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Actor Leon Preston Robinson (via Facebook)

Black resistance is the theme of the upcoming Virginia Black History Month Gala in Alexandria.

Actor, singer and producer “Leon” Robinson will be the keynote speaker for the annual event, which will be held at the Hilton Mark Center (5000 Seminary Road) on Friday, February 24, and Saturday, February 25. Robinson performed roles in “The Temptations,” “The Five Heartbeats,” “Cool Runnings,” “Above the Rim,” and as Little Richard in the 2000 film “Little Richard.”

The gala will also honor civil rights pioneer Betty Kilby Fisher Baldwin, who successfully sued the Warren County Board of Education to attend Warren County High School in the 1950s.

“African Americans have resisted historic and ongoing oppression, in all forms, especially the racial terrorism of lynching, racial pogroms, and police killings since our arrival upon these shores,” said the Virginia Black History Month Association, which is hosting the event. “These efforts have been to advocate for a dignified self-determined life in a just democratic society in the United States and beyond the United States political jurisdiction.”

Tickets to attend the two day event cost $45 to attend virtually, $95 for general admission and $160 for adult VIPs.

The schedule for the event is below.

  • Black Health Health Fair — Friday, Feb. 24, at 4 p.m.
  • Relationship Seminar — Friday, Feb. 24, at 6 p.m.
  • Black Vendor Showcase — Saturday, Feb. 25, at 5 p.m.
  • The VIP Social with Keynote — Saturday, Feb. 25, at 5 p.m.
  • The Virginia Black History Month Gala — Saturday, Feb. 25, at 6 p.m.
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Garden portion of The Rectory set up as music venue during the pandemic in 2020. (via Classical Movements)

At the height of the pandemic, Classical Movements held weekly open-air concerts with world-renowned musicians in their “Secret Garden” in Old Town North.

Business is slowly returning to its hectic pace for Neeta Helms, the organization’s founder, as she and her staff organize trips around the world for some of the biggest classical musical acts in the business. The touring company has worked in 147 countries, and produces more than 50 annual musical tours, as well as hundreds of concerts.

“For us, this garden became the sign of spring and hope,” Helms said.

While the weekly concerts are no more, there are still monthly performances at the Secret Garden.

“It was never about the money,” Helms said of the Secret Garden concerts. “For 50 distanced people at $40 a person, that’s $2,000, while we have the concert master of the Philadelphia Orchestra, concert mistress of the National Symphony Orchestra, as well as the principal and second violin, the principal viola and principal clarinet play with us. If musicians of that caliber, who play in the greatest concert halls in the world and the Kennedy Center and are back playing every week to play in our garden, that should tell everybody something.”

Classical Movements, in June 2020, was one of the first venues in the region to open their doors for live performances. Between June and December 2020 alone, they hosted 40 socially distanced one-hour-long concerts, with a few noise complaints from neighbors.

“The first violinist in the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, before he played, said that he hadn’t played to a live audience for 15 months,” said Johan van Zyl, the company’s senior vice president. “As he was saying that, I was sitting on the side of the stage in the back and I could see his lip quivering. He was so emotional about the fact that he was playing to a live audience. That’s the moment for me where I thought we’re doing the right thing.”

The venue has also become a popular spot for weddings.

“What shocked us about Covid was that the music was singled out as one of the most dangerous things to do,” Helms said. “Choirs were identified right from the get-go, and performing music became this lethal activity. For us, we had 40-or-so tours all over the world that we had to cancel. We had to try to figure out how much money we could get back and give to our clients, which is a huge amount of money. Really what was at stake was millions of dollars.”

Helms said that the travel industry is at the whim and fancy of plagues, weather and international relations.

“We were affected by SARS and had to put tours on hold in China, or there was MERS, or there was a volcano erupting in Chile and we had to bus people 18 hours to get to a performance in Argentina,” she said. “On September 11, 2001, we had the New York Philharmonic itself flying back home from a residency in Braunschweig, Germany, and all flights were grounded until we could get everyone home four days later.”

Bucking trends musically is commonplace for Helms, whose first touring concert in Moscow’s Red Square in 1992, right after the fall of the Soviet Union, was attended by 100,000 people. The event was conducted by Russian defector Mstislav Rostropovich and featured the National Symphony Orchestra and the Choral Arts Society of Washington.

“For us in Red Square (in 1992), what was marvelous was being mobbed by people,” she said. “It was like touring with Elvis or the Beatles, because anyone in this Russia who met us gave us flowers and notes, and thanked us for the miracle of actually having music on Red Square, as opposed to demonstrations with tanks. By presenting music, it was a surprisingly revolutionary event, in hindsight.”

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A magical apothecary tour will materialize in Old Town next week, just in time for the holidays.

The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum (105-107 S. Fairfax Street) is hosting the annual event on Friday, Dec. 16, and fans of J.K. Rowling’s books can learn about her inspirations in the muggle field of botanical science. Visitors will learn about fumigating pastiles, sweet marjoram and cuttle fish bone, among others.

