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Upcoming VPM Documentary on Richmond Protests Featured at Afrikana Film Festival


Upcoming VPM Documentary on Richmond Protests Featured at Afrikana Film Festival

Crowd with BLM signs
Large crowds marched through the streets of Richmond, Virginia chanting and carrying signs after the death of George Floyd. 
filmmaker with camera
Filmmaker Domico Phillips captured each night of the protests in Richmond, Virginia as they unraveled after the death of George Floyd.
man carrying torn American flag
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Filmmakers Metta Bastet and Domico Phillips will share clips from the upcoming VPM documentary “Why This Moment?” opening night of the Afrikana Independent Film Festival on September 17. The virtual festival runs through September 20 with films and filmmaker conversations highlighting the multitude of stories within the global Black narrative. Why This Moment? is a local documentary to premiere this fall on VPM exploring the reasons behind the protests in Richmond sparked by the death of George Floyd. The film is predominantly shot from the perspective of a young, black man with an on-the-ground look at the daily protests, demonstrations and public outcry.

Bastet and Phillips will share clips from the documentary and talk about their experience as a filmmaker documenting the ongoing protests, police brutality, and the relationships they’ve developed along the way. 

The festival will also feature the PBS documentary “Boss: The Black Business Experience” on Saturday at 8pm.

The Afrikana Independent Film Festival runs September 17th through the 20th. For more information please visit


Bike-Ped Counts Help Address Connectivity Issues


Bike-Ped Counts Help Address Connectivity Issues

Manchester Bridge
The Manchester Bridge, which leads into the city proper, is just one of the many bike lanes used for this week's BikePed count put on by Bike Walk RVA. (Photo Credit: Phil Riggan)

Phill Riggan is an avid bike commuter in Richmond. If you follow him on the exercise app Strava, you can see he cycled over 20 miles to work almost every day. However, that was before the coronavirus pandemic put the brakes on his travels and made him work from home.

So when the opportunity came up to head out to a few locations in the city to count pedestrians and cyclists, Riggan jumped at the chance.

“I had to get out of the house. So it was a good excuse to get out if nothing else. And of course, you know, I like to bike, so I was trying to bike to those locations as well,” Riggan says.

Riggan, who works for the Richmond regional transportation planning organization known as Plan RVA, has been doing the counts for four years. 

Twice a year, in May and September, roughly 100 volunteers get armed with clipboards and pencils and take to the streets to do the counts. 

The counts were started back in 2014 by the nonprofit Bike Walk RVA, which falls under the Sports Backers umbrella. 

bike lane
Runners and bikers both use Malvern Avenue in Richmond. (Photo: Phil Riggan) 

Data is collected from almost 30 locations around the city. ShaCoria Shelton, lead organizer at Bike Walk RVA, says the group uses the data to help plan future developments, and to give feedback to city planners on existing work. 

She says, “We want to see before a project goes in, how many people are using this location. And then after the project is completed, what are the changes in use."

The data is also sent to the National Bike and Pedestrian Documentation Project. This nationwide effort provides a consistent model of data collection and ongoing data for use by planners, governments, and bicycle and pedestrian advocates.

All that data collection is in service to the main goal: Making sure everyone can get around the city. “We want to make sure that everyone who uses any types of means of transportation has the ability to do so safely,” Shelton says.

Volunteers usually count the same spot for three days, between 5 and 7 p.m. This year, the last day of counting was cancelled due to Thursday’s rain.

For his two days of counts, Riggan was situated at two different locations. First, he was at the corner of Malvern Avenue between Hanover and Grove Streets.  

“I had like 44 pedestrians passed by in that two hour time frame and 32 cyclists,”  Riggan says. “Some of those were parents pulling little kids on their bikes or, you know, parents pushing strollers.” Riggan says he counts those kids, too, in the totals. “
That was close to 80 people.”

Riggan’s next location was the Manchester Bridge, around traffic that goes too fast for most parents with strollers. The people he’d normally be counting were still crossing the river, just down below on the car-free T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge.

 “I kept looking down from the [Manchester] Bridge at the Potterfield [Bridge] and how many people were down there and I was a little jealous of the difference. So many people were down at the Potterfield,” Riggan says. 

Despite the longing to count those on the Potterfield Bridge, Riggan says he did manage to count 50 cyclists on the Manchester Bridge, mostly of the more ‘hardcore’ solo rider variety.

A recent addition to the counts is the number of bikes seen on the front of GRTC buses, Riggan says. 

“I only saw two, but that's something else they're trying to count now,” he says.

Riggan says he likes to help out Sports Backers and Bike Walk RVA with the counts because they’re trying to increase active transportation connections and help the biking and walking community. And because their efforts have a natural synergy with his own work.

“I have a lot of participation from Bike Walk RVA for the things that I do with Plan RVA. And so it's even more pleasing, to have a chance to get back to help them socially when they're doing something that's beneficial to the area,” Riggan says.

Clip board in hand, Phil Riggan is ready to count (Photo: Phil Riggan) 

Editor's Note: We made a slight change to a quote to improve clarity. 

