As part of an ongoing series promote conversations on what it means to live in Richmond, Radio Free Richmond sat down with resident and community activist Terri James to talk about jobs and community engagement. Terri was born and raised in North Richmond.
Radio Free Richmond (RFR): What is your biggest focus right now as a community activist?
Terri James (TJ): Jobs. I work to get people who have maybe done some things in the past to get back on track and focused on jobs.
RFR: Why is this such a challenge in the community?
TJ: A lot of people have a lot of experience in construction, business ownership, just about anything, but the main thing is that they feel is that a lot of them didn't graduate, or they are scared to go to a different side of town, so they couldn't finish their education.
Then, when they do apply for a job, the main question that comes up is "Have you ever been convicted of a felony?" And that's when the red flag goes up -- "Wow, they're not going to hire me because I've been convicted." But I believe that everybody deserves a second chance at a first class life. I think that if they can just get their foot in the door, they are good, loyal workers.
RFR: When you talk with people in the community, how do you suggest they work through their past?
TJ: With being a community activist and working in the community so much, I try to push them.
I tell them to go apply for a job and explain that when that little question comes up, tell them the truth about it. Then explain that they are loyal, reliable, hard working. I give them these concepts for filling out their applications. Some follow through and some down, and those who don't are heart breaking for me because I end up seeing them back on the street.
RFR: Where do you see things going in Richmond right now? Are people applying for more jobs?
TJ: I would say it's at a standstill right now.
RFR: What would you like to see happen?
TJ: First, I want all the kids off the street, and to get a job -- living life on life's terms. I want the violence to stop and I want more togetherness. We're segregated so much in this city. People are afraid to go to other parts of the city for jobs, or it might be two or three kids from one part of town, and they won't work with kids from the other part of town. There's a lot of friction, and I want that to stop.
RFR: How do you think we'll get to that better place?
TJ: If we all came together. The original people from Richmond, their sons, their nephews, all of them. That's what we call One Richmond. We want our town back and we want everyone to get together. I love my community. I help anybody, and I want us all just to get along and work together. If I can do it, you can do it.