The Life and Legacy Xavier Richardson
Dressed in a neatly pressed white shirt accented by a red polka dot bow tie, burgundy shoes and black, cuffed pin striped slacks, Xavier Richardson is one of the most recognized and respected figures in Fredericksburg. And while he holds the well-deserved and prestigious titles of executive vice president for Corporate Development and Community Affairs for Mary Washington Healthcare and President of Mary Washington Hospital and Stafford Hospital Foundations, Richardson has the demeanor and approachability that causes him to feel like a lifelong friend as opposed to a high powered executive.
While he has been the "father" of hundreds of area youths, he unequivocally considers his greatest investment, joy and accomplishment his three adult children and new 9-week-old granddaughter.
Chris Jones, editor of Fredericksburg Parent & Family magazine sat down with Richardson. He spoke on his roots in Fredericksburg, the promise he made to God that defined his destiny and the city's past and future.
Fredericksburg Parent: Where did you grow up in Fredericksburg and what was life like in this community back then?
Xavier Richardson: I was born and raised here in Mayfield. I attended Walker-Grant Elementary, an all-black school at the time since schools were segregated. I attended Maury School in 1968, the first year of it being integrated. I graduated from James Monroe High School in 1975.
FP: You mentioned growing up during segregation. What was that like?
XR: This area wasn't so racially divided. The wonderful thing about going to Walker-Grant was that what we lacked in facilities, we had in support. [Even though] we didn't have the facilities or equipment we had teachers who were committed to every student's success. When we integrated, we lost some of that (caring teachers). In spite of it all, Walker Grant produced some great leaders: doctors, dentists, lawyers, a judge and two other Harvard Business School graduates.
There was greater sense of community back then. [Mayfield] was a heterogeneous neighborhood. We had doctors, lawyers, teachers, laborers and people with poverty all living side by side. We had a lot of support in the community. Even though my parents didn't go to college, my neighbors took us on college trips. All of the kids had an opportunity to grow in Mayfield.
The neighborhood has changed since then. People don't know each other now. People commute to work now and you don't have the life-lasting relationships that were once there. But there still is a sense of pride there and there are things we had and things new that we didn't have and a lot of great people still live there.
My father grew up on the 200-300 block of Princess Anne Street. It was integrated. He next to white families and after he the kids would play together, they went to school in different directions the next day.
FP: After graduating, where did you go next?
XR: I left [Fredericksburg] when I was 18 for 13 years. I went north to Princeton University to do my undergraduate work. I went to New York to work for two years and then went on a deferred admission to Harvard Business School where I earned my MBA. I worked on Wall Street [after graduating Harvard].
FP: What was it like to work on Wall Street?
XR: Wall St was a great experience until the Market crashed. I was there from 1983-1988. I didn't get to use what I learned in business school and I was forgetting more than I was learning, plus I was trying to raise three kids in New York City, which was a challenge.
FP: So how did you become the man we all know today?
XR: You know how you say, "Lord, I will do what you want me to do if you get me through this challenge?" When I was in New York City I went to church in Harlem and the pastor was a former chief of staff for Martin Luther King Jr. and they approached me about a leadership role in the church. I though it would be finance since I was on Wall Street. Then they asked me to be Dean of Youth over 250 teenagers. I had to say, "OK, Lord, if this is what you want, thy will be done" and I haven't looked back.
I did it for five years in Harlem and when I came back here, I found that the kids here were not doing as well. One of my mentors, who was responsible for me getting to Princeton, pulled together a number of us in 1989 to take a course in teaching SAT to minority students. He said 'I will leave it up to you all to decide what you will do with it.' So I said, I'll take a holistic approach; monitor academics, jobs and college applications. I founded an organization called The Partnership for Academic Excellence.
FP: What does the Partnership for Academic Excellence do for the community?
XR: The Partnership for Academic Excellence is between students, parents, the community and schools. We help with SAT, take students on college visits, help with finding jobs, and mentoring. We have gone as far as to serve as father to brides, groomsmen and grandparents for their kids. A lot of the kids who have gone through the program have now joined the program. I try to stress to the kids that they have an obligation to give back.
It is my passion to work with young people. The gift I've acquired is the ability to relate to teens and young people. I listen to them. I don't formulate opinions or judge them. I don't lecture. I ask what's going on. I basically conduct a root cause analysis. Until you change the root the problem will persist.
FP: Dr. James Farmer Junior's bust sits in the middle of the University of Mary Washington campus. Many walk past it without knowing his contribution to this city. Can you shed some light about his legacy and impact on Fredericksburg?
XR: He was a tremendous asset. I feel like I am a beneficiary of his legacy. The entire community really is. He sacrificed for the equality for all people. He brought a lot of recognition to the university. He was a very popular lecturer and many students took his courses just to hear him speak. I'm very proud of the proper recognition that the university y has given to him, from the James Farmer Scholars program to the James Farmer [Multicultural] Center on campus. As a result, it brought notoriety by way of the freedom rides. It helps people to remember this chapter in history.
FP: What legacy do you want to leave for young people in this community?
XR: Tell your story. Everyone has a story. Constantly strive for high achievement and success in all of endeavors and realize that to who much is given much is required and there is a moral obligation to give forward.
I'm considered a leader in the community, but people don't see me pigeonholed as a black leader, but a leader who happens to be black. I'm involved with a lot of different organization and because I'm engaged in the large minority community I'm able to offer perspective to these other groups.
FP: You've seen this community grow and change. Where do you see it in the next 5-10 years?
XR: I see a community that is more diverse and more importantly more tolerant and appreciative of diversity and inclusion; a community that is going to continue to grow economically, one that will grow in pure population numbers because of the proximity to Washington, D.C. and because of its attraction by families as a great place to raise children.
Richardson is the winner of the 2013 Strong Men & Women in Virginia History Award, presented by Dominion Power and the Library of Virginia for his work with young people.
Chris Jones is the editor of Fredericksburg Parent. He grew up with grandparents who lived through segregation, but taught him that equality was first gained in the mind.
Above photo of Xavier Richardson and front cover of Fredericksburg Parent courtesy of Greenlaw's Photography