In Focus: Tarnika Edmunds & The Enduring Impact of Dr. Velma Ballard
By Tiffany Murray-Robertson
The Wilder Graduate Scholars Fellowship at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at VCU represents an innovative convergence of academic scholarship and immersive public sector experience. It empowers students like Tarnika Edmunds, who are immersed in theoretical study and actively engaged in shaping real-world policies.
As an Urban and Regional Planning student, Edmunds harnesses her fellowship with Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) of Virginia to redefine the contours of housing policy and community development in Richmond. This prestigious fellowship provides professional work experience, in-state tuition, and a generous stipend, placing fellows in crucial roles with regional employers, thus offering a unique blend of academic rigor and hands-on experience.
Tom Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of HOME, underscores the value of this collaboration. “Our partnership with the Wilder School brings us dynamic and insightful students like Tarnika,” Fitzpatrick says. “Their contributions significantly boost our capacity to undertake critical research and advocacy projects.”
“My experiences, both personal and through the Wilder Fellowship, are shaping my vision for a future where housing is equitable, and communities are empowered."
Edmunds’ journey to address housing inequities is deeply personal, shaped by her upbringing in subsidized housing in Richmond’s south side community. These experiences shaped her understanding of the intricate challenges in housing equity. Reflecting on her formative years, Edmunds shares, “Growing up, I wasn’t even aware we were living in section eight housing. This realization drove me towards housing and community development, seeking solutions for issues I’ve lived through.”
At HOME, Edmunds is part of a pivotal project analyzing the historic devaluation of Black properties in Richmond and exploring its role in current trends of gentrification and displacement. This research is integral to understanding and addressing long-standing inequities in the housing sector.
Her work resonates with the enduring legacy of Dr. Velma J. Ballard, a Wilder School alumna known for her staunch advocacy against housing discrimination. Dr. Ballard, who passed away in 2020, spent her career fighting against housing discrimination and equitable housing policies. Her efforts are memorialized in the Dr. Velma J. Ballard Fair Housing Fund, which was established by HOME to continue her mission. Proceeds from this fund are being used to support this year's fellowship.
Edmunds’ work is a testament to the enduring impact of Dr. Ballard’s advocacy. “Dr. Ballard’s legacy in fair housing advocacy is a guiding light in my work,” Edmunds says. “Her dedication inspires me to champion justice and equity in housing.”
The Wilder Graduate Scholars Fellowship, in this light, serves as more than an educational program. It’s a catalyst for real-world change, providing students like Edmunds with the tools, opportunities, and networks to make a tangible difference in the community. The partnership between the Wilder School and organizations like HOME exemplifies a commitment to addressing societal challenges through informed, practical, and passionate engagement.
In Edmunds’ case, the fellowship is a steppingstone to her ultimate goal: building a youth and community development center focusing on community engagement. “My experiences, both personal and through the Wilder Fellowship, are shaping my vision for a future where housing is equitable, and communities are empowered,” she states.
This synergy of academic knowledge, professional experience, and personal dedication positions Edmunds as a key figure in the ongoing struggle for housing equity. Through the lens of her work, we see the vibrancy and potential of public affairs education in effecting meaningful change, echoing the principles and values of the Wilder School.
As the Wilder School continues to nurture future leaders like Edmunds, the legacy of Dr. Ballard, and the commitment of mentors like Fitzpatrick, the broader landscape of public policy and community development is poised for transformative growth. In Edmunds and her peers, we find the embodiment of the Wilder School’s mission: to educate and inspire leaders who strive to make a difference in their communities, fostering a more equitable and just society.