By Kathy Chouteau
More than likely you’ve seen Richmond native, Brandon Evans, 30, around town collaborating on a mural, planting trees or maybe even running a STEAM workshop—followed closely behind by a group of youth in his role as a mentor/program coordinator at Richmond Police Activities League (RPAL).
As part of the Standard’s Black History Month series, we caught up with Evans—who also serves as the Coronado Neighborhood Council’s vice president and as a past city commissioner on the Economic Development Commission and Planning Commission—to get the self-described public servant’s take. Here’s what Evans had to say:
What does Black History Month mean to you? “I think it’s an acknowledgement of the contribution of Black people, Black Americans, Black people across the diaspora, their contributions to this world—not only here in the United States but in the world. I think about the sacrifice, really, my ancestors and our ancestors had to make for us to enjoy the privileges of today. With all of it in spite of everything that’s still happening to Black people,” said Evans.
“I think it’s an acknowledgement of what we’ve contributed, which I think is sometimes overlooked and not shared widely enough.”
How long have you lived in Richmond and what has your experience been as a Black person living here? “I’ve lived in Richmond my entire life…I’ve lived in one house, my entire life. My entire family lives in the [Coronado] neighborhood. My mother, my father and also his mother, [Floria Evans], who will be 103 in August. So, I’ve been here my entire life. You know, my experience has been a good one. I had an amazing childhood here.”
“I think my adolescent years…Things changed drastically related to violence here. And, you know, there were a couple of years where my life, in my experience here, was consumed by violence.”
During his high school years, Evans opted to attend high school outside of Richmond. “I actually flew the city and I went to Pinole Valley High.”
“I think perspective, is everything,” added Evans. “At that time, I didn’t see a lot of opportunities here for myself. And I didn’t see a future and I didn’t see a future out of here. And I spent some years trying to figure it out.”
While working for the now-closed nonprofit For Richmond, Evans became illuminated to the role of public servant, where previously, he had mostly been an “observer.”
“I guess my introduction into organizing and community engagement and working closely on behalf of my community was at For Richmond.” Evans said his perspective changed again around age 25 or 26 when he began to transition into a more active role in the community. “I began to see a chance to create an opportunity.”
“I see those concerns mirrored in the youth that I work with today,” said Evans, referencing his own youth in Richmond. “And I think that, you know, it’s another layer that exists, when you have that innate understanding of putting yourself in that student’s shoes…”
“It’s a completely different world than when I grew up…it’s a different time; they’ve been dealing with some of the same challenges, but so many more. You would be surprised what young people today are dealing with.”
Is there a part of Richmond’s Black heritage that’s particularly meaningful to you? “I think an unspoken piece of Black Heritage here is the African American contribution in the war effort working in the shipyards. My grandmother came here in 1943 to work in the shipyards, [having] migrated from Little Rock, Arkansas with two small kids and her husband in search of a better life and better existence.” Evans’ grandfather, Joe Evans, also worked on the Home Front in the Ford Plant.
“And I know many descendants, modern day people of African American descent here in Richmond, a lot of their family and forefathers also migrated. During that time, just in search of a better life. Only now in my active role in community, I’m beginning to learn more about that contribution.”
Evans also spoke about how during WWII, Richmond was segregated and Blacks had to live “down Cutting [by Canal] in one or two wartime housing projects, or you could live in North Richmond. And, you know, North Richmond became our community; that was the only place that we were accepted, that we could live openly with our families, where we could socialize. So we had to create all of that for ourselves.” Evans also took time to honor the blues clubs and musical legacy that arose out of the North Richmond community of that time.
Who are some other Black leaders of any age within or outside of Richmond who inspire you and why? “Well, I like to like to call these ‘the big three.’ I think they have inspired us and continue to inspire me. And that is Jim McMillan [former Richmond City Councilmember]; Irma Anderson [former mayor of Richmond]; and Joe Fisher [a local realtor].” Evans referred to the Richmond giants as “godparents in a way…I think all the work that I’ve been able to do today is because of the leaps and bounds that they did specifically here in the city of Richmond and continue to do…”
“All are still serving in some capacity as an elected or appointed official, and really allowed and gave us a platform where they allowed a space to kind of come in and participate,” Evans added.
What is your hope for the future of the Black community and Richmond? “My hope is that Black people everywhere have the ability and opportunity to represent…political representation and community representation in decision-making bodies from the local, county to state and federal level, that we take control of our own destiny,” said Evans.
“I think for a long time promises have been made to the Black community. You know, going back to America’s greatest sin, which is slavery. And I think it’s been a burden that, ultimately, we all carry—Black and white. And my hope for the future of humanity is that people can look at each other as we are…that every group is represented” and has “space to be who [they] want to be in this world.”