Arlington, VA

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

I have always been fascinated by leadership. Studies often focus on important aspects of leadership including authenticity, influence, and communication.

Another common theme that I have recently observed is more focus on courage, especially for women. Whether it’s “leaning in,” “courageous leadership” or confronting your fears, successful leaders address their inner doubts and external criticism, and use their voices and talents for good.

Interestingly, leadership advice can sometimes come from the most unlikely sources. In early March I attended the Junior League of Washington’s Women’s Leadership Summit with Carly Fiorina as the keynote speaker. Ms. Fiorina has recently started consulting with nonprofits on leadership. Regardless of her political ideology, I believe her message of encouraging women leaders to confront their fears is compelling.

I recently heard an interview with Jennifer Lopez where she discussed learning how to not internalize criticism she received early in her career. It is an inspiration to know that a former presidential candidate/Hewlett Packard CEO and talented dancer, actress and international celebrity have challenges with finding the courage and confidence to ignore the 24-hour news cycle and negative online commenters and continue living up to their full potential.

Amid our current COVID-19 reality, opportunities for leadership abound. Some of our leaders are stepping up to the plate, and others are faltering. During a recent interview on COVID-19, a health professional admitted that she is scared, but she must leave that at the hospital door. She can’t effectively serve her patients if she is afraid.

A March 27 article by Aisha S. Ahmad in The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that we should recognize that life has been changed forever by COVID-19. We may slowly start to return to work, dine in restaurants, exercise at the gym, and meet in large groups in a few weeks, but we won’t ever forget this experience.

Sometimes it’s easy to only remember the negative aspects of a traumatic situation. I personally hope that I never forget how I am marveling at the countless health professionals, grocery store workers and other essential personnel whose names we will never know, who bravely battle the pandemic. Or how I admire the leadership in Arlington: those starting community corps and Facebook groups, the entrepreneurs who innovatively pivot to new business models to keep their employees working, the nonprofits that collaborate for those most in need and even local leaders who are both praised and criticized for every decision.

I don’t ever want to forget the spirit of community I felt when I left a roll of paper towels outside the home of a total stranger in Fairlington who posted in the Facebook group “Arlington Neighbors Helping Each Other Through COVID-19 “because I purchased a large pack from Costco a few months back. Or that I was moved to get off my couch and dance around my living room after being inspired by a DJ who was live-streaming hip-hop and 90s music from his basement to raise money and secure matching chicken donations for those on the front lines during the pandemic.

When we begin our post-pandemic lives, I lament that the fear, death, isolation, nonsensical press conferences, persistent media, and any missteps by our leadership will remain in our psyche. We are all applauding the courage of our community today. On the other side of this pandemic, my hope for our community is that the “Arlington Way” will encompass people who have the courage to allow both our individual and collective experiences to transform us into a permanently courageous community.

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 month I led a conversation in Loudoun County to determine how a group of committed women activists could best serve our community.

One of the attendees shared her experiences of a teacher mishandling a racial situation involving her son. The next day I received an email from the Arlington NAACP asking for more details from Arlington Public Schools (APS) on the “current policy and procedures for staff, students, and families to report acts of discrimination and bigotry.”

While I know Arlington is not immune to racism, Loudoun County tends to get more local media attention around racist incidents including KKK flyers and confederate war monuments.

Sometimes it’s easy to believe that living in “progressive” Arlington means that we have less racism, but the moniker can be misleading. The lasting disparities and discrimination that can be found in almost every sector of our society is proof of the prevalence of racism. Racism still exists, yet I believe we have the power to eliminate it.

A September 22, 2019 Washington Post article, “Arlington schools were named best in Virginia, but a growing chorus of black parents is disrupting that narrative” highlighted the Black Parents of Arlington’s concerns about the APS disparities noted that 2015 federal data show that Black students accounted for 29 percent of Arlington’s in-school suspensions while making up 11 percent of the school population. Hispanic students made up 41 percent of suspensions but were just 28 percent of the population.

At a recent meeting of the African American Leadership Council of Arlington we discussed an incident at Wakefield High School in which swastikas were found on the building. ARLnow has also reported incidents in the last few years of racial graffiti and stickers.

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

In 2020 we commemorate the centennial of women gaining the right to vote, and last month Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

It is natural to analyze how far we have come in the years between 1920 and 2020, and what should be done in the next 100 years to reach full equality.

In 1920, most white women were allowed to vote, along with select groups of non white women. Today, most women of all races enjoy the right to vote.

Over the years the number of women in elected office has increased, despite the challenges. According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, the number of Democratic women challenging incumbents in 2018 for the U.S. House of Representatives increased nearly 350% from 2016.

According to the National Committee on Pay Equity, in 1963, women who worked full-time, year-round made 59 cents on average for every dollar earned by men. Today, while white women earn 80 cents on the dollar of what men earn, Black women earn $0.61, Native American women earn $0.58, Latina women earn $0.53, and Asian women earn $0.85.

