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An audience member at a City Council meeting in January reacts as a Charlottesville resident takes issue with the idea of renaming of Preston Avenue. The council is now considering leaving the name, but changing the road's namesake.

Charlottesville officials have approved a new namesake for Preston Avenue.

At its meeting Monday, City Council unanimously backed naming the street for educator Asalie Minor Preston rather than Thomas Lewis Preston, a former Confederate officer and slave owner.

The city will spend an estimated $3,265.28 to install brown signs designating the honorary namesake.

“The budgetary impact is minimal at best and I think it sets a good precedent for what we want to do moving forward,” said Councilor Wes Bellamy, who first proposed changing the name in December.

Thomas Preston owned the Wyndhurst farm, part of which still sits off Grady Avenue. While he was rector of the University of Virginia, from 1864 to 1865, Preston and three faculty members met with Union troops to keep the army from destroying the school.

Asalie Preston taught in segregated schools throughout the area from 1922 to 1969, except for three years, according to the Minor-Preston Educational Fund, which bears her name. From 1933 to 1936, Preston studied for an education degree from St. Paul’s College in Lawrenceville.

The fund awards scholarships to students in Charlottesville and Albemarle County high schools.

Councilors also discussed a plan to examine unnamed city properties and come up with 12 properties to name in honor of those who fought for social justice. The proposal will come before council in late March.

Unity Days

Councilors also voted to establish Unity Days in the summer to commemorate the white nationalist violence in August 2017.

Unity Days events will be held Aug. 11 and Aug. 12, and the city will hold a Summer of Unity, with events held between May and August.

On Aug. 11 and Aug. 12, the city would hold activities on the Downtown Mall, McGuffey Park, Market Street Park, Court Square Park and Fourth Street.

The action taken Monday designates those sites for community events under city code, thus reserving them for annual activities and barring any other events at those times and places, similar to First Night and City Market days.

“We need to regain that narrative back in making sure that Charlottesville isn’t just about white supremacy, not just about Thomas Jefferson or the University of Virginia,” said Charlene Green, manager of the Office of Human Rights, “That this history and all that the city is about is very robust and very inclusive.”

City spokesman Brian Wheeler said the designation helps the city get ahead of any possible issues from follow-up events, such as occurred in 2018.

“We want to get out in front of it this year and the community felt like this was a good approach to take,” he said.

Each month of the summer would have a theme.

The month of May would focus on the city’s history of race relations. June would be centered on working toward economic and racial justice. July would be designated to honor community and neighborhood leaders. And four days in August would be set aside for remembrance.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said Councilor Mike Signer, who was mayor during the white nationalist rallies.

The events could include music, speakers and family activities, but their exact nature hasn’t been finalized because they will be determined by community members.

Star Peterson, who was injured in the car attack, spoke in favor of the proposal and urged council to make it an annual event.

“I’m thrilled to hear that they are being organized by activists,” she said. “I ask that you fully fund the community unity every summer.”

Recidivism

In other business, council approved a $405,000 investment in Charlottesville’s peer-support services for people returning to the community after incarceration.

The money will help create a three-step pilot program focused on cutting down recidivism among former inmates, which refers to the likelihood someone will return to jail after being released.

The first step uses $30,000 to create a GO Peer Support training program, allowing 15 people to receive six weeks of formal training that focuses on peer navigation, professional boundaries, the local system of care, group facilitation, financial literacy, workplace readiness and computer skills.

After completing the program, participants would receive Peer Support Specialist and Wellness Recovery Action Plan Facilitator certifications.

Five of the training participants would be hired in step two, which uses $275,000 to establish a Home to Hope Peer Navigator Unit.

Among other services, specialists would help former inmates to get identification, connect with probation services and obtain stable housing.

The final $100,000 is flexible funding to address other needs for those returning to the community after incarceration, such as the first month’s rent, security deposits and health care.

Councilor Heather Hill said the money needs to be stretched as far as it can by tapping into existing resources.

“I want to make sure we are at least leveraging the partnerships we have in the community, not just those dollars that come from the city,” she said.

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City hall reporter

Nolan Stout is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact him at (434) 978-7274, nstout@dailyprogress.com, or @nstoutDP on Twitter and Facebook.

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