Driving Miss Berncenia

It’s 1999. Tim Kaine is Mayor and Calvin Jamison is City Manager. I’m a medical geneticist at VCU and committed to improving the health of families in Richmond. At the downtown Marriott LMR introductory meeting, Tina Egge introduces me to Berncenia Faggins, 75 year-old community volunteer in Oregon Hill. Berncenia doesn’t drive and needs a ride to the Windmill Point orientation. We are both short enthusiastic talkers with different skin pigments. The learning between friends begins. Of all the contrasts we discussed, one stands out – Berncenia didn’t go to high school because teens in Henrico County needed to be able to afford transportation into Richmond. Her family didn’t have the money then. Later, she recognized suboptimal healthcare when she was pregnant. She was life-smart. Racism and circumstances limited the equivalency of our opportunities.

Down the road our clinical genetics group asked the LMR Class of 2004 Power Rangers Project Team to consider how to bring broader awareness and genetic literacy to the Richmond community. Family health history – talk it up, write it down, pass it on – was still a taboo topic for many. While the Human Genome Project was about at its halfway point, historic experiences with discrimination, the whiteness of most genetic providers, and other factors were barriers to health equity.  This meant potential improvements in health associated with making choices about how to use genetic information wisely were not accessed equally across all the resource and educational separations we saw in Richmond. Our project team was well-intended and majority white. I had not included Berncenia and all that she had taught me. The project did not have much impact.

It’s 2019.  Elijah Cummings of Baltimore has just died.  I’m a medical geneticist at Johns Hopkins and committed to improving the health of families in Baltimore. By now, I’ve learned to take the implicit assumption test every 6 months, host a family history table at the NE Market in Baltimore twice a month with Hopkins students, and get funding for a project -G3BICL, Genetics for the Greater Good, Baltimore Intergenerational Community Listening and Learning.  I am nearly the age Berncenia was when I first met her and now work to move at the speed of trust and to start with community conversations and participation.  My not so good outcomes, outright mistakes from blinders and not having everyone at the table have taught me more about making a difference than any awards.  Berncenia sits next to me, thanks to the LMR connection 20 years ago. She died in 2004 and remains my teacher about aging, family, and what matters.

Joann Bodurtha
Pediatric Geneticist & Visitng Professor
Johns Hopkins McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine
LMR Class of 2000

From Contacts to Collaboration

James Davis, a recent graduate of the Leadership Quest Class of 2019, wasted no time tapping into the LMR network to help create jobs and find creative solutions for everyday challenges he saw in the community.  James is the human services assistant for the City of Richmond’s Office of Community Wealth Building (OCWB).  He was brought into this role by his mentor and former supervisor, Reggie Gordon (LMR ’02).  Outside of his role at OCWB, James created MySource, Inc., an organization which helps connect communities to resources.  Below he reflects on how the Leadership Quest experience brought him into a powerful network that now allows him to work faster and more efficiently in both professional roles:

“There are numerous connections I have made within the Leadership Quest Class of 2019 that have really helped to move my work forward.  I am currently working with Sheryl Adams (LMR ’19), Chief Operating Officer for GRTC, on a number of initiatives for OCWB including hiring 25 drivers.  My prep work with those individuals includes everything from mock interviews to acquiring the correct interview attire. With the help of GRTC, we have provided support to those needing to address the points on their driver’s license by assisting them with driving school fees and transporting them to Petersburg for class. GRTC will be providing these new hires with in-house training for their CDL license with P endorsement.  Eventually we would also like to ensure that every bus driver is trained to respond in case of an opioid overdose to administer naloxone (Narcan).

I am also working with Dr. Cynthia Minto (LMR ’19) through the OCWB to get 20 direct professionals hired with Richmond Residential Services, where Dr. Minto serves as the Chief Operating Officer. To do this, we are hosting job fairs all across town in search of talent.  Dr. Minto and her team attend these events and interview candidates on the spot.  They are also doing in-house training for those that pass the initial interview stage and would like to get licensed in the developmental disabilities field.

As a part of my work with OCWB, I manage the Ambassador Program for the City of Richmond.  This program engages 25 community members to volunteer in the low-income communities they came from and inform others about the resources that are available to those living in poverty. We also strategize around community events and do a lot of community engagement. I have discussed with Sarah Milston (LMR ’19), CEO of The Spark Mill, to have her strategic planning and nonprofit consulting firm come in and work with our Ambassadors.  I think this will be a major piece for our program to help empower the community.

