Climate Action and Racial Equity — Newsletter — September 2023

Caleb T. Rogers
4 min readOct 7, 2023

One dilemma smaller localities face is how to impactfully address global challenges. Consider cities in the tens of thousands with the metropolitan capitals of the world. How can our contributions to international pandemics, climate change, and more compare to Tokyos and New Yorks?

I am certainly biased, but I like to think Williamsburg surpasses just “contributing” and truly leads. Even for a smaller City of almost 16,000, we punch above our weight. We hope to do so inspirationally, so other localities of our size have a guidebook for growth. To illustrate, in the heat of both the COVID-19 pandemic and 2020 election, we transitioned to an award-winning drive through voting option, which we shortly thereafter followed-up by hosting the region’s vaccine clinic (administering 20,000+ doses). Similarly and only just announced, our public engagement around long-term planning (the beloved Future Festivals) was recognized as the most innovative in Virginia.

It is with this leading spirit that we embarked on longer term planning for two major areas of focus, worldwide and here at home: reducing our carbon emissions and redressing our historical racial injustices. And it was just in this past September’s City Council Work Session meeting where we saw significant progress on them both.

Before touching on the recommendations Council received, it might be helpful to describe the when and why. These topics are not ones that can be quickly solved, so we brought others to the table for methodic planning years ago. In 2020, Williamsburg included “Carbon Emission Reduction” in our long-term, biennial GIOs (page 6). And in 2021, we created the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, with the sole goal “to understand the impact of racism and racial injustice both historically and presently on residents of the City.”

As for the why, with my personal career in addressing climate change through clean energy grids, it has always seemed obvious to me why a company or city might adopt environmental-consciousness. In Williamsburg’s case, this is the next step in “Green Williamsburg”, or our goal to be a sustainable city. That website linked describes the City’s recognition for high-quality water, no-cost recycling, bikeability, LEED certification, and more. Many of our sustainable projects date back 5+ years ago, though. With our updated goal of emissions reduction, Williamsburg takes a more purposeful step towards carbon neutrality.

For our redressing racial injustices, more localized academic content exists. One of the most detailed is a Timeline of the Triangle Block. Created by W&M professor Arthur Knight and students, this linear record displays how redevelopment led by the City of Williamsburg and Colonial Williamsburg in the late 20th century led to the removal of bustling Black-owned businesses (hear from some in our descendant communities about this occurrence here). The impetus of creating the Truth and Reconciliation Committee was therefore both profiling such instances of injustice and creating remedies to address them (i.e., first “truth”, then “reconciliation”).

So on September 11th of 2023 then, the City Council saw the completed list of recommendations on both on environmental and racial equity goals. It was a truly fulfilling day, so much so that I thought I would convert my normal monthly newsletter of updates into this more descriptive (and hopefully not long-winded) history of these projects.

On environmentalism, the Council received this report on top solutions to reduce emissions. We could not have undertaken this work without the help of William & Mary, whose student intern Sophie Workinger outlined a fantastic roadmap to more ambitious environmental policy. Sophie was joined by other students as this year’s impactful class of City Research Scholars.

On racial equity, the Council received this report, which was a City staff-led list of recommendations converted from the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s findings here. In the months to come, the City Council will now take the many effective solutions offered and decide which we should tackle first, as reported by the Flat Hat.

To have been a part of this work has been a highlight of mine in this role of local service. I feel both projects are right in-line with Williamsburg’s current goals: honoring the past while we look to the future. When I was campaigning, I spoke often about needing a modern Climate Action Plan and a funding strategy for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Nowadays, I am proud Williamsburg is striving on both topics (which I got to celebrate on a Sierra Club presentation recently, comments start at 1:27:46.) The work that went into these reports cannot be understated. I hope my several links to external sources gives credit where it is due: to the individuals who were appointed to carry out the City’s goals and those many more that cheered on this work.

Next up for Council is implementation, as studying an issue is only half the battle. Now that we have found our truth, we will move to reconcile with our carbon footprint and past injustices. We have made significant progress and there is plenty more to come.