tower.

Virginia Honors MLK with Community Conversations

 

By Alexandra Sosik, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — The state’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission will commemorate the 50thanniversary of its namesake’s assassination through 12 “Community Conversations” beginning in March, each one at a location the Rev. King visited in Virginia.

At these conversations, community leaders, religious leaders, historians, educators and residents will join members of the commission in reviewing King’s legacy and his time spent in the commonwealth. According to spokesperson Lilly Jones, the conversations will reflect on King’s vision of a “Beloved Community” in each location today and ponder the question he penned in his 1967 book, “Where do we go from here?”

The Perkins Living and Learning Center at Virginia Union University in Richmond will host the first conversation from 6-8 p.m on March 1. Sen. Jennifer McClellan, who chairs the commission, will moderate the panel discussion.

The panel will include Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond; VUU Vice President Corey Walker; VUU graduate student Jamar Boyd II; the Rev. Jim Somerville of First Baptist Church in Richmond; the Rev. Janie Walker of Richmond Hill; and Benjamin Ragsdale, a Richmond resident who met King twice while working in civil rights and anti-war movements.

The roundtable discussions are part of the commission’s larger project, titled “King in Virginia.” In that project, historians, researchers and community members will gather and present information on King’s dozens of visits to Virginia.

King, who received the Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent campaign against racism, spent lengthy time in Richmond, often speaking at VUU. In 1960, he led a march on the Virginia State Capitol where he pushed for the reopening of public schools that had closed due to resistance of desegregation.

The “King in Virginia” project will create a public online archive bookmarking the activist’s time spent in Virginia.

Other Community Conversations will be held:

●      At the University of Virginia’s Old Cabell Hall on March 13

●      At First Baptist Church in Farmville on April 24

●      At First Baptist Church of Williamsburg on June 6

●      And on dates to be announced in Danville, Hampton, Hopewell, Lynchburg, Newport News, Norfolk, Petersburg and Suffolk.

All events are free and open to the public. Visit the commission’s website — http://mlkcommission.dls.virginia.gov/ — for more information.

MLK III Speaks Out Against Gun Violence

By Aya Driouche and Alexandra Sosik, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Decrying America’s “culture of violence,” the oldest son of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. praised the survivors of last week’s school shooting in Florida for demanding that government officials implement restrictions on guns in the U.S.

Speaking at Virginia Commonwealth University, Martin Luther King III commended students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were shot and killed on Valentine’s Day, for taking a stand and calling on elected officials to act on gun control.

“Once again, children, young people, lives interrupted forever, of all ages and every ethnic group,” King said. “We could say it’s mental illness, but maybe it’s the climate that exists in our nation. We have certainly created and sustained a culture of violence.”

King spoke Sunday at an event that had been rescheduled from Jan. 21, during VCU MLK Celebration Week, due to inclement weather.

The event came four days after 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, according to authorities, opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, killing three adults and 14 students. It was the ninth deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

King accused Congress of remaining silent after the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where Adam Lanza gunned down 26 teachers and students.

King pointed to the movement to end sexual harassment that has swept the country as an example of positive cultural change. He said he is optimistic that America will soon see the same results with gun control.

“Every week, someone is losing a job because of the tragedy of sexual harassment that should never have happened,” King said. “So I would say even on this issue where people tragically lost their lives, we don’t know where it’s going to lead, but I am hopeful.”

King said he has personally experienced gun violence not once, but twice. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in Memphis, Tennessee. Five years later, King told the VCU audience, his grandmother, Alberta King, was shot and killed in Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta by a man who intended to kill her husband.

“It did not deter me or distract me because I had to learn to dislike the evil act but still love the individual,” King said.

He also addressed last August’s chaos in Charlottesville, where white supremacists participated in a “Unite the Right” rally against the removal of a Confederate statue. A counter-protester was killed by a man authorities have described as a neo-Nazi.

King said that, in the pursuit of ratings and revenues, the media magnify the number of Americans who commit hate-motivated violence.

“There were 200 white men who marched in Charlottesville, not 200,000,” King said. “But the media would have you think that every white male American was marching with those 200 because they kept, over and over again, running the story on every channel.”

