Richmond, Virginia, Is the Host City for Next City’s National 2023 Vanguard Conference

UPDATE: We’ve extended the deadline for applications to June 12, 2023 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern. Apply now!

Next City announces our newest Vanguard convening, happening September 19-22, 2023, in Richmond. The conference will be organized in partnership with a local host committee and is supported by a grant from the Mellon Foundation. 

Applications for the next cohort will open on April 10, 2023 at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. Early bird applications cost $25 to submit before the deadline of May 1st, 2023, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern. Afterward the application cost increases to $35 and the applications will close on June 7, 2023, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern.

Richmond is located in the east-central part of Virginia at the head of the James River. With a population of nearly 227,000, Richmond is a mid-size city with a handful of historic districts including Jackson Ward, known as the “Harlem of the South,” and Shockoe Bottom, once the center of Richmond’s slave trade.

The city is at a moment when it is confronting its racist history. Richmond, once the capital of the Confederacy, could also be referred to as the capital of the American slave trade. In recent years, there has been a renewed effort to acknowledge the history of enslaved people in the city, and with that, an exploration of what reparations could look like for their descendants. Additionally, there are people working to recognize the histories of Richmond’s Indigenous groups, Jewish communities, and other immigrant populations.   

“As the falling capital of the confederacy, Richmond is a place where people continue to fight to dismantle racist systems and have been for generations.” says Chelsea Higgs Wise, executive director at Marijuana Justice and Vanguard host committee member. “Because I’m passionate about the liberation of Black people and other communities of color, I’m thrilled to help curate a focus on reparations and repair this year as Vanguard comes to Richmond in September.”

While many national headlines over the past few years have focused on the removal of Confederate monuments in the city, there is a lot of other work happening in Richmond that deserves attention, from repairing the harms of the drug war and police abolition to keeping people housed. As Next City previously reported, data released by the Eviction Lab at Princeton University in 2018 showed that Richmond had the second-highest rate of eviction in the United States.

“As I think about the work happening in Richmond, the word Sankofa immediately comes to mind. The principle, which comes from the Akan people of Ghana, reminds us of the importance of learning from the past to build the future,” says Next City Editorial Director Deonna Anderson. “I believe that a better world is possible but we have to acknowledge the past — and confront the oppression happening in the present — to build equitable, abundant communities.”

During Vanguard in Richmond, we plan to highlight the transformative leaders who are ensuring the city’s future is equitable — and who value truth and reconciliation as a way of achieving that future. With that in mind, we expect to have hard conversations about the complexities of life in Richmond and what it will take to ensure equity for all.

Next City’s Vanguard program brings together 40 rising urban professionals working to improve cities. Solving urban problems means working across divides and breaking silos, so Vanguard convenes professionals across borders and across sectors, including architecture, art, civic technology, community development, entrepreneurship, government, transportation and urban planning. Each year, Next City selects applicants whose smart ideas for cities, experience in the field and ambition for the future all show great promise. The conference is free.

“We know that connecting people who value truth and reconciliation from all across the country and the globe will spark collaboration and unlock potential for change everywhere,” says Next City Executive Director Lucas Grindley. “Together we will consider what a future of repair looks like. So I’m excited for the conference, but even more so for what happens next.”

In addition to the conference, Next City will hire a yearlong Richmond-based reporting fellow, who will focus their coverage on truth, reconciliation, and reparations in Virginia. This position is supported by Vanguard partner Liberation Ventures, a philanthropic and field-building organization fueling the Black-led movement for racial repair in the U.S.

“Support for reparations has doubled in the past two decades, and continues to grow. As the momentum of the movement builds, we need storytellers who are demonstrating why reparations — and building a culture of repair — are so necessary, showing the general public how much is already happening, and bringing the stories of the brilliant leaders in this movement to life,” says Liberation Ventures Co-Founder and Managing Director Aria Florant. “Liberation Ventures is thrilled to partner with Next City and the Mellon Foundation to bring visibility, resources, and energy to the reparations cause in Virginia.”

With more than 500 Vanguards participating over the last ten years (as first-year cohort members and subsequently as alumni), Next City has created a program that advances the nonprofit’s mission to inspire social, economic and environmental change in cities through media and events around the world.

The four-day Richmond conference will include workshops, tours and conversations about the newest innovations and most pressing questions in urban development, infrastructure and public policy. Vanguards will have the opportunity to work with organizations in the city to devise solutions to local challenges.

(Photo by Stephen Poore / Unsplash)

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