HOTSEAT- Leap of faith: Edwards takes it to the next level

Holly Edwards

The woman with the long dreadlocks is on the phone in the Westhaven Clinic, talking to someone who needs to find housing for two teenage relatives.

"I spend a lot of time connecting people to the right resources," says Holly Edwards after she hangs up.  She calls her job as parish nurse a "health ministry" and describes how she advocates, coordinates, and provides spiritual support for her flock in Westhaven.

"We don't provide primary care, but we do provide health screening," she says, taking the opportunity to hand out a flyer about Women's Health Day on May 24. 

Parish nurse isn't Edwards' "job job." She also works as program coordinator for the Public Housing Association of Residents. 

"I'm amazed at how much of a difference you can make spending time building relationships with people, how powerful connecting with people and becoming part of their lives can be," says Edwards.

Those connecting skills will be essential as the long-time community advocate makes her run for Charlottesville City Council. 

"I spend a lot of time encouraging people to move to the next level in their lives, to stretch themselves," she says, explaining her decision to run. "It's time for me to make that next stretch in community service and get involved in policy making."

Riding on a bus when she was a girl growing up in Washington, DC, Edwards realized two things: "I always wanted to be one of the people who could make a difference... and I was figuring out how to get off this bus."

She got a degree in psychology, a master's in education, and was working in a homeless shelter in the late '80s when she decided to go back to school.

"The point when I changed careers was the beginning of, 'This is what I'm going to do when I grow up,'" she says. "Being a nurse, this is how I'm going to do my part."

She's married to Ken Edwards, the pastor of Union Grove Baptist Church. They had a family meeting and "prayerful consideration" after she was recruited to run for Council. 

"Everybody had a vote, and their vote determined whether I ran," she says. She admits concerns about her children, not an insignificant issue because she has two sets of twin daughters, ages 12 and 1-1/2 years. 

Two sets of twins? "It's an efficient way to have a family," laughs Edwards. "If you want something done, ask the busiest person you know." And she likes it that her daughters can witness her "girl power."

Already she's rounding up supporters who have never voted before or are not aware that in Dem-controlled Charlottesville, the new City Councilors will most likely be determined at the June 2 Democratic convention– not at the polls in November.

"I've been doing a lot of education," she says.

And she thinks her own awareness of pain and suffering, of non-medical issues that have health or social consequences, will translate well to City Council. 

For example, the woman she was talking to on the phone looking for housing for older adolescents– those teens have small children. 

The urban renewal that eradicated Vinegar Hill, a once-thriving African-American business and residential community, resulted in a "best place to live"– where many of Charlottesville's citizens can't afford to live.

"Who knew that in making that decision, 40 percent of the African-American men here today [wouldn't] have a high school diploma?" she asks.

"A lot of people underestimate my ability to have silent power," she says. "Since I've been here, I've been grounded in the community and moving up on a grassroots level."

And politics? "For me, it's a natural transition." says Edwards. 

Don't underestimate her.

Age: 47

Why here? I received a scholarship from UVA Hospital that required that I work at the hospital for at least a year. My plan was to complete the employment obligation and then move back to D.C. That was 16 years ago.

What's worst about living here? I grew up in a middle class African-American neighborhood that was close and nurturing. I had fun jumping rope and playing hopscotch. Everyone knew you and everyone played a role in your discipline and values. Now I have to be intentional about creating that neighborhood by developing networks and relationships with friends that become family, girlfriends that become sisters so my daughters can see how a "village" that cares about them is formed, developed, and nurtured.

Favorite hangout? C'ville Coffee

Most overrated virtue? Patience

People would be surprised to know: I've run out of space for my never-ending collection of coffee travel mugs. I have the original one from the Mudhouse and a special place for the shops that have closed– remember the Coffee Exchange and Espresso Royale?

What would you change about yourself? I'd have perfect teeth.

Proudest accomplishment? Besides having two sets of twins? Passing the Virginia state boards the first time for my nursing license. 

People find most annoying about you: Too quiet– I've been told I need to speak up more.

Whom do you admire? Moji Olaniyan

Favorite book? Alice in Wonderland

Subject that causes you to rant? Discrimination

Biggest 21st-century thrill? The advances/technology in healthcare and treatment options

Biggest 21st-century creep out? The number of lives lost in terrorist attacks and the war in Iraq

What do you drive? A red Suzuki station wagon

In your car CD player right now: Movie soundtrack– Prince of Egypt– inspirational track

Next journey? I'd like to go back to Ghana (Tabre Village).

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? I was 14. The old tell-your-mother-you're-going-somewhere trick (to the park to hear a band) but really hang out across town with some friends. Little did I realize that as soon as the car drove off, a thunderstorm hit and the band never played. The part of DC I was in never even got a drop of rain. The lie took on a life of its own. 

Regret: None. Regrets are counter-productive and inconsistent with my beliefs and faith. Letting go of regret means holding on to forgiveness.

Favorite comfort food: Oatmeal

Always in your refrigerator: Minute Maid low-pulp, calcium-enriched orange juice

Must-see TV: Matlock reruns

Favorite cartoon: The Flinstones

Describe a perfect day. Me time– a day of solitude, a chance to have two thoughts in a row that are both mine. The day would start with room service delivering breakfast.

Walter Mitty fantasy: I'd be a Pegasus flight nurse, and I'd also be able to pilot the helicopter.

Who'd play you in the movie? Halle Barry (with 'locs)

Most embarrassing moment? See response to most trouble question

Best advice you ever got? My boyfriend at the time thought it was a good idea for us to get married. He was right– it will be 14 years this summer.

Favorite bumper sticker: I am the proud parent of Walker Honor roll students(s)