Personality: Connie McGowan

Spotlight on organizer of RVA Community Unity

7/29/2016, 5:52 p.m.
Connie McGowan was devastated after the shooting deaths by police of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile …

Connie McGowan was devastated after the shooting deaths by police of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn.

She also was disturbed by the shooting deaths of five police officers in Dallas a day later by an Army veteran. But not for long.

Three days after the series of violence that rocked the nation July 5 through 7, Ms. McGowan organized RVA Community Unity “Shootout” in Richmond’s Byrd Park, a community event attended by about 1,200 people, including local police officers.

The purpose of the July 10 event was “to connect the community through fun and creative events that capture and promote communication, collaboration, love and unity among state and city elected officials, police, churches and businesses,” Ms. McGowan said.

Photographers and hobbyists were asked to take photos of people and families and share the pictures without charge. Music, food, dancing and frank discussions between the community and police were part of the free, four-hour event near Byrd Park’s Round House.

Ms. McGowan, 43, lives in Eastern Henrico County. She said she was prompted to organize the unity event after visiting the county’s new Varina Area Library to clear her head the day after the Dallas police shootings.

“My mind would not settle,” said Ms. McGowan, a part-time nurse who owns Precise Events & Photography. “I was angry, upset and fearful. That could have been one of my family members. I have five brothers that live in the South, and two have criminal backgrounds and aren’t able to find regular employment, so they do hustle to survive. The emotions I felt were similar to if (Sterling and Castile) had been one of them.”

Gradually, she said, her creative side engaged and she thought about staging a Black Lives Matter photography shoot or some type of demonstration. Thirty minutes later, the idea to organize the unity day was born and Ms. McGowan shared her idea on social media. Positive responses followed, with friends offering to help.

The result left her feeling “hopeful and inspired, but also extremely exhausted,” she said.

Ms. McGowan is planning a similar back-to-school pep rally at the end of August for students, parents, city officials and law enforcement representatives.

Once more she will call on the community to help by serving as sponsors, volunteers and to provide food and other donations to ensure that the event is free.

Ms. McGowan believes the Byrd Park event helped people to gain a better understanding of police and also gave officers a chance to get to know the community.

“As a community, we need to connect more with our neighborhood officers rather than just during National Night Out,” the annual event being held Tuesday, Aug. 2.

At the same time, Ms. McGowan believes that Richmonders and people from surrounding counties want to cooperate and trust law enforcement officials to prevent situations that occurred in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights and Dallas from happening here.

“We want to develop a rapport through constant communication and effective education of police practices which could help reduce fear on both sides,” she said.  “We want to know that we are being protected and not profiled because of the way we look or judged because of past history. We also know that police officers are not all created equal, so we do not want to stereotype every police officer because of what we read and see in the media.” 

Meet this week’s Personality, organizer Connie McGowan:

No. 1 volunteer position: Founder and organizer, RVA Community Unity.

What I do: I divorced my job in August 2015 as a nurse of 23 years and decided to marry my passion as a photographer, event planner and marketer by becoming a full-time entrepreneur.

Date and place of birth: June 11 in Meridian, Miss.

Current residence: Eastern Henrico County.

Education: Nursing degree from Meridian Community College.

Family: Single with no children, but I do have a four-legged fur baby named Bella Boo.

How I came up with idea of RVA Community Unity: The violent deaths of the victims in Baton Rouge, Minnesota and Dallas just weighed heavy on my heart, which compelled me to “do something.” And what I know how to do is bring people together to have fun and take photos.

Need for RVA Community Unity: We need businesses to participate by donating their services or space to host events, volunteers to help on the event date, media to help with getting the word out about the events as they are planned and when they occur and, most importantly, monetary, food or supply donations related to the event to keep all events free.

Inspiration for organization name: The name was derived from the action we seek.

What community means to me: Community is everyone coming together without an agenda, motive or expectation, but with a purpose to take care and look out for each other despite location, age, race, political, religious or sexual preference because we are called by God to love everyone.

First reaction to supportive response of RVA Community Unity “Shootout”: My first reaction was joy that could almost be felt down to the cellular level. I was just sooooo happy!

The purpose of holding the event: To bring people together like family and just have fun as we love on each other and relax from the tension of the past week.

How I felt when event was over: Hopeful and inspired, but also extremely exhausted because I had only 10 hours of sleep in 72 hours. LOL!

Upcoming events: A pep rally-style event with field day fun, games, school supply collection and so much more to kick off the kids going back to school.

What makes me tick: Planning events.

Outlook at start of day: Optimistic.

Outlook at end of day: Grateful.

I place top value on: People who do what they say.

How I unwind: Lying in bed scrolling down Facebook.

Three words that best describe me: Social, talkative and creative.

Prized possession: My dog, Bella Boo.

Nobody knows I’m: A person who relaxes and becomes inspired by walking around craft stores and home or office supply stores for inspiration at least weekly.

Person who influenced me the most: My great-grandparents, Jim and Ella McGowan.

The best thing they ever taught me was: Don’t tell people what you can do — show them.

Best late-night snack: Not really a snacker but I do love Talenti Gelato Southern Butter Pecan or any Lavender Field’s Lavender Ice Cream.

Book that influenced me the most: “The E-Myth Revisited” by Michael Gerber.

What I’m reading now: “The People Factor” by Van Moody.

If I’ve learned one thing in life, it is: Live out loud because you need to not just be heard but seen as well to encourage others. Always be yourself, step outside of comfort zones and do something different to get different results.

Next goal: Turn a simple idea into a thriving nonprofit.