With reception canceled, protesters call for Gov. Northam to resign

Chelsea Higgs Wise, a political activist and coordinator, is joined by City Councilman Michael J. Jones in calling for Gov. Ralph Northam's resignation. (PHOTO BY CAITLIN MORRIS)
Chelsea Higgs Wise, a political activist and coordinator, is joined by City Councilman Michael J. Jones in calling for Gov. Ralph Northam's resignation. (PHOTO BY CAITLIN MORRIS)(WHSV)
Published: Feb. 14, 2019 at 2:00 PM EST
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Dozens of protesters gathered outside the Virginia Governor’s Mansion on Wednesday night and called for action, not just apologies, from Gov. Ralph Northam.

Northam had planned to host a reception Wednesday night at his official residence in honor of Black History Month. However, the reception was postponed Tuesday in a statement from Ofirah Yheskel, the governor’s communications director. She said the administration is considering better ways to commemorate Black History Month.

Rebecca Keel, a community organizer, said she believes the governor postponed the reception because of the planned protest. She said she wants Northam to “resign for Black History Month.”

“There can be no reconciliation without a reallocation of resources,” said Dr. Wes Bellamy, a member of Charlottesville City Council.

He and Michael Jones, a member of the Richmond City Council, expressed their desire for more than an apology from Northam and for action from elected officials.

Northam has been under fire since Feb. 1, when news organizations published a racist photo that appeared on his page in his medical college’s 1984 yearbook. The picture showed two men — one in blackface and the other in a Ku Klux Klan hood.

Initially, Northam acknowledged he was in the photo and apologized. The next day, he said that he was not in the photo but that he had worn blackface for a Michael Jackson dance contest in 1984. State and national Democratic leaders called on Northam to resign. Northam said he plans to stay in office and use his time as governor to focus on racial reconciliation.

Demonstrators question Northam’s ability to lead that discussion.

Bellamy pointed to two children in the crowd who came to protest with their father.

“When I look into the eyes of that young lady and young man in the back, in 20 years from now when they are 25 and 30 years old, what will we tell them that we did when our governor decided to make fun of our people?” Bellamy asked.

Chelsea Higgs Wise, a community organizer, spoke at the event and presented a list of demands from the groups Justice RVA and Virginia Black Politicos.

“I want my elected officials, specifically my black elected officials, to keep to their word, and hold Ralph accountable,” Wise said.

Organizers presented a list of demands including the removal of Confederate monuments, more funding for Virginia’s historically black colleges and universities, and criminal justice reform.

“Yes, we have demands, but Ralph Northam does not have to be the one to fulfill these demands,” Wise said.

Jones added, “With forgiveness, there is accountability.”

Protesters made a procession from the press area to the side of the Governor’s Mansion and held up signs saying “End White Supremacy” and “Black Leaders United.”

At the close of the demonstration, organizers announced they will continue to protest until their demands are met and Northam resigns.

On Monday, Justice RVA and Virginia Black Politicos plan to gather in Monroe Park and hold a “March of Reckoning” toward the state Capitol.

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