The tour explores the apothecary and “the historic muggle medicines that inspired the Herbology and Potions of Harry’s wizarding world,” according to the City.”

The event sells out quickly and is recommended for adults and kids eight years old and up. It will be held on Friday, Dec. 16, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tickets cost $15 per person, or $10 for Office of Historic Alexandria members.

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The Del Ray Christmas tree and menorah lighting, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022. (staff photo by James Cullum)

In case you missed it, the lighting of the Del Ray Christmas and menorah was packed on Sunday.

The evening was full of families and friends caroling with hot chocolate with marshmallows.

NBC$ Washington reporter Pat Collins made the countdown to light the 30-foot-tall tree at Pat Miller Neighborhood Square, along with Santa Claus, Kate Moran of the Rainbow Rock Band and members of the City Council. Santa Claus was escorted to the event by the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office.

“Who wants snow for Christmas? Collins said, and started to chant, “We want snow, we want snow!”

Collins said he’d see what he could do, and brought along the official Pat Collins Snow Measuring Stick for publicity photos.

“Who wants snow for Christmas? Collins said, and started to chant, “We want snow, we want snow!”

Collins said he’d see what he could do, and brought along the official Pat Collins Snow Measuring Stick for publicity photos.

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It was an unseasonably warm 60 degrees on Saturday afternoon (Dec. 3) in Old Town for the Campagna Center’s 51st Scottish Christmas Walk Parade.

The parade is one of the most popular events in the city, bringing thousands of participants, including Irish dancers, historic reenactors and the City of Alexandria Pipes and Drums. It is considered the highlight of a weekend full of events.

This year’s grand marshal was former City Council Member Del Pepper.

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Got your kilt ready? Alexandria’s Scottish Christmas Walk weekend is back.

Former City Councilwoman Del Pepper will take center stage as the grand Marshal of the 51st Alexandria Scottish Christmas Walk Parade. Record crowds are expected for the parade, which is free to the public and features dozens of Scottish clans, dancers, bagpipers and the City of Alexandria Pipes and Drums.

While the parade is the main attraction, the weekend of events is capped off Friday night (Dec. 2) with the Campagna Center’s Taste of Scotland at the Torpedo Factory Art Center. It cost $200 for a single ticket and $375 for two tickets for the party, which includes “whiskey-tasting stations, hors d’oeuvres, beer and wine bars and a custom art exhibit,” according to the Campagna Center.

The Scottish Christmas Walk Parade

The one-mile-long parade starts at 11 a.m. at the intersection of Wolfe and St. Asaph Streets, and travels north to Queen Street, then turns right (east toward the Potomac River) on Queen for three blocks, turns right on Fairfax Street, right on King Street and then concludes at the reviewing stand in front of City Hall (301 King Street).

“Bagpipers include the Kiltie Band of York and the City of Alexandria Pipes and Drums plus a bagpiping Santa closing the parade,” Visit Alexandria said. “A pipe band and color guard will be presented by St. Andrew’s Society of Washington, D.C., which is a charitable and social fraternity of Scottish descendants established in Alexandria in 1760, and a founding parade partner along with Campagna Center and the Old Presbyterian Meeting House.”

Not to be missed — at the conclusion of the parade, a number of pipe bands play in unison in front of the reviewing stand.

Santa at The Torpedo Factory

After the parade, the Torpedo Factory Art Center will host a holiday festival.

The event starts at 2 p.m., and art enthusiasts will have an hour-and-a-half before the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Santa and Mrs. Claus will be sailed by a fire boat to the city’s pier — just outside the Torpedo Factory — at 3:30 p.m.

Holiday Boat Parade

Keep pocket warmers handy, because the festivities end with the Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights on Saturday night.

More than 50 boats will sail in this year’s parade, which is sponsored by Amazon.

Enjoy dockside festivities in Waterfront Park including a pop-up beer garden from Port City Brewing Company, food, activities and more,” Visit Alexandria said. “Plus, check out a new family friendly event on the North Waterfront at Canal Center and Oronoco Bay Park featuring artist vendors, music, kids activities and more.”

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At only 15 square miles, Alexandria’s open space is in relatively short supply.

On Monday (Nov. 28), city leaders and experts will take the stage with Agenda Alexandria to discuss the city’s goal of increasing the city’s open space from 7.3 acres to 7.5 acres for every 1,000 residents.

“Today Alexandria meets this goal,” Agenda Alexandria said. “But, on the City’s current population growth trend Alexandria is in danger of falling short of community needs and environmental benefits as early as 2025.”

By 2040, Agenda Alexandria says that the shortage of publicly accessible open and green space will “likely” be acute by 2040. The city’s Open Space Steering Committee is tasked with presenting City Council with a proposal by the end of this year.

