BLK RVA founder Amy Wentz hopes to challenge Reva Trammell’s multi-decade hold on Richmond’s 8th District and bring a new energy to Southside Richmond.
Richmond City Councilwoman Reva Trammell has been in office for a very long time — having presided over Richmond’s 8th district since 1998. Though it appears the residents of the 8th district love Councilwoman Trammell, not much has changed over her 22 years of representing the city’s geographically largest voting district — and arguably its most neglected.
When Councilwoman Trammell first took office in 1998, the district in Richmond’s Southside had no grocery stores. Today the number of grocery stores in the district remains the same, with the exception of a few small storefronts along Route 1 and Broad Rock Boulevard.
Being a food desert is just one of the many problems that needs to be addressed in the district, and Amy Wentz, who is running to unseat Trammell, intends to bring those problems to light so that the 8th district can get on pace with the rest of the city.
Wentz was born and raised in Richmond’s Southside. After graduating from Huguenot High School on Forest Hill Avenue, she joined the military, spending two years in Afghanistan before returning to Richmond. Wentz has lived in the 8th district for the past 11 years. She first became involved with local government after attending a meeting and seeing that complacency had set in with her representative, who wasn’t even taking questions from residents. The lack of communication between City Hall and the 8th district, and the obvious lack of attention given to the Southside of Richmond in general, is what prompted Wentz to run for city council.
“Being from Southside and seeing the neglect and seeing the way that our area has gone down over the years has been an eyesore. It has been hard and painful to watch,” Wentz said. “And although I’ve been able to do a lot of community work and community service to help in certain areas, I really felt like it was time for me to transition my community service into public service.”
Wentz is the creator of BLK RVA and co-founded Virginia Black Restaurant Experience, two tourism platforms that highlight Black culture in the Richmond area. Through those organizations, she’s worked to make clear to the outside world that Richmond is about more than the Civil War.
“For a long time we’ve had this Capital of the Confederacy cloud over us, where we feel like we have to highlight the Confederate history as a means towards tourism here in the city,” Wentz said. “We want to tell the whole story of Richmond’s history, and make sure that tourists know that there is Black culture that is thriving here. We want to highlight and uplift that.”
Richmond’s Public Schools are known for their lack of quality, and having gone to school in the Southside, Wentz knows how quality of public schools is connected to wealth inequality.
“Unfortunately, all the schools in the 8th district are what we call Title 1 schools, and that means the majority of students come from families that are experiencing poverty,” Wentz said. “That in itself is a tough pill to swallow.” In addition to improving the schools the 8th district’s kids attend, Wentz wants to improve access to adult education programs for the Southside’s residents. Right now, all of the programs the city offers are located North of the James River.
As the representative for the 8th district, Wentz wants to restore the line of communication between the residents and the local government.
“The communication strategy in the 8th district as it stands now is nonexistent,” Wentz said. “We’re the only district that does not receive newsletters or any sort of communication from our district representatives.” Wentz believes the lack of communication and inability for the residents of the 8th district to provide feedback or ask questions is directly responsible for the complacency and lack of accountability that has plagued the district’s representatives in City Hall.
The 8th district still faces many of the challenges they’ve been dealing with for decades. The district leads the city in evictions and health disparity. It’s at the bottom of the municipal infrastructure budget as well as access to GRTC, despite being the city’s largest district. According to Wentz, Councilwoman Trammell is good at providing “band-aid” fixes for some of the problems her constituents are facing, such as giving gift cards and rides around the city. But she feels that it will take institutional change to reverse all the damage that has been done to the 8th district over the years.
“I want to usher in policy that could really affect our quality of life, so that we’re not leaning on those things as much as we have been in the past,” Wentz said. “We’re operating with a sense of integrity on our campaign, doing things the right way, and so it gets tough to try to compete with the types of practices that have been in place for 18 years.”
All photos via Amy Wentz/Facebook