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Racial Inequities Must Be Fixed, Say Alexandria Officials and Residents

Kamryn Powell is tired of feeling scared when she goes outside in Alexandria. The T.C. Williams senior says that recent killings of black Americans at the hands of the police around the country have made her fearful for her safety.

“Honestly, it’s completely heartbreaking,” Powell said in a virtual meeting with community leaders on Tuesday. “It makes me feel unsafe in my own country. For me to have to wake up and say, ‘I hope I make it back home today,’ is not something I should have to say. It’s not something my brother should have to say, it’s not something my sister should have to say, and for me to even think that is appalling.”

Powell’s comments were echoed by a number of leaders representing the city, including U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, City Councilman John Taylor Chapman, Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., Police Chief Michael Brown and the city’s Racial and Social Equity Officer Jacqueline Tucker.

Warner said he wanted to listen and learn, and that it is a frustrating time to be in Congress. He also criticized the president for ordering a recent use of force against protestors outside the White House.

“I used to be governor, but I’m also a fellow Alexandrian and I’m really proud of the voices I’ve heard tonight,” Warner said. “Our system doesn’t always work, God knows. I work in the U.S. Senate right now. I have to watch what happens down at the White House on a regular basis. I can assure you it is extraordinarily frustrating… when the President the United States uses tear gas to break up protesters so he could go over and hold a Bible in front of a church for a photo op. That is not who we are as Virginians, and Americans.”

Addressing Inequities

Tucker said the average income for African American households is $55,800, which is well below the median family income of $118,000.

“One in 10 Alexandria residents are living in poverty, and one in five children in Alexandria are living in poverty,” Tucker said. “58% of our ACPS students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, and in some schools, over 90% of the student population are eligible for free and reduced lunch.”

As previously reported, where you live in Alexandria 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.

Last Friday, Mayor Justin Wilson, who did not participate in the meeting, wrote an open letter on social media stating that Alexandria can honor George Floyd by tackling its own deep-seeded racial inequities in housing, health, wealth and education attainment and experiences with the criminal justice system. He also said that the city’s ongoing racial equity initiative will also help lawmakers make decisions with a focus on fairness.

“In many cases, (racial inequities) are actively perpetuated from a legacy from the past,” Wilson told ALXnow. “In some cases they are inadvertently perpetuated. For some we have active efforts to ease those inequities, in our Housing Master Plan, our Community Health Improvement Plan, our workforce development initiatives, the investments in early childhood education, after-school programs and post-secondary education achievement.”

The nationwide social and racial upheaval also prompted public letters from Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan PorterSheriff Dana Lawhorne and Brown.

“As a public official, I have a responsibility to acknowledge the racism that exists in the criminal justice system and to work with law enforcement leaders, local elected officials, and citizens to establish progressive policies and institutions and try to build bridges of trust with the community,” Porter wrote.

Hutchings said that the public school system plays a key role addressing systemic racism.

“I think that we need to start listening to this generation,” Hutchings said. “We have to own that schools are also contributing to systematic racism, from our policies, from our teaching, from our professionals who are employed in our schools, and for how we treat many of our students, particularly those who are black and brown.”

Facing Racism. Demanding Change.

Facing Racism. Demanding Change. Join us to honor George Floyd and share your voice in a virtual town hall.

Posted by ACT for Alexandria on Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Staff photo by James Cullum

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