Alexandria, VA

Morning Notes

Online Maintenance for Library — “Due to service maintenance, on Wednesday, October 23 between the hours of 12am and 6am, Library customers will not unable to access databases or library accounts.” [Twitter]

New Generation for Le Refuge — Since 1983, the family-owned Le Refuge restaurant has served French cuisine at 127 N. Washington Street. Now a new generation of the family is taking over the beloved local institution. [Gazette Packet]

Catholic School Celebrates Anniversary — “Back in 1869, the Basilica School of St. Mary opened its doors to 40 students – 20 boys and 20 girls. These days, 150 years later, the Catholic school is at capacity with 711 students and waiting lists for most grades except kindergarten. On the weekend of Oct. 18, the school celebrated its past with an anniversary weekend that included a family day and alumni dinners.” [Zebra, Alexandria Times]

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Descendants of the men who led the 1939 Alexandria library sit-in plan to meet tonight for a panel discussion examining how the event impacted their families.

At the Beatley Central Library (5005 Duke Street) at 6:30 p.m., relatives of protestors William “Buddy” Evans and Morris Murray are scheduled to discuss the event and some of the lingering impacts, followed by a question and answer session.

In 1939, five young black men entered the library separately and asked to register for a library card. When each was refused, they picked up a book, took a seat, and began to read. Library staff called the police, who arrested the men for disorderly conduct.

Samuel Tucker, a local lawyer who had helped plan the protest, contacted a photographer who documented the event. Tucker had the men released but used the case as part of a legal push for integration.

Charges were officially dropped this past Friday, after it came to light that the case was never adjudicated so the men had never been declared innocent or guilty. Copies of the judge’s order are planned to be presented by Mayor Justin Wilson to descendants tonight.

The case ultimately resulted in the construction of the Robert H. Robinson Library — today the Alexandria Black History Museum — though Tucker continued to fight for equal access to the library.

Photo via City of Alexandria

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(Updated on 10/16/19) Some Alexandria Library patrons are browsing more than just books: these days they’re also checking out discussions about death.

Hannah Risley, the librarian at Duncan Library, is in charge of adult programs from dance workshops to movie nights to book clubs. But last year, she wanted to try something different.

“Essentially what a Death Cafe is you come and you discuss death,” said Risley. She told ALXnow she got the idea from the D.C. Public Library, which also runs a version of nationwide discussion group, as does Arlington Public Library.

Attendees to the library program sit and discuss anything related to death while Risley provides “light moderation.” Over the past year, she said groups of nurses and EMTs have talked about end of life care, while others have come in to chat about estate planning and the afterlife.

The next meeting will take place on Saturday, November 23 from 3-4 p.m. People interested in attending the free event are encouraged to register online.

With an average of 25 people joining each month, Risley says attendance is “bonkers” and that the Death Cafe has become her most popular program. Most people are “curiosity” walk-ins, drawn by the name and the Dia de los Muertos skull on the library flyer. Others have been referred there by a local therapist handing out flyers.

Risley emphasized the Del Ray library program is not a therapy group, but said talking about all things death can help “release nervous energy” about the taboo topics.

It’s also inspired another Death Cafe program at the Charles E. Beatley, Jr. Central Library.

Beatley librarian Andrea Castillo hosted her first death discussion in January after attending one of Risley’s and one in D.C.

“I was very curious about attending that first one, but I was also afraid to tell people about it because I thought people would think I was strange or morbid or obsessed with death,” she told ALXnow.

Since then, she’s organized half a dozen of the group discussions where she says attendance has been “widely variable” with as many as 15 adults, and as few as four. Her most recent meeting in August attracted 10 death-discussers. Over the past year members have talked about confronting the reality of losing loved ones, green burials, and what end-of-life doulas can do to help.

Back at Duncan, the library provides Risley the event space for free, and guest speakers volunteer their time so the program’s cost is low. Risley uses the kettle from her wedding shower to make tea and pays $30 a month out of her own pocket to bake cakes for the attendees.

