Arlington, VA

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

Last month I spent eight hours at Arlington Independent Media (AIM) taking an audio production class. I marveled at the backgrounds, perspectives and skill sets that my classmates could bring to the airwaves.

Among us were a female veteran who is a motivational speaker, a filmmaker who has an interest in the women’s suffrage movement, an engineer and writer who focuses on environmental stewardship and historical fiction, and a woman who wants to produce a show about the downside of romantic relationships.

Next year I will be producing and hosting the Arlington League of Women Voters’ (LWV) radio show “Making Democracy Work” through AIM which will explore the importance of exercising our rights, responsibilities and civic duties. The show will feature prominent voices on a number of topics including voting rights, redistricting, General Assembly legislation and the importance of inclusivity in civic engagement.

The radio booth brought back memories of my time in the Peace Corps. While I was serving in Paraguay one of my projects was with the community radio station, Radio Villeta FM. Paraguay was transitioning from a dictatorship to a democracy, and as a champion of free speech, Radio Villeta flourished in this environment. It was gratifying to see the programming that residents produced, and their passion for their community. Regardless of its quality, the radio station was representative of what democracy means to me – open and participatory, a hub for the community, creative, and while often imperfect, always striving to represent the community’s needs.

The LWV was founded in 1920 by suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt at the National American Woman Suffrage Association’s convention. The 19th amendment gave 20 million women the right to vote (although primarily only white women could vote in practice) and the LWV helped them exercise their newfound right. The Arlington chapter has been on the forefront of civic engagement and refining our democracy since our chartering in 1944 and encourages participation.

In the midst of what is happening at the federal level, it’s easy to fear that instead of strengthening our democracy, we are moving in the other direction. In 2018, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich provided these 10 steps to make our democracy work. An underlying idea in these steps is a stronger civil society. Whether its community radio, or the LWV, we keep trying to move towards a more perfect union.

I served in the Peace Corps during the 2000 elections and Bush v. Gore. Day after day when I walked through the streets the neighbors would yell out “Is there a winner yet?” and “Are you rooting for Bush or Gore”? The United States is revered as a model democracy so it was somewhat embarrassing to teach about democracy during this time, but served as a great opportunity to demonstrate that while democracies are imperfect, we keep trying.

The LWV and AIM are only two examples of Arlington’s contributions to a strong civil society. While the national state of affairs may be disheartening, Arlingtonians don’t have to look farther than some of our longstanding institutions to be proud of the work we have done to strengthen our democracy, no matter how imperfect.

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

Last weekend I joined eight women activists for a retreat in Williamsburg, VA to plan the Network NoVA 2020 Women’s Summit. The third annual Summit in 2019 brought together almost 1,000 registrants who were motivated and inspired to build on and create a grassroots progressive movement powered by women.

Arlington County is revered as having an engaged citizenry, yet I would posit that oftentimes the same people are active in different areas of the community. If we want to continue to increase engagement we will need to adopt new methods to address the challenges of the next decade and expand the traditional base of leaders.

This year I managed the Commonwealth’s Attorney campaign in Loudoun County of Buta Biberaj, a previous summit attendee. With this campaign, we were faced with several challenges which included expecting traditionally low turnout in an  “off off year” election, the need to coordinate numerous individual campaigns, grassroots organizations, and party programs, and a desire to make sure state party resources flowed into our races proportionally to neighboring campaigns.

In order to overcome these challenges we felt we had to do something different. Buta’s record of community leadership, her journey to political office, and the role that women played in her campaign and so many others, provide an excellent template and justification for why we should rethink and how we can maximize engagement in Arlington.

The human element. We observed that traditional canvassing protocols (door knocking — the backbone of campaigns) didn’t take into account volunteers’ discomfort with knocking on a stranger’s door, so we provided a training before the canvass. Organizations in Arlington should encourage citizens to provide feedback on current processes and see what works for different types of people. Is meeting attendance low? Maybe the location, time or child care options don’t work for them. Are they fearful of not knowing anyone? Encourage the buddy system. It’s not enough to recognize these concerns, we must also find solutions.

