by Chance Evans
Walking east on First Street, away from Broad, can be a bleak beginning. The first block is one abandoned and boarded-up business after another. But then things change. A giant mural announces your arrival in “Historic Jackson Ward” with vibrant colors and a grandness of scale, and there’s nothing bleak about it.
The rest of the street continues in this vein, showing the hardships and the resurgence of the community.
Up ahead, I see a few people milling about in front of another old, boarded-up building. I hear lots of commotion coming from inside, yet my eye goes to a gray-haired gentleman sitting peacefully in an electric wheelchair.
His name, he says, is Arthur Wilson.
He has lived in Jackson Ward, on and off, since the 1970’s, which means that Mr. Wilson has seen some change: from the aftermath of the Civil Rights movement to the drug-related violence of the 1990’s to the present-day comeback of a proud neighborhood.
“I think it’s a good thing. All these empty shops are filling up. Jackson Ward is still on its own in a number of ways, but it is becoming more a part of the collective Richmond community. I like it here. I lived here when I was younger and being back here is nice. It is a beautiful thing.”
Mr. Wilson’s optimism is shared by many here, and his voice resonates with an appreciation for Jackson Ward’s history and the change that is occurring today.