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Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

By Cheryl Moore

Like many people, I was deeply moved by the racial justice protests that marked the summer of 2020. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I didn’t feel comfortable marching in large groups, but I knew there had to be a way for me to make a difference. What could I do, using the experience and resources that I already had?

The answer began to emerge as I was preparing for a meeting of the Mount Olivet Foundation, which has a more than 50-year history of providing grants and loans to students pursuing higher education. The foundation president and I discussed the tumultuous events of the summer, both expressing our wish to do something that would promote equity in our own community. Then we had an idea: maybe the foundation could establish scholarships exclusively for Black or Latinx students. Perhaps this could be a tangible way to address unequal access to post-secondary education that restricts career choices and earning power for many young people of color.

We then convened a group of board members to develop the scholarship parameters and begin raising funds for the Mount Olivet Foundation Equity Scholarship. This was a new venture because preference for receiving foundation grants had usually been given to applicants with financial need who had a connection to Mount Olivet UMC or to those committed to serving the United Methodist Church.

For the new scholarship, however, we planned to reach out into the wider community. We discussed the difference between “equality” — treating everyone the same way — and “equity” — recognizing that many young people of color often encounter unique obstacles to obtaining higher education and need different opportunities and resources.

With a goal of providing substantive support for students who demonstrated significant financial need, particularly if they were the first in their family to attend college, we came up with an award of $5,000 per year, renewable for four years. A generous foundation board member offered to match contributions up to $50,000. Donations arrived, and we soon had almost $100,000.

Dotty and Jim Dake, who for many years had supported the work of the Mount Olivet Foundation, were early donors. Jim said, “The murder of George Floyd jolted us out of our complacency, and our study of the effects of systemic racism in Arlington led us to want to do more.”

The foundation made its first award in June 2021 to a young Black woman from Arlington who now attends Northern Virginia Community College. The plan is to continue fundraising so the fund will become an endowment that will benefit her and other students well into the future. “We see the Mount Olivet Foundation’s equity scholarship as a small but tangible step toward racial justice in our community,” said Jim Dake.

With this action, we hope to begin to remedy some of the effects of racism and, more recently, of the pandemic. The loss of lives and livelihoods during the pandemic has been felt profoundly. Some Black and Latinx families have had to choose between paying for rent and food and writing a check for college tuition. Some students saw their grades decline when they were forced to balance their own academics with supporting the schooling of younger siblings, thereby missing opportunities for merit-based aid.

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Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

By Cheryl Moore

In times of tragedy and uncertainty, those of us who are part of faith community often turn to that community for comfort and support. But since mid-March, turning to your faith community often meant turning on your computer and logging into Zoom.

The staff at Mount Olivet United Methodist in Arlington began preparing for disruption in early February upon hearing news about the strange new virus. The initial plans to figure out contact-less communion went out the window on March 12 when large gatherings were banned for health safety reasons.

Moving quickly is not the norm for many religious institutions, but when Covid-19 hit, things had to change immediately. And that has had implications for faith communities.

Times of crisis can also be times of opportunity and growth. Faith communities that are willing to provide new points of connection, experiment with new initiatives, and build community partnerships will likely prove resilient and more relevant.

Prioritize communication and connection

Mount Olivet associate pastor Teer Hardy related that he and other staff were first inundated with questions about the virus. He said that seminary didn’t train him about what to do in a pandemic, but it did train him in “connectedness.” Keeping its members feeling connected became goal one.

Mount Olivet expanded its Sunday worship online, and added online Sunday School, youth activities, and email devotionals. Volunteers made weekly check-in calls to older members. Callers found many seniors felt isolated even before the pandemic, so this initiative will likely continue.

Worship attendance has been surprisingly high. Said senior pastor Ed Walker, “Even members who haven’t been very active have been attending.” And one Sunday School class reported that a class member who is temporarily working in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, gets up at 2:00 a.m. their time to join the class via Zoom.

For some in the Jewish community, however, technology has its limits. Rabbi Lia Bass, of Congregation Etz Hayim, explained that Shabbat services in her Conservative congregation cannot be live-streamed, because it would entail use of electronics, which is not allowed on Shabbat. Services on Thursday mornings and classes on Sundays are now live online, offering new opportunities for the community.

Our Muslim neighbors had the additional challenge of celebrating Ramadan, the holiest Muslim holiday, from April 23-May 23. The observant fast all day, and a nightly gathering with food and prayers at the mosque is an integral part. Those communal activities had to be canceled.