To serve the youth of our city through OCWB, I am partnering with Cheri Dahl (LMR ’19), Executive Director for US Programs at ChildFund International.  We are working on creating an experience for inner-city youth to connect with youth from third-world countries through technology.  These Skype conversations will help them gain perspectives different from their own through conversations with students from across the globe.

Through my own organization MySource, Inc., I am finding other unique ways to assist communities with workforce opportunities and resources.  For example, I am currently designing an entrepreneurship center made from shipping containers.  While this is just in the early stages of ideation, I am already talking with my classmates Alan Davis (LMR ’19), Principal Architect at Baskervill and Ian Batt (LMR ’19), Vice President of Middle Market Commercial Banking at Atlantic Union Bank regarding the design process and feasibility.

Beyond workforce development, MySource Inc. is concerned about improving the overall quality of life within some the city’s most challenged communities.  My team and I are working towards building a solar farm to power Whitcomb Court, one of our city’s low income communities.  This idea surfaced while we were working to solve the heating crisis last year.  During that time, we restored heat to 75 homes in Creighton Court with the help of the residents.  After completing a solar project on a parking deck downtown, I then meet Orlando Artze (LMR ’94) who was then the interim CEO for the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA). He agreed to meet with me and my team in regards to this project. Mr. Artze has given us the electric bill for RRHA and later this month we will be meeting at Dominion Energy to discuss how they might support this project.  This meeting was made possible by Ruth Prideaux (LMR ’19), Director of Generation Construction in Renewable Energy for Dominion Energy.  Additionally, my organization will also be helping Dominion to hire more linemen.

The work of MySource Inc. spans beyond just job placement for adults, also working with our city’s youth.  After connecting with City of Richmond Fire Lieutenant Keron Tull (LMR ’19), we are now working together to create a path for young adults to become firefighters. Chris Frelke (LMR ’19), Director of City of Richmond Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities, has offered to assist us with space for an after-school program that will offer lessons in cosmetology and hairstyling. With the help of Nick Haltom (LMR ’19), Economic Education Director at Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, we are expanding the resources provided to high school students through our in-school, interactive entrepreneurship lessons.  Nick has agreed to host over 100 students at the Federal Reserve Bank for a tour and finance workshop.

The Leadership Quest experience has helped me broaden my network and start new initiatives with greater knowledge and more resources. I look forward to seeing these projects through and collaborating with others in the LMR network as more opportunities for creative solutions arise.”

James Davis
Founder, MySource, Inc.
LMR Class of 2019

Woman Speak Your Truth

Where do you go when you want to talk?  You want to go to a place where you feel comfortable in sharing your thoughts; where there is no blame and no shame.  Woman Speak Your Truth was created to offer a safe space for such conversations.  There are no interruptions, no raised voices.  We are open to a variety of subjects.  That’s important.  In the first group I hosted there was a woman who said, “I was taught to never talk about race, religion or politics.” In this group, no topic is off limits.  We are grown women that can discuss anything.

At Woman Speak Your Truth, we learn how to communicate effectively and manage our emotions.  Emotion is necessary in order to convey perspective, but that emotion need not overwhelm.

The idea to partner with Leadership Metro Richmond to host Woman Speak Your Truth came as a result of a conversation between Lynda Sharp Anderson (LMR ’93) and me.  I started convening a small group of women for open conversation in January of 2017.  Lynda had been taking part in these conversations, and after she attended her LMR reunion she asked if three of her classmates could come to the last Woman Speak Your Truth gathering for the summer.  I politely denied her request because I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue hosting these conversations due to low attendance.  Then I thought, “Where else could I find women willing to talk and share?”  LMR is the perfect place.  So I approached the LMR President and CEO Myra Goodman Smith with this idea, not knowing what she would say or if the group would still be able to talk about any topic.  Myra was so receptive to the idea and so welcoming.

Our conversation in February focused on the involvement of several LMR alumni featured in the University of Richmond Museum exhibit, Growing Up in Civil Rights Richmond: A Community Remembers.  In the future, more of our conversations will focus on a specific alumna or topic but at times we will still be free flowing with our discussions.  For example, March is “I am Woman Month,” and I look forward to our sharing about a woman who was/is instrumental to our growth.

For those individuals who are not female alumni of LMR, if you have a desire to form your own group for open conversation I would suggest limiting your group size to no more than 25 people. You want the group to be fairly intimate. Intimacy encourages your participants to speak their truth.  I’m a coach, and when you have a large group people tend not to be as open.  In small groups, the conversation is more organic.  If you are seeking more advice on how to form your own group, contact me at rricks@speaktoyourspirit.com.  I’d love to talk with you further.