While I do not have data on pay equity in Arlington County, Alexandria conducted a study which found that female city employees earned 94 cents for every $1 earned by their male peers. (The article notes that it does not appear that many local governments come close to this small gap in wages.)

In Arlington, women have succeeded in political and civic leadership. Approximately 40% of the civic association presidents are women, and several women (primarily white) lead our nonprofit and business entities including Leadership Center for Excellence, Arlington Community Foundation, Arlington Chamber of Commerce, Rosslyn BID, Crystal City BID, and the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization. At least 10 women have served on the Arlington County Board. To my knowledge, all have been white. On the School Board, at least 26 women have served, including at least three Black women and two Latina women.

Despite progress in voting rights, electoral politics, leadership and pay equity, sadly, violence against women and sexual discrimination have characterized the gender gap in the United States and across the globe, particularly in the last few years. The U.S. Department of Justice reports that approximately one in four homeless women is homeless because of violence committed against her. While I have never been a victim of sexual assault, the #MeToo movement was impactful to me because it adds a personal face to the sobering statistics.

In September 2019 I spoke to a group of university students about the “Power of Sisterhood” among women of different racial groups. One of the Black female students asked me if we are Black first, or women first.

As we celebrate the centennial of the 19th amendment here in Arlington, and I see photos of white women in traditional sashes and suffrage garb, that does not tell the full story of the fight that my Black ancestors waged for their rights. That is why it is important for me to be involved in several different centennial celebrations and portray the diverse voices of the movement. I am proud to say that the story we tell today picks up where my history books left off.

Over the next 100 years, I believe it will take all of us speaking up, and providing a space for different voices to be heard. While we definitely want to see more equality, I believe it is also an internal question. For me personally, it is an everyday feeling of being respected, heard and seen equally as both a Black person AND a woman (over the next 100 years, we should not have to choose unless we want to!) — living, playing, working, and leading, in Arlington.

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.

I recently did something which may be considered a faux pas among social media users.

The “People You May Know” section on Facebook had gotten on my last nerve. I have designed a very specific Facebook experience for myself. I don’t like reminders or requests. I check messages and handle any action items which create notifications quickly, just so I do not see the notification. (I do realize this is odd!)

I had approximately 4,600 friends, and the limit is 5,000. I randomly added about 400 friends so I would reach the limit and avoid enduring the “People You May Know” section while I scrolled on my Facebook timeline.

While most of the people with whom I have shared this think it’s the stupidest thing someone can do (who wants a bunch of random people to see their posts or better yet, why do you want to see their random posts?), it has been a fascinating experiment. It has forced me to get comfortable with being uncomfortable each time I see a post contrary to my long held beliefs.

In 2006 I graduated from the Sorensen Institute of Political Leadership at the University of Virginia. One of the basic principles of the organization is to bring together people who “have a wide variety of viewpoints and backgrounds but want to work together for the common good.” I relished the opportunity to hear different perspectives and to have my own ideas challenged. So much so that when I started Virginia Leadership Institute in 2006 to increase the number of Black elected officials, it was important to me that the organization was non-partisan.

While the majority of African Americans identify with the Democratic Party, if we are focusing on electing the most qualified African Americans who will create public policy which helps all African Americans advance, we must recognize the value of diverse perspectives at the table.

On Facebook, when I meticulously selected friends who I either knew personally, or knew people I knew, I predictably agreed with the majority of what they posted. With my new influx of “friends,” I quickly began to notice ideological differences in everything from politics, to what they felt comfortable posting on Facebook (some of these comments and memes are straight out of the 1950s in terms of the sexist tones.)

It is tempting to unfriend them, or unfollow them, but being confronted daily with opinions which are so far from what I would ever believe or entertain, is important. That “discomfort” comes with a constant reminder that there really are people who think that way, and they have supporters who like, love and laugh at their opinions and inappropriate humor.

I recently took an unpopular position publicly and have been chastised for it, to include rude and inappropriate behavior in public. I was surprised because I expected more from the person. Living in a progressive Democratic community, I had hoped that disagreements would be treated differently.

When members of our community react negatively when we disagree, it creates an unhealthy dynamic. Arlington’s public engagement norms for the most part provide ample opportunity for dialogue, but what happens afterwards? How are you treating people on the “winning” or “losing” side? Are we coming together to rationally discuss our differences? We will not grow as a community if we don’t learn to respectfully disagree, and truly understand each other’s perspectives.

This month, I challenge you to find at least one person who you disagree with on an issue and just talk to them about it. Listen to their ideas. 2020 is sure to bring a number of challenges throughout Arlington. We will not always agree on the best way forward, but the final solutions will likely be a combination of perspectives, with a dash of discomfort along the way.

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 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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