Flash funding projects to address racism locally

Monday, October 23, 2017

Taylor Lamb had just decided to postpone a panel of LGBT speakers of color when a call went out for proposals for funding from the University of Virginia. A small grant, Lamb thought, would help her sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho, try to hold the event again.

UVa’s Flash Funding project was announced at the beginning of September. The grant was awarded to projects that work toward “Achieving the Culture and Environment We Value,” with preference for ideas for programming that address unconscious bias and racial tension.

Immediately, proposals began pouring in, said Archie Holmes, vice provost for academic affairs. About a month after the call went out, Holmes said he has awarded all of the $100,000 available to eight projects. He even asked Provost Tom Katsouleas to shunt a little bit more money so that he could fully fund the final grant.

“Sometimes, you just need to get something started,” Holmes said. “This money allows them to get started.”

Holmes said he and other university leaders first got the idea for a diversity project about a year ago. The particular idea for the grant came in August, after seeing a funding initiative from the Association of American Colleges & Universities.

They decided to seek projects that would connect the city and the university and tackle racial bias. Holmes didn’t directly choose any of the projects, but he said he appreciated the three chosen that involve the community.

“Those were the ones that gave back the most to me,” he said.

Christine Mahoney, director of UVa’s social entrepreneurship program, proposed one of those partnerships. The “New Vinegar Hill” project — developed by Mahoney, UVa professors Bevin Etienne and Elgin Cleckley and City Councilors Wes Bellamy and Kathy Garvin — aims to help the city have a community-driven checklist for approaching future redevelopment projects.

“There is a history in Charlottesville, and in lots of cities, that when redevelopment happens, it’s top down,” Mahoney said. “The destruction of Vinegar Hill and relocation of those communities to Friendship Court and other areas was not a community plan; the communities were subject to that plan.”

She already had been working with community leaders and thinking about possible ways to harness social entrepreneurship classes toward racial justice initiatives. When the call came from the provost’s office for projects, Mahoney said it provided the impetus and ability to put a proposal together.

“All eyes have been on Charlottesville, in a bad way, but maybe there’s a silver lining where people maybe are thinking about how to move beyond divisions,” Mahoney said.

Mahoney’s project aims to use the architectural concept of design thinking to generate and refine ideas for community redevelopment.

Design thinking, said Cleckley, an assistant professor of architecture and design thinking, describes the process of doing research, talking to lots of people, prototyping ideas and suggesting solutions.

“There’s a way to form relationships here. This new way of thinking is very inclusive,” Cleckley said. “We’re at a time of new types of conversation. One thing that everyone has is a desire to talk and to be listened to.”