ROANOKE, Va. – In a year unlike any other, Roanoke’s State of the City address Wednesday morning took a much different tone.
An annual speech, typically celebrating momentum, instead focused on how to overcome unprecedented obstacles on the coronavirus pandemic and racial injustice.
The speech presented a stark contrast between the Star City pre-coronavirus pandemic and now.
“This year has been more challenging than ever before,” said Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea.
Lea celebrated victories in economic development, tourism and community. He also acknowledged that momentum came to a screeching halt in March as COVID-19 took over.
Since then, city leaders have collaborated with residents to figure out how to allocate $18 million in relief funding and address health needs like PPE and rapid testing kits.
Lea said he’s proud of the work they’ve done, but knows big challenges lie ahead as the pandemic continues.
“Everybody needs to understand we’re in this together. We are all working. We may disagree but don’t lose sight of where the fight is. The fight is not against each other, it’s that virus,” Lea said.
10 News also checked in with former mayor David Bowers, who’s running again this year, to see what his priorities are.
“I think the city needs to have a strategy for new economic growth. We have been the economic engine of the region and we need to have a new strategy to move us in the future,” Bowers said.
As calls for social justice continue across the country, Lea also made his own promise for progress.
“We’re going to ensure everyone in our city has an opportunity to live in a safe and vibrant environment,” Lea said.
Lea said equity would now be at the forefront of every decision the city makes, especially when it comes to housing, transportation and land use.
This comes after months of work to address race relations including city council’s vote to remove the Robert E. Lee statue and establishing an advisory board to identify policies and practices that lead to inequity and outline strategies to overcome them.
Lea said this is just the beginning.
“We can’t just put our head in the sand and go on. We want all of our citizens regardless of skin color, regardless of ZIP Code to feel like they’re welcome,” Lea said.
Bowers told 10 News he’s disappointed Lea didn’t address increased violence, but agrees equality needs to be a priority moving forward.
“Are there problem areas? Yes. Is there racism? That’s something of the heart and soul. What we can do something about is discrimination. That’s a legal matter and I think we should continue to address that,” Bowers said.