Abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass is well known for his sentiment: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
This quote comes to mind as Style Weekly publishes its latest Power List, a ranking of Richmond's 75-plus most powerful people. No doubt, the annual feature will once again showcase the area's finest servants — not only those who have gone beyond the call of duty in their careers and public service, but also those who have sacrificed for the greater good and influenced others to do likewise.
As I contemplate the list, my mind goes beyond the names. I actually wonder about their prospective future impact on Richmond; not only as individuals, but also as a unified body. In the context of a city, which has long struggled to solidify its identity and rise to its ultimate potential, I think of what could happen if the ideals, the philosophies, the strategies and the works of all of those deemed the city's most powerful could be harnessed as a unified front for tangible change.
This isn't about a blue-ribbon panel or a new commission. Indeed, Richmond has entertained far too many such assemblies. Rather, I'm speaking of a coalition of leading residents who would perhaps impart their wisdom in a specific forum or even compile their wisdom, leadership strategies and visions in a document of some kind — a blueprint and guide for where Richmond should go from here.
For far too long, this city — in all of its potential for greatness — has lingered in a quagmire of mediocrity. Plans to preserve the riverfront and develop the Canal Walk, once vibrant visions, appear to have been shelved in a dusty master plan. City trolleys that once clanged through downtown were retired after only a few years. Even visions for a now-dormant Jackson Ward never fully came to fruition. And the 6th Street Marketplace bridge — the symbol of public-private, black-white cooperation — is a distant memory.
What do we have to show for the millions of dollars that have been expended upon such trials and errors in our past? And, moreover, where do we go from here?
There is such great hope. The hope is not in another city master plan or blueprint. It's in the progressive mind-sets of Richmond's people.
The question is, just who are Richmond's most powerful people? More importantly: What have they done, how have they done it and how can they use their positions of power to better a city still struggling to rise?
As the new list of the area's most powerful is released, why not tap into their skills, values and visions to begin an awakening in Richmond? Perhaps their accomplishments and their combined insights could lead to the rebirth of a city mired in stagnation.
For too long Richmond leaders have placed their hopes in building projects aimed to attract tourists and conventioneers to Richmond. Of course, that vision has some merit. But it excludes the hundreds of thousands of people who are already here.
As the 75 most powerful people are certain to have been selected from various walks of life, professions and disciplines, there is no doubt that their input would have an impact. The point would be to somehow compile and use the wisdom of those on this list — those who have risen to the top with their accomplishments — in order to help establish a strategic vision for moving this city forward.
Because of their influence, these peopel will obviously be problem solvers, change agents and coalition builders. They will no doubt be people who have proven themselves as unafraid to reach out to others and to lead in their various disciplines.
There are great challenges ahead of us. We're anticipating the rise of a severely ailing school system, we're grappling with a crime rate that has diminished but is still a scourge, we're attempting to jump-start economic development despite a national recession, and we're dealing with hopelessness and fear among our youth and our adults.
The key is that Richmonders have not given up hope. The will of the people prevails when they simply keep moving.
That's the reason that even behind the scenes the people who never get selected as Richmond's most powerful simply keep on working. Those who serve as the backbone of this city — from the street sweepers to the garbage collectors to those who quietly serve as volunteers in homeless shelters, hospitals and churches — are the people who really hold the city together.
Nevertheless, it is for good reason that we recognize those who are out front. Those whose accomplishments have earned the title of most powerful should be expected to lead even more. We anticipate who they are and what they will do. Whether composing a document or convening of a forum, their wisdom must be compiled and imparted.
Blues great Louis Armstrong once said: “Rank does not confer privilege or give power. It imposes responsibility.”
But the Bible says it best: “To whom much is given, much is required.” S
Terone B. Green is a Richmond native who's been active in Richmond and Henrico County politics for two decades. He is a former president of the Richmond Crusade for Voters, past board chair of the Richmond Urban League and a member of the Richmond Business Council.
Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.