Two weeks ago the UnBoundRVA team, along with several UnBoundRVA entrepreneurs, had the pleasure of hosting Mayor Levar Stoney for a conversation about the work we’re doing in the entrepreneurial eco-system as part of his promise to fully understand how we can better support entrepreneurs in our city.  We had a great conversation about small business, how his administration could support, and our entrepreneurs had an opportunity to pitch their businesses (which they crushed, by the way!)  What stood out to me most, though, about our 35 minutes, was a couple of words spoken by the Mayor: “One Richmond.”

The goal of his administration is to create One Richmond, meaning all citizens-regardless of race, socioeconomic status, gender, religion, and neighborhood they call home-should experience the same city and should have access to the same resources.  Hearing the genuine-ness in his voice when he shared that with us gave me chills.  It is a beautiful vision, and one that I am personally impassioned by.

Richmond currently exists as two parallel universes in a lot of ways.  One, which I am lucky to experience, has vibrant neighborhoods, fantastic restaurants, enough breweries to make any beer-lover’s heart content, and a very bright future where you can feel the palpable energy of what is to come.  The other universe largely exists in densely populated areas in the city’s East End and  South Side, where an inordinate amount of residents live in extreme poverty.  There are food deserts (meaning no grocery store within a mile of their residence), overpopulated public housing complexes, violence, chronic stress, and foresight is limited to making through the day.

Is it possible to create this oneness in our city? Can we break down barriers, provide equal access to resources, and overturn the systematic obstacles that exist for low-income families.  If so, how do we achieve it?   I believe the quote by Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity, “For a community to be whole and healthy, it must be based on people’s love and concern for each other” is the key ingredient.  The awesome thing is….Richmond has this, and in a huge way.

We see this love and concern every day in our work.  In our city, we have some of the most dedicated and committed community organizations in Peter Paul Development Center, Art180, Richmond Cycling Corps, YMCA, Habitat for Humanity, and countless others.  These organizations approach their work with passion, compassion, and a healthy dose desire to challenge the status quo.  They are creating deep relationships in the communities they work, and educating others on the realities faced by those in poverty and what is needed from the community to support. Both of these sets of activities lead to breaking down barriers that exist between us, ideally increasing understanding and compassion for one another.

Compounding this compassion are the many volunteers and supporters that surround the work of the city’s nonprofits.  An excellent example of this for our organization came recently when several volunteer members of an Advisory Board for an UnBoundRVA business went beyond the expectation to support the entrepreneur through a difficult time in their personal life.  They did this because of the deep relationship they created, and because they truly care for this business owner and are willing to do whatever it takes to support her.  For me, seeing and experiencing this compassion and love amongst this group of people gave me a glimpse of what a unified Richmond will look like.  It is a vision that inspires the work we’re doing at UnBoundRVA.

So where does that leave us? Does it mean we’re already there? No, there is still a tremendous amount of ground to cover, but we’re on the right track.  We have to continue this work, these conversations, and push Richmond’s government to make needed changes in how we empower individuals in low-income communities.  We have to volunteer our time to the organizations working to affect lives and change.  We have to ditch pre-conceived notions about each other and come to the table as people first.  If we do that, Richmond can achieve a oneness that will lift us all up.