I witnessed the good and the bad of our valley this week. I witnessed love and hate.

In Staunton on Saturday hundreds of valley citizens turned out to speak, sing, learn and march peacefully through downtown. The March for Racial Justice acknowledged 400 years of struggle for African Americans and 400 years of often slow progress towards our national ideals as a community. The atmosphere was loving and respectful.

Earlier in the week, I attended the Waynesboro city council meeting. The atmosphere there was hateful and disrespectful.

I do not think Waynesboro is more hateful than Staunton. I know Waynesboro to be a good town and the people of Waynesboro among the best. In fact, one of the speakers highlighted the good works of the Waynesboro Police and the Commonwealth Attorney as “the best in the valley” and I would agree. I simple want to highlight the differences in these two events.

Some of the speakers at the Waynesboro City Council meeting spoke eloquently about their concerns about KKK flyers which had been distributed in the city. They fulfilled their duties as citizens with grace. However, I was discouraged by the vitriol expressed by a few of the speakers. They chose to make personal attack on city officials and the city councilors.

The most horrifying were hateful attacks directed at Councilwoman Ms. Elzena Anderson. These attacks were voiced by African American members of our community. She was told that she “disgusted” the speakers on numerous occasions. She was told “all skinfolk aren’t kinfolk” (apparently saying she was not black ... or at least did not pass the speaker’s test of blackness or demands on how she should think or speak or act as a woman of color).

Finally another female speaker attacked Ms. Anderson saying she “sat there all pretty .. it is just a pretty face”. A bizarre attack on Ms. Anderson that would have been rightfully called sexist if voiced by a man.

I can’t imagine the intent of these comments but I do know the consequences as everyone in city council chambers could see that Ms. Anderson was shocked by these unjustified, uncivil, personal attacks.

I hear people talk about the need for more females to engage in the political process. I hear people talk about the need for more African Americans to lead our communities. I hear people say we need more young people willing to serve our society. Regardless of demographics we undoubtedly need more thoughtful and intelligent public servants. Ms Anderson is all of these things. She is a thoughtful, intelligent, young African American lady who has chosen to serve Waynesboro. It is unacceptable that she is being attacked in service to our city.

As citizens, we have a civic responsibility to speak up about policy, concerns and ideas to improve our communities. As people, we have a human responsibility to treat one another as we would want to be treated.

I think the citizens of Waynesboro should and will make a stand against violent hate groups and divisive identity politics driven movements like the KKK. I know that working together for an end to these evils happen in our communities and in our hearts. It is not necessarily lead by the city officials, but by citizens working towards the goal of a more civil, less violent community. It is not solved by “resolutions” but by “commitments” to respect one another.

Our valley and our city are full of good people with loving intent. We should focus on fostering a “beloved community” as Dr. Martin Luther King called it and not succumbing to politics without principle and hate-filled personal attacks.

Will Strickland


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