Virginia Celebrates Indigenous Peoples’ Day For The First Time


Virginia Celebrates Indigenous Peoples’ Day For The First Time

Ceremonial dance
Mattaponi Chief Mark Custalow (left) leading a group of women in a ceremonial dance at the tax tribute in 2019. (Photo: Roberto Roldan/VPM News)

The second Monday in October was traditionally celebrated as Columbus Day, but this year Virginia will celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day for the first time ever.

Governor Ralph Northam issued a proclamation making the change late last week. In a video message, Northam said that, for too long, the United States has failed to live up to its commitments to native peoples.

“Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebrates the resilience of our tribal communities and promotes reconciliation, healing, and continued friendship with Virginia’s Indian tribes,” he said. 

Virginia is home to seven federally recognized tribes, but only two, the Pamunkey and Mattaponi Indian Tribes, still have the reservation land outlined in the 17th Century treaties with English colonists. 

Last year, Northam announced the Chickahominy Tribe, with the assistance of state grants, would acquire a 105-acre site along the James River for land conservation and a tribal office. He also signed a land trust agreement with the Mattaponi Indian Tribe. That agreement nearly doubled the size of the Mattaponi reservation. 

Northam’s proclamation on Oct. 9 brought the state in line with Richmond city and Fairfax county, which had already renamed Columbus Day. That same day, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney invited local tribal leaders to city hall to present them with the proclamation.

“Indigenous peoples were the first people to populate the land that now comprises the great city of Richmond,” Stoney said. “Too often, our histories ignore this fact, erasing centuries of indigenous progress, including major developments in language, arts and technology.”

Among those represented at Richmond City Hall were the Pamunkey, Nottoway, and Mattaponi Indian Tribes, and the Nanesemond Indian Nation.


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Black Lives Matter Renews Interest in Richmond's Black Culture and History


Black Lives Matter Renews Interest in Richmond's Black Culture and History

“Say Their Names,” by Silly Genius and Nils Westergard, at 3311 W. Broad St. The mural was created as part of the Mending Walls project, a collaboration between Richmond artists and businesses who volunteer a wall to be transformed into a mural that provokes conversation. (Photo by Cierra Parks)

This article by Cierra Parks is posted as part of VPM's partnership with Capital News Service.

The Black Lives Matter movement has helped renew interest in Richmond's African American culture and history, according to community leaders.

BLK RVA is an initiative launched in August 2019 between Richmond Region Tourism and 20 community leaders to highlight historic African American tourist attractions and engage visitors in events that support Richmond's Black community. The group continues to promote Black-centered tourism in light of recent events. BLK RVA was recently awarded the Richmond Region Tourism Chairman's Award in recognition of its contributions over the past year.

Tameka Jefferson, the community relations manager for Richmond Region Tourism and BLK RVA, said the Black Lives Matter movement has generated more interest in African American tourism, which she said is "long overdue." Although Black Lives Matter began in 2013, the movement gained more support this year.

"Now is the time that we do need to come together as a community to support our businesses, to support our city and our region," Jefferson said.

Jefferson also said that in the months following the death of George Floyd in police custody, she has seen more people visit the area around the Robert E. Lee statue. The area has been transformed into space used by the community for art, protest and memorial -- and even basketball.

She said people are migrating to this area now that there has been a "staple of just coming together and a staple of community and uprising."

BLK RVA's mission is to illustrate that the Richmond region has evolved and is now a multicultural hub that specializes in four pillars: arts and entertainment, food and drink, community and history. She said the state capital is often seen through its outdated history--an outlook that needs to change.

In addition to African American-centered events and fundraisers, BLK RVA promotes the patronizing of what they call "rooted and rising" businesses; ones that have been around a while and others that are up and coming.

One established business is the Elegba Folklore Society, which was established 30 years ago. The Society hosts the annual Down Home Family Reunion and Juneteenth Freedom celebrations in addition to guided heritage tours along the Trail of Enslaved Africans and other historic sites. The trail details the history of slave trade from Africa to Virginia, following a route through the area's former slave markets and also highlighting African American life leading up to the Civil War.

Omilade Janine Bell, president and artistic director of the Elegba Folklore Society, said the company prides itself on educating people because Black stories are often not fully told. She has noticed a renewed interest in learning about Black history in light of the recent Black Lives Matter movement. Jefferson echoes that statement.

"His (George Floyd's) loss-of-life story has opened the eyes of many whose eyes had been shut tightly before," Bell said. "Now there is a heightened awareness among Black people and others about the lack of equity."

Jaynell Pittman-Shaw owns Maple Bourbon, a restaurant serving breakfast and lunch in Richmond's downtown area that is one of BLK RVA's "rising" businesses. Pittman-Shaw believes there is a new spotlight on inequity in the Black community.

"That is what people are protesting about right now: systemic and institutional racism," Pittman-Shaw said. "Black business owners do not have access to the same resources that should be available to any business owner," but black businesses need more support to thrive.

Jefferson said BLK RVA donated money from online merchandise sales to the Richmond Black Restaurant Experience, which hosts a week-long event in the spring promoting black-owned food businesses. Over $15,000 was raised and distributed evenly among 35 Black Restaurant Week participants affected by COVID-19. Pittman- Shaw was one of the grantees. She plans to "pay it forward" by using the $500 grant she received to help another black-owned restaurant that did not participate in Black Restaurant Week.

