First Lady Pam Northam hosted a post-inauguration brunch headlined by Angela Patton, the CEO of Girls With A Change, a Richmond area non-profit that supports young women of color, in a ticketed event at the Jefferson Hotel this morning.
The brunch opened with a recital by the American Youth Harp Ensemble, a nationally-recognized ensemble that accepts youths regardless of financial means.
Patton’s opening remarks introduced her organization. “Girls For A Change starts with one of the most powerful and wasted resources on the planets: Girls. Specifically, girls of color.”
She introduced Karen Forget, an executive director of river conservation group Lynnhaven River NOW, and Northam’s former boss. Forget spoke about Northam’s background in education and ecology before introducing the new First Lady. “We will need to bring everyone to the table,” to fight challenges like climate change and rising sea levels, she said, “and I don’t know anyone better at that than Pam Northam.”
Northam spoke to the importance of protecting water, noting that the tables were named after rivers all over Virginia, from the Shenandoah to smaller rivers like the Dan. “The next brunch will be a little different,” she said, referencing the splendor of the Jefferson ballroom. “I’ll invite you all to put on your waders and join me for a river clean-up.”
Following heavy applause, she extended an invitation to join her at a volunteer effort to clean up Richmond’s historic Evergreen Cemetery for the annual Martin Luther King Jr. day of service tomorrow, 9 – 12 PM.
After thanking the inaugural committee for choosing a vegetarian brunch, she teased the new governor, saying, “Ralph you can have a sandwich when we get home.”
The importance of women carried through the event, from the all-woman harp ensemble, to her thank-you speech. She said she was singling out two more, Cerina Fairfax and Laura Herring, married to Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring, for their help with the Democratic sweep of the top offices.
Northam proposed to focus on early-education over the next four years. “I’m surrounded by neuroscientists,” she said as she spoke about the importance of pre-k and developing minds. “Let’s start at the beginning with our greatest treasures….our children.”
Outgoing First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe drew praise for her work to provide “12 million additional meals for Virginia children,” and Northam said she would build on that work as well as a range of issues including healthcare, clean air, clean water, and spaces to play and learn.
She finished her remarks with two quotes. The first was a much-quoted line from The Summer Day, a poem by her favorite poet, Mary Oliver. “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
The second, from Michelle Obama, underscored the role of women and the importance of equality. “As women, we must stand up for ourselves. As women, we must stand up for each other. As women, we must stand up for justice for all.”
In attendance were many of the newly-elected delegates, including Danica Roem, Debra Rodman, and Schuyler VanVelkenburg. Justin Fairfax was also spotted mingling with guests before the brunch program began.
Patton was sitting with local entrepreneur and philanthropist Larkin Garbee, a supporter of her organization. After the brunch, Patton spoke about the incoming administration. “Things are shifting fast. This opportunity wouldn’t even have been available to my mother, and she’s a young 70-years old.”
“Most everyone appreciates what we’re doing,” she said about the work, but she brought up that she’s had a few critics. “One gentleman today, just one, told me that we’re going backward. Working with girls of color isn’t about excluding anyone, though. We’re just tapping into the most vulnerable population with a goal of getting us caught up.”
She’d brought several of the girls she works with, including Danielle Freeman-Jackson, a senior at Henrico High School, who told us what the day meant for her. “It’s big. She’s not just Ralph Northam’s wife, she’s a successful woman in STEM. I’m going into STEM, and it’s so empowering to see her with Angela Patton, supporting girls of color like myself.”
Cover photo by Branden Wilson. Other photos by Branden Wilson (BW) or Allison MacEwen (AM).