With Virginia still reckoning with weeks of controversy related to race, the state's youngest black delegate used his floor speech Thursday to share his family's experiences with racism and discrimination.
Del. Jay Jones, a Democratic delegate from Norfolk, Virginia, used his speech Thursday to meditate on the significance of Black History Month by sharing his memories of discrimination that his parents and grandparents experienced.
Jones addressed the subject of race directly, saying the surprise with which white Virginians reacted to the news shows a "luxury" that black Virginians do not have.
"For many of us in this chamber, and millions of people around the country, the events that gripped Virginia were not an aberration, an abstraction or an anachronism," Jones said.
He described memories of receiving hate mail at his home after his father, former Del. Jerrauld Jones, spoke out about putting the Confederate flag on the Virginia license plate, as well as stories of his father and uncles being called the n-word in elementary school in 1960.
"This is our shared Virginia journey, that we can march on together," Jones said. "But we are brothers and sisters under God, roaming the vast expanses of this commonwealth, from the streets of the capital city to the suburbs of Northern Virginia, from the shores of Virginia Beach to the rolling hills of southwest.
Jones also called for healing and reconciliation, saying he would do his part in building community and trust.
"We must understand that our path toward healing and reconciliation starts with us," Jones said. "As leaders of this state, the people who folks look to for guidance and leadership, that our words can not ring empty with black Virginia, that our deeds and aims in this body as policymakers must be reflected in our actions and our ideals."
The speech comes weeks after two of Virginia's top officials were embroiled in controversy.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam resisted calls for his resignation after a racist photo was discovered on his 1984 medical school yearbook. He initially apologized and admitted he was pictured in the photo, but later walked back his admission and said he was not in the photo, though he admitted to darkening his face for a dance contest in San Antonio, Texas.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring also admitted to having worn blackface while he was in college.