The Arlington County Manager’s office began reaching out to residents last week, to learn about and directly address racial equity issues across the county. The series, called Dialogues on Race and Equity (DRE), is an effort to gather community input, to better understand what gaps exist and to assess what county government regulations cause inequities.
Mark Schwartz, Arlington County manager, began the series asking residents to answer a questionnaire about perspectives on race and equity in Arlington. The County Manager’s office has already received more than 500 responses.
Another component to DRE involves six online conversation sessions with community members, led by facilitators trained by Challenging Racism, a local organization that educates people about the existence of racial inequities of systemic racism. These sessions will engage the community in a discussion on privilege and bias. The first session began on Oct. 24 and the last session is on Dec. 9. So far, over 100 Arlington residents have signed up to join the virtual conversation sessions.
The Arlington County Board made a commitment to begin a conversation on racial equity starting in 2019 when it created an Equity Resolution to address structural racism.
The resolution focused on five critical questions to address racial disparity: “what did we do, who benefits, who is burdened, who is missing, and how do we know?” Now, county officials hope to use the DRE series to determine the quality of life for an individual living in Arlington.
In 2019, Arlington County Board members discovered from a research study that there exists a 10-year life expectancy gap between some residents depending on where they live. They also found that students of color faced higher rates of obesity, teen pregnancy and lower rates of care for mental health.
Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey created the virtual communication tool concept.
“If we ignore areas of past disparities, our community will be impacted by unintentional harmful public policy,” Dorsey said.
But some community leaders are concerned that DRE will have little to no impact on closing the black community’s disparity gap.
Scott Taylor is an Arlington community spokesman and the president of the Black Heritage Museum of Arlington who said he believes that the Black community may not be receptive to having these types of conversations, considering the city’s previous history.
“The black community in Arlington has a long history of being excluded from growing as a community,” Talyor said.
Taylor said the county should consider providing reparations to black individuals living in the community, much like what the D.C. Council has done, rather than focusing its efforts on starting conversations.
Taylor also recommends that the reparations take the form of Arlington investing funds back into the few historically Black neighborhoods since freed slaves originally established them.
According to the U.S. Census reports, Arlington’s population has been 9% Black since the 1980s. Economic exclusion and gentrification, according to Taylor, were the main reasons for a lack of growth in the black population of the city.
James Moore is an Arlington community activist and owner of a 60-year-old neighborhood barbershop in the Hall’s Hill neighborhood.
”Our communities in Arlington will want action more so than just conversation,” Moore said.
Moore said he would like to see the county support Black people living in the community by providing more mental health and housing resources.
Dorsey saw community health and housing disparities from last year’s research and hopes the DRE process will address them too.
County officials will continue to collect DRE questionnaire responses until Dec. 31.