Restaurants such as Big Herm's Kitchen and Soul Taco used the money to help pay employees who were affected when COVID-19 restructured business.

The Richmond Black Restaurant Experience supports black, food-focused businesses, including restaurants, food trucks and catering services. They have raised nearly $50,000, surpassing their new goal of $25,000 according to the group's GoFundMe page.

In addition to restaurants, other attractions have made adjustments since COVID-19 began. Many of them have migrated to virtual experiences. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Virginia Museum of History and Culture are offering virtual exhibits, including the All in Together collaborative project and Determined: The 400-Year Struggle for Black Equality. The Elegba Folklore Society broadcast its Juneteenth celebration on Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo.

The organization also recently promoted the Black is Beautiful beer initiative, a nationwide collaboration created by Marcus J. Baskerville, head brewer and co-owner at Weathered Souls Brewing Co. in San Antonio. Over 30 Virginia craft breweries participated to support people of color and raise funds for police reform and legal defense. Richmond breweries put their spin on the traditional imperial stout recipe to raise money for the Black is Beautiful cause. The Answer, Hardywood, The Veil and Lickinghole Creek were among the Richmond-area breweries that created stouts for the initiative. Each brewery will donate the proceeds to organizations that support the Black is Beautiful cause.

BLK RVA has also highlighted events such as the RVA Black Farmers Market, the Richmond Night Market and events hosted by UnlockingRVA.

Descendant of Slave Owners, Descendant of Enslaved Talk Race


Descendant of Slave Owners, Descendant of Enslaved Talk Race

a split screen of a man and woman facing forward
Bucky Neal (left) and Brenda Brown-Grooms (right)

VPM is one of six stations across the United States partnering with StoryCorps for “One Small Step,” a nationwide initiative that brings together people with opposing political beliefs to have open, respectful conversations.

To participate and speak to someone in our community, please click here.

As one of the first women and African Americans to attend the University of Virginia, Reverend Brenda Brown-Grooms remembers a professor saying she’ll never get an A in class. “I have no idea what it is to be a white man in America. I've never been one,” said Brown-Grooms. “I know how to be a black woman in America, that's what I've been for 65 years.” Bucky Neal, a 65-year-old white male, is a descendent of slave owners. “My ancestors owned people, and it's something I'm coming to terms with,” said Neal. The two sat down and spoke about their family histories and race in America.

After learning his ancestors were slave owners, Neal wanted to know more about the “stories little white boys like [him] were not taught.” For instance, the story of Gabriel’s Rebellion. “I used to think of him as the murderer, and now I realize he was just fighting for his freedom,” said Neal.

Brown-Grooms, who helped Charlottesville get through its 2017 summer of hate, is glad Neal is learning these stories and recalls her great-grandfather’s experiences in America. “He was called N-word Edward cause there were two Edwards on the farm: the white Edward and the black Edward,” said Brown-Grooms.

While her family has dealt with racism and many “unspeakable things,” she believes it’s a shared history that has a lasting impact on everyone. “For everything that my family went through, your ancestors were affected by the fact that they did it,” she said to Neal. “We are a community; there is nothing that happens to me that doesn't affect you.”

Neal has felt that impact, feeling guilt and shame, when talking to people about racism and American history. “She looked me square in the eyes and said Bucky you didn't own those slaves and you didn't turn those dogs on me. You as a person don't have anything to apologize for,” said Neal about a conversation he had with a Black woman from Birmingham, Alabama.

That conversation helped Neal step away from guilt about the past and move toward taking an active role in what he can do about inequality happening today. “I’m not guilty, but I’m responsible,” said Neal. “I got a responsibility to do something about it.”

Brown-Grooms has never been interested in guilt, saying “...guilty white people tend to be the most dangerous.” To her, the guilt and shame associated with America’s past prevent people from talking about racial issues. “We don't have hard conversations, the hard conversation of race, which is the essential conversation in my view,” said Brown-Grooms. “We can’t put it off anymore.”

In order to deal with the racism that’s a part of this country, she believes people need to learn how to talk about race. "This tsunami, it's not going to be survivable if we don't start talking with each other and seeing each other as human beings," said Brown-Grooms.

Neal agrees it’s about connecting on a personal level and talking about racial issues in a “nonvillainizing” way. He hopes to do that by sharing the stories that “need to be told to white people" about enslaved people. “If they’re not in history they’ve been dismembered from history so you re-member them, you bring them back into history,” said Neal.

Both Neal and Brown-Grooms know nothing can change the past, but they can work to make the future better for everyone. “The issue is what do you and I do with the perceived inequalities we’ve inherited,” said Brown-Grooms. Neal told Brown-Grooms he hopes to meet a descendant of someone enslaved by his ancestors and set up a program where he teaches urban youth in Richmond how to build a boat.

StoryCorps’ One Small Step is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Join Discussion with Ahmed Badr on "Reclaiming the Refugee Narrative"


Join Discussion with Ahmed Badr on "Reclaiming the Refugee Narrative"

Ahmed and narratio fellow
Photo by Edward Grattan


What do you think of when you hear the word “refugee?” 

