By Hampton Roads Messenger Editorial Board
On February 1, 2019, after the discovery of blackface and Klansmen regalia memorialized on his Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) yearbook page, Governor Ralph Northam apologized for what people are calling “racist” photos. Inanimate objects cannot be racist, only people with power can be racists.
On February 8, 2019 Virginia’s Governor announced new appointments to his administration. Listed among those 18 names was Gilbert Bland, CEO of the Urban League of Hampton Roads. Bland was appointed to serve on the Board of Trustees of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Most recently, on August 30, 2019, Northam appointed Bland to serve on the Virginia African American Advisory Board.
Some viewed Bland’s appointments shortly after the Blackface/KKK scandal as a conflict of interest because he is the president of the Urban League of Hampton Roads, a "nonpartisan" nonprofit organization. Others view his appointments as a problem because on February 4, it was announced that Bland was also appointed to serve on the EVMS Community Advisory Board. He is the chairman. Dr. L.D. Britt, the Henry Ford Professor of Surgery and Edward J. Brickhouse Chair in Surgery at Eastern Virginia Medical School, also serves on the same EVMS community advisory board, although it has been called an “external” board.
EVMS hired a firm to investigate after the yearbook scandal. The purpose was “To maintain the public’s trust and ensure an independent and objective assessment of the past,” EVMS President Richard Homan, M.D. stated. “We knew we needed outside assistance.”
“Now that the investigative report has been issued about the racist photograph on Gov. Ralph Northam’s yearbook page, the work of the Community Advisory Board (CAB) to the Eastern Virginia Medical School is beginning in earnest. While the McGuire Woods law firm’s report was inconclusive, the CAB has a clear commitment to conducting a comprehensive assessment of the EVMS culture around diversity, equity and inclusion,” Bland said in a letter on June 9, 2019 that was published on the Virginian Pilot and Daily Press newspapers’ websites. “It is my hope that a renewed resolution to address diversity, equity and inclusion in our community will come out of this latest, tragic episode of racism. It is for that reason that I accepted the role as chair of the CAB at the invitation of Richard Homan, M.D., EVMS president, provost and dean, with support from the EVMS private foundation”
Is it a coincidence that EVMS and Virginia’s governor have both made Bland offers to serve on Advisory Boards? Is it ethical for Bland to accept appointments from Governor Northam while serving as chairman of a board that was convened, in Bland’s words, “to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the EVMS culture around diversity, equity and inclusion?” Was the firm's report inconclusive because the CAB chairman has two appointments from the governor? Since the Blackface/Klan photos were uncovered on the governor’s 1984 EVMS yearbook page, have the efforts of EVMS, the governor and Bland been sincere and transparent? Virginians want answers to these poignant questions.
According to the National Urban League, their mission is “to enable African Americans to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights."