VIRGINIA BEACH — For months, Bruce Smith has called for a racial disparity study to address cronyism, racism and inequality that he believes exists in Virginia Beach.
The 2040 Vision to Action Community Coalition met with Smith Friday to learn about the need for a racial disparity study.
Such a study would scientifically identify racial disparities in the community and give it a prescription for redress, Smith, a commercial real estate developer and former NFL player, said.
The VTACC is a 16-member team that was established in 2013 to advise the Virginia Beach City Council on issues affecting the future of the city. It is tasked with bringing Virginia Beach to its fullest potential.
“Our coalition is diverse – more diverse than city council – and that is a conscious decision,” VTACC Chair Peggy Layne said. “We’ve brought in individuals that mirror the community.”
Smith told the VTACC that as a hopeful developer he’s faced many challenges in Virginia Beach over the last decade.
“Trying to do business here has led to many doors being slammed in my face,” he said. “There is an element of our government that is not letting fair play take place.”
Rather than take his business endeavors elsewhere, Smith said he chose to use his status as a platform to raise awareness about what he believes is racism in the Virginia Beach city government and business community.
And he believes the only way to accurately determine the extent of racial disparity in the city, intentional or accidental, is to conduct a study through an impartial agency.
The study could cost between $200,000 and $300,000, Smith said, noting that he’s committed to paying half the total cost if it is implemented.
Layne said that the coalition “gets it” and believes the city must make a deliberate effort to promote diversity among its leaders and the businesses it supports.
That’s where the coalition comes in.
While the VTACC doesn’t make decisions for city council, it provides a position on issues that it believes will affect the future of Virginia Beach and the children growing up there.
“It’s a shame that in 2017 some of the same things are going on as in 1976. I’m happy that we can discuss this issue as educated professionals and parents,” VTACC member Erica Cuffee said. “There’s unfairness going on, but we have to think about our children. It’s about their future.”
Moving forward, the coalition will continue to express the need for a diverse community, Layne said.
“If they’re not working to [improve racial disparities], they’re never going to get there,” she said. “Shame on us if we don’t tell them that we’re watching.”
This is not the first time Smith has met with city entities regarding his concerns. Smith also spoke to the Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission in December. The commission agreed to send a letter to the city council recommending the disparity study.
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A previous version of this article said that the 2040 Vision to Action Community Coalition endorsed the implementation of a racial disparity study in Virginia Beach. The coalition supports a diverse community, but does not endorse any particular path to achieve that goal.