Hurunnessa Fariad, the outreach/interfaith/media coordinator at ADAMS (All Dulles Area Muslim Society) Center, said that she and her colleagues realized that social media was the most effective way to connect with its members. They quickly ramped up daily communication, reminding people to stay at home. “In the Muslim faith, saving a life is even more important than communal prayer,” Fariad said.

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Progressive Voice is an biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

By Cheryl Moore

Every year from Thanksgiving through year-end, my mail fills up with pleas from various nonprofit organizations — for financial donations, groceries or holiday gifts for low-income families in Arlington.

Nonprofits’ posts on Facebook and Twitter remind me that, despite Arlington’s wealth, many people still struggle with needs like food, housing, education and employment.

“We have over 28,000 people in Arlington living on $35,000 for a family of four,” says Anita Friedman, director of Arlington County’s Department of Human Services.

While our holiday donations help in the short-term, just throwing money at a problem isn’t necessarily a progressive solution. To reduce disparity, we need to fundamentally tackle the root causes that are keeping some in our community from achieving stability and success.

Making systemic change supports employment, education and health care–some of the tools needed as a springboard to self-sufficiency. Here are just a few examples.

  • Building a better future for Arlington residents living on the edge is the goal of the Bridges Out of Poverty Leaders in Arlington’s nonprofit sector, Arlington County staff, and the Arlington Community Foundation are collaborating on lifting families out of poverty by coordinating resources in health, mental health, employment, child care, education, housing and social capital. This goes beyond just day-to-day stabilization.
  • La Cocina VA is a culinary training program for un-employed and under-employed immigrants. Students graduate with the practical skills and English-language proficiency that help them secure higher-paying jobs in the food service industry.
  • Just Neighbors provides legal services that enable low-income immigrants and refugees to gain the legal status they need to work, so that they can support themselves and become self-sustaining members of their communities.
  • R.E.A.D. (Read Early and Daily) offers families in need a free book a month for each child between birth and five years old. They also promote family literacy by sponsoring family reading playgroups.
  • APAH (Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing) is partnering with Edu-Futuro to prepare high school students for college and careers through skill-building in writing and public speaking.
  • Arlington Free Clinic‘s “Filling the Gap Campaign” aims to triple the number of low-income clients who receive dental care. Because many diseases that start in the mouth can cause life-threatening illness and chronic conditions, proper dental care has an enormous effect on health and well-being.

“Change is happening, but it takes time,” said Arlington County’s Friedman. “Coalitions of nonprofits such as Bridges out of Poverty have been bringing the voice of the poor to the forefront so that our approaches to helping people are informed by their day-to-day realities.”

Each of us can also help promote systemic change. Consider first steps such as:

  • If your employer has an ongoing relationship with a local nonprofit, ask what can be done in addition to hands-on, practical assistance. Your company may be able to offer help with strategic planning or other ways to address root causes of a problem.
  • Urge your elected officials to make job training and education that support low-income individuals a priority in the County budget and hold them accountable.
  • Support legislative efforts that enable jurisdictions like Arlington to set a minimum wage higher than the $7.25 per hour mandated by the federal government. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology living wage calculator, the annual income it takes to raise three children in a household with two working adults in Arlington is over $92,000. You can also support Sen. Barbara Favola’s (D-31) bill to provide paid sick leave for the 1.2 million Virginians — mostly low-income–who do not receive it.

It’s still important to support Arlington’s vulnerable residents by contributing to safety-net programs. As Charlie Meng, director of the Arlington County Food Assistance Center said “During the month of December, we must raise over 25% of our annual goal.”

Yet we also need to focus much harder on affecting long-term transformation. Creating a more hospitable and equitable environment for everyone who lives here requires getting behind strategies that offer a springboard to a better future.

Cheryl Moore is an active community member and volunteer who has lived in Arlington since 1983.

Editor’s note: A few Progressive Voice columns, including this one, will be publishing outside of the new biweekly schedule, following our column changes earlier this fall.

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Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Cheryl Moore

After the elections in November 2018, my friend Judy asked me if Virginia employers are required to give their employees time off to vote. A friend of hers had been dismayed that her employer wouldn’t let her leave early so she could get to the polls. An hourly wage earner, she had tried to vote when the polls first opened, but the long lines would have made her late for work.