Like his father, King urged people to avoid violence even if it’s to raise awareness for an issue.

“The moment an individual commits violence even for a good cause, that person’s credibility is shredded,” he said. “The quickest way to surrender your dignity and credibility is to engage in violence.”

King wrapped up by encouraging people to not let others discourage them from following their dreams.

“Remember – every great leader, including Martin Luther King Jr., was once a young person who had doubts about what he or she could do, but they persevered with courage. Be courageous. Don’t let anyone make you feel like there’s nothing you can do. Be guided by your dreams, not distracted by your peers.”

Powhatan Bobsledder Represents Team USA

Hakeem Abdul-Saboor (Photo credit: Kent Meister)

By Alexandra Sosik, Capital News Service

Hakeem Abdul-Saboor will compete for Team USA in South Korea in about a week. But before he could call himself an Olympic bobsledder, the 2005 Powhatan High School graduate was a triple-threat athlete and bodybuilder.

He served as captain of the track and field team, played basketball and excelled at football, leading his team to a career record of 36-3. He went on to accept a scholarship to play Division II football for the University of Virginia at Wise.

“Hakeem is probably the best all-around athlete I have ever coached,” UVa-Wise head coach Dewey Lusk said onAbdul-Saboor’s website.

Abdul-Saboor played running back for Wise until 2009 when he tore his ACL four games into his senior season. He said that injury ended both his college and potential professional football career.

In an interview with NBC Olympics, Abdul-Saboor said he stayed on campus and focused on the gym. A friend told him he should consider entering a bodybuilder contest. His first competition was the 2012 Bodybuilding.com FIT USA Event in Boise, Idaho.

“I think they picked 16 or 20 of us from the nation,” Abdul-Saboor told NBC Olympics. “I ended up winning the people’s choice award. So that was everybody over the nation voting for which contestant they liked, their physique best.”

Abdul-Saboor was invited to compete in bigger shows but didn’t have the money. He moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, where he worked for Performance Training Inc. as a personal trainer and speed-agility quickness coach. In 2014, a Facebookvideo of Abdul-Saboor got the attention of Dr. Brad DeWeese, a professor at Eastern Tennessee State University and former head of physiology for the U.S. Olympic Committee.

“Having coached a large portion of Olympians in the sport, it was obvious that Hakeem had the power and physical build to be successful in bobsled,” DeWeese told NBC Olympics.

DeWeese invited Abdul-Saboor to Johnson City, Tennessee, for a dryland bobsled combine. He performed flawlessly on each event. DeWeese went on to coach Abdul-Saboor to three national team designations and finally to the U.S. Olympic team.

Abdul-Saboor’s bobsledding career launched in 2015 when he competed in the Minor League North American Cup. By January 2016, he had competed in three World Cups.

In December, Abdul-Saboor and two-time Olympian Nick Cunningham placed fifth in the two-man bobsled at the World Cup in Austria – the best finish for any U.S. sled at an international event this season.

On Jan. 15, Abdul-Saboor shared via Instagram that he would continue to represent the United States – but this time at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“I am honored to announce that I was named to the 2018 Olympic bobsled team and will be representing Team USA in February,” Abdul-Saboor said. “I’m still at a loss for words right now but am excited to continue to grind it out and work hard to be my best at the Olympic Games.”

Abdul-Saboor, 30, will compete in the two-man and four-man bobsledding events, which begin Feb. 19.

House OKs ‘Stop Gun Violence’ License Plate

By Alexandra Sosik, Capital News Service

 RICHMOND – Over the objections of eight Republicans, the House of Delegates on Friday approved the creation of a specialty license plate with the message “Stop Gun Violence.”

The House voted 89-8 with one abstention in favor of a bill to authorize the new plate and earmark proceeds from its sales to mental health and other services.

Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, sponsored House Bill 287. He said it would draw attention to problems caused by firearms.

“We have a culture in this country where we’ve started seeing gun violence on a daily basis,” Simon said. “It can get people thinking of what they can be doing to improve the gun violence epidemic that we have, unfortunately.”

