Eyes on Richmond is an award-winning government transparency project of Progress Virginia, an advocacy and communications nonprofit dedicated to furthering progressive issues and causes in the Commonwealth. For more information about Progress Virginia, please visit the website.
Launched in 2017, Eyes on Richmond aimed to stream Virginia General Assembly legislative hearings for the first time ever—often bringing to light commentary, deliberation, and even votes from elected officials that had previously never been streamed or broadcast publicly. Because of this work, the project won the Virginia Coalition for Open Government’s Laurence E. Richardson Citizen Award.
None of this work would be possible without the hard work of the Fellows who stay on top of all committee hearings and record all of our live feeds. Read about the 2018 fellows below.
Born in Asunción, Paraguay, Nelson Benitez came to the U.S. at age 5 and grew up in Chesterfield, Virginia. He began his involvement in the community early with the Scouting program; earning the Arrow of Light, the highest award in Cub Scouts, and earning the Eagle Rank and Award, Scouting’s Highest Honor, in 2012. He became politically involved in President Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, where he was inspired to become a force for social change. Nelson received the Presidential Scholarship at Virginia State University and was a member of the Honors Society and Pi Sigma Alpha. He interned with the Democratic Party of Virginia and was involved in major party events such as the JJ Dinner and the State Convention. In 2016, he was selected by the Thurgood Marshall College Fund to work as Floor Operations staff at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Nelson graduated summa cum laude from Virginia State University in May, 2017. This is his second year with Progress Virginia’s Eyes on Richmond project.
Megan Corsano graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in 2017 with a degree in Journalism. After graduation, she spent the summer interning in New York City with Smart Energy Decisions, a business-to-business publication that reports on renewable energy and energy efficiency efforts of large commercial and industrial companies. As an intern, she wrote the daily news for the publication’s website and assisted with various editorial projects. This is her first year with Eyes on Richmond but her second year working at the state capital. Last spring, she reported on the General Assembly for VCU’s student-run news wire, Capital News Service, covering legislation as it moved through the Virginia legislature. She hopes to one day combine her interests in travel and journalism to write about political issues around the world.
This is Maricela Embe’s first year with Eyes on Richmond. As a Richmond native, Maricela grew up in the state’s capital and credits that for her interests in politics. She is currently a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) with double majors in Political Science and International Studies. After interning for the DPVA and Virginia House Democratic Caucus during last years General Assembly Session, she found herself eager to return to this year’s session. In her spare time, she loves discovering new music, binge-watching shows on Hulu, and playing around with her beagle. If she’s not doing any of those things, you can usually find her teaching swim lessons at the YMCA or JCC. She hopes to spend this summer abroad in Europe to reward herself for making it through her undergraduate years. In the future, she hopes to work as policy analyst for the Department of Education.
Shan Forde was born in Brooklyn, NY and raised in Richmond, VA. After high school, Shan earned his Associates Degree in Business Management. Shortly after, he became passionate about equality for minorities. Shan has worked very closely with organizations such as ROSMY, SAGE, and Richmond’s own, Minority Health Consortium. Shan has also worked with Richmond nightclubs, such as Club Colors and Club Godfrey’s, to help host and raise money for HIV Awareness. Now, with the help of long-time friend, Justin-Mychal White, the two have begun to start their own non-profit organization, named ‘The Mychal-Forde Foundation’, which will target and help inner-city youth to become positive assets to their communities as well as themselves. Understanding the value of education, Kahshan has begun to pursue his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). This will be Shan’s first time working with Eyes on Richmond, and he’s extremely excited to get started!
Eden Iscil is currently studying Music and Political Science (with a concentration in Public Policy and Administration) for their undergraduate degree at Virginia Commonwealth University. Having grown up in Virginia Beach, one of the primary factors for choosing to attend school in Richmond was the proximity to state politics. Being a member of the LGBT+ community, Eden knows firsthand how much work needs to be done domestically for the various and diverse minority groups across the country. They felt the best way to begin this advocacy work would be to start at home, here in Virginia. Eden has always had an interest in politics, but given the many polarizing events that have happened in this country over the past few years, they wanted to begin their work for progressive organizations as soon as possible. This will be Eden’s first year with Progress Virginia and the Eyes On Richmond project.
Kendall Masterson is a first year fellow for Eyes on Richmond and is a December 2017 Graduate from Virginia Commonwealth University, where she majored in Mass Communications with a focus in Broadcast Journalism. During the 2016 presidential election, Kendall became politically active for the first time. She began volunteering for local campaigns including the Richmond Mayoral race and the Virginia Governor’s race. In January 2017 she became a communications intern at the Sierra Club, which strengthened her love for the environment and her passion for environmental politics. With the organization, she participated in the People’s Climate March in Washington D.C. She considers that march—joining like-minded people in the fight for clean energy and climate justice—the highlight of her year. Kendall is probably listening to a podcast right now. She considers herself a best friend of the pod.
This is Shawn Meredith’s second year working on Eyes on Richmond with Progress Virginia. Since the 2017 session, he also worked as a press intern for the Northam campaign during the democratic primary. Shawn has always been passionate about politics and progressive values, but feels that now it is more important now than ever to raise our voices and to resist legislation and policy that will only set us back. He knows that Progress Virginia and the Eyes on Richmond project is a great place to accomplish that goal, and that is why he is joining the program again in the 2018 session. Shawn attended Virginia Commonwealth University and graduated in 2016. He studied mass communications with a concentration in public relations. Shawn hopes to continue his communications work and go on to work for major campaigns around the country and, in 2020, help the next Democratic hopeful take back the White House.
A proud Virginian and Hanover native, this is Elise Murray’s first year with Eyes on Richmond. She is currently enrolled in both honors and leadership programs at Reynolds Community College and, after receiving her associate’s degree, will transfer to the University of Virginia where she plans to study history. As a senior in high school, she was selected to represent District thirteen at the Virginia Girls State Convention, where her appreciation for state politics was first discovered. Though she is only nineteen years of age, she hopes to one day go to law school pursue a career in that field. When she is not at school or work, she can be found skiing, kayaking, or playing soccer—and she absolutely loves to read.
Dante Rankin is from Northern Virginia, just outside of Washington D.C. Currently Dante attends Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and is working toward a degree in Political Science. Since starting at VCU, he has joined a variety of clubs and organizations around campus, with his favorite being the Student Government Association, because it has provided him with many opportunities to become more engaged with his community and have a positive impact on campus. Dante has a passion for politics and believes in constantly fighting for your rights and standing up for equality for everyone. He loves being involved in the community, whether it is helping organize a food drive or educating people on an upcoming election. Dante was born and raised in Northern Virginia but loves living in Richmond. He loves all the city has to offer. In his free time Dante likes to watch and play sports—basketball in particular. He also likes trying anything new, reading, and hiking.
Paola Sanchez Valdez is a fourth-year student at the University of Virginia studying Youth & Social Innovation and Global Studies in Education. While she considers Lynchburg, Virginia her hometown, Paola immigrated to the United States from Ecuador when she was 2 years old. After 15 years of being undocumented, the DACA program allowed Paola to attend her dream university and to pursue a path in immigrant rights activism. Although Paola now has Lawful Permanent Resident status, she has dedicated her life to advocating for equitable access to higher education for undocumented youth. While at the University of Virginia, she founded two student advocacy organizations, DREAMers On Grounds and Political Latinx United for Movement & Action in Society (PLUMAS), to create an inclusive environment for marginalized students on campus. Paola hopes to pursue a career in immigration law to highlight the importance of civic engagement and government within her communities.