By Marc Cheatham
At its core, the goal of The Cheats Movement Blog is to unify the Richmond community by celebrating its music, arts, culture, and diversity. It is an immense task, I know, but it is a mission that I believe can and will be accomplished. If not by me, then it will be accomplished by someone or some group who I am sure I will call “Cheats Movement Family.”
I grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s. At that time, there were not that many positives to celebrate in Greater Richmond. The city’s homicide rate was growing to record highs, the city’s population was in steady decline, and the city government always seemed to be caught in some embarrassing, if not ridiculous, scandal. Yet what troubled me the most about the Richmond of my youth was the perception that I lived in a city that was divided by race, class, and culture.
As a young person, attempting to understand the root of the region’s racial tension and class separation was virtually impossible. And to be honest, I still struggle to understand certain aspects of that history today, as an adult. However, I have always believed that celebrating Greater Richmond’s diverse culture and balancing it with our city’s rich history is the magic bullet that will unify the region and ultimately elevate it to the tier one city that I know it can be.
When I started the Cheats Movement Blog in January 2011, I did not have a “master plan” or even a goal in regard to how the blog would impact the Richmond community. In fact, the early Cheats Movement posts were not exclusively about Richmond at all. I was traveling throughout the country, taking photos with an $80 Nikon CoolPix. I would post my photos from all over the country on The Cheats Movement Blog and my Facebook page and monitor the comments from my friends. Gradually, I started to change the focus of the blog to highlight Richmond’s diversity.
By June 2011, I had upgraded my camera equipment with my first DLSR camera: a Cannon T2i. And I expanded the range of my blog posts by photographing local live concerts and interviewing popular Richmonders who were making an impact in the community, like Clovia Lawrence of Radio One and Coach Shaka Smart of VCU.
Though I enjoyed the early days of The Cheats Movement Blog, I remember feeling that the blog was not reaching its full potential. At the time, I described The Cheats Movement Blog as a “positive and uplifting blog, as diverse as the city itself.” However, it was missing a purpose. A key turning point in helping me find “purpose” was formed out of the contention regarding the First Fridays Art Walk.
I remember that old, familiar black cloud feeling about the media coverage and public commentary surrounding young people at the Frist Fridays Art Walk. I decided to use the Cheats Movement platform not to settle the debate, but to show a different view of the story that I believed the media coverage had ignored. I created a photo essay titled, “First Fridays in Black and White.” The essay was a series of photos that presented the best of Richmond’s community and diversity: young and old, homeless and hipster, hip hop and business, all celebrating arts and culture together on Broad Street. There were more smiles than frowns in those photos, more laughter than violence, which wasn’t a side of the story being reported in local coverage. It was at that moment that I realized Richmonders want to see the best of our city. And while negativity may sell a mainstream newspaper or lead the local newscast, we, the RVA community, can ultimately lift the city’s perception ourselves by highlighting the many aspects that bring Richmonders together.
From that moment, the modern Cheats Movement Blog was born. I have worked to create a blog that all of Richmond can be proud of. It’s a blog that will never be put inside a box and will never be limited by what others expect. The content uplifts the culture, celebrates diversity, and raises the level of public commentary. And Richmonders have responded with amazing feedback and support. We have enough media outlets that report the negative and controversial; that is not what The Cheats Movement Blog is about. That’s not to say that the blog doesn’t make statements because I have made a few. However, as I move forward into my third year, I am so proud that The Cheats Movement Blog has grown into a one-stop shop that educates Richmonders about local music, art, culture, and diversity. And it has done so by presenting content that can be appreciated by all of Richmond.
Cheats Movement readers are more than just “readers” to me. They are family. And I often call on the Cheats Movement Family to support each other whenever we can. Since the beginning, I’ve used the hashtag: #WESEEIT. That means that “WE SEE” Richmond differently. We see Richmond as this amazing hub of music, art, culture, and diversity that will lead all of us to a more unified future. The best part is that it has already started.