Virginia has more than 250 types of specialty license plates. They include more than 90 for colleges and universities, more than 50 military-related plates and more than 110 plates promoting sports teams, nonprofit groups, communities and various causes.

Some of the plates are controversial. One says “Choose Life”; another says “Trust Women, Respect Choice.” There’s a plate calling Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee “The Virginia Gentleman” and another for the National Rifle Association.

House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert and seven fellow Republicans voted against HB 287. During debate this week, Gilbert accused Simon of trying to score political points with his “little ol’ license plate bill.”

“It is him trying to build a narrative that gun violence is somehow different from regular violence,” said Gilbert, a delegate from Shenandoah County.

Like other specialty plates, the “Stop Gun Violence” plate would cost $25 in addition to the regular vehicle registration fee. Most of the money would go to the state’s Behavioral Health and Developmental Services Fund.

Under HB 287, those funds would be used to enhance “the quality of care and treatment provided to individuals receiving public mental health, developmental, and substance abuse services in Virginia.”

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

The “Stop Gun Violence” plate is among more than a dozen additional types of specialty license plates under consideration in the General Assembly. Others include:

  • A plate declaring “I Support Women Veterans,” to benefit the Virginia Department of Veterans Services
  • A “National Wild Turkey Federation” plate, supporting the conservation of wild turkeys in Virginia
  • A plate providing funding for the Alzheimer’s Association
  • A plate with the words “E Pluribus Unum” – the U.S. motto of “Out of many, one”

More than 1,000 Attend Women’s March in Richmond

By Ryan Persaud and Alexandra Sosik, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Demonstrators took to the streets of Carytown on Saturday for the second annual Women’s March, recalling the demonstrations a year ago when hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Washington and cities around the world to protest President Donald Trump’s inauguration and the GOP’s stance on issues such women’s rights and immigration.

Hundreds of demonstrators held up signs that ranged from mocking the president to promoting equality. They chanted phrases such as “This is what democracy looks like,” “Women’s rights are equal rights” and “Coexist.”

Kim Young, a demonstrator who missed the Women’s March last year due to health issues, said she was excited to attend Saturday’s event.

“It’s about freedom, choice, ‘Love is Love,’ [and] showing the president that not all Americans in the United States are in agreement with him,” Young said.

The Richmond demonstration was one of many across the country Saturday. Brigette Newberry, a demonstrator who attended last year’s Women’s March in D.C. and a counterprotest against the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue in September, said it is necessary to resist the current administration.

“I feel like it’s important that women unite together,” Newberry said.

Kathe Wittig, a retired Virginia Commonwealth University faculty member who participated in anti-war protests in the 1970s, said she worries that Trump’s policies will set society back decades.

“We have to let the world know that we’re not going to sit back,” Wittig said. “He is a disaster.”

Gov. Ralph Northam also joined event organizers in leading the march. Northam helped carry a banner that read, “Women’s March RVA.”

Mary Leffler, one of the organizers of the event, attended the 2017 Women’s March in D.C. As the anniversary approached, she looked for whether others locally were commemorating that demonstration.

“I sought out to see if there was already a march happening, and there wasn’t. So I made a few phone calls, called the city manager’s office, helped decide this location and then just started spreading the word,” Leffler said.

Leffler said she was surprised at the size of the crowd.

“We’ve had estimates of a little over 3,000 – some more like 1,500,” Leffler said. “We’re thrilled.”

Mark Loewen, a children’s book author, brought his family with him, including his 5-year-old daughter.

“We talked about girls can do anything that boys can do, and that girls should be making the same amount of decisions that boys make,” Loewen said. “We’re so excited about women’s voices getting stronger, and we need them to be stronger.”

Members of the National Organization for Women, which advocates for equality for all women, were also in attendance. Andrea Lancaster, president of NOW’s Richmond chapter, said she was pleasantly surprised by the event’s turnout.

“A few of our board members, me included, went up to the march in D.C. last year, which was overwhelmingly huge, so we didn’t know what to expect from Richmond,” Lancaster said. “It’s exciting to see how much momentum the movement still has.”