Since I started Woman Speak Your Truth so much has come forward to fuel our conversations, for example the #MeToo movement and the election of numerous women to Congress.  It’s amazing what’s happening with women (stepping forward and speaking up) and it fuels our conversations to explore race, religion, politics, and more.

Rita Ricks
Rita Ricks LLC, Spiritual Business Coach, Inspirational Speaker, Workshop Facilitator, Author, Host of SPEAKING TO YOUR SPIRIT on Amazon Prime
LMR Class of 1989

A Bridge into Board Service

Recently, I celebrated my 15-year LMR class reunion. I and many of my classmates gathered to reminisce about our time together during the Fall of 2002 and Spring of 2003.  I was one of two classmates on the agenda asked to share how the experience had shaped us.

I pointed out how prior to LMR, I had no board service.  My classmate, Lee Reeves, was the Executive Director of a very successful nonprofit he started called Team UP Richmond.  During our graduation ceremony back then, Lee asked if I would serve on his board. I shared with him my reservations about having no prior board experience, but Lee said “Ken, you'll be fine”. That exchange started my career of servant leadership in the Richmond non-profit community and beyond.

Soon thereafter, Rita Ricks (LMR ’89), who had recommended LMR to me, also recommended me for the Board of the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce; known today as ChamberRVA.  Rita later shared that when she originally mentioned my name, the leadership of the Chamber indicated that they had no idea who I was.  But once she stated I had just completed LMR, their eyes widened, and I was welcomed to the board.

Several other boards soon followed as news of my status as an LMR alumnus made the rounds.  Such that, when the then President of Old Dominion University nominated me to serve on the Board of my alma mater, there was plenty of board experience on my resume.  Appointment to the Board of Visitors of ODU by Governor Warner was the first of now 5 gubernatorial appointments.  Since 2003, in all, I’ve served on 20 boards; and have turned down numerous others in light of my day job.

LMR is the place where I learned the principles of facilitation and collaboration; where I learned a greater understanding of social issues of the Richmond region; and where I was first exposed to the concept of servant leadership.  All of these traits have become the foundation for my years of community involvement at a leadership level.  Participation in THE BEST CLASS EVER instilled the desire in me to leave the world a better place then how I found it.  John F. Kennedy once said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other”.  Thanks to LMR, we learn how to lead.

Ken Ampy, Astyra Corporation
LMR Class of 2003

Richmond and the World

As a relatively new resident of Richmond I became a proud member of Leadership Metro Richmond 2017 in order to link local and international interests from my position as Dean of International Education at the University of Richmond. From the first day I found partnership with LMR members on issues highly relevant to my work, immigration and education foremost among them. Thanks in part to the awareness LMR brought, my first Memorandum of Understanding was not with an international partner, as would be customary, but with Virginia Commonwealth University to have our faculty work together in places of mutual interest, so far including Mexico, Guatemala, and South Africa.

Another strong partnership from LMR turned out to be with the ever-resourceful LMR President and CEO Myra Goodman Smith. UR created Danish Week in November 2017 to celebrate our longstanding student exchanges with Denmark and to have our campus and community learn about another culture together. The Danish Embassy got on board in a big way. Myra Smith met with Lars Bo Mueller, the number two at the Danish Embassy, to discuss how LMR models civic engagement and to compare Richmond and Copenhagen in several dimensions.

His Excellency Lars Gert Lose, Danish Ambassador to the United States, on this first visit to Richmond was interested in meeting with Mayor Levar Stoney. Myra facilitated our connection with the Mayor’s office and the meeting was very productive. The two leaders discussed sustainable energy and the challenges of transportation. The Embassy car pulled up to City Hall immediately by the new RVA Bike Share racks, so things got off to a good start: Copenhagen has been named the world’s friendliest city for cycling.

Both officials from Denmark tweeted about their positive impressions of Richmond and shared a flood of images from their visit to the city and the UR campus. The Danish Ambassador was so impressed with his first visit to Richmond that he returned two weeks later with his family.

Myra and Haywood Spangler, as well as the helpful staff of LMR, had earlier offered strong support for our group project on immigration when we decided to show a film on the UR campus and to host a panel discussion of local experts who work with immigrants, several of them LMR alumni. It was the best-attended event of the year for my office.