Arlington has an enviable voter turnout record–82% in the 2016 presidential election and 71% in 2018–but that conversation made me wonder if our elected officials and governments could be doing more to ensure that every eligible voter can exercise her Constitutional right to vote.

Mandate paid time off to vote?Although some states require that employees receive time off to vote, Virginia is not one of them. This puts some potential voters–often hourly workers who do not have much control over their schedule–at a disadvantage.

During Virginia’s 2019 legislative session, Del. Elizabeth Guzman (D-Dale City) introduced HB 2130, to require that employers give their employees two hours of paid time off to vote. Unfortunately, the bill died in the House Commerce & Labor Sub-Committee with a vote along party lines.

Of course, voters may vote absentee by mail if one of several reasons apply, and in Arlington, in-person absentee voting is available before elections. But this doesn’t help someone like Judy’s friend who had fully intended to vote on Election Day and had her plans stymied.

Simplify absentee rules and add voting sites?

The number of Arlingtonians voting absentee in recent elections has risen dramatically. In the November 2018 elections, absentee turnout was the highest ever for a non-presidential election with 20,753 ballots cast (8,198 by mail and 12,555 in-person). With legislation passed in 2019 by the General Assembly, Virginians in 2020 will be able for the first time to vote early–from October 24 through October 31–without needing to provide a reason.

Early and by-mail absentee voting will help reduce lines and crowded parking, which sometimes discourage people from voting on Election Day. Gretchen Reinemeyer, Arlington’s new registrar, told me that her office is already working to improve the absentee in-person voting experience in 2020 by moving the voting machines into a bigger space in the County Government building and adding two additional early-voting sites elsewhere.

Tailor outreach to a changing Arlington population?

The population of potential voters in neighborhoods like Crystal City and Pentagon City is booming, with more high-rise apartments coming on the market and Amazon arriving. Reinemeyer pointed out that many young professionals moving into Arlington are harder to reach via traditional communication methods. “We need to change our messaging to younger voters and make sure they know the options in simple language–in-person, by mail or online–choose your own adventure!” she said.

Make it easier to register and vote?

Los Angeles is making dramatic changes that will take effect in March 2020. Los Angeles County is transitioning from polling places to vote centers, which will allow voters to cast a ballot at any vote center in the county over an 11-day period. Same-day registration will be available.

Allowing same-day registration or shifting from precincts to vote centers would require legislation from the Virginia General Assembly. The same is true for “automatic” registration done when citizens get a driver’s license, so that they must opt out if they do not wish to register. Automatic registration leads to cleaner voter registration rolls because it updates existing registrations with current addresses.
The optionof signing up through DMV is available now in Virginia, but it has been a paper-heavy process that has left room for errors.

Virginia did make some changes in years past, including online registration, with a DMV-issued ID, and pre-registration, which allows individuals younger than 18 to register so they are eligible to vote when they turn 18.

Despite what states and localities can change to improve ease of registration and voting, some people still shrug and say their vote doesn’t make a difference, especially in non-presidential elections. But democracy depends on the willingness of every citizen to express an opinion by voting. If you care about climate change or gun control, local development decisions or school achievement gaps, the time to make voting a habit is now. Let’s keep working to make every step of the process even better.

Cheryl Moore, a Westover resident, has been a faithful voter since she turned 18. She has lived in Arlington for 35 years.

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Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Cheryl W. Moore

(Updated at 9 a.m.) Several years ago, my then 13-year-old son announced that he had been hit by a car on Washington Blvd. in Westover. He quickly added that he wasn’t hurt; a car had lightly tapped him when he was riding his bike. That memory came back to me when I heard that Arlington County is collaborating with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) on repaving a portion of Washington Blvd in the Westover neighborhood near where I live.

A lot has happened in the years since my son’s incident. New retail establishments have made Westover a magnet for more visitors, and there are more walkers, drivers and cyclists on Washington Blvd. Reed Elementary School will undoubtedly add to the congestion when it opens in 2021.

All of these factors raise the likelihood of accidents involving pedestrians, cars and bicycles. Last fall, a woman was struck by a car while she was in a crosswalk, resulting in serious injuries. That accident spurred many calls for improvements on this busy street.

While Arlington County takes safety concerns seriously, staff also know that Arlington residents want to be involved in decisions affecting their neighborhoods before they are set in stone (or in this case, asphalt). The challenge is how much and what kind of public engagement, for which kinds of projects, will be most effective. County staff say they are trying to be clearer about expectations for community involvement.

