Home » Interview » Duron Chavis: Urban Renewer Exclusive Interview

Duron Chavis: Urban Renewer Exclusive Interview

Duron Chavis started his career in community advocacy as first a volunteer then an employee of the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of VA. He worked as a museum coordinator developing programs and conducting guided tours for groups of all ages and backgrounds. In 2003 he founded the highly acclaimed Happily Natural Day festival as a grassroots effort to supplement the summer jazz concert that was held annually at the institution.

Happily Natural DayThe festival is a weekend long experience held annually in both Richmond VA and Atlanta GA that focuses on cultural awareness, health, wellness and social change. Chavis has worked with Dr. Llaila Afrika, Dr. Phil Valentine, Hakim Bey, Dr. Neely Fuller, Queen Afua, Runoko Rashidi, Ashra Kwesi, Ashanti Alston, Dhoruba Bin-Wahad, Dead Prez, Popmaster Fabel and many more community activists, scholars and organizations from all over the country.

Presently Chavis is engaged in coordinating innovative and dynamic initiatives around the topics of urban agriculture and food security in a culturally relevant way. In 2009 Chavis launched the Richmond Noir Market, a Saturday farmer’s market targeting low income communities located in what the USDA has designated as food deserts in Richmond Virginia. 2012 marked the development of the McDonough Community Garden, an urban agriculture project that promotes sustainable food growing, horticultural therapy and environmental stewardship.

Chavis has received numerable accolades for his work. He served in 2011 as a Clean Air Ambassador on behalf of Earthjustice and the Hip Hop Caucus. He is an alumni of Leadership Metro Richmond’s class of 2011, received Style Weekly’s Top 40 under 40 award in 2010, was featured as Richmond Free Press’s Personality of the Week and most recently was nominated for the 2012 Golden Trowel Award by Tricycle Gardens for his work around urban agriculture and food access.

Who is Duron Chavis?
I am the son of a Alvin Tyler and Pamela Chavis. I was born in the Southside of Richmond Virginia. I am the father of Asaun, Zion and Kinyasa Chavis. I am an artist and an activist. I am the founder of Happily Natural Day. I start and manage urban gardens. I am a part of the movement to raise the social consciousness of African people globally.

What is your greatest passion?
My greatest passion is learning and then taking what I learned and doing something with it. So I guess being creative would fit in as greatest because it is the thread that runs through all the different things I do and have done. For the past 12 years I have coordinated a grassroots festival called Happily Natural Day and it really has been in this crucible of organizing that I have learned so much while having to apply. From visual design, marketing, web development, to social entrepreneurship, workshop facilitation, event planning and management, sponsorship acquisition to now urban agriculture, I never stop learning always trying to be more efficient as a worker for the people.
When did you realize your passion?
I’ve always been a reader. I think I fell in love with organizing specifically around these topics of natural living when I was in college. I was that guy. The guy with the argument about why we want to be Greek and not Kemetic who hosted the debate the day after you saw him do a poem on the racism in academia at the open mic.

I got tired of talking about consciousness though and felt it was important to create spaces that we can come together. After I got back from college I worked for the Black History Museum and did a lot of educating as a tour coordinator. From that space we did the first Happily Natural Day and it has been an evolution ever since.

How did the concept of Happily Natural Day come about?
Happily Natural Day was birthed during the 50 year anniversary of Brown vs. The Board of Ed. The Kenneth Clark Doll Study was a very important piece of evidence used to desegregate public schools. In the test the researchers found that black children had a higher affinity toward white dolls than black dolls and the implied conclusion was that due to segregated schools children of African ancestry were affected negatively in terms of self identity and self acceptance.

Black children reported black dolls as bad, ugly, mean etc. The same study had been done numerous times since Brown vs. Board only to find the same results applicable 50 years hence. Happily Natural Day was created to instill pride in people of African descent using hair as a reference point; pulling on the then burgeoning natural hair resurgence in the black community. Using hair as a catalyst for a much deeper conversation about health holistically as in mind body and spirit; Happily Natural Day as a concept has promoted loving yourself as a person of African descent not only outwardly in an aesthetic sense but fully in terms of community, economics, and identity period.

What top 3 elements, do you feel made HND 2014 a success?
The 3 elements that made HND 2014 a success were teamwork, partnerships and shared vision. In the planning of the festival this year we reached out to folks who shared common missions and made deliberate agreements to work together to bring the festival to fruition by working together. As a result of that, several partnerships were formed one with Black Girls Run for the 5k and another with the VABF (Virginia Association for Biological Farming) for the urban farm school.

The vision of both those organizations to ensure healthier communities through their respective work allowed Happily Natural Day to be a point of access upon which to pivot in creation of new satellite programming for the festival that allowed us to go deeper and wider with our promotion of health and wellness in the community.

continued on next page

About L. NuNuu

L. Nunuu is poet, writer, actress, host and spoken word artist who has has performed at local venues such as the Bushnell and out-of-state at Organix Soul in Springfield, MA and The Nuyorican Poets Café in New York City.