ALL Alexandria: One Community’s Race and Social Equity Journey
Heather Peeler, President & CEO, ACT for Alexandria
On January 23, 2021, the Alexandria City Council issued the ALL Alexandria: A Race and Social Equity Resolution, less than one year since the City hired its first Race and Social Equity Officer, Jaqueline Tucker. At ACT for Alexandria, Alexandria’s community foundation, we are very excited about Jaqueline’s leadership and this important step towards racial justice and inclusion in Alexandria, VA.
Alexandria, a community of 157,000 residents, has a history steeped in racism. Home to many of the country’s controversial historical figures, at one point Alexandria was one of the biggest trading centers in the domestic slave trade. When I walk the quaint cobblestone streets of Alexandria, I often think of the lives and labor of forgotten enslaved people who built a community that has become a top tourist destination. (I highly recommend the walking tours by The Manumission Tour Company for inspiring stories about the courage and determination of those who escaped bondage).
Ask any Alexandrian what they love most about our community and they will say its diversity. Nearly 50% of the population is Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Almost one third of Alexandrians are immigrants, and children in Alexandria’s public schools speak more than 132 native languages.
The ALL Alexandria resolution recognizes Alexandria’s complex past and present. It articulates a shared vision for a community that is caring, kind, compassionate, fair, just, and equitable for all. It puts an aspirational stake in the ground to be a city that reduces and eliminates disparities and inequities experienced by all Alexandria residents, especially residents of color and those who have been historically and systemically marginalized.
In many respects, the City’s resolution is an outgrowth of ACT’s partnership with nonprofits, business leaders, faith leaders and local government. Since 2019, thanks to the support of our many stakeholders and donors (including several WRAG members!), ACT has invested in building the capacity of Alexandrians to make a community-wide commitment to racial equity. More than 300 people have participated in introductory workshops on racial equity and trainings on allyship. We have invested in board trainings, equity audits and equity-centered strategic planning efforts by our grantee partners. Together with community leaders we hosted virtual town halls last summer attended by more than 1,000 people and created a forum to express our collective anger and grief in response to the murder of George Floyd and to debate approaches to police reform. And, the Alexandria Resilience Fund, a COVID-19 response fund launched in partnership with the City, adopted a racial equity statement that informed the application process and guided grant decision making.
The ALL Alexandria resolution presents an opportunity for our community and for ACT. The experiences of our friends and neighbors in other DMV jurisdictions have inspired us. Humbled and informed by their work, we know our journey is just beginning. Building power, investing in community leaders, and creating a new muscle for community participation and engagement will be essential. In addition, we have resolved to deepen partnerships and lead with trust and openness as we collectively take action to realize the vision of ALL Alexandria. Regardless of what will unfold in the years ahead, the ALL Alexandria resolution is a beacon of light for us all.