Jaqueline Tucker’s head is still spinning. After a little more than two weeks on the job, she knows that she has her work cut out for her as Alexandria’s first-ever racial and social equity officer.
Tucker’s calendar is filling up. She’s currently meeting with department heads and just finished training with the department of community and human services. Her initial goal is to ensure that all Alexandria government employees receive racial equity training by the first quarter of next year.
“We’ve had a norm for generations that is white and male, cisgendered, and that is in the psyche of all people of color who have been historically marginalized. This has happened for generations. Our policies and our practices have been designed and set up to perpetuate those systems,” Tucker told ALXnow. “I think it’s in the consciousness of any person of color or any marginalized person.”
Alexandria has made inroads into eliminating racial and social bias over the last several years with its interdepartmental racial equity working group. Until recently, the effort was led by Deputy City Manager Debra Collins, who says that Tucker has ambitious goals.
“We’re all here to help. She’s got an army ready to work with her, and the good news is that the city has been on this journey for the last couple of years,” Collins said. “I mean, think about it. Somewhere years ago somebody said that it was okay to put a maintenance yard over African American graves in Fort Ward, right? That was a government decision at some point in the ’50s or ’60s. Or the gas station that was sitting on top of Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery. That was something that a planning director authorized back in the day.”
Tucker, a native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Butler University and a law degree from Howard University. Her father’s family moved to Michigan from Mississippi because of threats that they were going to get lynched, and she recalls her first taste of racial inequity was when she was 11 years old. She was on a basketball team with local a amateur athletic union league and most of the players on her team were white.
“It was myself and one other black girl,” she said. “This started at about age 11, and my personal belief is that I was one of the better players at the time… but there came like an issue of like, whether I should be a starter and my father said to me, ‘It’s just politics.’ And then for an 11-year-old, you have no idea what that really means, but ever since then I knew I wanted to be involved in politics.”
For the last two years, Tucker was the east region project manager with the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, and, in fact, met many of Alexandria’s leaders when she conducted a half-day racial equity training retreat with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
Tucker says that one thing to expect from her is a holistic race and equity training curriculum for all city employees.
“Race is the number one predictor of how will you do in our country. We can look at maternal mortality, we can look at maternal morbidity, we can look at graduation rates,” she said.
“All of these are vestiges of not just segregation, but racism and systemic and institutional racism from the founding of our country,” Tucker continued. “We’re as segregated or more segregated now then we were during Brown v. the Board of Education in 1954, when we tried to eliminate separate but equal. So, we need to ask ourselves, ‘Why?’ I think part of it is like a cultural phenomenon. And we’ve bought into this idea that some people’s lives are not equal to others. It’s so ingrained into the fabric of who we are in our country and in our culture. That is what we have to undo and dismantle.”
In Alexandria, where you live can have an impact on your lifespan. According to a 2016 study, residents who lived in Seminary Hill neighborhood, for instance, received an average annual income of $187,000 and 95 percent of them have a college education. In the Beauregard area, the average income is $45,000 per year and only 72 percent have a college education. The life expectancy between residents living in the two areas is 84 years for Seminary Hill and 79 years in Beauregard.
“Those who are experiencing less life and health are primarily in areas where people of color reside. And the other ones that are across the street are primarily white. And we have to ask ourselves why? Obviously, there’s a historical context that comes with that,” Tucker said. “My role is to make sure that all Alexandrians benefit from removing barriers to access into opportunity within the city. It’ll be most fulfilling if I can actually move the needle and see this disparities in the gaps start to diminish.”