Ahmed BadrHost of the podcast Resettled and author of the newly released book While The Earth Sleeps We Travel (Andrews McMeel, 2020), Ahmed Badr’s work seeks to create spaces and platforms where displaced young people can “share their own stories, on their own terms.” 

But how do we do this? How can podcast producers push back against the dominant singular, two-dimensional narratives around displacement, and instead share thoughtful and nuanced stories, all while informing the audience? 

While The Earth Sleeps We TravelIn this stripped down conversation, Dr. Chioke I’Anson of the VPM + ICA Community Media Center talks with Ahmed Badr about the ethics of storytelling, the power of creative platforms, and techniques for community-engaged media.  

We will also revisit Resettled and talk with the IRC, the podcast’s executive producer, and one of the people featured in the episodes.

As pre-work, listen to the first episode of Resettled anywhere you get your podcasts.

Learn more about Ahmed’s book at



Democrat, Republican Share Personal Experiences Behind Beliefs


Democrat, Republican Share Personal Experiences Behind Beliefs

Headshots of two men in a split screen
Dontrese Brown (left) and Frank Surface (right)

VPM is one of six stations across the United States partnering with StoryCorps for “One Small Step,” a nationwide initiative that brings together people with opposing political beliefs to have open, respectful conversations.

To participate and speak to someone in our community, please click here.

A childhood surrounded by drugs and violence led Dontrese Brown to have a passion for helping young people succeed, specifically those in black, low-income neighborhoods such as Gilpin Court, in Richmond. “I know how hard it is to get out of those areas, and I also realize some of the systemic racism that positioned us into some of those situations,” said Brown. For Frank Surface, his home life caused him to mature around the age of 10, having to cook all of his own meals and do his laundry. “I want to be...totally responsible for myself,” said Surface. “I’d appreciate a hand up, but not a handout.” Brown and Surface sat down and talked about their life experiences, political differences, and the importance of understanding where a person’s beliefs come from.

Brown had the constant support of his mother, who emphasized education as a tool to leave the negative environment he grew up in. “My mother never let me believe I had to stay and it was as simple as you don't have to stay here like there are things bigger than this,” said Brown, who works at Randolph-Macon College. His mom, a single parent, received her GED at the same time Brown graduated high school. Brown tells students at Randolph-Macon to thank their guardian(s) for their sacrifices and everything they did behind the scenes to help the students get to where they are today.

Surface, a father of four, applauds Brown and his mother, saying Brown wouldn’t be where he is right now if his mother didn’t believe he could achieve more in life. “The worst form of discrimination is the soft, tender voice of low expectations,” said Surface, shedding a tear.

Unlike Brown, Surface’s parents didn’t expect him to do anything in life. Due to having a tenuous relationship with his family, Surface moved out as soon as he graduated high school and has been on his own since. “I just went to community college..three years to get a 2-year degree because I drove a truck trying to pay the bills,” said Surface, a small business owner.

Brown appreciates Surface’s empathy and wishes more people would listen with compassion. “I feel misunderstood predominantly by people who don't look like me, by people who aren’t black,” said Brown. “They tend to not want to hear my experiences and why I am in opposition of some of the things that they support, or why I feel like there is systemic racism purposely built into our culture.”

For Brown, compassion and understanding are more important than political affiliation. He believes working to understand someone with opposing beliefs can help the nation come together. “It's okay to be at opposite ends but the most important thing is how we understand, respect, and appreciate where that other individual is coming from, more importantly, the experiences that they've had,” said Brown.

Similarly, Surface doesn’t see opposing views as combative, they’re just different. “I think the disagreement maybe is in the hows, not the whats,” said Surface. “But if we agree on the what, then we can figure out the how.”

While Surface and Brown may disagree on how to solve an issue, they understand why each other thinks the way they think and see where their beliefs come from. “If we're not empathetic to the individual that is in opposition, then we cannot get anywhere,” said Brown.

StoryCorps’ One Small Step is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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Republican, Democrat Talk History and Future of America


Republican, Democrat Talk History and Future of America

Headshots of two men in a split screen

VPM is one of six stations across the United States partnering with StoryCorps for “One Small Step,” a nationwide initiative that brings together people with opposing political beliefs to have open, respectful conversations. In many instances, the participants discover they have more in common than they thought.

To participate and speak to someone in our community, please click here.

For Chris Peace, America has always been a country that is tolerant of the variety of opinions and voices of its citizens. “America was born...out of a rejection of tyranny and oppressive power,” said Peace. During the pandemic, Michael Lewis sees that history is repeating itself. While Lewis wears a mask each time he leaves his house, he understands some feel it’s an infringement on their freedom. “I think America was born in this sort of discussion where someone from a government said you have to do this, you have to do that, and some people in America decided, you know, I don't think so,” said Lewis. “400 years later or so we're still having this discussion.” The two sat down and spoke about their beliefs, creating a better future, and coming together as Americans.

Even though Peace, a lawyer, sees America as a country that allows for a variety of opinions and voices, he wishes people cared more about each other and understood how personal decisions may negatively impact others.