The Agenda Alexandria discussion will begin at 7 p.m. at the George Washington National Masonic Memorial (101 Callahan Drive), and include Jack Browand, the city’s deputy director of park services; Kurt Moser, co-chair of the Alexandria Open Space Steering Committee and president of the Four Mile Run Conservatory Foundation; and land use attorney Mary Catherine Gibbs.

In last month’s Agenda Alexandria panel, city leaders discussed trading building heights for affordable housing.

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Gingerbread building (image via Office of Historic Alexandria)

An event next month will translate a lesson in local historic architecture into sweet treats and load-bearing cookies.

Gadsby’s Tavern Museum (134 N Royal Street) is hosting a gingerbread decorating event on Sunday, Dec. 18. The Office of Historic Alexandria said the confectionary class celebrates the creative concepts of close-by construction.

“Learn about local architecture as you decorate a flat “façade” (front) based on historic buildings around Gadsby’s Tavern Museum,” the city’s website said. “Ticket includes one flat gingerbread façade, all the supplies needed to decorate, and admission to the museum. Inspiring samples highlight architectural details you can recreate in candy and search for in the neighborhoods on your way home.”

The event works for both families or adult groups, with up to four people welcome per $25 ticket. Hot cider is also available for purchase during the event.

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Old Town just got a little brighter.

On Saturday (Nov. 19), Santa Claus made his way to City Hall on the King Street Trolley to help members of City Council light the holiday tree at Market Square in front of City Hall.

Town Crier Ben Fiore-Walker started things off with a proclamation, followed by speeches by Santa and Mayor Justin Wilson.

There are 40,000 lights on the 40-foot-tall tree at Market Square.

Coming up, the Del Ray holiday tree and Menorah lighting is on Sunday, December 4. Santa is also expected to make an appearance at the annual event.

Photos via Elijah Walter Griffin, Sr./Griffin Vision

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A local nonprofit will leave a locked white “ghost scooter” at the corner of Sanger Avenue and North Beauregard Street this Sunday in memory of a 16-year-old killed at the intersection in August.

Miguel Ángel Rivera was riding an electric scooter when he was struck on August 27. He died four days later.

On Sunday (Nov. 20), the Alexandria chapter of Northern Virginia Families For Safe Streets will plant the white scooter and release its transportation improvement recommendations for the city and neighboring jurisdictions.

“The recommendations encourage drivers to slow down and go the posted speed limit,” said Mike Doyle, a founding member of the Northern Virginia Families For Safe Streets. “Doing simple things can save lives. There’s engineering changes, like traffic light changes, to slow drivers down.”

Doyle said that an electric scooter company deactivated the ghost scooter, and allowed for it to be used for this purpose providing that the company brand be removed. The scooter will be locked near the intersection and will stay up for an undetermined period of time.

Mayor Justin Wilson and representatives from the Alexandria Police Department and Alexandria City Public Schools will speak at the event, which will be held in the William Ramsay Elementary School (5700 Sanger Avenue) at 11:30 a.m. The event is part of series recognizing the annual World Day Of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. NoVAFSS will also conduct similar events in Arlington and Fairfax Counties.

Doyle came up with the idea for the nonprofit after recovering from being hit by a car in Old Town in 2016. He was walking home from work and a turning driver didn’t see him crossing.

“He turned left sharply and crashed into me, and he hit me with such force that my forehead put a dent in the hood of his car, which caused a fracture in my forehead and all sorts of issues,” Doyle said. “We have members of our group who are permanently crippled, but what gets me emotional is when I think about how it impacted my wife and the rest of my family and friends.”

In September, Old Town was deemed the most dangerous area for pedestrians in Virginia. There were 68 crashes and 75 injuries, throughout Old Town between 2015 and mid-2022, according to a a study.

There were also two pedestrian crashes last month in the West End.

“Speed kills and speed maims,” Doyle said. “So, if drivers slow down at a turn, there’s a greater chance that they can avoid crashing into somebody.”

Alexandria has a Vision Zero Action Plan to eliminate pedestrian fatalities by 2028. Part of the action plan went into effect last month with numerous speed limit reductions in the West End.

Those reductions include:

  • North Beauregard Street (Entire Length) — Reducing the posted speed limit from 35 to 25 miles per hour (MPH), and the school zone speed limits from 25 to 15 MPH
  • West Braddock Road (North Beauregard Street to Quaker Lane) — Reducing the posted speed limit from 35 to 25 MPH, and the school zone speed limits from 25 to 15 MPH
  • North Howard Street (Lynn House Driveway to Braddock Road) — Reducing the school zone speed limit on North Howard Street from 25 to 15 MPH
  • Seminary Road (Kenmore Avenue to North Pickett Street) — Reducing the school zone speed limit from 25 to 15 MPH
  • King Street (Radford Street to Quincy Street) — Installing a new 15 MPH school zone speed limit

The City also recently approved the installation of speed cameras at five school zones. The cameras were approved after a child was struck and seriously injured at an intersection just outside of Jefferson Houston Elementary School (200 block of North West Street).

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