5/12/2022, 6 p.m.
Every story has an end.
And I have decided to wrap up my story at the Richmond Free Press. I am stepping down as managing editor after seven and a half years. This edition of the newspaper is my last.
The pandemic has brought many things into focus, and I believe it is time to close this chapter in my professional career.
It has been an incredible experience. Since September 2014 when I came on board at the Free Press, the city, state and nation have undergone many changes — some positive and encouraging and others clearly pointing out the critical and urgent work that remains to be done.
During that time, Richmond has had five different police chiefs, three different school superintendents, two different mayors and significant turnovers within the School Board and City Council.
The crushing injustice we witnessed with the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police sparked demands for an end to police brutality and for a commitment to social justice and equality in Richmond and around the world. His death changed the perspectives of thousands of people and literally changed our city’s landscape. Daily massive demonstrations swept through our city and led to the removal of the towering racist reminders of hate and white supremacy from Monument Avenue and elsewhere.
While those Confederate statues now belong to the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia in Jackson Ward, we must not allow the burden of preserving these symbols of hate to divert resources away from the pressing need to educate our city about its long, profound and rich Black heritage. And we must not withdraw from the conversation about the statues’ ultimate use or stop demanding a seat at the table where these types of decisions will be made.
Our city also has been changed by the global pandemic of COVID-19, which forced people indoors and businesses and schools to close. More than 20,200 Virginians — including more than 500 living in Richmond alone — have lost their lives to the virus and its ugly complications, while thousands more have been hospitalized and untold numbers still live with the coronavirus’ lingering effects.
But many Richmonders have discovered silver linings dur- ing the quiet, including clearer perspectives on the importance of family and self-care and a greater understanding of how we are all connected and how the actions of one can have a great impact on us all.
We have witnessed the dedication of front line workers, from doctors, nurses, therapists and other health care professionals to grocery clerks and public transportation workers. We have seen the innovation of families and teachers to bring stability and a sense of normalcy to children and young adults as they continue to learn and grow. This is a testament to our community’s resiliency.
During the past seven and a half years, our city and state have been rocked by scandals surrounding elected officials, arising from offensive blackface appearances, sex with minors and charges of nonconsensual sex with women. We have been plagued by shootings and killings that have horrified the community and devastated families.
But we have seen people pull together during these struggles and challenges. Nearly 400 people have been highlighted as Free Press “Personality” of the week during the past seven and a half years. These are people who have given freely of their time and talents for the benefit of the larger community.
We also have celebrated our own National Teacher of the Year — Richmond’s Rodney Robinson — cheered seven Richmond teachers of the year and added Juneteenth to the state and national holiday calendar. While Juneteenth has its roots in Texas, it is a tangible reminder that until all of us are free, none of us are free.
Recent state and national elections and appointments have swept into power those hell-bent on turning the clock back. We are facing real assaults on women’s health rights, voting rights, LGBTQ rights, equal rights and the truth. This is a call to all of us that we must continue to fight “until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream,” as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. urged.
The struggle is not over, and we, as a city and a people, continue to face challenges to our well-being and quality of life. Whatever may come, we, at the Free Press, know our readers count on us to inform them, to provide a platform for their voices to be heard in matters affecting our city and state and to be their advocates on important issues.
The Free Press always has been, and always will be, the mirror exposing Richmond’s bigotry to the rest of the world and crusading for the progress that our community needs.
That will not change.
I am both humbled and honored to have been a part of the legacy and important mission of the Free Press launched 30 years ago by our visionary founder, editor and publisher, the late Raymond H. Boone Sr. The newspaper remains in steady hands with his widow, our current publisher, Jean Patterson Boone, and a dedicated staff who bring hard work and a real commitment to the Free Press mission each week.
Our success is measured, in part, by the awards we win each year from our peers at the Virginia Press Association and the National Newspaper Publishers Association. And during the past seven and a half years, we have been recognized with a combined total of 117 awards, including 15 this year from the VPA. That’s pretty terrific!
But what is even more impressive is how readers on their own accord will pick up a dozen or more copies of the Free Press each week from a box near them—or sometimes they will drive all the way Downtown to get papers from our box in front of the building — and deliver them to family, friends, church members, the homebound and others. That shows, more than any award, how valued our work is to the community, and helps to explain why we care so much about our readers. That’s also one of the takeaways from my time here that I will treasure the most.
For each of you, the story continues, and I will be reading.
Continuing the struggle for justice,
Bonnie V. Winston