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Standing on the Shoulders of a Legacy: Lillie A. Estes

I’m Just Sayin’ Dr. T’s column 02/16/22

Lillie A. Estes was known by her community as a Community Strategist. She loved deeply and worked tirelessly for those she loved in RVA and her Gilpin Court community. Lillie Estes always fought for the respect and dignity that all people deserve no matter where they lived or what their economic status happened to be. She worked for, advocated for, and demanded economic equity, food equity, housing equity, justice, and liberation for ALL people and especially people who lived in the urban center of Richmond, Virginia. She was co-founder of RePhrame (Residents of Public Housing in Richmond Against Mass Evictions). Many people fondly referred to Ms. Lillie Estes as the Queen Mother. She was formerly a mayoral candidate, creator of the Community Justice Film Series and a Virginia Poverty Law Center board member. Lillie A. Estes died far too soon on January 31, 2019, at the age of 59. Her death was sudden and left her beloved community in shock.

Lillie A. Estes always spoke plain and unadulterated TRUTH. Her reputation for speaking without compromise or equivocation reverberated from the streets of this city to the halls of the State Legislature. She pulled no punches with city leaders or community activists if their actions did not seem to be in line with the needs of the community she represented. She was keenly aware of the deep wounds of neglect and marginalization that Richmond’s unheard and unrecognized communities had endured for generations upon generations. Decades of disenfranchisement and out right intentional neglect of Richmond’s historically African American community ignited Lillie’s passion to see her community transformed into a model of community engagement and economic empowerment. It was a BIG vision that Ms. Lillie shared with everyone she had the opportunity to talk with, and to engage with in critical discourse. And for those who attempted to ignore her or avoid her, she would design opportunities whereby she could intentionally insert herself into their sphere of influence just to be able to engage them in a conversation in order that they could not say “they didn’t know” of the things of which she spoke. She was committed to finding some redress regarding long standing policies and intrenched practices that daily disproportionally affected the lives and well-being of the community in which she worked and lived. As she would often say, “We are in the process now of going to the next level of community work, which is holding our existing organizations and governing structures accountable to do effective community work.” Lillie was all about accountability. She wanted community members to be a part of the re-building process in Richmond. She believed that we cannot “redevelop” a community without the members of that community being at the table alongside civic leaders, and leaders of institutions all sitting together around the same table of dialogue. Together they must create a “shared vision” and commit to raising resources and bringing those needed resources to the table for direct distribution to the community and in so doing, community and its members are able to thrive.

Lillie A. Estes was a contemporary Warrior Queen, and she should never be forgotten. She was truly a Community Strategist whose legacy remains one of an activist who demonstrated how to strategically fight for justice and empowerment for African-Americans and other marginalized peoples. Her fight was right here in RVA! She was an inspiration to all who had the privilege to know her, to march with her, to protest with her, and to battle with her in spaces of debate and critical discourse. Lillie A. Estes always elevated us to the level of Truth telling and accountability. May we continue the fight on…claiming the legacy she left for us and standing on the broad shoulders of the work she began and never had the opportunity to finish.

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