NOW and other groups are urging the Virginia General Assembly to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The ERA would explicitly state that women have the same rights as men in the U.S.

ERA supporters believe that if two more states ratify the amendment, it will be added to the Constitution. There is a legal debate about that because the deadline to ratify the ERA has passed.

According to Lancaster, Virginia has become a focus of ERA proponents because Democrats have gained power in the General Assembly. Last fall, the Democratic Party picked up 15 seats in the House; however, Republicans still hold a 51-49 majority.

Lancaster said there is a need for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women equal rights.

“If you ask a lot of people in the streets, they think we already have that,” Lancaster said. “But we don’t, and there is no constitutional protected equality.”

Virginians Disagree on Prohibiting Protests

By Alexandra Sosik, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginians are split almost down the middle about whether they would ban high school athletes from participating in protests during the national anthem, according to a poll released Tuesday by Virginia Commonwealth University.

The poll by VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs found that 50 percent of the respondents said they were against having a rule to forbid protests, while 45 percent said they would support such a rule. The others were undecided.

In 2016, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem in protest of racial injustice and police brutality. That sparked a nationwide movement in which countless athletes have either kneeled or sat during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Robyn McDougle, director of the Wilder School’s Office of Public Policy Outreach, said no legislature or rule against protests during the national anthem has been suggested in Virginia. But such a rule would be contentious if proposed, the 2017-18 Winter Policy Poll indicates.

“The national debate on the issue led us to measure public opinion on the hypothetical question,” McDougle said. “And it shows that any such proposal would be controversial, especially in Northern Virginia and for nonwhite Virginians.”

The statewide poll involved a random sample of 788 adults. They were interviewed by landline and cellular phones between Dec. 8 and 26. The poll’s margin of error is about 3.5 percentage points.

Pastor Preaches Forgiveness at Legislative Breakfast

By Alexandra Sosik, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Eric Manning, pastor of the Charleston, S.C., church where white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine parishioners in 2015, delivered a message of reconciliation and unity Wednesday at the 52nd annual Commonwealth Prayer Breakfast.

Republican and Democratic legislators were joined by their families, lobbyists and constituents at the Greater Richmond Convention Center for a time of community and devotion to kick off the opening day of the 2018 General Assembly session.

Gov. Terry McAullife provided opening remarks and a prayer for Gov.-elect Ralph Northam, who will be sworn in Saturday.

“Thank you for the honor, privilege and support over the past four years,” McAullife said, adding that serving as governor was the “privilege of my life.”

Northam encouraged legislators to work together during the 2018 legislative season.

“We all have good intentions, and those are to serve our constituents and to serve this great commonwealth,” Northam said. “My prayer to all of you today is that we could root for each other, that we could work together and make Virginia a little bit better today than it was yesterday.”

Among public officials and community members who spoke were Attorney General Mark Herring, who said a prayer for the armed forces and safety personnel, and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who gave tribute to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Local music group Urban Doxology also performed a rendition of “Be Thou My Vision.”

It was the Rev. Manning, however, who delivered the main message in which he emphasized forgiveness, repentance and reconciliation as the recipe for a successful General Assembly session.

“When you forgive, something happens,” Manning said. “No longer do you have animosity, no longer do you strive against that person, but you do the best you possibly can do to help that person along the way. Because when you begin to help someone, then you are making a difference.”

Manning urged the legislators to practice forgiveness with each other the same way parishioners of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were able to forgive Roof after he murdered nine people at a Bible study session on June 17, 2015. The church, often called Mother Emanuel, was founded in 1816 and is one of the oldest black congregations in the South.

During a court hearing shortly after the slayings, relatives of the murder victims told Roof they were praying for his soul. “I forgive you,” said Nadine Collier, whose mother was killed by Roof. “You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”

Manning challenged the legislators to turn toward what binds them together rather than turning attention to their differences.

“My prayer would be that when they are discussing or debating, or whatever bills they’re working for, just pause for a moment,” Manning said. “In that most high point of the debate, let us learn how to walk together. Let us remember to walk together, to help someone along the way. Because when that happens I believe that the commonwealth becomes that place where God would have them walk together.”

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