City council votes human rights task force to become a commission

Members of the Task Force on the Establishment of a Human Rights Commission; photo courtesy of Riqia Taylor.
Members of the Task Force on the Establishment of a Human Rights Commission; photo courtesy of Riqia Taylor.

City Council voted unanimously to adopt a Human Rights Commission for the City of Richmond earlier this summer following a series of efforts by VCU student Riqia Taylor.

Taylor, a senior studying African-American studies, chaired the task force dedicated to establishing the commission.

A Human Relations Commission existed for more than 30 years before dissolving in 2006. The new Human Rights Commission — which was approved on June 11 and will become active later this fall — marks the rebirth of a push for human rights consideration in cases involving discrimination.

The process began when Taylor met Richmond city Councilwoman Ellen Robertson two years ago. With the help of Robertson and fellow council member Parker Agelasto, the task force was created to push the passing of a full-blown commission.

Josie Mace, a task force member and policy associate for New Virginia Majority, said she handled much of the research.

“It was a role that meant reeling in some of the abstract ideas of other members and turning them into something that could be real and effective,” Mace said. “What we hope is that Richmonders, including college students, will be able to get justice when there is discrimination in housing, business, transportation — anything.”

According to the Virginia Human Rights Act, the protected classes — populations of people who cannot be lawfully discriminated against — are based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status or disability.

With the establishment of the commission — according to the ordinance passed by city council — a safeguard will be placed upon “all individuals within the City from unlawful discrimination because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, (or) disability, sexual orientation, transgender status, or gender identity, in places of public accommodation.”

The commission will be comprised of 11 adults — five of whom Mayor Levar Stoney appointed and six of whom were appointed by the city council — and two non-voting youth members broadly representative of the Richmond community. Each adult can serve one three-year term and each youth can serve one term spanning roughly a school year.

Part of the commission’s efforts, Taylor hopes, will be to reach out to local organizations to establish partnerships for targeted causes, which will change based on the community’s demands.

The commission’s duties will be to investigate and advise the city council and the mayor on acts of discrimination, provide assistance to community members who believe their human rights were violated by referring them to proper agencies who can be of greater help, provide public forums for the discussion of human rights issues and conduct studies regarding human relations in the city, among others.

Taylor emphasized the commission will be helpful to VCU students and Richmonders in general because it will serve as a resource broker for protecting their rights if they feel they have been violated.

“Why it should matter to them is that this is now an entity that you can go to and express your concerns,” she said. “If you feel VCU isn’t doing the job and you’re not from Richmond, then it is another resource.”

Taylor said she would love to be appointed as a member to the commission, as her set on the task force was not a permanent one.

“I cannot speak to what the commission will do moving forward because that is solely up to the members they appoint,” she said.

Rodney Lofton, another task force member and vice president and deputy director of Diversity Richmond, said the initial efforts would have been difficult without Taylor.

“What a truly dynamic and charismatic young lady,” he said. “Focused and task oriented, Riqia (Taylor) kept the group on task to complete this most important work. She is indeed a force to be reckoned with.”

Those interested in applying for commission membership can submit an application on the Richmond Office of the City Clerk website. The commission will become active in October once all members have been appointed.


Nia Tariq, News Editor

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