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Community Matters: Taking a Second Glance at History

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

This year, I was honored to be named a 2021 “Strong Woman in Virginia History”, along with four other outstanding Virginians, including fellow Arlingtonian Evelyn Syphax. I must admit that the award challenged my idea of history and how we celebrate.

I was impressed by looking at past honorees that the Library of Virginia and Dominion Energy, the program sponsors, seem to have consistently recognized Virginians at all stages of their lives.

The program is designed to engage students by providing a class of school aged children  an opportunity to speak with the awardees, and learn more about their lives. The Library also sends posters featuring the honorees to schools and libraries throughout the Commonwealth.

As we reflect on Black History Month and embark on Women’s History Month, I challenge you to think about your process of viewing, teaching,  promoting, and integrating history into your leadership roles, throughout the year.

Look at history holistically and critically

I was speaking with someone last weekend and they noted that people tend to look at recent history, and not consider how we got to that point. History can also be complex. For example, we are taught about the Civil Rights Movement without understanding the short term progress made during Reconstruction. If you are trying to strategize about how we move forward as a nation, you should understand both.

Avoid compartmentalizing

For so long, we have forced all the black history into February, only highlighted women during March, etc. We should use these months as a reset or kickoff to  yearlong commemorations and discuss how we can integrate knowledge learned throughout the year.

Focus on living history

We should continue to celebrate those who are currently living and making history. Examining their accomplishments in real time is instructive, and can also add another dimension to our study, by viewing them and their work as evolving, instead of static.

Make it relevant

When we have an opportunity to discuss or commemorate a historical event, compare it to current events, or have a discussion about how it may be similar or different. For example when discussing social services or early transportation planning, we might continue to mention leaders like Ellen Bozman, and use that opportunity to reflect on the challenges she faced and her contributions.

Remind youth that they are making history

We should do even more to focus and celebrate youth accomplishments, and what they mean in the context of current events. When recognizing community members, we should consider also honoring a youth, and even including their perspective on the nominating committee.

Include a community engagement perspective

Many of our organizations honor people who are making history, and similar to the Library of Virginia’s Strong Men and Women of Virginia History award, we should consider how we will educate people about their accomplishments beyond a press release or awards ceremony.

Many of us are excited about and pressing for rapid change. I fear that change won’t happen unless we get everyone up to speed on what we have already experienced. It is critical that we put our current challenges in context, or history will truly be forced to repeat itself.

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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