Arlington, VA

Bold posters inscribed with “Black Lives Matter” prompted a raucous symphony of honks from passing traffic at a busy Arlington intersection.

The conductor directing the clamor at Wilson Blvd and George Mason Drive on a weekday evening last week was Bob Edgar, who is no stranger to advocacy.

Edgar and his son Leteane Monatsi, along with a handful of supporters, have been drawing attention for weeks — in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd — by waving flags and signs saying “Black Lives Matter,” “HONK” and “Together We Rise.” In light of the death of civil rights leader and Georgia Congressman John Lewis, the pair also added a sign saying, “Honor John Lewis.”

The father and son duo, both in motorized wheelchairs, are committed to spreading their message and have protested at the intersection since the death of Floyd on May 25 and plan to keep coming out to the intersection for many months to come. They’ve been at it despite sweltering temperatures and the ongoing pandemic.

“We thought the best way to express our feelings was by coming to this street corner,” said Edgar. “Our whole intent in doing this is really to keep the issue of Black Lives Matter in front of people in this area.”

When the pair initially started coming out to the street corner during the evening rush hour, Edgar said they had “no idea how people would respond.” However, the most common reaction to their demonstration was to honk in support. From there, the pair added a bold “HONK” sign to encourage the response.

“We call this the Million Honk March,” said Edgar.

He said on an average day they will hear hundreds or even thousands of horn honks, ranging from a single honk to “going berserk.”

Edgar and Monatsi have gained some recognition since they began appearing at the intersection. As they go to and from their house, people will stop them on the street, eager to talk about issues, according to Edgar.

“It’s rewarding because we’re doing something that we think is a modest contribution,” said Edgar.

Edgar, a retired Howard University professor, has taken part in many movements over the years. He got his start protesting the Vietnam War, and then began working on South African issues and anti-apartheid demonstrations.

Edgar wants people who drive by to think about what their “Black Lives Matter” banner signifies at this moment in history, and what the country has gone through to get to this point in time.

“It’s not only about Black lives mattering now, but it’s about the history of our country,” said Edgar. “We’re addressing historical legacies as well as the present.”

Photo by Madeline Taylor

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After a successful food and toiletry drive last month, Clarendon Presbyterian Church plans to hold monthly food drives to help the Arlington community.

Last month, the church collected 105 boxes and bags of donations at its food and toiletry drive, exceeding expectations. In total, they raised more than $5,200 worth of products.

“Based on the demand, and the incredible community response, we’ve deciding to plan drive-thru collections each month,” said John Gunn. “So far, we’ve scheduled collections through October. “

The church will hold the next drive-through collection on Aug. 15 from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m. at 1305 N. Jackson Street.

The donations went to organizations that help the homeless in Arlington, according to the church. Food donations were directed to Bridges to Independence in Clarendon, which supports families with children. Toiletry donations were directed to the Residential Program Center at Columbia Pike, which supports single adults.

To ensure COVID-19 safety, masks are required and no social interaction is permitted at the donation site.

Those interested in donating can send questions to [email protected] or call 703-527-9613.

Photos courtesy of John Gunn

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When Air Force veteran Michael Emery went to pick up his dry cleaning from First Virginia Cleaners for the first time since the outset of the pandemic, he knew the economic fallout of the shutdown hit close to home.

The store at 2929 S. Glebe Road was dark, the air conditioning was off and owner Chantra Chet had tears in her eyes as she explained to him how poorly business was going. That’s when Emery, the longtime customer of Chet’s, knew he had to act.

Emery, an Arlington resident, created a GoFundMe campaign to support the store, which is located in the Arlington Ridge Shopping Center. Revenue at the dry cleaning business has plummeted as much at 80%, according to Chet, as office workers stay at home and formal wear stays in closets.

“It’s really helped me a lot,” Chet said of the fundraiser. I don’t know how I can thank him for what he did for me.”

The GoFundMe’s goal is currently $20,000, but Emery said that number was ambitious. He feels that even raising enough to pay for a month of her rent would be a success.

So far, Emery has posted to different community Facebook groups around the neighborhood to garner support. His fundraiser has reached a wide audience, and he’s even received donations from other states. Since the fundraiser was launched on July 9 it has collected more than $3,000, with contributions still growing.

This is not the first time Chet has faced adversity. She moved to the United States from Cambodia as a refugee from the Khmer Rouge in 1982, despite not speaking a word of English, and has been working in the community for more than 35 years. She was able to buy her dry cleaning business after working there for 14 years and has been running it ever since.

Right before the pandemic, Chet had spent her entire life savings on purchasing a second location to house all the dry cleaning equipment, according to Emery, adding that when the coronavirus pandemic hit, her business was “decimated.” He noted that because business was struggling, Chet could no longer afford air conditioning or electricity. To make matters worse, her landlord increased her rent to $9,000 per month.

Dry cleaners around the country are suffering a similar fate. What had been considered a safe, steady business is not among the industries hardest hit by the pandemic.