Engagement, like fundraising, is a long term process. You may not get everything you want on the first ask. If you focus on cultivation, like you would a donor, with higher levels of asks over time and engaging them and thanking them each step of the way, you may get them to assume more responsibility. This also requires a coordinated tracking system to follow up with volunteers and participants.

Capitalize on our own resources and retain our institutional knowledge. During the campaign we were tempted to find a celebrity to motivate our base and recruit outside talent to work on campaigns, therefore one of our canvass launches featured local youth and they were amazing! Arlington community members should increase investments in local programs including the Leadership Center for Excellence to groom local talent. We should also invite new leaders to moderate panels and give keynote speeches at our staple community events. When you keep local leaders involved they can also develop and retain institutional knowledge which will eventually result in greater success for us all.

Continue intentional and authentic diversity and inclusion efforts. Organizations and teams are changing procedures and recruiting more diverse candidates and team members. While that’s a great start, these efforts must be authentic. We can’t only engage diverse communities when we need them to check a box. Invite them for all of their talents, not only their “difference”.

In order to continue our record of being an innovative and progressive county, we must embrace new ways of growing our community and rethink traditional engagement.

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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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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Krysta Jones

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s organization or of ARLnow.com.

“When women succeed, America succeeds.

Women play an instrumental role in the U.S economy. Forty percent of American households with a child under the age of 18 depend on a woman’s salary as the sole or primary source of income.  Women are estimated to make more than 70 percent of all retail purchasing decisions, and women investors are the fastest growing sector making investments on Wall Street.

Just-released findings by McKinsey and Company note that efforts to advance women’s economic equality could improve global Gross Domestic Profit by $12 trillion. Since the 1970s, female labor participation has accounted for fully a quarter of the United States’ total GDP growth.

Yet, nearly a century after women earned the right to vote, America still has a gender pay gap. Women of all races and ethnicities working full time, year round in the United States earned an average of only 78 percent of what white men earned in 2013. For black women, it was 64 percent. For Latina women, it was 54 percent. These disparities have a detrimental effect on our families and communities.

On Oct. 10, Rep. Don Beyer will host his first “Women Driving the Economy” conference, aimed at helping women in Northern Virginia acquire the skills needed to succeed professionally, build critical relationships with their peers, and learn valuable lessons from leadership experts.

The event’s keynote speaker is U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet, a pioneer in establishing women in leadership roles in the economy as a public and private sector manager and philanthropic champion. As of 2014, it is estimated that there are nearly 9.1 million women-owned businesses in the United States, generating over $1.4 trillion in revenues and employing nearly 7.9 million people.

Administrator Contreras-Sweet’s keynote delivery will be followed by a plenary panel moderated by Megan Beyer with Judith Warner from the Center for American Progress and author of the 2005 New York Times best-seller “Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety,” local small business owner El Brown and Rebecca Shambaugh, a leadership trainer for women in the workforce.

Following the panel discussion, participants will choose leadership training sessions on a number of topics, including:

  • Interview skills with Mary-Claire Burick, President of the Rosslyn BID;
  • Image and Branding with Sonya Gavankar, Journalist and Co-Founder of HerExchange.com;
  • Resume building with Sonja Henderson and Virginia Lyon of the HR Certification Institute;
  • Social Networking and Career Advancement with Dagny Evans, a senior operations and technology leader;
  • Strategies for Financial Security with Laurie J. Blackburn, CFP® and First Vice President – Investments with the Speck Caudron Investment Group of Wells Fargo Advisors;
  • Salary Negotiation Strategies with Barbara Mitchell, Managing Partner of The Mitchell Group;
  • Mindfulness Exercises with Patrice Winter, Assistant Professor in the Department of Global and Community Health at George Mason University.

This event is free to the public and will be held at George Mason University-Arlington campus, from 8 a.m. to noon.  The address is 3351 North Fairfax Drive and public transportation to and from the Arlington campus is available. Child care is also available. Attendees must register online at https://beyer-womendrivingtheeconomy.eventbrite.com.

Although it is important to cite statistics and talk about the barriers facing women’s economic empowerment, it is even more important to try to do something to help women overcome those barriers. By providing a forum for discussion, fostering networks and developing key skills, we can help women — and America — succeed.

Krysta Jones is founder and CEO of the Virginia Leadership Institute, and in 2014 was named by Leadership Arlington as a Top 40 Leaders Under 40 awardee.