All told, I feel that my world grew both locally and internationally by virtue of the year invested in LMR. Our group on immigration still meets to catch up on local issues and to advance our shared belief in Richmond as an international city, usually over dinner at a restaurant owned by an immigrant. And my staff is better integrated with Richmond, having attended the Richmond Region Tourism’s “I Am Tourism” training program to which I was alerted through LMR. We are now better able to represent our city to the world!

Martha Merritt
LMR Class of 2017

Reaffirming My Professional Journey

In 2008, I was hired as an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teacher in a rural school division located within the Greater Richmond Metro Region. I was told I would be responsible for both administrative and educational tasks for four out of five schools in the county.

Being an ESOL teacher in a rural Virginia county is challenging. Often, ESOL teachers in rural counties are responsible for administrative work, designing language support curriculums, plus implementing the regular teaching load. In addition, ESOL teachers create the bridge between language and culture for ESOL families and the rest of the community. They are agents of change and advocates for those who do not have a voice or who are not familiar with the American system of education. Because change is difficult, ESOL teachers can encounter barriers from those who want to keep things the established way. At times, change creates resistance, so an ESOL teacher must learn the balancing act of pushing for change slowly and incrementally. You can read more about this work on my school blog.

Though the years that I have worked in my county, the ESOL program has developed from infancy into an established ESOL program. During this time, we have observed an increased level of school-based and division-level administrator support, which has helped to further develop our program. Together we have worked with our school community to familiarize them with Title III (ESOL) administrative requirements and regulations, ranging from the home language identification processes, translation needs, to testing accommodations. Our work has paid off. After our 2016 audit, we received recognition from the Title I/III specialists of the Virginia Department of Education and were asked to present our ESOL handbook, timeline and sample curriculum at an upcoming consortium conference. The hope is that our rural ESOL handbook and timeline can serve as a model for other rural counties in the state of Virginia.

I have always felt supported by my colleagues, administrators, and community volunteers. But pioneering the work of a new program in schools can be isolating. I decided to step out of my comfort zone and start making connections beyond county lines. Early in May 2016, I stumbled across an email from Leadership Metro Richmond (LMR). The subject header stated, “Six days remaining to apply for Leadership Quest.” My interest was piqued. I started to research Leadership Metro Richmond’s mission statement and programs. I read “(LMR) is a community leadership development and engagement organization with a mission to connect and educate a diverse group of community leaders, inspiring them to serve the greater Richmond region.” The words “connect, educate, inspire, and serve” incentivized me to apply for the program. I applied and was accepted.

There are so many experiences that stand out during my 2016/17 LMR leadership quest. I will only name a few because they reaffirmed my career as an ESOL teacher. The first was the friendships and connections I made. LMR places participants into immersion groups and our job is to investigate and create a project related to a regional topic. In this case, my group was selected to address the topic of immigration. We were composed of extremely diverse and talented professionals such as the chief executive officer of the YWCA, a dean at the University of Richmond, and an executive director of construction operations. My group set out to learn more about the topic of immigration and to understand its complexities through visits and interviews in the community. We went to places such as Crossover Clinics, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the Sacred Heart Center. A culminating event was when my group hosted a movie screening and panel discussion on the topic of immigration at the University of Richmond. For more information on my Leadership immersion group experience, refer to the LMR link entitled Immigration.

In addition to forming long-lasting friendships and “enduring bonds,” there are a couple of other people who spoke to our LMR class who inspired me and reaffirmed my career choice as an ESOL teacher. One person was Jonathan Zur (LMR ’08), director of Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities. His talents lie in the area of facilitation and drawing in the perspectives, experiences, and emotions around some of today’s toughest topics. He presented on “Practicing Courageous Conversations.” I have written in my LMR journal three questions that referenced courageous conversations. I refer to these questions often in my job as ESOL teacher. These questions are “Does it need to be said? Does it need to be said right now? Does it need to be said by me?” Contrary to thought, courageous conversations involve listening. But, they also require us to not cower and cover up what needs to be said. When we cover up or ignore an injustice or an unfavorable trait, we are not standing up for civil rights. We are perpetuating them. We must stand up for those who are deemed unfavorable and be a voice that champions injustice.

