May 23, 2016
Public radio project launched by VCU alumna documents a changing Richmond through personal stories
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As part of a newly launched public radio project called “UnMonumental,” a Virginia Commonwealth University alumna and a VCU instructor of African American Studies are telling everyday histories of Richmond through the voices of the people who live in the city today.
“Richmond’s got a lot of monuments, but they don’t all speak to the experiences of the people who live here,” said Kelley Libby, who graduated from the Department of English in the College of Humanities and Sciences in 2010. “I wanted to create a project that tells a different, more nuanced story of Richmond than the one that’s set in stone in places like Monument Avenue.”
Richmond’s got a lot of monuments, but they don’t all speak to the experiences of the people who live here.
Libby, along with community producer Chioke I’Anson, Ph.D., an instructor in the VCU Department of African American Studies, have been recording interviews with Richmond residents — mostly at a story booth at the Richmond Public Library — and documenting the changing city.
“So Brian Phelps talks about the moment when a B.B. King CD changed his perspective on ‘heritage’ and the Confederate battle flag, and Lori Hunter talks about the impact of development in Jackson Ward on her family and community during the 1960s, and Cristina Ramírez talks about her experience as Richmond’s only multilingual Latina professional librarian,” Libby said.
“UnMonumental” has been airing Fridays on “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered” on WVTF/Radio IQ (92.5 FM in Richmond), and Libby and I’Anson will be featured in June on “With Good Reason,” a public radio program produced by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities that airs in 13 states and Washington, D.C.
Last year, the Association of Independents in Radio asked public radio stations and producers to take part in a new initiative called Localore that would incubate public media projects in 15 communities across the country. Libby contacted WVTF/Radio IQ and proposed the project that became “UnMonumental.”
“When we applied, the shootings in Charleston had just happened, which I think marked a turning point for America. There had already been efforts by committed people in Richmond to grapple with how to honestly interpret its past, but there seemed to be even more urgency after June of last year,” she said. “The station wanted someone on the ground in Richmond who could help tell a story of the city’s effort to rebrand its future while honoring and understanding the past.”
Since the Charleston shootings, many cities, including Richmond, have debated removing Confederate monuments. Amid this debate, Libby said, she grew curious about Richmond’s evolving identity and how the city expresses itself.
“In this city of monuments, I wanted to find out what our common experiences are rather than what our points of division are. Answers are beginning to emerge,” she said. “For example, one of the things I’ve discovered is that people in Richmond want to talk about race and identity.”
The Association of Independents in Radio recently launched a real-time documentary about the 15 projects across the U.S., including “UnMonumental,” and can be found athttps://findingamerica.airmedia.org.
Taking part in “UnMonumental” has been an incredible experience so far, Libby said.
“It’s just been a dream to get to do this work in a city I love,” she said. “I’m grateful to the people who have shared their stories and their wisdom and their knowledge with me. I continue to learn and be inspired by this place and the people who live here.”
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