Women of faith

Anjum Ali leads discussions with groups in Henrico County and other counties as she works to help increase cross-cultural understanding.
The world marked International Woman’s Day on March 8 by celebrating the economic, political and social accomplishments of women. The special day falls during the month that’s also set aside to honor women in history.

Women continue to make history today often by accepting new challenges and taking on important leadership positions.

Anjum Ali and Jessica Stewart of central Virginia are two minority women who have taken on unique roles in their communities. Both said their faith is what motivates them to work to try to make a difference.

Anjum Ali – Born in the U.S., she has lived and studied in Saudi Arabia and Canada. She earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French culture and a master’s in Islamic studies. She moved to Richmond 12 years ago. She is Pakistani-American.

A connection may start as two people in a grocery store’s produce section talk about selecting the best peaches for a cobbler. Or a connection may start when one woman compliments another woman on the scarf she’s wearing.

Anjum Ali, a Muslim, has been part of such conversations that started as polite exchanges and led to a better understanding between two people.

Ali is a board member of Initiatives of Change, which operates Hope in the Cities. That group started in 1990 in response to the need for racial healing in Richmond.

She also founded SpeakingUnites, which provides training and workshops about Muslims and Islam.

Henrico County organizations including a mental health agency and a domestic violence alliance have called on her to help with training or to lead conversations about diversity and inclusion.

Her passion is building understanding and trust across cultures, classes, races and especially religions.

“I just feel that maybe I’ve had a little bit of a talent to be able to convey to others what Islam is really about,” she said. “Sometimes I like to say, ‘I would be proud to show the true face of Islam.’ “

Ali, who spent several years in New England, said she is sometimes surprised and appreciative of how polite people are in Virginia. Polite conversations can be excellent starting points for changing hearts and minds.

“I like to be treated with courtesy and politeness. And isn’t that what we should all be trained to do anyway because there is something that ... on that initial meeting that can open the doors towards people reconciling their differences,” she said.

Ali is part of a growing immigrant and native-born Muslim population in central Virginia and the country.

Pew Research Center demographers estimate there were 2.75 million Muslims living in the U.S. in 2011. The Center estimates that less than .5 percent of people in Virginia are Muslims. Ali estimates about 20,000 Muslims live in the Richmond region.

As the Muslim population grows, people’s curiosity increases. Many wonder what it means to be Muslim. That interest feeds popular culture such as the controversial TLC television show, “All-American Muslim.”

When asked about the TV program and how it relates to her life in the Richmond area, Ali laughed, then she gave the region a good rating as a place to live and practice her faith.

“I have had a relatively positive experience here,” she said.”I have had maybe only two or three, at the most, incidences where I felt that people were acting a little bit hateful or hurtful because of my faith or my identity as a Muslim. But overall I think central Virginia is a very interesting place to live.”

She added that life here is not perfect. “There are doors that are definitely closed to you … but at the same time there’s a lot to be said for the fact that people are trying more and more to slowly move their way into being more open-minded.”

Jessica Stewart – Born in Charles City County. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University in English and women’s studies. She will earn her master’s in elementary education from William & Mary in May. She is a Chickahominy Indian.

Charles City County, Henrico County’s closest neighbor to the east, was a secure and comfortable place for Jessica Stewart to grow up. She was surrounded by extended family and many other Chickahominy Indians.

She grew up wanting to become a teacher like her two great aunts. Now, Stewart is a student teacher in New Kent County as she finishes her graduate work in elementary education.

Stewart also grew up wanting to be the first female chief of the Chickahominy tribe.

“I’ve always wanted to be on the [Tribal] Council, always wanted a leadership role,” she said. “I want to be the chief. I want to be the first female chief of our tribe and it’s something that I’m definitely going to work towards because I don’t want the fire to be put out. I want to keep it going.”

At 26 years old, Stewart is laying the foundation to reach her second dream.

She is the youngest member of the Chickahominy Tribal Council. She traveled to England as part of a delegation commemorating the 400th anniversary of the settling of Jamestown. Stewart spends much of her time building awareness of Virginia Indian culture. At a recent multicultural event at the Science Museum of Virginia, Stewart, assistant chief Wayne Adkins and others shared Chickahominy’s history and traditional dances.

Dancing at Pow Wows and other events is one way to teach others about her tribe, but Stewart said dancing also is a way to demonstrate her deep Christian faith.

“It’s connected to my faith. When I dance, it’s a prayer for me. It’s praise for the Creator and very, very spiritual when you enter the dance circle,” she said.

