Personality: Jamon K. Phenix
Spotlight on VUU Student Government Association president
3/1/2019, 6 a.m.
“Richmond has a history of segregation and bigotry. And if we don’t take a stand to start and continue an honest dialogue that would hurt but is necessary, then we will never receive full equality and justice. We will never eradicate institutional racism.”
Jamon K. Phenix, president of Virginia Union University’s Student Government Association, takes this position as a student leader and one of the gatekeepers of his university.
The 21-year-old Atlanta native is a senior studying history and political science. Upon graduation, he wants to attend law school at either Howard University or the University of Richmond to become a civil rights attorney.
In representing the SGA, Mr. Phenix found himself in the media spotlight last week when he wrote a letter to Gov. Ralph S. Northam asking him to delay a visit to the VUU campus planned for a chapel service on “Faith, Identity and Social Justice” that was to honor the Richmond 34, VUU students arrested in Feb. 22, 1960, for protesting at the whites-only lunch counter at the former Thalhimer’s department store in Downtown.
Gov. Northam has come under continued criticism and calls to resign after the public disclosure that his 1984 medical school yearbook page featured a photograph of a person in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe.
While Gov. Northam first apologized for appearing in the photo he subsequently said neither person in the photo was him. But he acknowledged wearing blackface later in 1984 as a 25-year-old medical resident in San Antonio, Texas, to impersonate Michael Jackson during a dance competition.
The governor has refused to step down from office and planned to use his attendance at the VUU event on Feb. 21 to launch his “reconciliation tour.”
Because of the letter, Gov. Northam announced the evening before the event that he would bow out.
“I respect the wishes of the student body,” Gov. Northam wrote on Twitter. “In lieu of my attendance, I will host the Richmond 34 at the Executive Mansion … to honor their bravery and courage.”
“We invited Gov. Northam to a roundtable event where he could speak, answer our questions and have an honest dialogue about race and reconciliation,” Mr. Phenix says, although no date for such a meeting has been set. “That would give the Gov. Northam an opportunity to have a dialogue and answer questions versus being a part of an audience.”
Civil rights and social justice are important to Mr. Phenix.
“I grew up just down the street from Dr. Martin Luther King’s first home. I was always reminded by my grandparents that you always are to treat people with compassion and love as well as forgiveness,” Mr. Phenix says.
But he said as he grew older, he discovered those concepts were missing from the world. That led him to want to pursue a legal career and to fight for social equity, criminal justice and the right for all people to become productive citizens. He says he chose to attend VUU because it resembled his values and vision and could help shape him as a student leader.