Another individual who impacted me in my role as an ESOL teacher was Damon Jiggetts (LMR ’16) who works in the east end of Richmond and currently serves as the executive director of the Peter Paul Development Center. He spoke on the need to teach people to ask themselves “What can we do for ourselves?” He stated that if we empower those who are impoverished and help them find their self worth, they find that they have so much within themselves to give. Damon Jiggetts spoke again at our LMR graduation ceremony in June 2017. Three words that have guided him in his professional pathway are “passion, purpose, and profession.” He stated that his passion guided what he did professionally. This outward expression of passion has become his purpose. He also spoke of learning through his career and how his purpose evolved into a profession, which was consistently motivated by the lessons he’s learned.

For me, the privilege of being part of the class of Leadership Metro Richmond helped me to connect to an amazing network of professionals and it helped me become more educated about the intricacies and complexities of community issues. Most importantly, it reaffirmed my passion to continue serving the ESOL population in the greater Richmond region. I am grateful for my career as an ESOL teacher and also for the experience of Leadership Metro Richmond, which has educated, inspired, and enriched my career in so many ways.

Renae Townsend
LMR Class of 2017

Communities Need Constructive Conversation

Avoidance. Having conversations that challenge our beliefs, values, biases and perceptions is seen by many as stressful. Who is looking for more stress? Some of the most committed community leaders I know will step away from a group conversation of key importance if they believe it will lead to nowhere or cause an emotional debate. Many go silent. Have you heard the statement, “I just can’t go there?” If you are truly committed to creating change in our communities, you must be willing to step out of your comfort zone.

Since our beginning, LMR has encouraged dialogue amongst our community leaders by creating a “safe space” for open and honest conversations that reflect a myriad of diverse perspectives which often do not appear to stand on the same side of the issue. However, no issue has just two sides. The conversation should not be about right or wrong, instead it should increase our understanding about each other and the experiences that inform our values, priorities, and opinions. It is through listening to others that we can elevate our levels of personal knowledge to start us down a path towards collaboration and problem-solving.

Social media has provided a variety of digital platforms on which individuals now feel safer, more confident and empowered to share their opinions with the world. However, while absent from digital communications, voice tone, physical gestures and body language play an important role in how we communicate with one another in person. They reveal emotion and passion which add depth to words, thus building deeper understanding. In this digital age, it is important that we take these conversations offline and sit face-to-face with one another for these difficult but necessary interactions. This could be about anything from politics to religion to monuments…whatever is weighing heavy on the hearts and in the minds of the community around us.

Next Tuesday LMR will host a facilitation training for members, where they can learn the tools necessary to manage open and honest group dialogue. What are tactics to alleviate tension in the room? What do you do when one person is dominating the conversation? How do you keep the conversation on topic? These are just a few of the questions we will address with Jonathan Zur (LMR ’08), President & CEO of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities.

Over the holiday weekend as you converse with your loved ones, take note of the way you converse with one another and consider if your approach to those conversations mirrors how you converse outside of the home in your day-to-day interactions. Imagine the possibilities if everyone would listen with the same interest and intent to understand as you do with your loved ones. At LMR, we are thankful for the opportunity to strengthen ties and build understanding in our communities. We are thankful for the dedication and passion our members have for this region and excited to engage with the future leaders they are influencing every day.

Myra Goodman Smith
President & CEO, Leadership Metro Richmond
LMR Class of 2006

The Quest for Public Leadership

In 2005, I became a member of Leadership Metro Richmond because I believed that leadership was more than an ascension to a position or title. I believed that it was the essence of being an active part of a network of people who cared about and accepted the responsibility of the future of the City of Richmond and surrounding jurisdictions.

Through our leadership quest, we embrace being an effective part of leadership in a diversified group with varying and sometimes opposing interests and beliefs. However, we came away from our quest understanding that leadership is about having the personal resolve to be inclusive rather than exclusive. Leadership Metro Richmond is a tremendous resource comprised of Richmond’s most talented network of individuals who care and want to be a part of community solutions which we so desperately need.

When I think about Richmond, I think about our LMR family which represent the public and private sector of our community. When seeking individuals for projects, councils and board appointments, LMR provides access to a vetted compendium of talented capable individuals.

Most recently, the Office of Minority Business Development needed several individuals to become members of the Mayor/Council appointed Emerging and Small Business Advisory Board. As a member of LMR, it was a natural and first choice resource in soliciting individuals who might be interested in serving in this capacity because the overall mission of the organization is clear. Preparing leaders and offering them opportunities to lead in RVA and surrounding areas! A big THANK YOU to Myra Smith and her staff for continuing to find and provide the best leadership talent that Richmond Region has to offer!

Angelia Yancey
LMR Class of 2005