301 Riverview Ave., Suite 500

Norfolk Virginia, 23510

 8/28/2019

 

Letter to the editor

 

One of the Democratic system’s great strengths is that individuals with different belief systems can voice their opinions of proposed change, be subsequently heard in open forum and despite the presence or absence of conflict, a system of public voting occurs where the outcome of that particular proposal can be decided fairly and equitably.  A system as such is what makes our nation great. Such a system can provide a beacon of hope to those in despair, invoke confidence to those lacking in it, and can affirm our country as truly the land of opportunity.

This past April, I organized a group of concerned citizens whose cultural, racial and economic backgrounds differed but collectively shared concerns regarding the state of Virginia race relations and lack of access to equal opportunities for people of color specifically.  Governor Ralph S. Northam was kind enough to accept a meeting where we could express our views highlighting shortfalls within the state that otherwise could provide more equal opportunities. Access to education, higher paying jobs, adequate health care and better access to state level contracts for small minority businesses was the focus. Equally, if not as important, we discussed how our current educational school system fails to incorporate the true depiction of African American history and culture.

Based on our discussions, my team and I wanted to participate directly in serving the fine citizens of Virginia and assist in building the Governor’s legacy by bringing these aforementioned items to bear.  The team desires to create a plan to increase diversity and equality within our community in the areas of education, healthcare, economic development and greater employment.

To achieve these goals, I presented six proposals to the Governor.

First, we’d need direct access to the Secretary of Education to explore opportunities to fully integrate African American history as a part of American history in our statewide school system.  Knowledge is power and greater knowledge promotes greater understanding. The role of African Americans in America has been discounted.  If African American contributions are not brought to bear in the classroom, it may send a message that we played little role in the formation of our great nation leading to the mindset of “white privilege”.  If one lacks knowledge of the struggles and contributions of African Americans from the birth of this country to the present, institutional racism will continue as a thorn in Virginia’s side.

Our team was ready to organize a group of scholars specializing in this specific area who can assist immediately in curriculum development and integration which we recommended could be initiated and implemented by the fall of 2020.  I saw no real reason that should be delayed.  Fortunately, the Governor was already aware of this shortfall and took our suggestion to heart.  He implemented, as an executive order, the formation of a commission on African American History Education in the Commonwealth to make the necessary recommendations to his office and the Secretary of Education (Executive order #39).

The current process for distribution of educational funds and resources for inner city schools versus upper class neighborhood schools should also be revisited as well.  All children should have access to the best education possible in the state of Virginia and that cannot occur with the given distribution structure.

Better afterschool programs should be a priority of the state and local government to prevent idle time for children who may otherwise make poor choices.  It is my understanding that some of the local recreation centers close for the day at the time many children are dismissed from school.  Why is that?  If the children have no structured activities, what might they do?

Some of the racially charged messages I hear even today are that the predominantly African American children are not becoming functional members of society but instead become early members of correctional facilities.  Yet, society does not give these individuals an equal footing through education to achieve success.  Higher education leads to job opportunities and increased wages which leads to higher tax revenue which only helps the state of Virginia.  There are clear benefits beyond the moral aspects, understanding that everything we do to promote the success of our children will be beneficial to all.

Second, I recommended to the Governor, that the team have direct access to the Secretary of Health to explore the development of an obesity task force designed to tackle this specific issue which so adversely affects our community.  Obesity leads to the development of other processes such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and severe debilitating arthritis amongst other health concerns.  This is truly an epidemic leading to increased morbidity and mortality.  The state should be fully behind this endeavor placing significant resources and assistance in improving the health and well-being of the residents of this great state.

We have many tax-exempt organizations that enjoy a substantial profit margin that do not commit enough of their resources to the betterment of our community.  I do not feel they lack commitment, but it is only befitting that they should be required, given their tax-exempt status, to commit greater resources for this important endeavor.  I believe we should encourage all four tax exempt entities: Sentara, Bon Secours (now Mercy Health systems), Chesapeake Regional and Riverside Health Systems, to assist financially with programs the task force creates.  State assistance to design incentive programs for residents would also demonstrate a sincere commitment to assist individuals in living a healthier lifestyle, i.e. tax credits, reduction in insurance premiums, and assistance with prescription drugs.

