Every couple months we take time during our worship service for Everyday Doxologist, an opportunity for a City Church member or attendee to share how the Gospel influences his or her everyday work.
Hello! My name’s Ross, and I’m a public transit advocate with RVA Rapid Transit—a local nonprofit that advocates, educates, and organizes for frequent and far-reaching public transportation in the Richmond region.
That means it’s my job to get more buses going to more places around town. That might sound boring, but it’s really the work of making Richmond look more like God’s kingdom—which shouldsound less boring.
Right now, it’s an incredibly exciting time to be a public transit advocate in Richmond—and hopefully you’ve noticed! Just outside the doors of this church you can see new transit options that only just a few years ago seemed like impossibilities. The Pulse bus rapid transit line runs up and down Broad Street, providing a frequent and fast east-west connection for folks, the City just redesigned its entire bus network for the first time in 60+ years, and Henrico County will launch their biggest expansion in public transportation in 25 years on September 16th.
I’ve been blessed to be a small part of this time of renewal, after decades and decades of our region intentionally using transportation to draw deep lines of segregation across our city.
Did you know Richmond invented electric street cars? Like, we did it first in the entire world? Did you also know that…we no longer have any electric street cars? In the 40s and 50s, as Richmond’s White population fled the City center to the suburban surrounding counties, they began a decades-long disinvestment in public transportation, and, instead, spent millions and millions of dollars building highways. These highways, often built straight through majority Black neighborhoods, connect affluent, mostly-white suburbs to jobs downtown. They are a means of transportation—transportation to jobs, health care, education, and the practical necessities of life—available only to those with means, totally off limits to folks who can’t afford or are unable to to drive a car. The least among us.
These insidious and intentional decisions to create two, segregated transportation systems—a clever work around to the federal government’s ban on “separate but equal”—left us with a broken and disconnected city, segregated by race and access.
This is not what God’s kingdom looks like! Right? That’s abundantly clear as I take the bus around town to different neighborhoods to meet with folks and listen to them describe how public transportation (or lack thereof) impacts their lives. Folks with a two hour commute—one way, folks who have to walk a mile and a half to the nearest bus stop, folks who would ride the bus but can’t navigate the broken and busted sidewalks.
But! God, as always, know what’s up, and paints us a picture of what his kingdom looks. Isaiah 58:12 says:
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.
So that’s what my job is really about: repairing the breaches in our community and restoring the streets that have literally been used to segregate us from each other. “People is people,”—or as Jesus says, way more eloquently, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Are we doing that? Are we making the rich opportunities our region offers accessible to everyone? I hope my work is moving us closer to a place where that is true.
Just a couple of years ago this task seemed huge, daunting, and impossible, but now—just look at all the progress we’ve made. I should have know better, because Jesus, again eloquently, said it right in the Bible: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Turns out, he’s right! We’re seeing God reconnect Richmond’s segregated neighborhoods, right before our eyes, through the work of advocates like myself, faith leaders, and elected officials. To be honest, it’s pretty wild!
But, of course, that’s not to say we’re all finished here, that those ruins are totally rebuilt, the breaches repaired, and the streets restored. As of this moment, Chesterfield County has no public transportation to speak of and believes they do not need any public transportation despite great need in the communities along Route 1. There are vast stretches of Henrico County with either terrible bus service or none at all. And even here, in Richmond, parts of the Southside see their transit evaporate after 7pm.
There’s lots to do, and to me the work seems, at times, impossible. But what God has done in just the last 24 months seemed, at the time, impossible, too. God’s moving and we need to get out of the way and follow! So I encourage you to pray for the continued renewal of Richmond through the unlikely vehicle of public transportation. And also: ride the bus!
If you’re nervous, we can go on a bus adventure together! Just let me know.
To learn more about Ross's work with RVA Rapid Transit—and to set up a time to ride the bus together (yes, he really meant that)—email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.