When Chad “Chevaux” Dawkins was 7, he remembers his grandparents telling him not to leave the block of his Church Hill home.
He and his friends would push the limits, inching closer and closer to the edge, but when they finally did step past the parental barrier, the worst case scenario happened.
“We saw a guy we all knew get shot right in front of us …. and it was never solved,” he says looking back. “Being young, I couldn’t understand it.”
Now the 25-year-old looks around the same Church Hill neighborhood, just a few blocks from where he grew up, and sees something different.
“The government, the city, people with money now,” he says. “They begin to pour money into [the area] but we’ve been here the whole time. Where was that money then?”
Dawkins explores the changing nature of Church Hill and much of Richmond in a memorable new song and video called “‘17 Visions.”
The video, shot in the same Church Hill park he used to play in and produced by local filmmaker Senon Davis, starts with rough stories of boastful drug dealers and hustlers with drop down cars. But then it shifts to the changing landscape with coffee shops and white kids calling him “brother” over a blunt.
Dawkins and his friends and family barely recognize their old neighborhood, but can’t help but appreciate the changes.
“It’s two sides of a coin,” he says. “That feeling of unfairness when you say ‘wow, no one was interested when it was just us.’ But at the same time, the few of us that were able to stay, we're seeing things improving.”
Dawkins is quick to stress its not a black and white issue: the money that’s since flowed in may have followed the white folks, but gentrification remains a real problem.
“Our parents, now they can’t afford to stay here 'cause of all the changes,” he says.
Dawkins explores other issues plaguing his peers as well including the lack of education opportunities for folks like him - young, brown and male - versus his female peers. He points to studies showing black men continue to fall behind when it comes to going to college let alone earning degrees.
“These women are outclassing us and asking ‘what are you doing? You wanna be a rapper, a basketball player, but what about real life?’” he says. “Taking care of yourself and your family, the things that matter.”
A nursing student at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, Dawkins is following his own advice and taking steps to have an answer for that inevitable question when he tells a prospective mate “I’m a rapper.”
“That's what women look at and choose what they give their time to,” he says. “I appreciate that and take it into account.”
“You can still chase your dreams," he adds. "But you need to live in the real world."
Still, Dawkins is hard at work on music these days, though it's only his first year taking it seriously. With over a dozen tracks on his soundcloud, he’s hoping to drop his first record by the time summer rolls around. He’s working with local producers Rezon da dawn and Uno Itsumademo, and getting vocal help from Amber Jones and Latifa White.
As for the subject matter and the positive outlook on “Vision 17,” he’s excited to see it get the attention it's already garnered.
“It feels good that I don’t have to change my message or my voice to make noise,” he says. “I’m just trying to do what's natural to me and hope for the best.”
Keep up with Dawkins aka Chevaux on soundcloud here.