“Nothing speaks to a gathering of the living more than the sharing of food and drink,” she quipped.

At Beatley, Castillo says she spends about $10-$15 per session with the funds covered by the Friends of the Beatley Central Library, and occasionally her colleague librarians, Stacy Arth has volunteered to bake cake.

The discussions at Duncan prompted Risley to start compiling the information into a hand-out for patrons. The document contains resources from how to talk about end of life plans to defining do-not-resuscitate orders, to free and low-cost services to make wills. In the future she hopes to expand and post the document online.

“Next year I will try something new and try a death-themed book club,” added Castillo. “Before my August death cafe I read Atul Gawande’s ‘Being Mortal‘ and several of the attendees had also read and enjoyed the book.”

Castillo’s next Death Cafe sessions are from 7-8 p.m. on Wednesday, October 23 from 7-8 p.m. and December 18.

Both librarians told ALXnow that holding the group has also helped them personally.

Castillo completed a graduate certificate in applied thanology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore this year, and said between her studies and the group she’s found it’s not so weird to be interested in death after all.

“Trying to imagine the dying process and life going on without me is still hard for me to wrap my head around. However, as I’ve gotten more open to talking about it, I find that others are in the same boat,” she said. “I want to help make death less taboo to talk about. It’s going to happen to all of us one day. Let’s talk about that! Let’s explore it! Let’s face our anxieties and fears together!

Risley’s mother-in-law was diagnosed with advanced cancer last year before later going into a full remission.

“I feel like I was probably the most prepared daughter on the face of the planet to tackle that,” said Risley, adding that “the goal as laid out by Death Cafe is the more you ask about it, the less you worry about it.”

Image courtesy of Andrea Castillo 

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Morning Notes

Suit Filed Over Chicken Slaughterhouse — “The drama over the halal poultry butcher shop coming to Alexandria did not end when city council approved the business’ special use permit on March 26… About a month after the SUP approval, 10 businesses and residents filed a lawsuit against the City of Alexandria and the Alexandria City Council over the decision.” [Alexandria Times]

FBI Releases 2018 Crime Stats — “In Alexandria, violent crime fell from 262 to 260. That includes four murders and nonnegligent manslaughters, down from six in the previous year. Alexandria had 2,482 property crimes total in 2018, the same number reported in 2017.” [Patch]

Saturday: Hispanic Heritage Fiesta — “Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with music, crafts, food, dance and face painting! All ages. Children under age 8 must remain with their adult at all times.” [Alexandria Library]

Update on First Phase of VT Campus — “Virginia Tech is looking to start building the first part of its $1 billion innovation campus — a 300,000-square-foot academic building — by August 2021… The design for the school is expected to be finished by September of next year. The estimated total cost for the building: $275 million.” [Washington Business Journal]

Sentencing for Robbery Suspect — “A man involved in an armed burglary and robbery at a veteran’s home in Alexandria has been sentenced to 25 years in prison.” [Patch]

Chamber Fetes Top Local Businesses — “The Alexandria Chamber of Commerce held its annual Best in Business Awards, presented by Burke & Herbert Bank, at The Westin Alexandria last night to recognize and celebrate the city’s top businesses.” [Alexandria Times]

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Alexandria cyclists will be able to enjoy a leisurely, 13-mile bike tour of the city’s libraries this weekend.

The city’s seventh annual bike tour of libraries returns this Saturday, October 5 with a two hour ride departing from and returning the Charles Beatley Central Library at 5005 Duke Street. Families are encouraged to attend, although children under the age of 13 must be attached to their parent’s bicycle (with seats or on a tandem.)

Attendance to the event is free, but online registration is required.

Participants are asked to check-in between 9:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. at the library on Saturday, with the tour beginning at 10 a.m. The ride is expected to last until 12:30 p.m.

Cycling joining the tour are asked to bring their own helmets. Water and snacks will be provided, per the event’s webpage.

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