This Saturday, a group of ministers known as the Virginia Beach Interdenominational Ministers Conference are leading a march to encourage the City of Virginia Beach to fund a disparity study.
The Reverend James Allen, President of the Ministers Conference, and Gary McCollum, associate pastor of the Historic First Baptist Church in downtown Norfolk and candidate for Virginia State Senate in 2015, are spearheading the march, being referred to as the Faith, Freedom, and Justice March. The march will begin at 11:00 a.m. Saturday at Rudee Loop (104 Atlantic Ave) and will end at 1:00 p.m. at 40th St., near the Cavalier Hotel.
A disparity study, which many major cities in the United States have done, involves the hiring of an independent research firm to evaluate the process by which a city awards contracts to businesses and make recommendations on how to increase the city’s percentage of contracts with minority owned businesses. A typical study costs $200,000-$300,000.
In 2008, the city of Virginia Beach passed a resolution stating that its aspiration was to see 10% of three categories of businesses in the city owned by minorities within 10 years. Those categories were goods and services, construction, and architectural and engineering services. As that deadline approaches, Virginia Beach remains nowhere near that threshold. While this issue has been raised several times with the city during the last few years, it gained headlines last fall when former NFL star Bruce Smith, who lives in Virginia Beach, announced that himself and a group of local businessmen would fund half the study.
Until earlier this week, Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms had said he did not believe it was necessary for the city to have a disparity study, as it would be too costly. Instead, he advocated for the city to think of ways for the city to increase minority business participation on its own. At a City Council meeting Monday, Sessoms joined Virginia Beach City Council Members Jessica Abbot and Ben Davenport in supporting a study.
McCollum, however, says that the type of study that Sessoms proposed isn’t appropriate. The reason being that his proposed study consists of implementation in three phases, and therefore doesn’t comply with the guidelines set forth in City of Richmond v. J. A. Croson Co., a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case that dealt with the appropriate method a municipality can undertake to determine the need for increased minority business dealings.
“We’re trying to show that you shouldn’t have to be politically connected in order to do business in, or own a business in Virginia Beach,” said McCollum.
Kris Asgeirsdottir, President of the Hampton Roads Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), has concerns that there are not enough women owned businesses in the city as well, and stresses that there is no way to know for sure, unless the study is conducted. Hampton Roads NOW will be present at the march, and in charge of women’s outreach for the march.
McCollum believes that, in the end, it’s not just minorities who have trouble opening businesses or getting city contracts in Virginia Beach. It’s everyone who is not politically connected.
“That is what we’re here to say, is that we won’t stand for anymore cronyism,” said McCollum. “Because for someone to have to be wealthy or connected to do business in Virginia Beach, is frankly Un-American.”