Gov. Wilder joins Virginia University Union Chapel to share leadership experiences
66th Governor of Virginia L. Douglas Wilder recently joined Virginia Union University dean of the Chapel and minister Richard Price for a lecture. Gov. Wilder spoke about leadership and shared some key moments from his life that helped grow his approach to pushing boundaries to achieve the impossible.
He credited his mother with inspiring him to accomplish his life’s ambitions. Gov. Wilder recalled that she told him his journey would be difficult, but that he could be anything he wanted to be. “You know that that’s going to be the hardest journey you ever take in life — that’s the journey of the self,” he said. “You’d be surprised at the number of people who don’t know who they are.”
A native of Richmond’s Church Hill neighborhood, Gov. Wilder earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Virginia University Union. Due to segregation, that was the only school in the city accepting Black students. After completing his degree was conscripted into military service in Korea. He recalled departing on a bus to go to war as he left watching other students go about their studies. It was a juxtaposition that caused him to reflect on what he thought he knew about the world thus far.
Gov. Wilder went on to describe his service in the Army and the challenges he and his fellow Black soldiers faced in advancing rank as Black men. They were sent on the most dangerous patrols and watched their less experienced white servicemen receive promotions. He recalled a major who, upon learning of the unfair practices, helped promote the Black soldiers for their merit within a month. This instilled faith in Gov. Wilder that discriminatory practices could change through authentic leadership. He eventually earned a Bronze Star for his combat heroism as a ground trooper.
He then discussed the challenges facing public education funding for historically Black universities. Gov. Wilder referenced a recent legal opinion piece by commonwealth attorney general Jason Miyares that challenges the long-held position that so-called “private” Black universities cannot access state funding. Miyares made a case for legislative avenues of reform to fund these universities.
Reform is essential to elevate the education system in Richmond at large, which holds some of the lowest K-12 rankings. “Where is the money? Where are our leaders?” he asked. “Where are the persons we’ve looked to provide the opportunities to move ahead? Where are they today?”
“We challenge to demand what is right and criticize what is wrong,” Gov. Wilder said. “And you don’t have to be in public office to be a leader."
The event, hosted at the L. Douglas Wilder Library and Learning Resource Center, honored Gov. Wilder, a VUU with a cardigan and showcased a mural painting representing Gov. Wilder’s life, created by a former incarcerated individual.
Gov. Wilder served as a state legislator and became Virginia’s first Black Lieutenant Governor and Governor. He later was elected mayor of Richmond, carrying 80% of votes and securing all precincts.