Virginia’s Indian population is 0.4 percent, according to the U.S. Census. In Charles City, which is the Chickahominy’s home county, the population is 0.3 percent. It’s the same in Henrico County.

With such a small Indian population, making sure their history is remembered and honored is a challenge Stewart and the Tribal Council must face.

“Virginia has such a rich history … I just don’t want that to be forgotten … that we were very instrumental in the formation of this nation, this great nation, and we did work together to build this. And I don’t want that to be lost in the shuffle of things,” Stewart said.
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New conservation easement creates wooded buffer for Bryan Park

Five years ago, members of the Friends of Bryan Park were facing the apparently inevitable development of the Shirley subdivision in Henrico, adjacent to the forested section of the park near the Nature Center and Environmental Education Area.

As part of the Shirley subdivision, the land had been divided into 14 lots in 1924, but had remained mostly undisturbed through the decades. In 2012, however, developers proposed building 40 modular houses on roughly 6.5 acres, clear-cutting the forest there and creating a highly dense neighborhood tucked into a dead end. > Read more.

Meet the men running for governor


Virginia will elect a new governor this year.

The governor’s position is one of great power and influence, as the current officeholder, Terry McAuliffe, has demonstrated by breaking the record for most vetoes in Virginia history.

However, during the last gubernatorial race in 2014, the voter turnout was less than 42 percent, compared with 72 percent during last year’s presidential election. > Read more.

RISC to address reading, childhood trauma, job training at assembly

On May 1, more than 1,700 community members representing Richmonders Involved to Strengthen our Communities will gather at St. Paul’s Baptist Church (4247 Creighton Road) at 7 p.m. to address elementary reading, childhood trauma and job training in the greater Richmond region. Community members will speak about each issue and proposed solution.

For three years, the organization has sought implementation of a specific literacy program in Henrico County that it believes would help children who struggle with reading. > Read more.

Henrico to begin update of zoning, subdivision ordinances April 26


Henrico County is beginning a comprehensive update of its zoning and subdivision ordinances — the first such effort in six decades — and will introduce the project as part of the April 26 meeting of the Henrico County Planning Commission.

The meeting will begin at 9 a.m. in the Board Room of the Henrico Government Center, 4301 E. Parham Road. The ordinance update project will be featured as the final item on the agenda. Project consultant Clarion Associates will give a presentation, and meeting participants will be able to ask questions and provide comments. > Read more.

HCPS to present three-day ARTS Festival, beginning April 21


Henrico County Public Schools’ annual spring arts festival will celebrate its fourth year with a weekend of music and fine art. ARTS Festival events – the acronym stands for Artists, Residents, Teachers and Students – will kick off with a musical performance Friday night, April 21 and events will run through Sunday, April 23. This year’s festival will be held at Henrico High School, 302 Azalea Avenue.

Friday night at 7:30 p.m. the Center for the Arts at Henrico High School will hold the first of two weekend performances of its Musical Theatre Showcase, a selection of musical numbers performed by Center for the Arts students. > Read more.
Community

Villa’s Flagler Housing wins national NAEH award


St. Joseph's Villa’s Flagler Housing & Homeless Services was one of three entities to earn the National Alliance to End Homelessness' Champion of Change Award. The awards were presented Nov. 17 during a ceremony at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

NAEH annually recognizes proven programs and significant achievements in ending child and family homelessness.

Flagler completed its transition from an on-campus shelter to the community-based model of rapid rehousing in 2013, and it was one of the nation's first rapid re-housing service providers to be certified by NAEH. > Read more.

RIR’s Christmas tree lighting rescheduled for Dec. 12


Richmond International Raceway's 13th annual Community Christmas tree lighting has been rescheduled from Dec. 6 to Monday, Dec. 12, at 6:30 p.m., due to inclement weather expected on the original date.

Entertainment Dec. 12 will be provided by the Laburnum Elementary School choir and the Henrico High School Mighty Marching Warriors band. Tree decorations crafted by students from Laburnum Elementary School and L. Douglas Wilder Middle School will be on display. Hot chocolate and cookies will be supplied by the Henrico High School football boosters. > Read more.
Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


For our Top 10 calendar events this weekend, click here! > Read more.

 

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The WAY, located at 2 E. Williamsburg Rd. in Sandston, will hold its first Easter Grand Gathering event from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. There will be a yard sale, vendor sale, bake sale, community lunch with hamburgers and hot dogs, music and silent auction. Kid’s activities starting at 11 a.m. include games, bounce house, arts and crafts, Easter egg hunts, face painting and more. Open to the community. Proceeds benefit The WAY. For details, call 737-3300 or search “The WAY” on Facebook. Full text

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