Virginia “Gentleman” – Message From the CEOFebruary 14, 2019
I have been watching with considerable interest the news about Governor Ralph Northam’s troubling history and current responses on race. I lived in Virginia from the ages of 10-31. Virginia is where I was educated, from elementary to high school, college, graduate school, and law school. I have worked in Virginia and lived for considerable lengths of time in four of its communities, from big and mid-size cities to small rural towns. Unquestionably, Virginia is where I spent my formative years.
On Gov. Northam’s medical school yearbook page is a photo of two people standing together, one dressed in the robe and hood of a Ku Klux Klansman and the other in blackface. The governor has denied that either of the people are him, and he has no explanation as to how the photo found its way onto his personal yearbook page. He has apologized and pledged to make the pursuit of racial equity in Virginia a priority in his term – he was just sworn in as governor in January. From my time in Virginia, and my still strong connections in the state, I am not surprised by the presence of such overt racism in a 1984 yearbook or the sometimes baffling, befuddled, and inadequate statements of Gov. Northam since the photo was made public. The Virginia where I lived was a “gentleman’s” society, steeped in the racism of slavery and segregation. As recent events demonstrate, there is still much work to be done to correct past deeds, educate current mindsets, and begin the process of building real equity.
Regardless of who is leading the Commonwealth of Virginia, the revelations about Gov. Northam and other statewide elected officials must be used as an opportunity for difficult remedial work to be done across the state. The work that all of us do in the human service sector makes us committed to the principle that a person’s race should have no influence on their ability to succeed and how they are treated in society. Virginia has an opportunity to be a leader on this principle and to set an example for our entire nation. Nothing less is acceptable.
Lee Sherman, President & CEO