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Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s organization or of ARLnow.com.

Last week I attended the Women’s Campaign School at Yale (WCS). This 20-year-old non-partisan, issue-neutral leadership program works to increase the number and influence of women in elected and appointed office in the United States and around the globe. Several of the speakers repeated the same line all week, “Women are 53 percent of the population…stop acting like we are in the minority.”

Arlington’s own Allida Black, (Eleanor Roosevelt Scholar and co-founder of Ready for Hillary), spoke at WCS about her journey as a child of the civil rights movement to creating a social movement for Secretary Clinton’s candidacy: “Politics is equal part dream, courage, and sheer grit. WCS is essential training for any woman, especially women in Arlington, who want to run for office. It shows in very real ways what decisions you must make in order to fortify yourself, concretize your dream, build your community, and give you the confidence to introduce your vision for an effective community-based party.”

My WCS classmate from Arlington, Natalie Trisilla (program manager for a DC-based nonprofit) concurred. We intend to rely on our vision, courage and grit to use what we learned at WCS to make a difference in Arlington.

Fortunately, Arlington has been a leader in women’s empowerment issues in both the political and business contexts.

For example, The Leadership Foundry, in conjunction with Northern Virginia-based Women in Technology, prepares women to serve on corporate boards. The Leadership Foundry is co-chaired by the Arlington Commission on the Status of Women’s (CSW) Vice Chair Marguerete Luter.

Marguerete has also been a key part of local Congressman Don Beyer’s efforts to promote women’s economic empowerment. In May, Congressman Beyer introduced the Gender Diversity Investment Act, which would provide federal employees the freedom and flexibility to invest their retirement savings in companies that demonstrate a strong commitment to gender diversity and women’s economic empowerment.

The progress of women leaders in Arlington was the focus of CSW’s Women of Vision reception on June 11, honoring women who have made an impact in Arlington in the government, nonprofit and business sectors.

CSW awarded its government award to Karen Darner, who served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1991 to 2004. Delegate Darner set an example that continues today. Our County Board is chaired this year by a woman, Mary Hynes. In November, the ballot will reflect continued engagement by women leaders. Incumbents on the ballot will include Barbara Favola (State Senate), Ingrid Morroy (Commissioner of the Revenue), Carla de la Pava (Treasurer), and Theo Stamos (Commonwealth’s Attorney). Among other women running for office will be CSW member Katie Cristol (County Board candidate).

Notwithstanding Arlington’s successes and programs like WCS and the Leadership Foundry, women still continue to lag behind in political and corporate leadership, both nationally and throughout Virginia. Women represent only about 19 percent of the U.S. Congress. In Virginia, about 20 percent of our state senators, and 25 percent of our state delegates are female. Recent research shows that women hold only about 17 percent of the board seats at Fortune 500 companies, and about 15 percent of senior executive positions.

There is much discussion about the women’s vote, but not as much recognition of the key role of African American women in electoral politics. As Jessica Byrd, formerly of Emily’s List, has noted, since 2008, Black women voters have the highest turnout percentage in electoral politics.

Although Arlington has never elected an African American woman to the County Board, we have elected African American women to the School Board, and African American women are active in other positions of leadership. CSW gave its nonprofit award this year to Sarah Summerville, long-time community leader and cofounder and president of the African American Leadership Council of Arlington.

CSW awarded its business award to Mary-Claire Burick, President of the Rosslyn Business Improvement District (BID). Among other women serving as President of leading business groups in Arlington are Kate Roche (Arlington Chamber of Commerce) Angela Fox (Crystal City BID) and Tina Leone (Ballston BID).

I am proud to say that in Arlington, we generally don’t act as though women are in the minority. Our progressive values have led us to elect and promote women to the highest levels of leadership. Hopefully, Arlington’s leadership can help our state and our nation to put even more cracks in our glass ceilings.

Krysta Jones is founder and CEO of Virginia Leadership Institute, former chair of the Arlington Commission on the Status of Women, and a member of both the Leadership Foundry and the Junior League of Northern Virginia.