“There were no proms this year. No bridesmaids. No men in tuxedos. All that, gone,” one owner told CBS News. “We’ve been through every economic downturn. But this?”

A software provider to the industry said that dry cleaning revenue is still down about 50% on average, and was down even more earlier in the pandemic, according to the article.

Emery described Chet as very warm and friendly, especially to her customers.

“Once you peel back the layers you see that she is incredibly hardworking and patriotic, and just very caring,” he said. “She is the embodiment of the American Dream.”

Emery hopes Chet can gain support either through donations or more business.

“At a time when people are so politically divided… I feel like she represented everything that is good about this country,” said Emery. “This felt like something very small that I could do.”

Photo via GoFundMe

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Clarendon Presbyterian Church is holding its second drive-through food drive and toiletry collection Saturday to support Arlington homeless shelters.

The drive-through will run from 9 a.m. to noon at the church (1305 N. Jackson Street).

The church is asking for specific, top priority food items. These include rice, boxed cereal, applesauce, juice and packaged healthy kids’ snacks. They request that the kids’ snacks are unopened and not prepared.

The food drive supports residents of Bridges to Independence in Clarendon, according to a statement from the church.

The toiletry collection encourages donations such as toothpaste (regular and travel-sized), toothbrushes, men and women’s razors, deodorant (regular and travel-sized), new men’s underwear sizes XL through 3XL, new women’s underwear, new socks, combs/brushes and bar soaps.

The toiletry drive will support 35 individuals living at Residential Program Center on Columbia Pike, according to the statement.

The church is implementing COVID-19 safety protocols by requiring masks and discouraging physical interaction. They are offering a curbside drop-off location outside the church for donations.

Photo via Clarendon Presbyterian Church/Facebook

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(Updated at 8:35 a.m.) The line wrapped around the church, dozens of people deep. One woman waited 45 minutes and still hadn’t reached the front of the building while a volunteer lapped the church, passing out water to those waiting in the sticky heat.

On Wednesday morning in the Green Valley neighborhood, Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church (2700 19th Street S.) again teamed up with D.C.-based celebrity chef Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen to serve meals to those in need. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the church has seen the number of families it helps grow.

In the past, families would gather inside Father Ray Hall for treats and coffee. There were around 200 families that would participate, and the gatherings created a close community feel. Since then the number of families has increased to an average of 630, and the indoor gatherings have moved outside in order to comply with social distancing guidelines.

On Wednesday, World Central Kitchen served more than 3,580 meals to those in need at the church.

This is the second time the nonprofit and the church has worked together. The first time was on May 22 when 3,200 meals were served.

“I heard that it was very good. They really enjoyed having something… it’s like having a restaurant come to them,” said Sally Diaz-Wells, the church’s social justice and outreach minister.

The church normally holds weekly food drives on Wednesdays, gathering groceries and commonly needed food items such as bread, meat, and cheese, as well as shelf-stable items like pasta, beans and mac and cheese for the kids.

“We try to have low-sugar foods and high-protein foods in each of our bags,” said Diaz-Wells.

To provide a safe experience on Wednesday, the church placed 6-foot markers on the sidewalk in front of the building to guide people with social distancing. Organizers also ensured contactless pickup by placing the bags on chairs 6 feet away from both the entrance to the building and the rest of the line, and calling recipients forward when it was their turn. They also offered masks and required 100 percent mask-wearing.

Those interested in donating food to the church find a list of items on its website. Financial donations are also accepted.

Diaz-Wells emphasized the importance of the staff’s health to keep the food drives running each week.

“We’ve been blessed. We’ve been healthy and safe since the beginning,” she said.

Photo by Jay Westcott

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(Updated at 8:10 p.m.) Wakefield High School senior Kidus Sebil’s photograph “Half a Man” has won the Congressional Art Competition in Virginia’s 8th District.

A panel from the National Art Education Association selected Sebil’s photograph out of dozens of other student works, according to the Office of Congressman Don Beyer. Sebil was notified of his victory in a congratulatory call from Beyer.

Sebil said that the photo was in black and white to highlight the details while also emphasizing the country’s current black and white division. The boy’s face was half-covered by the tree as further symbolism.

“Being an African American male in America can often feel like you’re only worth half that of a white man,” said Sebil.

Winning artwork will be displayed in the U.S. Capitol for one year, according to the Congressional Art Competition website. However, the Congressional Institute and Architect of the Capitol are still evaluating the timeline and logistics around COVID-19 restrictions and procedures, Beyer’s office said.

The Congressional Art Competition is held each spring, accepting participants from high schools across the nation. Winners are recognized by their district and at an annual awards ceremony in D.C.

Beyer said that Sebil’s photography “speaks very powerfully to this moment,” and he believes people will be moved by this image once the Capitol building is open for visitors.

“At a time when so many are decrying the painfully slow pace of progress towards equality, justice, and the rejection of racism, this picture is powerful and moving,” said Beyer.

Photo by Kidus Sebil, courtesy of the Office of Congressman Don Beyer

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