Church Hill community comes together, promotes unity

April 11, 2011

By Veronica Garabelli

Multimedia Journalism Master’s Program

It may appear like just a basketball court from the outside but Hosea Bland, a minister at Mount Olivet Church in Church Hill, has a bigger plan.

“Basketball itself attracts a lot of attention and we want everybody to come and just play,” Bland said. “A basketball court– we feel like that’ll be a catch.”

Bland says he hopes the basketball court will help attract more people to the church so they can spread the word of God. As he works on measuring the dimensions of the court with a neighborhood kid, other people are pulling weeds from the church’s garden and painting murals on the church’s brick walls.

The renovations that the volunteers are working on are part of Richmond’s Arts in the Alley, a yearly event put together by the non-profit-band Offering. The point is to clean up an urban-alley or location that could use repairs and transform it by putting art on its walls.

“We try to bring people together and say ‘Here is a low thresh hold, easy project that you can be a part of,’ ” said Jeanine Guidry, lead singer of Offering. “‘Give us a block of time that you can handle and you can do something that’s simple, that’s fun and that is actually going to lay a foundation for potential change.'”


 Arts In the Alley is in its third year. In 2008, they took on the alley behind Alley Katz in Shockoe Bottom. In 2009, they went to Beijing, China and this March they worked in Church Hill for a weekend.

  • Watch the video below to hear from volunteers that took part in this year’s Arts in the Alley.

  • Click the player below to hear Guidry talk about how she approached Mount Olivet about working in their community:

Guidry said Arts in the Alley wanted to come to Church Hill from the beginning and that it felt like a natural place to be. She hopes to eventually move to Church Hill with her family.

“Personally, I’ve done community service and projects here for the past 14 years, everything from helping out local food banks, assisting local churches and local family resource centers that do mentoring and after school programs.”

For this year’s Arts in the Alley, Offering partnered up with local non-profit group Embrace Richmond who work on community development in the city. Wendy McCaig, founder and executive director of Embrace Richmond, originally approached Bland about hosting Arts in the Alley at Mount Olivet Church.

“We’re really hoping to engage those people that call the alley home in the neighborhood and build ongoing relationships,” McCaig said. “When we leave and all the event stuff is packed up, this group of people doing outreach on a regular basis will still be here.”

  • Watch the video below to hear McCaig talk about what Offering and Embrace Richmond hope to achieve in Church Hill with Arts in the Alley:

Bland said he hopes that Arts in the Alley can show Church Hill-residents that people from the outside are willing to help their community and that next time, they’ll want to participate in an event like this.

“If people just come together more Church Hill can be like it was back in the days before I was even born, the good things that I heard about Church Hill,” Bland said.

  • NAWIC member and Arts in the Alley volunteer Lorie Lythgoe shares how she became involved in the project:

Bland said that issues that face Church Hill include drugs, lack of jobs and homelessness. He hopes to see the neighborhood return to a time where he’s told by his grandparents and uncles, was a little bit safer.

“There was a lot of unity back then,” Bland said. “That’s what I pray and hope– that Church Hill will come back to unity and love.”

He may just be getting his wish: from 2009 to 2010, crime in the neighborhood went down by 13 percent, according to calculations made using data from the Richmond Police Department’s Crime Incident Report. Bland said while there are a lot of bad things happening in Church Hill, there are also a lot of good things.

“People go in and out of that library over there trying to get their education,” Bland says.

“You’ll never see that but if a crime happens at the library, that’ll be televised.”

Brenda Hatcher, whose daughter is in Offering and helped design the murals for the project, says this is her first time in Church Hill since she’s new to Richmond.”

The people here seem very friendly, very loving,” Hatcher said. “It’s an older community that just needs a little bit of help.”

Cristina Comer, a Church Hill resident who is participating in the event says that even though the Arts in the Alley is only two days, she hopes the murals will be a reminder of the community’s ability to come together.

“The people that are here are not going to forget what this looks like,” Comer said.

“Every time we pass by Mount Olivet Church, it’s going to be a reminder of this day.”

Guidry said that Arts in the Alley plans to come back to the neighborhood later in the year to work on an alley near the church.

“Something like Arts in the Alley in itself is not going to change a community,” Guidry said.

“What I hope that it does is lay a foundation for a little more understanding, for a sense of ownership for all of us. The city is all of us, and I think that is a big thing.”