While opposing views can create a divide, Lewis believes that listening to the opinions and experiences of others can actually bring people together. “How else are we going to get to know each other if we don't let each other know this is how I think, this is how I feel,” said Lewis, a small business owner. Lewis understands that communication is not always enough. He wishes people were more open-minded about others and their experiences and life situations.

Peace understands that feeling firsthand. A few years ago, Peace opposed Medicaid expansion in Virginia, but through his work as a lawyer, he has met with numerous individuals with wide-ranging needs and life experiences. As a result, he came to understand how the program could help others. “I was able to see just what great need there is in the community and how that safety-net could be expanded and still be expanded in a fiscally responsible way,” said Peace.

At 62 years old, Lewis would like to be judged by the content of his character, not the color of his skin. While he has earned a college degree, Lewis says employers still don’t believe he has the knowledge or skill set to qualify for white-collar jobs. He recently applied to be a contact tracer in Virginia but was told he was unqualified and couldn’t handle the complex medical terminology involved with the position. “This is an entry-level position! Do I have to have an MD degree to get an entry-level health position?” said Lewis, who is also working on getting a second degree to become a teacher.

Peace has never been denied a job because of his skin color. “I'm really going to still have to wrestle with that information,” said Peace. “How do I then make the world a better place so that doesn't happen? I think people need to be more aware of these types of things.”

While Peace knows talking can help him better understand the differences in another person, it can also show that they have a lot in common. “We all have family, we all have experienced loss...we have challenges in the world, we don't always agree with everyone but we believe that civil discourse and helping one another is the way to go,” said Peace.

Both Peace and Lewis have experienced the loss of a parent and believe that loss has influenced who they have become today. When Lewis was about 10 years old, his father passed away. “It's more than losing a friend or companion,” said Lewis. “It's still impacting me.” Peace lost his mother unexpectedly, right before he got married when he was 27 years old. “It was by far the worst way to ever start a marriage,” said Peace.

The two also recognize the presidents and political figures they grew up with, like John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, have shaped their beliefs. Peace and Lewis see history repeating itself, and both believe the history books will show Americans continue to strive to make the country better for everyone. “In the nation's history when...things got bad things always got better and we've continued to advance and progress and have a much more perfect union,” said Peace.

StoryCorps' One Small Step is made possible by the Corporation of Public Broadcasting.

For Richmond’s Witches, It’s About More Than Halloween


For Richmond’s Witches, It’s About More Than Halloween

Group posing
Pan (in yellow) and her group of friends visiting the market. (Photo: Clara Haizlett/VPM News)

*Clara Haizlett reported this story

Halloween might have been over, but this past Sunday, there were still witches on the streets of Richmond -- and they weren’t wearing pointy hats or flying on broomsticks.

At first glance, it looked like a farmers market -- tents set up in rows and people milling around window shopping. But instead of selling vegetables, vendors sold herbs and crystals, Ouija boards and resin jewelry. 

It was the Samhain Witch Market, held in honor of Samhain (pronounced Sa-win), an ancient Celtic celebration occurring when the barrier between the earthly world and the spiritual realm was believed to be at its thinnest -- allowing spirits to pass through. 

Tents at market
While the wares sold may have been spookier than a farmer's market, witching doesn't have to be frightening. (Photo: Clara Haizlett/VPM News)

An attendee, who went by the name Pan, wore a yellow plaid dress with a stitched-on emblem of her Harry Potter house, "Hufflepuff."" Her family is from Romania and Hungary, and she says she comes from a long line of pagan and wiccan practitioners. 

“I am our family's first see-er in three generations. So that's what I do. I read futures,” she said.

Others at the festival identified as pagan, druid or simply curious about spirituality in general. But as the market’s name suggests, there were plenty of witches in attendance. 

Brittny Williams is a self-identified witch and a behavioral coach at a local nonprofit. 

“You won't be able to know a witch when you see them,” she said, speaking behind a unicorn print mask. “Most of the time, we look pretty normal.”

Woman with Ouija board
Brittny Williams holds a ouija board. (Photo: Clara Haizlett/VPM News)

Williams brought her handmade jewelry to sell at the market. She runs a small business called “The Witches Altar,” where she sells spiritual items and offers services like tarot readings. 

Williams says witchcraft is often misunderstood and negatively perceived. That stigma makes witches hesitant to share their identity with others. 

“I myself have been victim of like religious discrimination in the workplace,” she said. “That's a really big issue, I feel like in the community as a whole.” 

Williams says her practice is a spiritual connection to things that you can't see -- things like spirits of the land, spirits of ancestors or a deity. 

María Badillo, Williams' business partner, says witchcraft is unique to each practitioner. Her practice involves herbal healing and meditation. 

“You know, a witch could simply be someone who makes their morning cup of tea and that's their, that's their magic for the day,” she explained. 

Two women posing
Brittny Williams and María Badillo stand outside their tent at the market. (Photo: Clara Haizlett/VPM News)

Badillo says witchcraft isn't always tied to paganism. In fact, it can coexist with any faith, like Buddhism or Christianity.  

