“It’s more than just what’s in your history books.” BLK RVA showcases the booming black cultural scene that’s made Richmond what it is today.
In the last 10 years, Richmond has exploded as a creative hub — in a good way. As someone who was born and raised here, I understand the potential culture this city has to offer, and recently it has acted on that potential. Now more than ever, creative spaces are being opened, small festivals are spread out across the city throughout the year, and even small indie and underground artists are gaining an increase in recognition.
But as natives, this is something we’re all used to; we’re almost unbothered by some of these things, because they happen so often. Yet as we reach 2020, the city has grown into a creative hub not many would have believed possible looking back on it years ago. It’s not the largest hub there is, but it’s definitely there — and it’s definitely working.
Inside of the gears of the City of Richmond, the black community has been working tirelessly to bring more attention to the cultural efforts they’ve produced in our home. What they’ve produced is nothing short of amazing, and it’s been influential to the culture of the entire River City.
The black community has helped complete an unfinished circle in the perfect Virginia experience: one that many people who call themselves Virginians have never truly seen before. Luckily for them, a platform that emphasizes this black Richmond experience is here, and sits at our fingertips at this very moment.
BLKRVA is a platform that highlights black spaces and black faces. It showcases Richmond to travelers from all around the world, working to spread the history and culture of the city to the extent that it deserves.
Its central base is a tourism website, which features a plethora of black-owned businesses, events, and artists — ultimately it’s everything you’d want to see in Richmond, that you’d never know is right around the corner.
“We’re the only ones in the Commonwealth to do something like this, and I believe we’re the second in the nation, behind Philadelphia,” said Amy Wentz, Member of BLKRVA Action Team.
Because of our city’s history with slavery and as the capital of the Confederacy, outsiders may have cringed at the thought of visiting Richmond. But with the light in our dark history, we’ve grown with the past, and Richmond is more now than just a scarred city. Much of that is thanks to the very people who were scarred by that history.
While the black experience is not all there is in Richmond, it’s a major part of the overall Virginia experience. BLKRVA has given this experience a louder voice, telling the public, “It’s more than just what’s in your history books, and you’ll never know until you see it.”
Their key tagline, “Rooted & Rising,” serves as both a reminder and realization: a reminder of their rich history in the state of Virginia, but also a “call to action,” rising against the negative connotations that come with it.
Richmond is a hot spot in commemorating the history of America, and with that comes a commemoration of enslaved Africans. Over time, they helped advance Richmond into what it is today, despite the hardships they faced in their lives.
Though the BLKRVA campaign was only launched earlier this summer, the organizers have been working behind the scenes on this plan for years. They have seen success working with larger black-owned events, such as the Afrikana Film Festival and The Black Restaurant Experience, which brought crowds of people nationwide to see the new cultural perspective Richmond has to offer. As time went on, the members of the campaign noticed a surging trend in foreign visitors coming to appreciate the efforts of black Richmond culture. This led them to reformat their work, bringing a focus to black-owned businesses that are staples of the city.
From there, the BLKRVA campaign was created with Richmond Region Tourism as a one-stop-shop, categorizing all the different black Richmond events for visitors and residents alike.
Their listings include well over 100 restaurants, attractions, and events that take place across the city throughout the year. Listings include Addis Ethiopian, the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia, Big Herm’s Kitchen, Treat Shop RVA, C’est Le Vin Art & Wine Gallery, the Hippodrome Theater, Elegba Folklore Society’s Cultural Center, Sheep Hill Bistro, and many more.
Along with highlighting these black spaces in Richmond, BLKRVA also tells the stories of black citizens in the city, focusing on black creatives and writers. With this platform, creatives can explain their day-to-day activities to tell the story of a day in the life of a black Richmonder. Their interviews and features put the spotlight on public figures like Mecca Williams, Nadira Chase, Nickelus F, and Samantha Willis.
“If you want to be as a local would be, these interviews will give you everything you need,” said Wentz.
It’s not often that people like this are given a voice, which makes their recommendations even more special than before. Ultimately, it fills the visiting experience for those who want to see our city from a different perspective.
“It’s time for us to start celebrating and uplifting the black experience here; because of the easier access to travelling now, it’s up to us to change that connotation about Virginia,” Wentz said. “And it starts with things like this.”
A decade ago, Wentz started “BlackRVA” single-handedly, as the original plan for showcasing black events and black-owned business in Richmond. With the help of her action team, she was able to manifest BLKRVA into the large, influential position it’s in today.
“When I first started it, I had so much going on. I could hardly manage it how it should be… how it is now,” said Wentz. “So I’m very grateful to be able to work with so many different creatives, and bring out the true potential that BLKRVA had to offer.”
As BlackRVA grew into BLKRVA, a Richmond Region Tourism platform, the potential to highlight the black culture scene in Richmond has grown along with it. They’ve expanded their coverage beyond the Greater Richmond area, and further into surrounding counties like Hanover, New Kent, Henrico, and Chesterfield.
Because of the innovative boom in the city, a new atmosphere has grown. It has allowed BLKRVA to flourish and prosper into successful platform — from one woman’s idea to the powerhouse of a team it is today, time has treated BLKRVA well, and given the team the tools they needed to build the organization up.
“It feels great to know that these places are trusting us with what we do, because it’s never been done before. If we don’t make these places noticeable, they may never get the recognition they deserve,” said Wentz. “It’s one thing to do your own advertising, but to work with a cohesive brand and a team of other businesses just makes the impact more effective.”
Whenever you’re thinking about how to change your Richmond experience, I’d advise paying BLKRVA’s website, at visitblkrva.com, a visit. You may find exactly what you’re looking for.
Top Image via BLKRVA