Chesterfield’s back roads don’t talk. The hum of the machinery under its industrial shingles and the boxes of products on retail shelves show well, but tell no tales. The halls of the county’s government complex speak in only politically correct terms. The paneled chamber of the public meeting room cannot shout integrity when those languishing behind its dais hear only words whispered by those who benefit most by their own persuasion.
Think about who wins by the decisions made by those in leadership positions here in Chesterfield. Think about the number of times you have seen the camera on the 11 o’clock news panning our Board of Supervisors as the voice over tells another story that could have more positive if the issue had been thought through.
Last Wednesday night, the cameras focused on some of our leading citizens as they called on our board to do better. Dr. Wilson Shannon, pastor of the First Baptist Church at Centralia, said he and a group of church members had come to the Jan. 12 board meeting because they knew Chesterfield was a “land of giants; we do things in a big way. We came with anticipation of witnessing a proud moment in history, but it turned out to be a painful experience.”
Dr. Shannon was, of course, speaking of the board’s last minute “political” decision to elect Art Warren chairman instead of James Holland, who had been vice chairman, and had been the heir apparent to chairman’s seat prior to the meeting.
While I stated in my last column that it was political or personal backbiting that changed the vote, I think that those involved could have done the right thing without hurting any political or personal agendas. Sometimes we are so blinded by these personal agendas we don’t see that there is something bigger out there. In this case, there was a very smart and capable man who happened to be African-American whose elevation to chairman could have been a public relations boon for Chesterfield, telling everyone around us that we are making strides to overcome our own bigotry. I wouldn’t doubt that it could even help economic development, letting outsiders know that we’re no longer a backwoods community and we now embrace ethnic diversity and inclusion. Instead, the county got the public relations stupid smack on the back of the head.
“This moment should not be allowed to dissolve in our memories to and act as if nothing has happened. We have to define this moment, even if we cannot change the course of events,” said L.J. McCoy, president of the Chesterfield NAACP, during the Wednesday afternoon meeting.
“That vote wasn’t about politics, nor was it about experience. It wasn’t about an individual whose board experience lived 20 years. That vote was more about dissecting the vote of African-Americans here in Chesterfield County and placing them in a basin in a far corner of a morgue. That vote was nothing short of a political castration. Yet this procedure has no place in the future of our county and this page should be torn -- it should be destroyed -- from this county administration’s playbook. I have a promise and hope for the people of color here in the county. And I have faith that this is not our destiny. Therefore, I urge this board to rectify the actions made by the discourse made by that Jan. 12 appointment, which has evolved into an immense distraction in this county’s future.”
These strong words had strong backing from as many as 100 supporters in the public meeting room, and television viewers had to wonder what the heck was going on in Chesterfield, again. Another lost opportunity: A chance to elect the first black man to chair the Board of Supervisors. What would it matter that it’s an election year or the comprehensive plan is in motion or that redistricting is about to take place? Holland’s overseen the budget; he’s a professor and a CPA, and he could handle it.
But instead, a comment by teenager Sherise Green takes center stage, and these types of comments will continue to foment through Election Day. “The decision you have made reminds me of the stories my mother and grandmother have shared with me about the racism and discrimination they’ve experienced,” said Green. “The difference between their experiences and mine is that in their era racism and discrimination was an open practice. But in my time it is covered up because the law says it is illegal to discriminate.”
Maybe the best way to clear the whole thing up and turn lemons into lemonade is to do what former Bermuda District Supervisor Dickie King used to say, which he said he got from now-deceased Holland predecessor Kelly Miller, “do what’s right.”
Dr. Shannon stated it Wednesday night: “We want to ask Mrs. Dorothy Jaeckle to rescind her nomination for chair of Mr. Art Warren and to nominate Mr. James Holland, who is a veteran, Certified Public Accountant, outstanding professor and good leader. And we want him to be seated as chair. If you can find it in your heart to do that, we’re going to ask Mr. Art Warren to resign as chair.”