The Westover repaving project is one example of how county staff are trying to engage the community more effectively. When staff learned that Washington Blvd was going to be repaved between N. McKinley Road and N. Frederick Street, they saw an opportunity to improve lane striping, replace crosswalks and add bike lanes. A routine repaving project might generally involve communicating with the community. However, the Department of Environmental Services (DES) staff determined that this project required a higher level of involvement, due to multiple uses of Westover Shopping Center and the project’s potential to change the character of the road.

Community members had feedback opportunities at two open houses at the Westover Library, a “pop-up” at the Westover farmers market, and via an online survey (which garnered 900 responses). Not surprisingly, the main concern was for greater safety, including better visibility of pedestrian crossings.

Three different proposals included such elements as high-visibility crosswalks, bike lanes on one or both sides of the street, back-in parking and reducing the number of parking spaces. From the final plan submitted to VDOT, it’s clear that community feedback had an impact. For example, the back-in parking concept was not favored by a majority of the community, so it was eliminated. It was also decided to include a bike lane only on the eastbound side of the street.

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Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Cheryl Moore

In August, I travelled to Dilley, Texas, to volunteer for a week with immigrants who are seeking asylum. The South Texas Family Residential Center, 80 miles south of San Antonio, houses 2,400 women and children, most from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, who were apprehended by border patrol agents when trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t speak Spanish very well, but when I heard from an attorney friend about this opportunity, I felt compelled to go. With so many stories in the news about family separation, detention and the cruel treatment of immigrants at the border, this was my chance to “do something,” even if I didn’t know exactly what I would be doing. I wanted to be a witness to what is happening to immigrants coming to the U.S. amidst this unwelcoming political climate.

Along with other volunteers with the Dilley Pro Bono Project, my mission was to help women prepare for their Credible Fear Interview (CFI) with asylum officers. Receiving a “positive” after their interview means they are freed from detention (after paying a bond or submitting to wearing an ankle monitor) and can begin the long process of seeking asylum, as is their legal right under U.S. law.

It was not an easy week. We worked 12-hour days, filled with non-stop activity, noise and, often, tears.

For much of the week, I helped women fill out basic forms. As I showed them where to write their name, date of birth and other details, I learned part of their story. The answers to questions on the forms also offered clues about wrenching decisions some of the women had had to make when deciding to leave their country.

Some mothers asked, “Do I only put the name and birthday of the child who is here with me?” Clearly, many had had to leave another child behind. As a mother myself, I couldn’t imagine making that choice.

Other volunteers spent the week helping women prepare for their CFI by asking them to recount the testimony they would tell the asylum officer. Why did they leave their country? What persecution did they face there? What might happen if they went back home?

The extreme danger and violence our clients described was appalling — gangs, rape, death threats, kidnapping, extortion. We learned more about the culture and government of the countries that these women were fleeing, and about the extreme poverty and inequity that contribute to crime and lawlessness. It was clear that these women were escaping from systems that would never protect them. They were victims, not criminals; yet they were in a detention center.

With many CFI interviews looming toward the end of the week, I was asked to do some CFI preps on my own, working with an interpreter by telephone. Thanks to the in-depth training we received and wise counsel from the Dilley Pro Bono Project legal staff, I was able help two clients. It is not often that I feel I’m holding someone’s fate in my hands, but I did that day.

After I returned home, their faces swam before my eyes as I tried to go to sleep at night. Fortunately, I was able to check on their status and it appears that they both have been released from detention, and presumably are now with family or friends as they proceed through the asylum-seeking process.

While I may have helped some women start a new chapter in their lives, I will never know how their stories unfold. As with all mission work, the difference is in me. The women I met are part of my story now.

Back in Arlington, I will never look at the woman from Central America standing next to me in the supermarket line without contemplating her story. I will wonder what happened to make her leave her birthplace, and I will pray it wasn’t as bad as some of the stories I heard in that Texas detention center.

Above all, my week at the detention center reminded me that immigrant detention and family separation are more than just policy issues. They are human issues.

Cheryl Moore has lived in Arlington for 35 years. She has been a volunteer for Arlington Public Schools, her church, civic association, the Arlington Community Chorus, and many nonprofit organizations serving the Northern Virginia community. She continues to work on her Spanish language skills.

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