“I think it's not all as spooky as people think it is,” Badillo said. “It really is more of an everyday practice.”

The Samhain Witch Market is just one of many local events organized by self-identified witches -- including yoga, tarot card readings, and food drives for the homeless.

Correction: We inaccurately referred to one of the people we interviewed as Pam. They go by Pan. The story was updated.

Film "Why This Moment" Captures Richmond's Fight for Racial Justice


Film "Why This Moment" Captures Richmond's Fight for Racial Justice

Why this moment documentary
Screenshot from the film "Why This Moment."

“I saw the video of George Floyd’s, murder. I got so angry. My phone was blowing up, instagram was blowing up, things were happening downtown. I just know I have to go.” 

-Leewa Ali

Protests erupted across the country after the death of George Floyd in late May of 2020, including Richmond, Virginia. Filmmakers Domico Phillips and Metta Bastet captured the local outcry as people expressed their frustrations over repeated acts of police brutality. The documentary “Why This Moment” details the emotions and events surrounding the protests from the perspective of the activists.

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Phillips witnessed the first night of civil unrest in Richmond, as well as the energy of the crowds, violence towards the protesters and the camaraderie of a collective cause. “When that happened with George Floyd, everybody united together and took matters into their own hands,” said Philips as he documented unfolding events on Richmond’s streets, “Coming out here everyday and every night you don’t know what to expect.”

Throughout the protests, there have been multiple clashes with police, apologies from officials, peaceful demonstrations, and ultimately the removal of many confederate statues in Richmond. 

“Why this moment?” asked Bastet, lead producer and director, coining the title for the documentary. Bastet always saw the confederate statues down Monument Avenue and across Virginia as symbols of oppressions and was stunned when momentum from the protests led to their removal. “Is this really happening now? Wow,” she exclaimed. As lead producer, she wanted to explore the demonstrators’  reactions to the statues’ removal because they felt similarly about their presence. 

“The murder of George Floyd was the last straw, you know, for our nation and beyond,” said Princess Blanding, sister of Marcus-David Peters.  In 2018, Peters was shot by police in Richmond while in a mental health crisis. Bland is also featured in the film, which spotlights Peters and Richmond’s own reckoning with police reform.   

Watch “Why This Moment” on VPM PBS Tuesday, November 17 at 10pm.

Stream and share on Facebook.

Democrat, Republican Talk Family and Political Beliefs


Democrat, Republican Talk Family and Political Beliefs

Headshots of two women in a split screen
Kelli Gannon (left) and Zanne Macdonald (right)

VPM is one of six stations across the United States partnering with StoryCorps for “One Small Step,” a nationwide initiative that brings together people with opposing political beliefs to have open, respectful conversations. In many instances, the participants discover they have more in common than they thought.

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Zanne Macdonald, 72, was a conservative until the Vietnam War and has had many disagreements with her parents on political issues and candidates. “I will challenge her [my mom] and say…‘you are the epitome of honesty and integrity,’” said Macdonald. “How can you see this man as a man of integrity.” Kelli Gannon, 55, who considers herself conservative, has similar conversations with her son, who leans more liberal. “I hate that we have this division in our country...but I really embrace the fact that it is helping people open up and talk,“ said Gannon. The two sat down and had their own conversation in which they learned more about each other and political beliefs.

Even though Macdonald, a retired librarian, didn’t always agree with her father, she says he greatly impacted her life. Her father, a pilot, was injured in a plane crash in World War II, coming home with an “almost non-existent leg.” Despite always being in pain, her father remained active with his family and always played with his kids. “He taught me self-esteem,” said Macdonald. “That really made me feel so good about myself and he was amazing..lived to 95 and flew his airplane until he was 80.”

Gannon was moved by Macdonald’s story of her father and often tells her kids that the World War II generation was the greatest generation. “That’s an incredible story,” said Gannon, an elementary school teacher. “Do you ever just long for that generation again?”

Even though Macdonald’s father was a part of that generation, she doesn’t believe it’s the greatest because they didn’t try to resolve social issues such as racial injustice. “Unfortunately I think that’s why our country is partly where we are right now,” said Macdonald.

Macdonald grew up in a conservative household, but now considers herself a Democratic Socialist. “I think there's a lot of fear because you hear socialism, it's not communism it's not a negative thing, and, yet, you know I think a lot of people are fearful of it,” said Macdonald, who lived in democratic socialist countries.

While Gannon, who was the first in her family to graduate college, respects Macdonald’s opinion and that she has knowledge behind it, she doesn’t necessarily think socialism is what the United States should do. “I like less government,” said Gannon. “I don't believe that people shouldn't be helped and shouldn't be taken care of.” ”I just don't know that it's our government's purpose to do all of that.” Gannon added she would love to hear more about socialism and Macdonald’s experience with it.

After noticing a lot of division in the country this year, Gannon thinks having these conversations with family and strangers is needed to create substantial, positive change. “Until our hearts change, it’s going to be hard for our country to change,” said Gannon. “It’s hard to change your heart if you don’t understand people.” Gannon has learned a lot from her husband of nearly 30 years because he comes from a different background and looks at conflicts differently.

