Muster the troops—Black Lives Matter National Call to Action
Arif Michael Vega, Staff Writer
Sept. 22, 2015
Black Lives Mattered, at least to a handful of people at the Charlottesville City Council for September 9.
Danika Salvo began the discussion by honoring an August 25th national call to action. Salvo reminds the council that we are nearing the 3rd anniversary for the disappearance of Sage Smith, a young woman from the black transgender community. She put forward the contrast in resources in the Smith investigation versus Hannah Graham’s as unacceptable.
The major advertisements in the Sage Smith investigation were black and white ‘missing person’ photos on plain paper. These were posted by family and friends in conspicuous places around Charlottesville. The Hannah Graham case involved national media, inter-county and inter-state police departments, downtown businessmen, troops of volunteers and an early morning search which employed a bloodhound on the downtown mall.
Quoting issues discussed prior to her speech, Salvo likens the alleged transgression to everyday politics. “How long will you continue to privilege the desires of your white constituents, like bike lanes and bridges over the dire needs of your black constituents, like effective, sustainable access to education, safe housing, employment and health care?” She asked
Lolita Smith, grandmother to Sage, took the stand after. She attributed great physical ailment in the last year to the stress of a missing grandchild. She apologized for her absence and swore she is back for good. “Wherever you look, I will be in your face.” Said Smith.
She describes confusion and disappointment in the city’s inability to find answers. “I don’t understand why white cases can get solved. Why black cases can’t be.” She said. In a final plea for a change of attitude in the governing body, “I’m just asking you all, please help me find my baby,”
Amy Wicks-Horn, Chief Operations Officer of the YMCA was there to gather support for a new facility. She described several programs that YMCA employs to address racial disparity.
Kristin Szakos was the first to directly respond to the Smith’s plea, describing how she feels the police are not responsible for the discrepancy in efforts. “National media and volunteers, who came in from all over the country, were very different for the UVA students, and that has to be really painful to watch when it’s your child and that doesn’t happen. But our police department and the city resources have been put towards this case as strongly as any other.” She said
The following City Council meeting also addressed the issue of racial disparity. Tom Guterbock, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for Survey Research, detailed a study that shows racial disparity in swimming. While 72% of African Americans in the Piedmont area cannot swim, 19% of others lack the ability. He reminds us that this is a deadly issue.
Jessica Maslaney, CEO, Piedmont YMCA, described several programs, including one funded with a $500k endowment from the Benjamin Herr Swim For Life Foundation. This program will shuttle every third grade student in Charlottesville to the YMCA for swim lessons. She also described mentorship, outreach and leadership programs.