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

Krysta JonesOur community and our society are becoming more aware of and educated about the issue of sexual assaults. This is, in part, due to high-profile cases that have drawn increasing press attention, including national media stories involving the military, college campuses and the National Football League. This issue is a difficult one, with many facets. But it is one that we must address fully and fairly.

According to whitehouse.gov, “Young women… face the highest rates of dating violence and sexual assault. In the last year, one in 10 teens have reported being physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend. One in five young women have been sexually assaulted while they’re in college. While men compromise a smaller number of survivors, male survivors are no less important.”

Locally, Arlington data shows there were 201 sexually related offenses with reported victims in 2011. As is generally true, victims of sexual offenses in Arlington have been predominantly female.

As a single woman living in Arlington, it is something I think about a lot. A few years ago there were disturbing incidents on Arlington’s recreation trails, one by my home. I made the difficult decision to alter my exercise routine, but was pleased with how the county and citizen groups came together to respond to the incidents and address the broader safety issue.

As many of these crimes are not reported, it is hard to know for sure whether there has been an increase or decrease in assaults from year to year. Yet one thing is clear: in 2015, it is imperative that Arlington’s progressive values guide our work in preventing, raising awareness, and addressing sexual assault.

Fortunately, Arlington County has a history of addressing difficult community concerns, and it is responding to the issue of all-too-frequent instances of sexual assault. For example, during my term (2011-2014) on the Arlington Commission on the Status of Women, one of our top priorities was addressing sexual assault and rape.

One priority was establishing a local hotline for sexual assault incidents. Before now, the county’s only hotline for sexual assault incidents was the Virginia Domestic and Sexual Violence Action Alliance in Richmond. Although answered 24/7, the hotline’s location prevented those in urgent need of an immediate response from being connected with a County Violence Intervention staff person for assistance.

In Arlington’s FY 2015 budget, funding was included for a hotline in Arlington. As chair of the Commission on the Status of Women, I was proud to join organizations like Project Peace in supporting an Arlington-based hotline.

According to the county website, Arlington’s Violence Intervention Program (VIP) provides survivor services including safety planning, hospital accompaniment, or support when contacting law enforcement. The VIP program is also committed to preventing abuse from occurring by providing programs to a broad range of adults and adolescents. The VIP also offers consultation and training to allied professionals on the issue. Read More

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

Krysta JonesArlington is grappling with issues common to communities with urban areas. We can remain inclusive and value diversity as we progress and seek to remain competitive, but we must consider the importance of affordable housing as part of that competitive edge.

The need for affordable housing evokes different images — providing shelter for families in need; allowing lower-income workers to live closer to their jobs and to transit, promoting economic activity without adding to congestion; encouraging greater diversity and inclusion; aging in place without having to give up one’s home as real estate prices rise; strengthening and stabilizing communities; and, for some, housing “projects” and crime.

Arlington has attempted to maintain affordable housing as the cost of living has increased. In 1975, AHC, Inc., began working as a nonprofit affordable housing developer. In 1989, the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing was founded to develop and preserve quality rental communities for individuals and families earning approximately $20,000-$60,000 per year.

Housing is considered affordable when rent or mortgage, plus utilities, is no more than 30 percent of a household’s gross income. Across the nation, an estimated 12 million renter and homeowner households pay more than 50 percent of their annual incomes for housing. In 2012, average rents in Arlington increased to $1,999.

One must make generally make 60 percent or less of the area median income to qualify for affordable housing, which in Arlington is $45,180 for a single person.

Arlington County provides affordable housing by expanding the supply of Committed Affordable Units (CAFs) for low-income residents, and offering Market-Rate Affordable Units which are owned by the private market and tend to have higher monthly rents.

According to a 2011 literature review by the Center for Housing Policy, “the development of affordable housing increases spending and employment in the surrounding economy, acts as an important source of revenue for local governments, and reduces the likelihood of foreclosure and its associated costs.”

In 2012 the County commissioned a three-year task force to create a shared community affordable housing vision, but not everyone is happy with the direction of affordable housing in Arlington.

