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National Commentary

EVMS Community Panel Prepares To Investigate

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter
New Journal and Guide

In response to a 1984 yearbook produced at Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) featuring a photo of two persons on the page of Gov. Ralph Northam – one in Blackface and a second in a KKK costume – the school has launched an investigation to determine how it came about.

“I want to express my sincere apologies, particularly to the African-American communities, who are most injured from the pictures in the yearbook,” current EVMS President Dr. Richard V. Homan said in a news conference on Feb. 4.

“I’m so sorry for the pain that this has inflicted upon you.”

But Homan told the gaggle of reporters on hand that “I don’t think I would have made it public because of the political nature of that photograph, and we are a public institution receiving public funds.

“My sense is that we need to focus on that which we need to do to create an environment of inclusion and diversity and have the opportunity to be able to make sure that next generation of physicians and health professionals have those values,” he said.

Homan announced the appointment of two panels to investigate the origins of the yearbook.

He said the Board of Visitors has hired Richard Cullen, a former Virginia attorney general and past U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, to lead the external review. Also a community-based advisory board, chaired by Gilbert Bland, president and CEO of the Urban League of Hampton Roads, will consist of nine local residents.

According to Delceno Miles, the CEO of the Miles Advertising Agency in Virginia Beach, she is one of four Blacks on that panel including Bland, Phyllis Carroll, a public relations officer at the Fort Story Museum, and Xavier Richard on the staff at Mary Washington University.

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“I think our investigation will look at more than a yearbook,” said Miles. “This issue is much broader. We want to look at all the policies, personnel and culture which allowed such behavior to occur.

“Somebody had to edit the book,” she said. “There had to be faculty involved and who were they? It’s not just about Northam and any bonehead antic he did as a student. We want to look the culture, the diversity and the disparities which existed to cause this. It more than a 30-year-old yearbook. This is still going on.”

Miles said she is sure there are many other yearbooks with such images all over the country.

She said she does not want Northam to resign, but to use this chapter in his life to learn about the issue of race.

“He needs to learn from it and he needs to fix it,” said Miles. “If he is going to stay in office to work on racial equity then he needs to be serious. He needs to address all of the economic, medical and educational disparities facing Black people in this state and nation.

“His efforts should be leveraged to assure that he puts some resources behind his new found agenda,” said Miles. “What about workforce housing, better access to state procurement contracts and other disparities which exist today.”

Miles said the community panel, which has been asked to volunteer their time, is working on setting up its first meeting, and will hash out a plan of action moving forward in the coming days.

A single report will be issued to the board and made public, school officials said.

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