2nd Street Festival: A wolf in sheep’s clothing

10/11/2018, 6 a.m.
The fact is this festival has and continues to be owned and controlled by white people during most of its ...


Sa’ad El-Amin

According to its mission statement, Venture Richmond, the successor to Richmond Renaissance, “engages business and community leaders in partnering with the city to enhance the vitality of the community, particularly Downtown, through economic development, marketing, promotion, advocacy and events.” The organization owns, controls and promotes the 2nd Street Festival after acquiring the event from Nina Abady, a white woman, following her death.

Venture Richmond states that this event, which celebrated its 30th year last weekend, “has grown to be one of the Mid-Atlantic’s largest street festivals as nearly 40,000 people visit historic Jackson Ward to reminisce about the days when 2nd Street was the heart and soul of Richmond’s African-American community and the neighborhood was known as the ‘Harlem of the South.’ ”

The fact is this festival has and continues to be owned and controlled by white people during most of its existence. This, for me, is a major problem because at no point has its owners envisioned, stated or promised that, in addition to extolling the past importance of Jackson Ward, they want to or are even interested in reviving, resuscitating and restoring Jackson Ward to its former glory and past.

The fact is that Venture Richmond has no intent to do this and, to the contrary, intends to put Jackson Ward on the path of gentrification. We know — or should know — that this will be the annihilation rather than the restoration of the old Jackson Ward.

Black folk bear a major responsibility in causing the demise of 2nd Street, which was the center of black business, culture and entertainment. This happened immediately after Jim Crow was lifted because those who could afford it left 2nd Street to patronize white businesses in white areas even when they were not welcomed or treated with respect just so they could patronize and experience amenities and ambience which were far superior to those on 2nd Street.

The abandonment and physical deterioration of Jackson Ward alerted people with money, both black and white people, to buy abandoned and blighted properties in Jackson Ward for a fraction of their market value with the aim to flip these properties without putting a dime into them to realize a substantial profit. These speculators were not interested in the historic value and importance of Jackson Ward. They were simply interested in making a dollar.

The City of Richmond also was part of the problem because city inspectors ignored building code violations. This had a spiraling, negative effect on Jackson Ward by deflating the value of properties in the area.

Venture Richmond is no stranger to black Richmonders because, some years ago, the organization was the main proponent for removing GRTC bus passengers from transfer points along Broad Street and moving them to 9th Street between Marshall and Leigh Streets, adjacent to the Richmond Social Services Department and the old Public Safety Building, the former location of Richmond’s lower criminal courts. It is no coincidence that 90 percent of GRTC’s passengers are black people, which is precisely the reason that Venture Richmond wanted them off Broad Street because the organization was trying to build Downtown as a tourist destination and take advantage of the substantial expansion of the Greater Richmond Convention Center.