Richmond mayor to discuss Virginia’s racist history at Freedom and Learning Forum

Richmond Mayor Levar M. Stoney, community activist Martha Rollins and former Charlottesville Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy will speak on March 2 about confronting Virginia’s racist history during George Mason University’s Freedom and Learning Forum.

Stoney, Rollins and Bellamy will discuss the role of historical symbols, such as Confederate monuments, as Virginia attempts to engage with its history, address the wounds of racism and construct an accurate narrative of its past.

The forum begins at 5 p.m. in Dewberry Hall North at the Johnson Center on Mason’s Fairfax Campus. Interim President Anne Holton will give opening remarks, and Wendi N. Manuel-Scott, associate professor in Mason’s School of Integrative Studies, will act as moderator.

“This semester’s Freedom and Learning Forum is an opportunity for participants to engage in a conversation that can help us better understand and empathize with one another,” said Lisa Snyder, associate director for Mason’s Leadership Education and Development (LEAD). “The forum will challenge participants to look deeply at our history, address the wounds of racism, and work together to construct an accurate narrative of our past. “

The question of whether to remove Confederate monuments is particularly relevant. Earlier this month, Virginia lawmakers approved legislation giving cities and counties the autonomy to remove, relocate or alter controversial monuments in public spaces. Both Charlottesville and Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War, have found themselves in the center of debates over what to do with Confederate monuments.

“This is an important and timely conversation,” said Julian Williams, vice president of compliance, diversity and ethics at Mason. “Mason, as Virginia’s largest public institution, plays an important thought leadership role here, and we’re excited to convene this conversation. We’re thankful to our panelists and look forward to hosting a very engaging event.”

Stoney is the 80th mayor of Richmond. He served as the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia from 2014-16. Bellamy has written a book titled “Monumental: It Was Never About a Statue.” Rollins has worked to fight racially discriminatory real estate practices in Richmond.

The Freedom and Learning Forum is an interactive dialogue series that includes an open question-and-answer session with students and facilitated small group discussions. The forum is hosted by Mason’s University Life, Office of the President, and Leadership Education and Development, along with Virginians for Reconciliation.