  • Although it ultimately failed, in 2013 the Arlington Green Party (AGP) spearheaded a ballot initiative to create a low income housing authority. In a 2013 Washington Post article, AGP chairman Steve Davis noted, “…a housing authority would raise funds more easily, lower administrative costs, and provide more affordable rental units.”
  • The County offered developers more density for their projects if they preserved 6,200 units of affordable housing on Columbia Pike as a part of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Plan. It is unclear whether developers will still be interested in building and preserving affordable units in light of the recent streetcar project cancellation.
  • Under the Public Land for Public Good program, the county identified three to five publicly owned sites with the greatest potential for affordable housing development in the next 10 years. Yet, the Long Range Planning Committee of the county Planning Commission recommended that the program be “set aside” and the Arlington County Civic Federation is asking the County to start over — both citing a need for more public input.
  • Additionally, Columbia Heights West, the civic association that encompasses the new Arlington Mill Residences, is an advocate for more affordable housing in Arlington, but questions the high concentration of affordable housing in some neighborhoods. Early drafts of the Affordable Housing Working Group study included a provision to ensure more affordable housing throughout the county, but it was deleted by the Long Range Planning Committee.

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

Krysta JonesArlington is a community that has strong tradition of women in leadership positions — in businesses, government, nonprofits and electoral politics.

Carrying on that tradition is something that we cannot take for granted. Fortunately, our community creates opportunities to promote leadership and career opportunities for women.

Recently, the Arlington Commission on the Status of Women, Ballston Business Improvement District, Living Vicky and the Arlington chapter of the National Organization for Women held the 2014 Women in Business Conference titled “Women in Non-Traditional Careers.”

It was a good opportunity to network and listen to panelists in nontraditional careers for women: financial services, law enforcement, entrepreneurship, and corporate executive positions.

Moderated by Maureen Bunyan of ABC7, the panel engaged the audience with personal experiences, words of advice, and thoughts on encouraging women to pursue nontraditional careers.

I believe that we can learn those lessons at a young age. My father tells a story about when I was 2 years old. One minute he was watching me in the front yard and the next minute I was gone. He soon found me at a playground we frequented down the street. Although he helped me to understand risks, he also encouraged me to want to get back to that playground!

I imagine all of the dynamic women panelists have similar childhood stories of independence, taking risks and setting goals, just like I did in wanting to get to the playground.

The event ended with a raffle for an “Entrepreneur” Barbie. Despite her faults, the Mattel doll introduced in 1959 has had nontraditional and empowering careers — astronaut, politician, surgeon, and football coach. In that admirable way, Barbie has been a model for girls and boys to be open to and comfortable with seeing women in all types of careers.

Fortunately, I grew up at a time when women were increasingly encouraged to explore all careers. That helped me decide to go into the “nontraditional” career of politics. In 2014, fewer than 25 percent of elected officials at the federal level, in statewide office, and in state legislatures are women, and only 40 percent of all school board members are women.

A 2013 Huffington Post article cites Census Bureau reports that the leading occupations for women in 1970 were secretaries, bookkeepers, and elementary school teachers. In 2006-2010, the leading occupations, similarly, were secretaries and administrative assistants, cashiers, and elementary/middle school teachers. Leading jobs for men were also similar in 1970 (miscellaneous managers, truck drivers, and production supervisors) and today (truck drivers, miscellaneous managers, and freight, stock, and material movers).

Moderator Bunyan noted that her profession — journalism — has seen increasing numbers of women over time. She remembers when sexual harassment and discrimination were acceptable behavior. Today, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act offers protection to individuals encountering gender-based discrimination such as sexual harassment and direct requests for sexual favors, as well as workplace conditions that create a hostile environment for men or women.

According to Norma Carr-Ruffino, an expert on women in management, economic need drove many women to work. She credits affirmative action for redefining the cultural acceptance of working women and giving people an opportunity to “experience women and minorities in roles that they thought they could never be good at.” Read More

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

Krysta JonesAs we watch the events in Ferguson, Mo., unfold, I am thankful for the progress we have made in Arlington to create a more diverse and welcoming community. I am even more determined that we work together to foster civic engagement and leadership opportunities for African Americans and to honor the historic contributions of African Americans in Arlington and all Arlingtonians who have worked to eliminate discrimination and expand opportunity.

Since I was younger than I can remember, I have watched documentaries on the American civil rights movement. Growing up in the 1990s, my mother made sure I understood the struggles and accomplishments of African Americans in our country and also how far we had to go as a community and a country.

