Enrichmond’s collapse

In early 2016, Richmond’s Evergreen Cemetery was owned by a private entity that for a long time could not manage the site’s overgrown, distressed sixty acres. Adjoining it was East End Cemetery, likewise suffering in its own way in legal limbo without funding or management beyond a core of families and volunteers.

Since then, the state of Virginia, through the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, has plowed $400,000 into the Enrichmond Foundation’s efforts to acquire those two cemeteries and launch a $19 million master plan for the sites, aided by tens of thousands of dollars in annual state funding for historic African American graves and an accommodating state attorney general’s office. Although groups of descendants and volunteers repeatedly called for more transparent and proper management of Enrichmond’s newly acquired cemeteries, as documented seemingly endlessly on this website, such as here and here and here, as recently as one year ago Delegate Delores McQuinn told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that “I think what we need to do is to continue what we are doing” at Evergreen and East End Cemeteries.

After all that, we are back to 2016 with the apparent collapse of the Enrichmond Foundation. The news broke in late June 2022 as reported by the Richmond Free Press’s Jeremy Lazarus. Enrichmond’s board has evidently resigned with a near-empty treasury, no announced transition plans, no plan for the human remains stored onsite since last year (now to be recovered by the Department of Historic Resources), and legal limbo (again) for the two embattled cemeteries. In his recent departure, executive director John Sydnor must have seen this coming. It is a crisis even worse than we could have thought. And there is more collateral damage with the roughly 85 additional volunteer organizations in the area, including the Friends of Shockoe Hill Cemetery, that relied on Enrichmond as a fiscal agent. For those in search of any press release or updates, Enrichmond’s website is dead.

In hindsight, this scenario seems utterly predictable. The Enrichmond Foundation never demonstrated that it had the capacity for the task or an ability to build trust with its partners in the work. I hate to end yet another one of these Enrichmond posts on a pessimistic note, but there’s little reason to believe that the powers that put the cemeteries into this scenario will find a better solution going forward. We turn yet again to the families and the volunteers for that hope.

Update: An “Enrichmond Accountability Project” has formed. On September 9, 2022, Richmond news WRIC reported that Richmond Tree Stewards was joining with other previous partner organizations of the Enrichmond Foundation “seeking to file criminal complaints against Enrichmond to find others impacted” and to try and provide for an accounting of the partner organizations’ missing funds. Ned Oliver offers a few more details in his reporting for Axios.

And Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) sent a sharp letter to the foundation’s board. He stated that “as news of the Foundation’s dissolution has been released and as this process has continued to play out, I am concerned with the lack of communication and engagement with local stakeholders regarding next steps, and a lack of clarity regarding the accounting of Enrichmond funds and funds that were entrusted to the Foundation by other entities.” He seeks ” a full accounting of funds entrusted to Enrichmond.” Still, there is silence from Richmond’s city council and area prosecutors.

Update: In the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Chris Suarez reports that the total funds entrusted to the Enrichmond Foundation that are currently missing is $3 million. Suarez published a letter signed by Delores McQuinn, Viola Baskerville, and other interested descendants directed to the mayor’s office that asks the city to acquire Evergreen and East End Cemeteries. Other than blaming the city for withdrawing funding from the Enrichmond Foundation in 2020, that letter is silent on any questions of accountability.