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Black-Owned Business Begins Revamping Former Robert E. Lee Monument Site

The symbolism of the moment and the task ahead are not lost on Earl Gary.

“I think it’s very unique, the odds that I end up in a position like this,” Gary said. “I’m really grateful to have this opportunity to play with all the history that comes with it.”

Gary’s YME Landscape, a black-owned Richmond business, has been chosen to revitalize the circle at Monument and North Allen Avenues where the Robert E. Lee statue once stood. His company’s involvement in the project marks another symbol of the city’s diminishing Confederate presence with a black team working to reinvent the space once inhabited by the general.

The controversial bronze statue was taken down in 2021, after activists called for its removal following the murder of George Floyd. The empty pedestal was leveled in February 2022. The statue was moved to the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia.

YME and the Department of Public Works recently began work on the circle site. The plan calls for the grounds of the old monument to be beautified with 6,000 plants and 28 trees.

“I’ve been doing landscaping for a long time, but I don’t think I’ve had too many jobs where I had to plant 6,000 plants,” Gary said.

The city approved the temporary landscaping plan in September to revitalize the empty space until a long-term solution is found.

Prior to starting YME in 2007, Gary, 47, had an engineering background, earned a degree in Electrical Engineering Technology from Old Dominion and worked on industrial projects and energy audits for places such as UPS, Courtyard by Marriott and the Minnesota Air National Guard.

But Gary wanted to start his own business because of the difficulty in finding job opportunities and receiving promotions.

A lot of times when I worked in engineering, I was pretty much the only minority working there,” he said. “I learned very quickly, ‘Will I ever get this junior or senior manager position?’ I’m not saying I couldn’t, but the scenery didn’t look like someone who wasn’t in the minority.”

Gary saw similar things with his grandfather and father growing up in Richmond, working at Allied Signal and Honeywell, former names of what is now AdvanSix. They were often the only minorities in their teams.

After Gary met a black electrical engineer who worked with his father, he became interested in this type of work. Gary also developed a vision of creating space for more minority engineers.

“I got to see that lineage, and I was like, ‘Well, I’m going to take what I’ve seen and maybe try to transfer it a little bit differently into this generation,'” he said. declared. “Instead of me being the only minority in this function, maybe I can create a minority function.”

Gary started YME partly out of his interest in landscaping, but also as a way to raise money to further his engineering career.

“My grandfather, he always worked on lawnmowers and stuff like that, so I knew how to mow the grass,” Gary said. “I just figured if I could get enough landscaping work, I could probably start my own engineering business.”

Gary eventually started his own business and founded Fulcrum Engineering Solutions over six years ago. The company’s civil engineers prepare the construction and development sites.

Gary said it’s important to have more black and minority-owned businesses, especially in towns like Richmond that are majority minority.

“I think it’s really important,” he said. “I think a lot of the black-owned businesses that we have, it takes a while for them to become more of a corporation. I don’t mean they’re all sole proprietors, but they often end up being the person main job all the time until they retire; if someone doesn’t take over, then it’s one-dimensional.”

As YME begins the early stages of work on the landscaping plan, Gary expects the work to be completed by mid-to-late July.

Second District City Councilwoman Katherine Jordan said the fences and gates surrounding the old Lee Circle will not be removed until the project is complete to ensure the safety of staff.

Brothers Alfred Brown Jr. and Alex Brown work at YME for the summer while attending Virginia Commonwealth University and Old Dominion University respectively. Both say the project is a good opportunity to create a beautiful visual space for the people of Richmond.

“It’s nice to be able to make it something everyone can enjoy,” said Alfred Brown Jr. “It won’t be all dirt when we’re done. We’re just happy to help change the city ​​environment.

USA voanews

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