Coflin’s petition calls for replacing the monument with a statue of Elliott, whom he calls a “true Portsmouth native hero.” He even has an idea for how the statue should look, though he says he’s open to ideas.
“Who better to encapsulate the culture and spirit of the city enshrined in a new monument than Grammy Award winning rapper, dancer, and record producer Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott?” the petition asks. “Together we can put white supremacy down, flip it and reverse it.” ”
“Flip it and reverse it” is a lyrical reference to Elliott’s 2002 hit song “Work It.” In addition to “Work It,” Elliott is best known for the hits “Get Ur Freak On”, “Lose Control” and “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly).”
Calls to remove confederate monuments have gained momentum over the past week following a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., which was organized around the cause of preserving a monument of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. In the wake of the demonstrations, which culminated in the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, Confederate monuments have been taken down in numerous places. Baltimore hauled away its four Confederate statues overnight last week, the Maryland state house removed a statue of segregationist Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney; Duke University took down its own statue of Lee.
Coflin, a 27-year-old social worker from Virginia Beach, says he’s a history buff and longtime Missy Elliott fan.
“Unfortunately history is kind of a mixed bag of bad and good,” he said in an interview. “I wanna show we can honor the positivity that’s happening today in Portsmouth and I think no one better suits that than Missy Elliott.”
He admitted that he was surprised to see the petition gain so much traction in so little time.
“I thought it was kind of a pipe dream,” he said. “But the more it got out there and the more exposure it’s getting, the more I think it’s a real possibility. People are taking it seriously — whether the Portsmouth City Council will take it seriously is another matter.”
The petition had 13,500 of its target 15,000 signatures by 1 p.m. Sunday. But Coflin wants to build on the support he’s received, so he plans to keep it open. He eventually plans to deliver it to Portsmouth Mayor John L. Rowe, the vice mayor, and members of the city council.
The Portsmouth confederate monument, which sits at the corner of Court and High streets, is a 35-foot obelisk marked “To Our Confederate Dead.” Rowe called this week for moving the monument to a nearby cemetery with a large section of confederate graves, according to The Virginian-Pilot.
Responding to a Tweet about the petition, Missy Elliott said the proposal “warms my heart and it’s so humbling to me.”
Elliott did not immediately respond to requests for comment through her publicist.