Just as Gannon and her husband combine parenting styles to raise two kids, Macdonald believes the two political parties need to do as well to raise their own child — the country. “We need to raise that child in the correct way that means you have to reprimand, you have to encourage, and this is the kind of conversation we all need,” said Macdonald, who raised two daughters.

Macdonald and Gannon disagree on many issues, but the two parents do agree the country is important and that both sides need to work together for a successful future.

StoryCorps’ One Small Step is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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Children of Immigrants Share Experiences Of Being Stereotyped


Children of Immigrants Share Experiences Of Being Stereotyped

Headshots of two women in a split screen
Alisson Klaiber (left) and Anja Thomas (right)

VPM is one of six stations across the United States partnering with StoryCorps for “One Small Step,” a nationwide initiative that brings together people with opposing political beliefs to have open, respectful conversations. In many instances, the participants discover they have more in common than they thought.

While living abroad, people assumed Anja Thomas, a dual citizen, was a racist because she was from the southern part of the United States. “The bourbon drinking, the cowboys - those are kind of funny things in terms of American stereotypes, but to be associated with being a racist because I'm from the south - that bothered me on so many levels,” said Thomas. Alisson Klaiber, who’s also a dual citizen, had a similar experience in the U.S. while attending college. “People hated me for just being French,” said Klaiber. The two sat down and talked about their family and experiences as European-American citizens.

As a child, Thomas attended 3rd and 7th grade in the Netherlands and often felt glorified for being from America by her classmates. “I'll never forget we tried playing softball or baseball, and everybody expected that I knew how to play the game,” said Thomas, a mother of three.

Klaiber, a mother of two, says she attended an American college during a time in which France did not partner with the U.S. in searching for weapons of mass destruction. “[They] assumed that I believed what the French President believed,” she said. “I am not my president, just as you are not your president.” Klaiber remembers feeling hated on campus with her peers slamming doors in her face.

Thomas understands the feeling of being looked at negatively. Growing up, kids made fun of Thomas for being different, calling her “onion” as a joke on her name Anja, but because of her parents, she learned to cherish her differences. Thomas’ parents met in the 1960s after her mother moved from the Netherlands to the U.S. “My dad was attracted to her [my mom] because she was different,” said Thomas. “Being different was not something to be afraid of.”

As a daughter of immigrants, Alisson Klaiber was told she would never speak or write English well enough to be a lawyer. “Sometimes it's positive and funny and cute, and sometimes it's really serious, and it takes away from a relationship you could have or an experience or opening that you could have,” said Klaiber on people’s assumptions of those from different cultures. She did become a lawyer, proving all of those negative assumptions wrong.

Even though Klaiber’s parents moved to the U.S. for the “American dream,” her father wasn’t that happy about Klaiber’s decision to be a lawyer. Having moved to Palm Beach, Florida, and starting a travel business, Klaiber’s father didn’t want her stuck behind a desk her whole life. “He thought he was instilling in me like fun into something profitable, and being a lawyer to him is not fun,” said Klaiber. “He turned what he loved to do, which is go on fancy trips and fly airplanes into a business.”

Her father’s passion for their family business instilled a drive in Klaiber to work hard each day. “He turned nothing into something very successful,” said Klaiber, who’s the first person in her family to attend college.

Similarly, Thomas’ father, who grew up “very poor,” built a successful life for himself and instilled a strong work ethic into her. “He went from literally putting cardboard in his shoes as a child to retiring at the age of 53,” said Thomas, who is also on the verge of retiring. Her mother’s courage to move at 18 by herself to a country she didn’t know fostered a great deal of independence in her.

Both Thomas and Klaiber have a college education, but the two agree it’s not the end-all-be-all. The two agree an entrepreneurial spirit and a willingness to do the hard work can lead to a successful life, whether in America or another country.

StoryCorps’ One Small Step is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Mothers Share Experiences Raising Child With Mental Health Challenges


Mothers Share Experiences Raising Child With Mental Health Challenges

Headshots of two women in a split screen
Amber Vernon (left) and CD Vauters (right)

VPM is one of six stations across the United States partnering with StoryCorps for “One Small Step,” a nationwide initiative that brings together people with opposing political beliefs to have open, respectful conversations. In many instances, the participants discover they have more in common than they thought.

Richmond is a city of contradictions, at least according to Dr. Amber Vernon, who emphasizes how the river city is celebrated for its food and festivals taking place in one area, while the struggling areas a few miles away are seemingly ignored. CD Vauters, a retired librarian, sees those contradictions happening across Virginia, and took matters into her own hands, preserving a historic family cemetery in Hampton. The two spoke about preserving history, creating a better future and having a child with mental health challenges.

Until recently, Vernon saw Monument Avenue as a “very white space,” saying historically white people watched hangings around the area where the Robert E. Lee statue sits. But now, she says “people are coming together for a very different purpose,” with most of the confederate statues taken down.

Likewise, Vauters sees that area, which many now call the Marcus-David Peters Circle, as a gathering place for the community. She visits the circle and is often moved by her experience each time, mentioning she saw children of all different backgrounds playing together on the Lee statue as if it was a jungle-gym. “These children would have never crossed paths...or never play together, and there they were,” said Vauters.

