In this occasional Finding America Team Corner, we’re introducing talent from the 15 Finding America productions. This Q&A has been lightly edited for space and clarity.
Chioke I’Anson works as a community producer on the Localore: Finding America project UnMonumental in Richmond, Virginia. WVTF’s UnMonumental is led by independent producer Kelley Libby in collaboration with WVTF news director Connie Stevens. In a city known for Monument Avenue, a street full of monuments and statues dedicated to Confederates, UnMonumental is rethinking what and how we memorialize people, places, and things.
I’m mostly an academic. Just finished a PhD in philosophy and I am on faculty in African American Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. I did college and community radio throughout undergrad and grad school, and little bit ago I produced for BackStory with the American History Guys.
Has there been a favorite moment you’ve had while working on UnMonumental? It’s more general than a moment. My favorite thing about working with UnMonumental is meeting people. This city is so full of smart, caring and generally awesome individuals and through UnMonumental we have been able to get time with them, hear their thoughts and build an ever deeper picture of Richmond’s past and present.
How does UnMonumental reflect your American experience?
As a southern city, Richmond is very familiar to me. I was born in Montgomery, [Alabama,] the first capital of the Confederacy. Growing up in Alabama and North Florida, I was exposed to the different legacies that Richmond has been trying to reconcile. In Richmond there is Confederate pride, as exemplified in the statues on Monument Avenue, and there is the competing theme of African American resilience in the face of oppression, which we see in more recent projects, like the Slave Trail Commission and the Maggie Walker Plaza. One legacy is given, the other must be demanded or fought for. UnMonumental is sensitive to these legacies; the project is a journey into the South that I know well.
What are you inspired by right now?
My students at VCU. They have come out in full force in the wake of Black Lives Matter and the Mizzou protests. They are hard core trying to change the world and I feel lucky to bear witness.
What’s a podcast you’ve just learned about?
The podcast I most recently added to my feed is “Flash Forward.” It’s dope. The show is a sustained thought experiment that unfolds with fictional narratives and expert interviews. It is a curious mix of genres that reveals just how much you can learn by going all in on the “What if?” question. You should check the episode on sex robots.
What is one thing you love about the city you live in?
I love how much it has changed since I first visited here years ago. There are more events, more diversity, more civic pride.
What is one thing you wish would change about the city you live in?
The legacy of racist segregation and inequality. These aren’t things that are easily fixed, of course. But man, it would be nice.
What does Finding America look like to you/or in your city?
Finding America discloses to the world the secrets of the hyper-local. These projects aren’t just storied snapshots of Baltimore, or Kansas City, or Knoxville. They are community productions that show us the way that universal humanity adjusts to particular circumstances. Finding America gives us lessons about ourselves from people that we have never met.
Tell us one random fact about yourself:
Dude. I haven’t had a doughnut since 2015 and I am seriously debating the merits of this healthy eating kick I seem to be on.