Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Black Community Opinions

Local Voices: Black Businessman Speaks Out Against Racism In Virginia Beach

By Shedrick Byrd

An article in the local daily newspaper on November 23 focused on NFL Hall of Famer and commercial real estate developer Bruce Smith, an African-American, who sent an open letter to Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms and 40 state officials questioning whether his race could be the reason he has been unable to win approval for proposed projects at the city’s Oceanfront.

The article said since 2005 Smith has expressed an interest in redeveloping two Oceanfront properties that the city says would revitalize the area. But over the years, city council members have said numerous times that they were juggling too many projects to focus on Rudee Loop, one of the properties Smith submitted proposals to develop.

However, according to the article the council moved forward with a Texas businessman’s vision for an entertainment megaplex on the site. The project fizzled and the businessman walked away four years later.

In 2014 Sessoms and the city manager declined Smith’s offer once again saying it wasn’t the right time to focus on the site because of other development priorities.

In his letter to Sessoms, Smith requested that a diversity study be conducted to determine how many minorities held contracts at Virginia Beach Oceanfront. The article stated that Smith said that with all of his qualifications that he brought to the table as a developer it is certainly not unfounded that he would ponder the possibility that he is being unfairly marginalized and excluded on the basis of race.

He questioned whether Virginia Beach was still operating under the implicit mandate of the old South which would require that economic empowerment and enfranchisement be reserved for whites only.

A few days later in another article, the newspaper stated that Mayor Sessoms had been interviewed and said he would not order a racial disparity study. Sessoms said he prefers to invest money in expanding the city’s minority procurement program and efforts to build relationships with minority businesses rather than spend it on a disparity study.

Sessoms said that in 2008, “the City Council set a goal to increase competitively bid contracts with minority-owned businesses to 10 percent.” According to the Mayor that goal has not been met.

The status report in my mind reinforces the belief that a disparity study is needed and is the proper thing to do! The study is also needed to determine what “good old boys” laws, regulations, and rules are systemically in place that may cause disparity. The council needs to know how many true minority businesses are in Virginia Beach and get rid of racist policies before trying to establish relationships with minority businesses.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

The racial disparity study should not only examine businesses, but should be extended to cover political and social racism in Virginia Beach as well. Smith’s concern brings about other matters that should be added to a disparity study. Questions arise such as: Why the only Black city councilwoman was not reelected to city council? Why was the light rail transit project voted down, especially after government funds had been allocated to Virginia Beach to assist in having it extended to Virginia Beach. Was it the way the referendum was worded, or what?

It’s a refreshing feeling to have our political, civil and business leaders lending their voices to fighting racism. Not long ago Norfolk City Councilwoman Angelia Graves gave voice to racism in an NAACP forum where she described new racism as changing from white hoods to blue uniforms, suits, and robes.

We must understand that the hood wearers are not the primary ones to blame. It’s the uniforms, suits and robes that we must be aware of and whose actions must be monitored and addressed when necessary!

Shedrick Byrd is a frequent contributor to the New Journal and Guide.

You May Also Like