By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
A diverse group of Portsmouth residents is organizing a “Love Walk” on April 12 to promote support for racial harmony and communication in the city .
The group “Virginia Is For Lovers and Not Haters” is organizing the Love Walk from the intersection of Washington and High Streets to the Portsmouth City Hall.
Participants will be asked to address council members and urge them to cease infighting, which they believe has spurred a racial divide in the city.
The group is also proposing a festival later this year, highlighting the city’s cultural and racial diversity and promoting better interaction and dialogue among the various groups in the city.
“We are hoping that the council members will listen and work to resolve the issues which are causing problems they are experiencing,” said Amii Creekmur, the owner of the Star Struck, LLC beauty salon in the Olde Towne section of Portsmouth.
“The racial tensions and resentment are Black against White, White against Black, Hispanic against Filipino,” she continued. “We want to show the cultural diversity of the city. We want to take this issue directly to council, hoping they will work to resolve the tensions and thus help the city come together,” said the native of Portsmouth, who added that she has experienced racism directly from Whites living in Olde Towne.
Her Black clients say they experience it, too. She said her Asian clients have told her about racial hostility directed to them from Blacks and Whites.
“I have White women entering my shop and asking for the owner. They can’t conceive that I own and operate it,” said Creekmur, who set up shop in Olde Towne four years ago. ”I had a White woman come in and look around and say ‘I thought a White person owned this shop.’ Because of the décor, she could not believe the shop was owned by a Black woman and it was not her idea of what an urban business looks like.”
Coleman Young is White. He was born in Roanoke, and migrated to Hampton Roads to land a job with the city of Portsmouth.
Young said a five-person steering committee is now organizing the upcoming walk slated for 6 p.m. on April 12 and the proposed culture festival.
Creekmur and Young said the Umoja Festival highlights the Black cultural experience, and Harborfest and the Seawall Festival attract most mostly Whites.
Creekmur said the cultural festival will allow the city to highlight the racial diversity of Portsmouth.
Young said he hopes for a huge turnout for the upcoming Love Walk through the heart of the city’s downtown business corridor.
The two met after Creekmur spoke before the council about her concerns over the plight of homeless people and racism in the Olde Towne section.
“I noticed (Young) was sitting there smirking and his arms crossed, listening to my speech,” Creekmur recalled. “I assumed he was just another White man who was disagreeing with my statements. A few days later, he called and we talked. Now he is one of my clients, and he is not racist and he now knows I am not hostile to him. It shows just how deep racial prejudice and distrust exist today.”
In the past year, Portsmouth residents have witnessed discord among the city council’s seven-member council, in which Blacks have a 4-3 majority.
Mayor Kenneth Wright has been at odds with not only White council members but the city’s Sheriff.
Wright said the city’s tensions have been spurred by White residents and the business class’s inability to adapt to Blacks controlling the city’s governmental machinery and efforts to reform the city’s hiring, budget and procurement policies.
Several city officials have left, such as John Rowe, former City Manager, who was fired by the council and now is running against Wright for the Mayor’s job.
Earlier this year, the Sheriff conducted a stakeout in the city garage intended to catch the Mayor driving his car with an expired sticker.
That led to a low speed car pursuit throughout the city and the Mayor being charged with felony elusion.
That case was dismissed in court on Monday (March 21).
Organizers of an effort to recall Wright say they are close to securing the required number of signatures to place the question on the November ballot.
Young said the upcoming Love Walk and proposed festival are designed to bring attention to three main problems facing the council and the city as a whole.
“First, we realize that racism still exists and affects all people not just Blacks,” said Young.
“Second, we need to talk about it, but we must also talk about our positive experiences which bring us together. We must not disrespect each other, even though our views may be different. Third, we must embrace our diversity in Portsmouth.”
Young said he believes it is not the racial composition of the current council but the “decisions it has been making” which raises concerns for Portsmouth voters because of the cost, when the city is enduring tight budgetary times.
He offered as an example that Mayor Wright and other Black members of council support moving the Confederate Monument sitting in downtown Portsmouth. He said that money could be better spent elsewhere.
On the other hand, Creekmur says she agrees with the council’s effort to remove the monument, but she would like to see the city organize a fund raiser, perhaps online, to fund the effort.
For more information about the April 12 Love Walk and the Committee, call (757) 292-1858.