We're Not Leaving
WE'RE NOT LEAVING.
"We're Not Leaving..." BLM leaves a final note on top of the graffiti covering the base of the Lee Monument in Richmond, VA.
I recently had a motion and stills gig in Baltimore, Maryland. The drive there was the perfect time to take a side trip to visit Monument Avenue. And what I saw there was really amazing. Maybe enlightening is a better word than amazing. Or uplifting.
I parked a few blocks away, and walked past Virginia Commonwealth University housing. Every few sets of apartments displayed some kind of sign of support for the protestors who had marched past over the past few weeks and months, headed to the monuments.
Once I arrived at Monument Avenue, I turned right and walked towards Lee's monument, named for Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general during the Civil War. It's a huge statue, Lee on his horse, high above traffic and pedestrians, and something that represents so many things to different people. I have family who fought for the CSA; John Marcellus Steadman was a Lieutenant Colonel, wounded in action at the 2nd Battle of Bull Run. So that statue represents something in my own family history.
I think that right now the most important thing it represents, for so many people, is pain. There's a long legacy of segregation and prejudice and police brutality and systemic racism that is connected to the monument. For a great read on some of these very issues, I highly recommend "Confederates in the Attic," by Tony Horwitz.
I took a lunch with me, and walked up to the area, where I saw a tent up for shade, with a few picnic tables, just outside the traffic circle that rounds the monument. I ate lunch and watched a few ladies and their children at the small fold-up tables. As visitors walked up, asking for information or just checking in on their friends, the feeling was interest and friendliness. People at the table greeted everyone with a smile. There was information about voter registration, and a few scattered reading materials.
Walking finally to the monument, I stood and took it all in slowly. It didn't feel like a static memorial. People circled the statue of Lee on his horse slowly, reading small wooden stakes with mimeographed sheets that formed a low fence of black faces, memories of these victims of violence. Mementos from their lives sometimes accompanied the sheets: an x-men pillow; sometimes a bunch of flowers; or hand-written signs.
"Silence is not an option." Banner hanging on housing leading up to Monument Avenue in Richmond, VA.
I saw a woman posing a friend for an impromptu photo shoot on the steps of the pedestal. I heard a couple behind me, one explaining to the other what had happened to the monument, and why the change was important. I saw a woman with her children, taking turns with a camera phone posing on the steps. I offered to take a photo of all 3 of them with her phone; then asked if I could take my own. I circled the monument a few times, and tried to let it sink in.
Tammy Hill with her kids on the steps of the Lee Monument. Richmond, VA.
At first, when I watched the protests on media; people marching, angry, clearly fed up with the status quo, I had a feeling of separation. Yes, this was terrible, but I needed to stay with my wife and kids. We were already staying at home, not going to work, isolating ourselves from friends and family. This just wasn't something I should participate in at this time. It was not the right time to risk marching with others. Epic. Historic. But not personal.
Here, I was forced to confront my own racism. My own privilege in not having to fear the police; feeling safe when walking my neighborhood; never giving a thought to being denied access to any educational opportunities; never feeling like I would be paid less than another based person based on my skin color.
The BLM memorial invites reflection. It's been a long time coming, but it's definitely time to reckon with our past, and present. And to make a new future, whole and with everyone's participaton.
"We are your mirror." A mirror framed with flowers at the Lee Monument, Richmond, VA.
Words and photos by Joshua Steadman
For more photos, click the arrow to your right, or swipe.