Third, I would like access to the appropriate cabinet member who assists with the Elizabeth River Crossing Consortium to address the bond/debt restructuring.  There is an opportunity to perhaps rid the state of this very expensive transaction which has been so detrimental to our residents who must travel back and forth through the Downtown and Midtown tunnels just to earn a living.  Currently, the bond structure calls for escalating costs per year as opposed to a fixed bond/debt service.  Of course, the extra costs are ultimately passed onto the consumer with higher toll costs.  There must be a better way of handling new roads and tunnels which would be more beneficial to all concerned.  One of my team members presented an excellent alternative strategy which I would like to explore further.  The suggestion was to issue a special class of bonds or to allow the Virginia Retirement System, the Virginia College Savings Plan, and possibly the Virginia Lottery to secure the funding to buy out this ridiculous contract which only provides excess profits to the Elizabeth River Crossing partnership by way of excess costs on hard working Virginians.  If someone is to benefit from a 12% interest rate from the citizens of this great state, then distribute it to our teachers, public safety workers, state employees and the municipalities affected most, instead of two foreign conglomerates.

Fourth, I requested direct access to the Secretary of Finance to understand the current tax credit program and to explore ways to mirror this program to encourage business investments.  One option would be to provide start-up support for new businesses who meet certain criteria and otherwise may not be able to obtain a business loan through traditional finance mechanisms.  Many people have great ideas and a commitment and perseverance to start a business, but do not have the capital investment dollars to do so.  This could represent a way of affording those opportunities to well deserving people. Another idea to explore would be an investment in tax credits to provide funding for scholarship dollars targeting low and low-middle income students and families who otherwise could not afford to provide those opportunities to their children. Many of our bright students cannot afford to attend college or trade schools and these type investments would help support individual institutions and provide a mechanism to allow well deserving students to attend colleges, universities or trade schools without the significant financial burden that typically accompanies many who want to attend.  We also need to explore better work-study employment opportunities where students can participate within a framework that offers them flexibility in their school schedules.  I think it’s important that students have “skin in the game” in their education but not to their detriment that prevents them from being successful.

It is my hope that with this assistance, we would develop relationships with targeted businesses within the state to create paid internship programs through a tax credit program that will enable our young adults to become better prepared for the workplace while attending college.  Discussions with these businesses would help determine the necessary skillsets that may not be incorporated within the current college or trade school curriculum but will enable success in the marketplace.  Of course, the hope is that our Virginia schools produce students who are highly competitive compared to the current norms in the US and could become a mecca for recruitment.

Fifth, economic development opportunities for minority and small businesses, especially with the current bid process for state contracts should be revisited.  Preparation for entrepreneurs and small business owners to understand the bid process so these individuals can compete is essential.  How easy is the application process to become a SWAM certified business?  I fully support Governor Northam’s newly issued Executive Order #35 (Advancing Equity for Small, Women, Minority and Service Disabled Veteran Owned Businesses in State Contracting) and hereby offer my team’s help to create an easier process than what is currently in place to help these businesses access state level resources and assistance to submit successful bids.  The previous structure could be interpreted as a prime example of what would otherwise be described as institutional bias.  A small business or start-up business cannot meet the current criteria set forth to compete successfully to win these contracts.  This will only discourage others from trying to enjoy a fair and equal share of the American dream.

Finally, creation of job opportunities that result in higher wages through the creation of trade schools should be explored.  Schools which specialize in the fields of computer technology, plumbing, electrical contracting, etc. can create a job marketplace that will also encourage businesses to move to this area because they see value in the workforce we create.

Public support for these endeavors is the key to success. My plan is twofold.  The first is to ensure that I am on the right track to meeting and understanding the needs of our citizens in this great state we live in.  To obtain feedback, I will create a blog and discuss what is important to our residents.  I will also host several public forums to allow people’s voices to be heard and their ideas integrated with these public statewide endeavors.  Second, I will host a radio segment on WHOV-88.1 FM called “The Governor’s Corner”.  This will be a recorded podcast distributed to multiple social media venues.  The segment is designed to keep people abreast as to what is happening on a state level and what is being done to promote and implement these ideas I have discussed. My plan is to report on all the wonderful things the Governor’s office is doing for our community and for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

 

Keith H Newby, M.D.

Newby Institute for Research and Innovation

301 Riverview Ave., Suite 500

Norfolk Virginia, 23510