‘We want a community space’: Landscaping on Marcus-David Peters Circle completes after two years.

The completed Marcus-David Peters Circle. Photo by Arrick Wilson.

Sarah Hagen, Contributing Writer

A statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee occupied the Monument Avenue traffic circle for over 130 years until it was removed in September 2021, according to a previous article. Every Confederate statue on Monument Avenue was removed between 2020 and 2022 during the protests that followed George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter protests.  

The only remaining statue is of Arthur Ashe at the Monument Avenue and Roseneath Road intersection. Ashe was a Richmond native and the first Black man to win the U.S Open, Wimbledon and other titles, according to his website.

Richmonders have unofficially named the traffic circle after Marcus-David Peters, a middle school teacher who was killed by a Richmond police officer in 2018, according to Virginia Public Media.

YME Landscapes, a Black and veteran owned company, was hired by the city to redo the circle’s landscaping, according to its website

President, founder and Richmond native Earl Gary said they won the contract in March and started their work at the end of May. 

It took six to seven weeks of work to put in over 6,000 plants, trees, bushes and shrubs, according to Gary. Gary said the work is practically complete, with only a few touch-ups to the surrounding sidewalks and curbs still needed. 

Gary said the sprinkler system has caused some problems with their work because of the size of the circle. Marcus-David Peters circle spans around 33,000 square feet, so there are areas where there is too much water and areas where there’s not enough. 

Gary said his company has been hired by the city to do jobs before, including city courthouses, police stations, roundabouts and other commercial installs, but never anything as big as the Marcus-David Peters circle. 

“It is obviously a very unique opportunity,” Gary said. “To maintain and to house a project like that under my company, it was a huge opportunity.”

Lawrence West is the founder of Black Lives Matter RVA, an organization unofficially formed at the end of 2020. BLMRVA occupied the Marcus-David Peters circle daily from June 2020 until the monument came down in September 2021. West said they were at the circle “24/7” for the first six months. 

BLMRVA’s goal is to advocate for and create spaces for equity and inclusion, stand up against systemic oppression and create safe community spaces, West said. 

Richmonders made the traffic circle into a community space where they handed out food, water and clothing. It was treated like a park where people could gather to play basketball, create art and music and cultivate plants in community gardens. West said they occupied the space so frequently to “make sure it wasn’t stolen” from them. 

“The circle was a break from the rest of the world. It was a space to be free to reflect on the state-sanctioned deaths, a place to lift our voice, a place to come up with solutions, a place to organize, a place to feel safe, a place to come together,” West said. “It was the closest thing we had to peace on Earth outside of the moments when we would be harassed by police.” 

West said that naming the circle after Marcus-David Peters was “historic and symbolic” to what was happening at the time.

“This was the Black renaissance of Virginia where free thinking people convened to take part in community, bringing their resources together in harmony,” West said. “An unofficial autonomous zone. MDP [Marcus-David Peters] was not given that freedom and it honored his legacy.” 

Fencing was put up around Marcus-David Peters circle in 2021 in preparation for the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue and remained up until Aug. 29 of this year. 

West disagreed with the city’s decision to put up the fencing, saying that it made Monument Avenue “feel like the slums,” he said.

“The fence was about keeping people away from a place that was community led. It was about keeping the existing power structure in place. It was about silencing people,” West said. “The flowers are not what we wanted. We want a community space.” 

West said Richmond is destroying the historical significance of the circle by not maintaining and preserving what has happened there over the past few years. 

“The city needs to allow a space to cultivate community and tell the history of what happened there,” West said. “Where conversations can be had, where people can come. No statues, just markers that depict what actually happened.” 

The Commonwealth Times reached out to Levar Stoney’s office for an interview but did not get a response back by the time of this article’s publication.

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