RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Brookland Park neighborhood in Richmond’s Northside started as one of the city’s first streetcar suburbs and later shifted into a predominately black neighborhood. Now in 2021, the historic area is well on its way towards revitalization.
If you take a drive down Brookland Park Boulevard, it’s hard to miss the booming new businesses, vibrant artwork and diverse demographic; however, it wasn’t always that way.
“A lot of racial fighting, so it was not a pleasant experience,” Faithe Norrell said.
Faithe Norrell works at Richmond’s Black History Museum and Culture Center of Virginia, but as a child, Brookland Park was her home. In the late 19th century, the Northside neighborhood was a white residential and commercial area.
“By the time we moved in, the neighborhood had changed from an all-white neighborhood to a predominately black neighborhood,” Norrell told 8News.
Her family experienced segregation as racial tensions in the south escalated. Norrell remembers a time when the boulevard was segregated.
“Brookland Park Boulevard was the line of demarcation,” Norrell said. “Everything from the 2900 block down was black neighborhood and everything above the 3000 block was white. It stayed segregated like that through the 60’s.”
In the 1960s came desegregation. Two brave young girls; Gloria Jean Mead, 13, and Carol Irene Swann, 12, were the first black students to enter an integrated school in the capital of the Confederacy. The school the two girls entered was Chandler Jr. High located in Brookland Park, which is now known as Richmond Community High School.
Fast-forward to the present day, the Brookland Park area is now an integrated mixed-use neighborhood where several black-owned businesses reside, like Ms. Bee’s Juice Bar.
The juice bar, owned by Brandi Battle-Brown, offers a healthy option in the heart of the Northside.
“I know this area was growing and is on the rise,” Battle-Brown said. “Also, I wanted to educate my community on eating healthy and choosing a healthier lifestyle. There’s a lot of foot traffic in this area as well.”
Opening her doors in January of 2020, Battle-Brown has gained success and is already expanding. She is opening a new location near VCU’s campus next month.
A few doors down from Ms. Bee’s Juice Bar is Ruby Scoops. The ice cream shop is owned, operated, and branded by Rabia Kamara.
“We have 12 flavors about 40 to 50 percent of our flavors are vegan and dairy-free,” Kamara told 8News. “It was important to me as a black woman to be able to be myself and show other people that look like me, that they can do this.”
Scooping up delicious ice cream and sorbet, the VCU graduate decided to open her first shop in Brookland Park last year, during the pandemic.
Kamara opened her doors in November on Small Business Saturday. Kamara is originally from the D.C area and has been perfecting her craft and selling sweet treats at farmer’s markets since 2015. She decided she wanted to open her first store in Brookland Park.
“This is an area that has a lot of families, that has a neighborhood feel, that has a lot of other black business owners,” Kamara said. “Yes, it’s changing, but I wanted to help maintain the historical blackness of this area.”
If you walk into Ruby Scoops, you can’t miss the representation.
The ice cream shop is filled with murals and pictures of black women sporting their natural hair and a special wall honoring Alfred Cralle, the black businessman who invented the ice cream scoop.
“Growing up as a black girl, I didn’t see any chefs that looked like me until I was in my twenties,” Kamara said. “I don’t want little girls to have to wait until they’re in their twenties to see someone like me making food, running a business, and contributing to their community.”
Brookland Park continues to evolve and for those like Norrell, they continue to be amazed at just how much it’s transformed over the decades.
‘It is showing that we can come together and take pride in a neighborhood,” Norrell. said.”We can live together and we don’t’ have to take a black side and a white side.”