Citing a lack of planning and funds, the city of Charlottesville will not bring back its Unity Days event for the fifth anniversary of the deadly riot surrounding the Aug. 12, 2017 Unite the Right rally.
Mayor Lloyd Snook confirmed at a city council meeting earlier this week that the city would not be hosting the event.
“[With] no staff, no time, no money, no security, and with COVID running rampant, it did not seem like a wise idea to try to plan Unity Days,” Snook said.
Snook said the planning lack is primarily because staff members who led organizing the community event in 2019 no longer work for the city. Neither was there a budget set aside for it.
“In 2019, Charlene Green and Brian Wheeler basically worked for most of a year to get that put together. Neither of them is still with us in the city and there was nobody in the city who was putting that together,” Snook said.
Green served as manager of the city’s Office of Human Rights until February 2020 and Wheeler served as the city’s communications director until November 2021.
Unity Days was first held in August 2019 following several months of planning spearheaded by Green and Wheeler. The event commemorated the anniversary of the deadly white supremacist violence that occurred two years prior and included events both organized by the city and by community members.
The two-day event included a Call To Action resource fair, a Made in Charlottesville Reclaim Concert that highlighted local Black talent, a family block party, a dance performance by Charlottesville Ballet, an interfaith service, basketball games, roundtable conversations and history talks, among other events.
The event was in planning stages for 2020 but canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. No plans were made in 2021 also due to the pandemic.
Snook said part of the reason the event was not in the works for 2022 is because of concerns about the variability of COVID-19 transmission rates “on a week by week basis.” Also of concern was security measures needed to host the event and the need to bring in additional law enforcement.
“Historically, we have tended not to like it when we’ve had to call the state police for outside help in these events,” Snook said.
A few community members voiced their disappointment during Monday’s meeting.
“It’s a little disappointing that Unity Days is something the city will not continue to support, but it doesn’t surprise me,” said community member and public housing advocate Joy Johnson.
“You all are just making up any excuse you can at this point to not have Unity Days,” said Tanesha Hudson, a community activist who organized the Made in Charlottesville Reclaim Concert at Unity Days in 2019 with some budgetary support from the city.
Snook said Vice-Mayor Juandiego Wade, who was absent from Monday’s meeting, has talked about hosting his own event to commemorate the anniversary, but it would not be an official city event.City Council has taken
one official step toward commemoration of the fifth anniversary by allowing a photo display to be installed on the Downtown Mall.
Eze Amos, a Charlottesville-based photojournalist, is donating the memorial installation, entitled the “The Story of Us: Reclaiming the Narrative of #Charlottesville through Portraits of Community Resilience.”
Ix Art Park will host Soul of Cville from Aug. 12 to Aug. 14 to showcase local Black culture in film, fashion, music, dance and local businesses. It is not the first year of the festival, but this year it coincides with the anniversary of the riot. The event is sponsored in part by Albemarle County’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
The festival is also accepting applications for Black-owned vendors. The application is available at https://tinyurl.com/33p5e5ue.