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Community Matters: A Journey to “Building Community” in Arlington

Community Matters is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Building community can be one of the most challenging and rewarding actions that a group of people can undertake. For the last 15 years of my life as a resident of Arlington, I have made a conscious decision to take part in that challenging process.

When I moved to Arlington in 2004, I admit that I did not deliberately choose Arlington. My real estate agent found a condo in the Arlington Mill (formerly known as Columbia Heights West) community that was in my price range. I was promised that this neighborhood would soon see changes under the Columbia Pike revitalization plan, and I assumed that I would move to a larger property in the near future.

Over the years the neighborhood has grown substantially. Do you remember the Safeway where the Arlington Mill Community Center used to be, and the Arlington Mill Community Center that was there before the renovated center?

Initially, Arlington was just a place I laid my head down at night. I attended my first Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) meeting around 2006, where I was welcomed, but wondered why there weren’t more minorities in attendance. I managed a local campaign in 2007 and the work I did on that campaign – from canvassing in North Arlington, to meeting supporters at events and getting to know the people of the Democratic Committee, helped me feel more a part of Arlington.

I stayed involved in ACDC and served on the boards of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, A-SPAN, the Arlington Mill Civic Association, and the Commission on the Status of Women. I graduated from Leadership Arlington in 2010 (the best there has ever been!) and worked as the Director of Outreach for congressmen Jim Moran and Don Beyer. I currently serve on the Board of the Arlington Community Foundation.

With each role, program, and activity, I learned a little more about the place I now call home.

Along my journey to help build the Arlington community, I have learned more about Arlington’s past. We should be proud of our history of being the home of Freedman’s Village after the Civil War, and our role in standing firm against massive resistance.

I am also a member of the Junior League of Northern Virginia (JLNV), formerly known as the Service League of Arlington. The first Black members of the Junior League joined around 1980. The JLNV has a rich history and counts among our successes a number of accomplishments in Arlington. As I reflect on my journey, I can’t help but note that I would not have been welcomed as a member of the Service League of Arlington in 1958, despite how we currently view our history of that time.

We may have come a long way since 1958, but we still have a long way to go. The data on the geographic disparities in Arlington is disturbing. According to an ARLnow article in October 2018, research “reveals that where children are born in Arlington can have a decades-long ripple effect on their futures, with kids in the county’s more ethnically diverse neighborhoods growing up to make less money and end up in jail at higher rates than their counterparts.”

For me, community engagement has been a personal, professional and civic journey. A manifestation of a desire to connect more, give back more, learn more, and help Arlington be “more.”

This column will seek to explore what “community,” diversity, inclusion and engagement means in Arlington. While not always perfect, we are constantly striving to be an inclusive and progressive enclave that has enough “soul” to compete with the best of them.

Krysta Jones has lived in Arlington since 2004 and is active in local politics and civic life. This column is in no way associated with or represents any person, government, organization or body — except Krysta herself. 

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