Last week in Charlottesville was epic. Spring seemed to hit full bloom, and even for a small town that often punches above its weight generating news, the last few days made a mark locally and nationally. Here is a list of top moments in town from the last seven days.
#5 Building Community. Monday before the national championship game was tense with nervous anticipation across town. The perfect antidote to the tension came from the United Way - Thomas Jefferson Area and their Community Table event. Designed to bring folks together from a diverse cross-section of the community, each table was challenged to converse candidly about what community means to them, how their childhood shaped who they are, and what are the vital elements of our community. The evening was highlighted by Dr. Marcus Martin speaking about the many community dinners that the late, great Julian Bond hosted in our area, and how this new tradition can build understanding and solve problems by involving everyone, not just the usual suspects.
#4 K-Fest. Nobody understood community better than my friend Kris Kishore. A friend and neighbor for many years, he graduated from the University of Virginia and taught at local city and country schools before passing away way too early five years ago. Every year since then, Kris’s friends and family have gathered annually to celebrate his life and his impact on the community as an open-minded and kind-hearted connector. A scholarship in his name has been awarded to UVa students who bring lasting, beneficial change to the community through public service. Unbelievably, the most recent recipient of the Kishore Scholarship, Rehan Baddeliyanage, a remarkable young man who had already contributed greatly to our community, passed away tragically last month at the young age of 21. As a result, K-Fest this year served to celebrate Kris and Rehan, with a friend and classmate of Rehan’s speaking eloquently about the lessons he had learned from his friend.
#3 Carlton W. Reeves. Although the University of Virginia does not award honorary degrees, in conjunction with the Thomas Jefferson Foundation that operates Monticello, it has established and awards the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medals. The recipient of the law medal this year is 1989 UVa Law graduate Carlton W. Reeves, U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Mississippi since 2010. In his acceptance speech at the law school on Friday, Judge Reeves appealed for people of conscience to defend the judiciary. “We need a judiciary as diverse as our country,” Judge Reeves declared, and yet the idea of a diverse judiciary is under attack, and “[t]he proof is in my mailbox, in the countless letters of hatred.” Judge Reeves noted Thomas Jefferson’s own complicated history and reminded us that we don’t know what Jefferson would have thought of his namesake award being presented to the the second African-American man to receive a federal judgeship in Mississippi. His whole talk is worth watching.
#2 Tom Tom Fest. The 8th annual Tom Tom Festival took place this week. It’s billed as “the big festival about small cities,” and it’s organized as “six daylong conferences and a weeklong festival of music, art, competitions, food, and community events.” Over the last seven years this festival has gained huge momentum from its origins as an iLab participant and concept to a thought leader and conversation centerpiece for springtime in Charlottesville. Conferences this year were civic innovation, creative ecosystems, entrepreneurial ecosystems, machine learning, renewable energy, and youth innovation. While there can be a temptation to roll one’s eyes and sigh at some of the tone of self-importance and self-congratulation, the conference really does draw a great deal of new thinking to town and amplify our community’s chance to improve local and national life.
#1 UVa Basketball: 2019 National Champions! Of course this was the huge event last week. A mountain of ink has been spilled about these amazing students and their coaches that I won’t be able to top. Instead, I’ll offer a personal reflection. I first moved to Charlottesville in November 1983, just after the Ralph Sampson era ended. The basketball team surprised everyone by going to the Final Four in March 1984, where they lost in OT to Houston in the national semifinal. It then took 35 years for the team to return to (and exceed) that level of achievement. Along the way, this basketball team endured a humbling and shattering defeat to UMBC in a historic upset. Frankly the only basketball performance that compares is another Virginia loss as a Goliath that was felled by Chaminade in December 1982. This team proved that it can suffer horrible pain and learn, recover, and thrive from it. The whole town was buzzing this week from the joy of victory and the pride when members of our community manage to do something amazing. What a week!