Vernon is glad to see her city of contradictions — the capital of the Confederacy and the current capital of Virginia — may become a city of progress. “I feel like change is possible and I didn’t always feel that way,” said Vernon. “My political values are really driven by protection and fairness towards people who are vulnerable, who are oppressed."

Of those vulnerable or oppressed could be her child, who has mental health challenges. “It's hard as a parent to watch your kids struggle and to feel like could I have done something different,” said Vernon, who also works in the mental health industry.

Vauters understands how life-changing raising a child with mental health challenges can be. She remembers learning about her son’s mental health issues when he came home from college after the fall semester. “I couldn't return to work after the Christmas holiday,” she said. “I actually stayed out a whole other week trying to get myself together."

Vauters often wonders if she had done more research on medications and treatment plans if her son would have a different life now. Her son, who now lives independently, struggled to consistently take his prescribed medication, and it wasn’t until they learned about an injection they found a solid treatment plan. “I think had...we known about the injection maybe, had we been advocates for the medication, known about the injection maybe early on Mario could have had...the kind of life that he intended,” said Vauters.

Unfortunately, Vernon’s child had the opposite experience, in which medication didn’t work and they needed some “really intensive treatment.” Though due to the pandemic and taking care of her family, Vernon wasn’t able to be as active politically. “I feel a lot of guilt that I'm not out there knocking on doors,” said Vernon. With COVID-19, it’s been more challenging for Vernon to access mental health resources for her child.

Vauters was surprised at Vernon’s openness. “If everybody could just honestly get right down to the core of what's causing the division I think...we could all come together,” said Vauters. For Vauters, this year was the first time she wasn’t on the political sidelines, she went on the field, helping campaign and attending candidate events. She wishes life and politics were more like sports, in which the rules are the same for everyone on either side.

While Vauters and Vernon have participated in politics, they’re both fairly guarded about their beliefs, especially when it comes to someone they’re close with, like a family member. Neither of them want to upset or possibly change their relationship with loved ones. For Vauters and Vernon, it’s never been about political parties, but rather individuals, who they believe aren’t meant to align perfectly with either party. But with only two main parties in the United States, they hope to get better at articulating their beliefs, and after speaking to one another, the two think they’re off to a good start.

StoryCorps' One Small Step is made possible in by part the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 


A previous version used male pronouns when referring to Amber Vernon's child. The article has been updated with gender-neutral pronouns. 

Mattaponi and Pamunkey Tribes Give Tribute to Northam


Mattaponi and Pamunkey Tribes Give Tribute to Northam

Three men with Deer
Pamunkey Chief Robert Gray (center) and another tribe member present their deer to Gov. Northam. Gray remarked that for several years, the Pamunkey's tribute deer have been smaller than their Mattaponi counterpart, but their eight-pointer would take home top honors this year. (Photo: Alex Scribner/VPM News)

The chiefs of the Mattaponi and Pamunkey Indian Tribes met Wednesday with Gov. Ralph Northam to present him with two deer as part of the annual Indian tax tribute ceremony.

The ceremony dates back to the 1677 Treaty of Middle Plantation. British King Charles II signed the treaty with various indigenous tribes from Virginia, recognizing their right to live, hunt and fish on their homelands. In exchange, the tribes were to present tribute to the Crown.

Circumstances have changed over 343 years since the signing. Now, the Mattaponi and Pamunkey, the only two tribes that remain on the reservation land promised in the treaty, offer one deer each to Virginia’s governor every year.

Man sitting
Mattaponi Chief Mark Falling Star Custalow. (Photo: Alex Scribner/VPM News)

While the tribute may be more ceremonial now, Mattaponi Chief Mark Falling Star Custalow says it is important that the event continue to remind Virginia of its indigenous inhabitants.

“We respect our treaty as we want the state to respect us as a sovereign government. Which they do, we don’t have an issue, but just want to make sure that that continues,” he said.

For Custalow, the event is about more than just land rights, however, as he said it’s also become a part of Mattaponi culture.

“I started doing this treaty when I was probably about four years old, and I’ve been here every year,” he said. “My son, he started when he was five years old, and he’s been here every year. And so we want to continue to make sure this happens, and that the legacy goes on.”

Most years, the ceremony is attended by many representatives from both tribes, but the COVID-19 pandemic meant only a few people from each could attend. That didn’t stop Custalow and another tribe member from performing a ceremonial song and dance as part of the tribute, however.

Woman's shoes during dance
A Mattaponi woman performing a ceremonial dance. (Photo: Alex Scribner/VPM News)

Both tribes also presented the governor and First Lady Pam Northam with traditional gifts crafted by tribe members.

Custalow said in an interview that the tribe hopes to expand its land holdings in the state by reincorporating land that once belonged to their reservation.

“Land that used to be part of the reservation is no longer,” he said. “So we’re working with the state to try to see if there’s some things we can do to help us out with that.”

The Mattaponi were able to add 100 acres to their reservation last year, though they had to purchase the land themselves. Custalow also noted the tribe faces challenges since it is not federally recognized, despite being one of the tribes first mentioned in the records of Jamestown colonists.