RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney discussed the importance of community service, the role of millennials, and the evils that exist in Richmond during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day presentation at the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia.
After echoing Richmond's AmeriCorps Program director Paul Manning's message that service is not a one-day-a-year phenomenon and should be the goal every day, Mayor Stoney, 41, reminded his younger generation of millennial leaders of the work that came before them.
"Sometimes we think that we did all this. That all the progress and success that you see today was done by folks born in the 1980s, the 1990s, the 2000s. These moments [King Jr. Day] allow for us to say you know what, there were some people way before us who were in the fight," Stoney said before later recognizing some of those leaders like Oliver Hill, Doug Wilder, and Henry Marsh. "Dr. King was the drum major and champion for justice, for quality, and for compassion. But sometimes folks forget the people who joined him in that fight. There were a number of unsung heroes who decided not to get on that bus, who showed up to the rallies, who were hosed down by the police, who had dogs sic them. Those are the unsung heroes. They were some of our grandfathers, our great-grandparents, or grandmothers who may not have a statue, who may not have a holiday. But they're heroes nonetheless."
The mayor also talked about what he was doing to address the three evil Dr. King called out during his lifetime: racism, poverty, and war.
"Over the course of the last two or three years, a black cloud has been removed from our city," Stoney said in reference to the removal of Confederate monuments and school names. "The door has been swung open to Black and Brown people to say you can be anything you want to be. That the world is unlimited to you. But when you go to school, and you are a young person in this city, and there's a school named after a Confederate General or a monument that is four or five stories tall to a Confederate General, people who wanted to ensure that you were still property, and to fast forward 100 years, and you can do something to change that? Yes, we have progressed."
In the battle against poverty, the mayor pointed to programs like free GRTC bus fare and one that gives Richmond families whose earnings don't qualify them for benefits $500 a month to help get by.
"You might say $500 is not a lot of money. Have you ever been in poverty before? Because you know, $500 can go a long way," Stoney said. "The stories I hear from people who say to me, Mayor, now I can go to my kids' games now. I don't have to have a second job. I can volunteer. I can contribute to my community. That's what guaranteed income gets you. And I'm proud to be one of the founding mayors in this country when it comes to mayor's guaranteed income."
The mayor said it was important on this Martin Luther King Jr. Day to celebrate the progress that has been made but also to recognize "we have not arrived at the destination."