RVA News looks at why Richmond's mayor put his faith in Jepson professor Thad Williamson to lead the city's anti-poverty initiatives. Williamson, associate professor of leadership studies, is taking a leave of absence from his academic post to become the first director of the Office of Community Wealth Building. He is co-chair of the Maggie L. Walker Initiative for Expanding Opportunity and Fighting Poverty.
Thad Williamson saw the Two Americas at the age of five while riding in his grandfathers car in Louisiana. “My grandfather…had in-house servants, maids during the day, who were African-American,” Williamson said. “I went along on the ride to go drop this lady off where she lived.” It wasn’t a house like his grandfather’s house. It was Williamson’s first look at the inequality and impoverishment of the Deep South.
The Two Americas appeared again in Chapel Hill, NC where Williamson attended school. “The schools were integrated by the time I came around,” he said. “I didn’t realize until much later how novel that was.”
Life in elementary school was fine and good during the day. His friends, black and white, played, studied, joked. The differences showed after the last bell. “The kids who were African-American took the bus home, and everybody else walked,” he said. Those busses took those children to a “public housing community tucked away” in Chapel Hill that “was designed for outsiders not to have a reason to go there.”
From elementary school up through high school, Williamson gradually saw the obvious. “You became more aware as you got older…[of] the racial inequalities.”
Williamson now fights those inequalities as a professor, writer, and, beginning June 2nd, the City’s first director of the Office of Community Wealth Building that will oversee and execute the City’s anti-poverty initiatives.