Reimagining Monument Avenue, by Burt Pinnock and Julie Weissend

7/1/2021, 6 p.m.
In the summer of 2020, a group of citizens began a dialogue about the future of Monument Avenue.

In the summer of 2020, a group of citizens began a dialogue about the future of Monument Avenue.

As Jerome Legions, president of the Carver Area Civic Improvement League, has so eloquently said, “Not just its aesthetic future, but its philosophical one as well.”

As the year unfolded, it became clear that the focus should be not on what is next, but rather who is asking the question?

This group, Reimagining Monument Avenue, has continued to engage the community in that conversation with the goal of building a broad coalition of residents, activists, business and civic leaders, protesters, community organizers, institutions — everyone willing — to add perspective, lend their voice or simply listen.

The future of Monument Avenue and its placement into the broader historic context of Richmond, the Commonwealth and the country’s history will come. Before we enter that discussion, this collective seeks to make the past understood—to find common ground in truth and fact.

The process envisioned is like planting a garden. Before we decide what will be planted, the soil needs to be analyzed. Recognizing how the depletion happened in the first place is essential. And this is bigger than Monument Avenue; every neighborhood in the city should be included when it comes to this process of knowing and discussing the facts of our shared history.

We are at an epic inflection point; “cross-pollination” and supplementation can and should inform what happens next. The goal is to invigorate, so that when Monument Avenue is reimagined, it ultimately yields something important that resonates with everyone across our community.

On May 29, a couple dozen people came out to the Branch Museum, located at the corner of Monument and Davis avenues. It was the first time after many Zoom meetings that we were together in person. We came to listen to people such as Ana Edwards taking us back to 1730, to Sarah Driggs expanding on the history of the creation of Monument Avenue, and to Michael Larkin, aka “The Chicken Man,” sharing his experiences from last summer, in addition to many others. We came together to listen to one another.

The strength of this group is bolstered only by the diversity of voices it envelops and the opportunities for inclusion it provides. This is about more than the Avenue; it’s about our city.

We want to look at the community in aggregate—not just Monument Avenue.

To that end, we simply ask that you join us in the conversation. As co-facilitators leading that effort, we ask you to consider sharing your voice and your time with us. We will be holding public forums throughout the city in the coming months. But in the meantime, we encourage you to learn more about our mission and who’s involved at reimaginingmonumentavenue.org.

This is your city. Make your voice heard.

The writers are co-facilitators of Reimagining Monument Avenue.