On Monday, July 30th, Beth and I were able to get our culminating event going when we went down to Richmond, Virginia bright and early at 10:00 AM. An uneventful rainy drive but that is always good in regards to long drives and it also was easier on Babs, Beth’s car. Once arriving in Richmond we were set to meet William J. Martin the director of the Valentine Museum. An absolutely incredible in depth experience of Richmond’s first Museum, dedicated to the history of Richmond. The knowledge and perspective that Director Martin was able to provide was at an unprecedented level to say the least. His frank discussion of the Richmond slave trade as an extremely important point in its history was extremely eye opening. His perspective on the topic of the slave trade within the domestic markets brought much more to light of the darkened history of Richmond’s past. He was able to take us throughout the whole of the museum including the old portion of the Wickham house. The Wickham section of the house was the original area owned by the Wickham family up until the Valentine family was able to purchase it. The Wickham were well off early Virginians who had originally built the home in the early 19th century. The Wickham family is the reason for the main center of the house looking much like and older version of the White House. The reason for the striking similarities is because what was seen as the competitive nature of the Wickham family and how both homes would have furnished by similar companies from around the world. In our dialogue we were able to discuss much of Richmond’s past in a much more realistic perspective. The discussion we had was of facing the past by taking in all the facts and creating a narrative that has understanding of what occured in during the times of what would be considered our founding fathers. In the 1882 foundation we seek to create a similar perspective in developing the history of the past Chinese-American immigrants. Dealing with 1882 Exclusion Act as in depth as possible, showing that it was wrong but it was a policy that was supported within Congress and the Senate of the Federal government is similar in this fact towards the slave trade. We of course see the slave trade as morally wrong but if the argument is that immorals laws are to be illegal then how does one justify the legality of the slave trade. We a similar concept with regards to the genuinely racist exclusion acts that were passed throughout the late 19th and early 20th century. The American narrative of not only Asian perspective but of an American one.
On Tuesday, July 31st, we sat down the Jamie Basket, the President and CEO of the Virginia Museum of History and Culture. The Museum was originally a monument to the effectively the Confederate States of America and as a way of trying to show of the darkened path of the South in a better light than originally was done so in the past. He was able to speak to us about the changes he is bringing to own museum and the effect it really is having the community. Jamie was able to discuss with all the difficulties he was facing from the community who saw his changes to be in the wrong direction but that either way he felt he was heading in the right direction. He saw the changes he brought as the necessity of what needed to be done during what feels as the though one of most divisive points in American History. We pressed him on the actions he was talking towards creating more inclusive narrative of all minority groups within the Commonwealth of Virginia and although he had not made any big decisions he knew that it would be his next direction to take the Museum. Being part of the 1882 Foundation we of course further pressed him on the perspective that he could add with regards to the narrative that Chinese-American Immigrants played during the 19th and early 20th century of the United States. We wanted the perspective of not only Chinese-Americans but all Asian-Americans to be a strong influencer on what we think his next exhibit should be. We look forward to keeping contact with him and to create a dialogue that would allows us to give any advice we can with regards to creating a truly inclusive experience for the American story.
On Wednesday, August 1st, Beth and I were able to sit down with the 19th Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. Secretary Qarni was not only a former teacher but a former Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. Secretary Qarni was also a candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates in 2013 but lost to incumbent Bob Marshall of the 13th district and once again ran for Virginia Senate in 2015 but failed after not gaining the Democratic nomination. We were able to all sit down and discuss the initiatives that Governor Northam had been pushing in place towards education reform. Their pride and joy was that of removing the system of testing here in Virginia known as the Standards of Learning or better know by its much shorter acronym S.O.L. It was from his own experience that he was able to concluded that there is far too much testing in the Virginia education system which leaves little room for any type of discussion of actual substance. He described the Virginia education system as being a mile long river but that it was only about an inch deep. Both Beth and I graduated from Virginia public schools so this perspective really spoke to us since we had a complete understand that this is exactly how we felt during our time in public education. Secretary Qarni intitivates of seeking to develop a strong project based system were students are able to dive into different perspective of what is already taught in schools is an enlightening one to say the least. At the 1882 Foundation our intention is not to only enter the conversation but become a fundamental part of the groundwork towards this initiative. We seek to not only send message of past historical mistakes but to make it into a teaching apparatus for future generations that will ensure that this part of history will not repeat or rhyme with any other in future generations.
On Thursday, August 2nd, Beth and I were able to sit down once again with a mover and shaker of the Virginia Department of Education, Christonya Brown. Christonya Brown is the History and Social Science Education Coordinator of the VDOE as well as a former teacher for over 20 years. Christonya Brown goes page by page of thousands of different textbooks to ensure that standards are being met and that those exact same text are the correct initiative that need to be placed to continue education standards. Although she is not the head of any policy decisions as a teacher for over 20 years she enthusiastically supported the initivates of getting rid of SOL testing and instead introduced project based systems. During our time in her office we were also able to have a great discussion with Zarchary Robbins as well who is the Direction of Office Policy at the VDOE. Director Robbins was able to give more of the political side of the issues such as the voting members of the General Assembly as well as helping to track legislation. The Office of Policy also provides the necessary breakdown of pieces of legislation to have step by step implementation with regards to the VDOE. The Office of Policy is meant to be the apparatus utilization of the General Assembly both when the delegates are in session and out of it. With both subject matter experts sitting in front of us Beth and I were able to pick at their knowledge and gained an absolute wealth of knowledge from them both. We were able to gain an understanding of the politics behind the changes being made as well as the incredible uphill battle to implement such changes. At the 1882 Foundation we are glad that such determined and strong will individuals are the one leading the charge for change in our public education system. They both saw and understand that there are changing dynamics happening in Virginia every day and that there is a clear need for changes in the right direction. All in all this was our final part of our Richmond trip and it was an incredible experience to say the least.