Community Matters: ‘You Get to Decide what Kind of King (or Queen) You Are Going To Be’

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

On August 28, the world lost an outstanding talent. Actor Chadwick Boseman, known for playing iconic Americans including Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson and James Brown, as well as T’Challa in the Marvel Cinematic Universe film Black Panther, died at age 43.

His career was lauded for several reasons, one being the way he personified influential characters. Black Panther, in particular, has an important symbolism, especially today, a widespread appeal, and inspires people of all ages to embrace Black pride. As an artist, he brought characters alive which inspired us all to learn more.

Governor Northam recently announced that Arlington Public Schools was one of 16 Virginia school divisions where students will have an opportunity to take an African American history elective course. The Virginia Commission on African American History in the Commonwealth recently released their report with recommendations for improving the student experience, enriched standards related to African American history, and necessary professional development and instructional support for teachers. These are long overdue yet welcome expansions to our curricula.

If you have recently been by the Arlington Arts Center/Maury School on Wilson Blvd., you may have noticed that the lawn currently features “Passage”, an exhibit which “explores themes of conflict, marginalization and the power dynamics of race.” According to Arlington Magazine, this exhibit includes 26 ships made of driftwood from the Chesapeake Bay, “evocative of the slave vessels that brought artist Lynda Andrews-Barry’s ancestors to Virginia’s shores centuries ago.”

The Maury School was named after Matthew Fontaine Maury, a U.S. Navy officer who became Secretary of the Navy of the Confederacy under Jefferson Davis. His naval navigation systems “significantly reduced the length of ocean voyages and allowed for more efficient trade and transport–of goods and people.”

On June 9, 1960, a dozen people walked into the People’s Drug Store in Cherrydale (now a CVS) and began a peaceful demonstration for the right of all people to be served at historically white-only lunch counters. Thirteen days later, the F.W. Woolworth store in Shirlington was the first to announce that patrons would be served regardless of the color of their skin.

According to Arlington County, for the last two years, Arlington Arts has been collaborating with the County’s Historic Preservation program and Arlington’s Center for Local History to commemorate Arlington’s civil rights history. They have partnered with printer, book artist and papermaker, Amos Paul Kennedy Jr. to bring attention to the places and events that are often overlooked in our collective memory of Arlington. Mr. Kennedy has been engaging community members and creating art inspired by proverbs, sayings, and quotes that are significant to the place he is working.

These are just two of many examples in Arlington of how our public art provides us with valuable history lessons.

The protests may have slowed, but one doesn’t have to spend more than five minutes on social media or tuned into the news to hear about a new senseless death. It’s up to each of us to take the next step, and continue learning. Whether it be on the silver screen, along Wilson Blvd, or in our virtual classrooms, we have plenty of opportunities to learn more about our shared history as human beings, challenge our current thinking, and inspire us to do better. To quote Nakia from Black Panther, “You get to decide what kind of king you are going to be.”

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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