As our nation confronts the festering crisis of racism, on top of a global pandemic and economic crisis which are disproportionately impacting communities of color, many of us are examining our roles in this pervasive problem and seeking ways to help solve it. At the James River Association (JRA), we are doing the same.

The James River is where slavery began in our country when the first group of Africans in America landed in bondage on the banks of the James River in 1619. Indeed, the James River has been a centerpiece to the backdrop of pain, prejudice and mistrust that still inflicts our society today. However, the James River has also helped advance liberty. It provided safe passage for three slaves – Shepherd Mallory, Frank Baker and James Townsend – who crossed the mouth of the river to Fort Monroe, pursuing their freedom and igniting the sequence of events that led to the Emancipation Proclamation.

The James River has witnessed and facilitated the best and the worst in humanity. But since the James River Association’s founding in 1976, we’ve seen the power of positive change that can happen when people come together for a shared vision. We’ve seen the James River transform from one of the most polluted rivers in the country to one of its most improved. And we’ve seen the James evolve from a dividing line in our communities to a positive force that brings us all together.

JRA’s vision is to achieve a fully healthy James River supporting thriving communities. As guardians of the river, we still have much work to do on both elements of that vision – river health and thriving communities. Communities can’t thrive in the backdrop of fear, violence, racism, and bigotry. People of color in America have suffered these injustices for far too long, and too many of us have stayed silent when we most needed to act. All of this must stop, and all of us must act.

JRA is working hard to ensure that everyone in our community has equal access to clean water and a healthy James River. We also pledge to strengthen our organization and ensure that our programs are even more inclusive, welcoming, and reflective of the diversity within our communities. Let’s work together to ensure a brighter, more equitable future so that every member of our community, and our River, can thrive.


Bill Street, James River Association CEO