Delegate Guzman Stands With Brown Grove Community in Calling For Council on Environmental Justice to Review Wegmans Permit
BROWN GROVE, Va. — Delegate Elizabeth Guzman today released a letter calling upon the Department of Environmental Quality to refrain from considering a permit for a Wegmans distribution center in the heart of Hanover County’s Brown Grove community until the project is reviewed by the Virginia Council on Environmental Justice.
“Our commonwealth and our country faced a moment of racial reckoning this year, and we as elected leaders must hear this message loud and clear: Black Lives Matter and so do Black communities,” said Guzman. “I thank my colleagues Senator McClellan, Delegate Keam, Delegate Samirah, and Delegate Rasoul for joining me in elevating the voices of the community of Brown Grove.”
“The food distribution center has the opportunity to bring jobs to Hanover County, but it must be located in a place that respects community voices, history, and the environment,” said Senator Jennifer McClellan. Environmental justice must be part of the decision-making process to find a suitable location for this project that also protects the proud history of Brown Grove.”
Delegate Mark Keam, Delegate Ibraheem Samirah, and Delegate Sam Rasoul also signed on to Delegate Guzman’s letter.
Brown Grove was established by a freedwoman, Caroline Morris, upon Emancipation. Brown Grove today remains overwhelmingly African-American, with many residents directly descended from Caroline Morris. The community has been anchored throughout its history by the Brown Grove Baptist Church, which celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2020. During the era of segregated schools, Brown Grove maintained a small two-room schoolhouse. The archaeological site of this schoolhouse is across from the church and is on the parcel to be used by Wegmans. In the recent past, this community was split with the construction of Interstate 95 and the Hanover County Airport. Later, a large concrete plant and private dump were added.
The following quotes are from Brown Grove Community Members:
“My name is Kim Harris-Washington. I am a descendant of former slave Caroline Morris. She is the reason why I am fighting to keep Wegmans out of my Brown Grove community. We love the peace that comes with living in the country. But this will be destroyed if industry continues to invade our homes. When I was young, we would walk or ride our bikes all day, but this has to stop because speeding cars and over-sized dump trucks that lose debris have made our country road too dangerous to enjoy on foot or by bike. Please don't allow this under-represented African American community to fall by the wayside. Some land AIN'T MEANT to be developed. Don't erase 150 years of Black Family Heritage”
Excerpt from Video Statement from Renada Harris-Mickens: “What I want is for our neighborhood to be protected. We want our air to be protected. We want our well water that we drink from to be protected. We want to protect 150 years of African-American History .... Black neighborhoods matter. That's just it. Our neighborhoods matter, too. You don't have to put everything that's bad in our neighborhood. We don't have sidewalks, we don't have a playground, we don't have any of that. We have industry.”
“My name is Bonnica Cotman and I am a resident of the Brown Grove Community. More importantly, I am the great-great grand-daughter of the late Mrs. Caroline Dobson Morris. Grandma Caroline was a midwife and considered the Mother of Brown Grove. She was a visionary who lived in our community for over 93 yrs. The Brown Grove Baptist Church is etched in history at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. There are lives here in the Brown Grove Community. Real people with real roots from their ancestors woven into the soil of this community. Brown Grove may not mean much to other people, but it means the whole world to the people that live here. In the Brown Grove Community, we have endured many obstacles and have had to FIGHT just to remain a community and not conform to becoming a business industrial area. Brown Grove is also being sold in little bits and pieces to the highest bidder! At what point will OUR COUNTY STAND UP AND PROTECT US! This just isn't right! The Brown Grove Community may have been started by slaves and I'm sure those who established our never imagined that we would have to fight to still remain a community and not a community once known as Brown Grove.”
“I've lived in Brown Grove for the last 74 years and I've seen the injustices that have happened to our community,” said Mr. McKinley Harris. “I think they (our Board of Supervisors) thought that we were just going to lay down and ‘take it’ but not this time! This time we are fighting back! We are more prepared, more organized and more determined than ever. These young folks have inspired us!”
Excerpt from Video Statement from Atanya Lewis: “I see this proposed Wegmans project as being the final nail in the coffin for this community if it moves forward. Please help us to stop the victimization and the environmental justice that has occurred over several years for this community. There are babies to centenarians in Brown Grove.”
Excerpt Video Statement from Tyrese Coleman: “I grew up on Egypt Road ... The process in which the state, the county and Wegmans have taken in order to move forward with this project is unjust and unfair for the citizens who live in Brown Grove, especially those on Egypt Road. The building, which is going to be a monstrosity of a building,... will impact the graveyard that my ancestors are buried in. A graveyard that I had played in and cleaned up and had thought of my family using later on in life. By moving forward with this project you are not only erasing the history and culture of an entire community, but you are threatening their health, you are threatening the environment, you are using unjust and unfair tactics to move forward with a project that no one wants to have in their backyard. And there are other sites in Hanover County that will be much more effective and have less of an impact to the community. And we urge you to choose that location over Brown Grove.”
The Hanover County NAACP and Sunrise RVA added their support for the Brown Grove Community:
“The Hanover County NAACP stands with our neighbors in the Brown Grove community and are pleased we can amplify their voices,” said Chris French, Environmental Justice Committee Chair of the Hanover County NAACP. “We share the concern this community will be disproportionately impacted by the proposed Wegmans distribution center. We also have deep concerns regarding the flawed proposed wetlands permits and the lack of proper surveys to locate long known about unmarked graves. While we remain opposed to the proposed Wegmans industrial facility at this location, we look forward to finding common ground solutions with state leaders that will allow a win-win for all interested parties.”
Video Statement from Fionnuala Fisk, Co-Coordinator of Sunrise RVA: “I am opposed to the Wegmans project because environmental justice is not just a box to be checked. The Brown Grove Community has been through 50 years of industrial encroachment and it is time to make change.”