Meet the VCU student who chairs the first human rights task force in Richmond

Riqia Taylor, 21, is a senior African American studies major at VCU. She is also the the chairwoman of a task force striving to organize the first human rights commission in Richmond. Other commissions currently exist in neighboring cities like Charlottesville, Norfolk and Fairfax.

Photo provided by Riqia Taylor

As a civilian, how did you know that Richmond had an issue with human rights?

When I came to VCU I wanted to join a human rights commission. There wasn’t one.

In 2016, I met Councilwoman Robertson and said I was looking to join a human rights commission. I knew Richmond previously had a human relations commission, but no human rights commission, so I asked her who to talk to about starting one.

The next Monday, we had a plan for getting a task force together. She and Councilman Parker Agelasto patroned the ordinance for a task force, and I was encouraged to apply to be a member. I became the chairwoman and we were working from there.

Over the months we did research on other commissions, such as Charlottesville, Alexandria, Fairfax, Prince William, Virginia Beach and Newport News. We also heavily looked at the Code of Virginia Human Rights.

One of the things we were passionate about was having more than just the opinions of the [commissioners]. We conducted a citywide survey and held two forums where we invited residents of Richmond to learn about what we were doing and share whether they thought Richmond needed a human rights commission.

For people who aren’t really clear, what exactly does a human rights commission do?

Different commissions do different things. In Newport News, for example, if a person was being discriminated against, they could come to the commission. They would file a report and we would do one of two things: resolve the issue within the commission, or point them toward the correct procedure to help them.

We recommended that the Richmond human rights commission would be investigatory, education-based and a resource broker; some people just don’t know their rights as it relates to the VA Human Rights Code.

How do you think college students in particular would benefit from Richmond having a human rights commission?

When I think of a human rights commission, I think of community. We go to VCU, live in VCU’s campus and we stay in this VCU bubble, neglecting the fact that you live in Richmond. You’re being welcomed here, so giving back to the community around you really is what’s most important.

What I would like to see is college students serving on the commission. I believe that their voice at the table is needed. Our peers really just need to stay up to date and stay educated on everything going on in the city. Everyone at this university has something amazing to offer to this city and this community. So do just that, serve. Make sure you’re going out into the community and serving in some capacity.

Have there been any outstanding instances of discrimination that you have discovered so far from the task force?

The Code of VA Human Rights has protected classes: race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status or disability. Gender, sexuality, criminal record, and immigration status are not included. Those aren’t protected classes. The survey helped us see discrimination according to gender and sexuality and racial discrimination in housing and public accommodations.

What do you envision your future in the commission to be and the future of the commission as a whole?

I would like to serve as a member if the commission is something that is put into action. Going back to what my original purpose was, I really just want to serve my community.

Nia Tariq, Contributing Writer

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