We are in Very Good Hands
By BK Williams, RPA Co-Chair
A few weeks ago, I logged onto a Zoom call with RPA colleagues and when I looked at the grid of friendly faces, something dawned on me. To my delight, I saw so much more than just the “old white retired people” that the classic stereotype might suggest.
Oh, they were there. Our veteran RPA members continue to fight the important battles they are bound to and believe in: the battle against Chevron, for Doctors’ Hospital, for the Richmond Municipal Identification program, for the Ban the Box ordinance and for the overturn of Costa Hawkins. Yes, our older members were still in the room. But all around them were fresh young faces that represent the next generation of progressives in Richmond.
Over the past several weeks, I took some time to connect one-on-one with these newer members. I wanted to understand what motivated them to get involved with our community and what would keep them motivated to stay involved.
What I found was that I myself was motivated by their vision, their boldness and their social awareness. They are the bright future of the RPA, and that future will be rooted in social justice.
Here are a few things I noticed about this next generation:
They joined the RPA for many different reasons. Some members joined the RPA to fight for causes they deeply believe in. Others face leaving Richmond because the ever-rising cost of housing wouldn’t allow them to remain. Some watched for a year or more before getting involved, while others have been involved in the RPA for several years. With the exciting and energetic campaigns of Melvin Willis and Claudia Jimenez last year, more younger people were able to get involved with campaigns and then they stuck around and went to work. And some members expressed honestly the burnout from the totality of the activism they have become involved in and the intense work involved.
They want to make themselves as useful as possible. These young members recognize that finding the right niche is key. Some have already stepped into leadership roles, while some are in strong support roles. Some have joined action teams for housing, environment, budget, city council, and more. Others serve with council members, and are already preparing to work on next year’s mayor’s race. Even those who are still looking for ways to get engaged are focused on getting to that point. Though they want to make a difference and are clearly learning (this was a resounding and often repeated comment), these members were self-aware in acknowledging when they were not yet ready to take accountability in the organization. Showing up was seen as part of the process, yet it wasn’t confused with progress.
They want to learn from others with experience. These younger members recognize the wisdom and knowledge in the RPA. Many of them were excited to work alongside longtime members and learn from their institutional knowledge. Some have already found veteran members with whom their ideas are aligned while others have yet to make connections with those who could help them maximize their contributions. These newer members are humble and acknowledge they do not have the answers to complex issues such as public safety, housing, the city budget and racial injustice, where even within our RPA community there are a range of different opinions. Overwhelmingly, they want to help improve things through an organization that, although not perfect, has clear strengths and a track record of doing good.
They challenged the RPA to lay out its vision for Richmond. One interesting theme that I noticed was the suggestion that at times, the RPA can be too reactive to other people’s agenda. These young members asked why the RPA isn’t more focused on advancing its own agenda. Are we acting from our platform or are we reacting to someone else’s? Reflecting on this, I know we cannot focus on everything at once, but we must remain centered on what it is we value most. Our own clarity should define our actions. Having gotten involved with the RPA at a time when there is a strong progressive majority on the city council, these young members questioned our strategy for preserving power -- not for its own sake, but to fulfill our big dreams for Richmond.
I walked away from these conversations believing this group is capable of making magical things happen. They bring strong relationship skills and emotional intelligence, and look forward to safe social events. They are brilliant strategists, storytellers and scholars. They are passionate about a range of issues, from disability rights to cannabis for reparations. They want to unite around political candidates so they can have the greatest positive impact on Richmond. They are already reaching out and joining forces with other alliances and coalitions.
My takeaway? We are in good hands. Very good hands.