These early conversations and experiences shaped my philosophy about civic engagement. I have wanted to do everything I can to repay those who lost their lives and sacrificed so much for me to go to integrated schools, use the same bathrooms as everyone else, and live in any neighborhood I wanted to make my home.

Not long ago, things were very different.

In 1954 the Supreme Court ruled that American schools should be desegregated. In defiance of the Court, our state government in Richmond chose to work actively to prevent integrated schools.

In the midst of Virginia’s “massive resistance” efforts, the NAACP filed a suit on behalf of Arlington parents and students. Judge Albert V. Bryan ordered the Arlington schools to be desegregated. In 1959, four Black students entered Stratford Junior High School (now H.B. Woodlawn) with the protection of Arlington police officers, changing our history forever.

Since the 1950s, the struggle for full equality has changed. While our schools are legally desegregated, African Americans are still not fully represented in political leadership.

I founded Virginia Leadership Institute (VLI) in 2006 with the goal of increasing the number of African American elected officials in Virginia.

African Americans are 20 percent of the Virginia population and approximately 8 percent of the population in Arlington, yet only about 250 African Americans across the Commonwealth hold elected offices (county boards, constitutional officers, school boards, city councils, state legislature, Congress).

VLI believes that our elected and appointed officials should be diverse in age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and the like.

We believe that residents can be represented effectively by someone different than themselves, yet VLI also believes that one’s background, experiences and characteristics can provide different perspectives that are important as leaders seek to represent and discover solutions for growing and changing communities in Arlington, and throughout Virginia.

VLI, based in Arlington, focuses on teaching African Americans skills needed to win elections and govern successfully. VLI also provides personal leadership consultations to assist them on their life journeys.

In 2014, there are many who question why an organization would focus on helping one group of people get elected to office. Yet current events show us that diversity in leadership continues to be an important element of creating safe and healthy communities as well as addressing crises. Read More

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

Krysta JonesThink for a second… how would you describe “the status of women?”

In Arlington, we have a Commission on the Status of Women that helps foster a community conversation about the status of women and how best to advance their interests in our community and society.

Arlington follows the lead of President John F. Kennedy, who in 1961 created the first Presidential Commission on the Status of Women.

Chaired by former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, the commission studied employment policies and practices, political and civil rights, and “services for women… including education, counseling, training, home services, and arrangements for care of children during the working day.”

The resulting 1963 report noted a need for “increased access to education for women, aid to working mothers, child care services, equal employment opportunities, equality of rights under the law, and a wider role for women in government.”

Today, most would agree that the status of women has improved, but issues such as political leadership, pay equity, and the continuing prevalence of rape and domestic violence remain relevant.

Fortunately, Arlington has taken a leading role in addressing these issues.

Rape and Domestic Violence. In 2011, the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a survey of rape and domestic violence and found that nearly one in five women surveyed said they had been raped or experienced an attempted rape. One in four reported having been beaten by an intimate partner.

As the Arlington community works to reduce violence against women, it is good to see the County remains dedicated to helping survivors. In the FY 2015 budget, the County Board funded a new sexual assault hotline in Arlington. The County also helps support social service groups that assist survivors, including Doorways for Women and Families.

This builds on long-term County efforts that have helped to reduce and address the effects of domestic violence. Through the efforts of leaders such as Barbara Favola, Arlington developed Project Peace — a coordinated community response to domestic violence.

Women in Politics. These days, the media has constant coverage about Hillary Clinton and whether she will seek to become the first woman president. While there are more women engaged in politics than the celebrated “Year of the Woman” in 1992, national numbers remain low. Women occupy only 18.5 percent of congressional seats; and minority women occupy only 4.5 percent of those seats.

Yet research shows that when women run, women win. That is particularly true in Arlington, where women hold top leadership spots as County Board and School Board members, Commissioner of Revenue, Commonwealth’s Attorney, and state senator.

Historically, women have played a key role in Arlington politics — from Elizabeth Campbell on the School Board to pioneering legislators like Mary Marshall and Elise Heinz. County Board leaders Ellen Bozman and Mary Margaret Whipple were key Metro board members and leaders in Arlington’s groundbreaking smart growth planning.

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