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HOLMBERG: Vigil for Alicia Rasin – she did more than you think

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RICHMOND, Va. -- No one hosted more vigils in RVA than Alicia Rasin. Thursday night it was her turn. Roughly 200 people turned out in Jefferson Hill Park, right beside her longtime, almost- always brightly decorated home that I and thousands of other Richmond-area people visited over the years.

Most of you already know how she served this city, this community, for 21 years, until her death due to longtime health problems last week.

She started as a volunteer assistant to Mayor Leonidas Young back when Richmond's murder rate exploded as the crack cocaine epidemic ripped through Richmond. That year, 1994, the city saw 160 homicides. The worst ever. Richmond was the second-deadliest city, per capita, in the nation.

Alicia organized funerals and vigils. She helped mourning families wade through their disasters. She offered a compassionate, angelic face to the public as many residents - black and white - fled the city and downtown all-but collapsed.

Alicia Rasin (Credit: Virginia Voice)

Alicia Rasin (Credit: Virginia Voice)

And she kept doing it, again and again. Mayors and police chiefs came and went, but there was Alicia. She grew up here. She knew practically everyone, and everyone seemed to know her or someone she knew. But here's what you may not know.

Back then, much of the inner-city did not trust the police, which had been led by white chiefs until just a few years earlier.

And much of that same community also did not have much trust in the media. Many of the older ones remembered how the Richmond Times-Dispatch led the push-back against school integration. Many did not want to be seen talking to a reporter.

Rasin Vigil

That lack of trust and the stunning amount of violence saw homicide detectives solving just half the murders. Some killers kept on killing.

Alicia built bridges between the community and the police. Whispers on the street about who was killing whom began to be heard more clearly. She preached endlessly about who was the enemy.

And she built crucial bridges between the community and the media. She connected us with photos of the victims, with their families, so they weren't just faceless names. We got to know their stories. She helped us show how each murder touches us all in some way.

You would see her out in Richmond's toughest neighborhoods, at all hours, all weathers, almost always bone tired and mentally exhausted by the senselessness of all the violence.

I can't tell you how many times she said, "Lord, I'm tired!"

As we heard at her vigil (please check out the video!) she walked the walk.

No, she didn't do it alone.

But Alicia really helped turn the tide when it looked like Richmond was drowning in blood.

She also helped break down barriers in this widely diverse city that had held onto them.

I watched it happen.

Well done, Alicia. We'll miss you.

Now get some rest!