Mayor William Euille's second annual Unity Breakfast packed the large ballroom at the Mark Hilton on Monday morning. Embodying the American ethic e pluribus unum — out of many, one — the event was an opportunity to have breakfast with people who might have otherwise never met.
"This is wonderful because it's a chance to sit down with people you don't know," said Joan Funn. "The mayor is an Alexandrian, and he wants to unify this community."
Several attendees said that the reason they enjoy events such as these is the opportunity to be seated at a table with people whose paths might have never crossed.
"I think the mayor is to be congratulated," said Jack Sullivan, a frequent critic of City Council. "I have met so many people who I would have never met because the way the table arrangements are set up — particularly mixing people of color with white people."
Alexandria is a diverse city, rich with ethnic persuasions from around the world. Its population is 56 percent white, 21 percent African American, 15 percent Hispanic and 6 percent Asian. These numbers were reflected in the audience at the breakfast, who chatted over croissants and mingled in the lobby.
"Unity means bringing people together," said Elsa Riveros, an organizer with the Tenants' and Workers' Support Committee who served as a member of the Unity Breakfast Committee. "But it's not just about talking about unity, it's about income — because poor people have the right to live in Alexandria."
The median household income in Alexandria is $74,091. Because real estate assessments have risen an average of 21 percent last year, many people at the breakfast were interested in keeping Alexandria a diverse place by making sure that affordable housing was available. The average single-family house in Alexandria is currently $563,092.
"I would be disappointed if I wanted to come back to my hometown but I couldn't afford to live here," said T.C. Williams High School student Jarreau Williams in a charge to the city. "I ask you to take a stand for the youth of Alexandria."
THE BREAKFAST began with a presentation of colors by the T.C. Williams ROTC Color Guard, which was followed by an invocation and a musical selection from the King Street Singers. The emotional high point of the morning came when the Al Williams Quartet played a moving rendition of "Amazing Grace," which rendered the mayor temporarily speechless.
"That's all right," came a voice from the back of the room while Euille took a moment to regain his composure.
"I accept your charge, and I want to put Alexandria on the map," the mayor told the crowd. "We can be a family — that's what this Unity Breakfast is all about."
City Manager James Hartmann gave the keynote address, which compared Alexandria to a garden.
"Let us grow a garden where all the people of Alexandria can thrive," said Hartmann, noting that achieving unity requires active participation. "Where we find intolerance, let us not simply walk away and accuse."
Mpho Tutu, the daughter of Bishop Desmond Tutu, challenged the city to work to provide guidance to young people.
"It is said that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world, and that is certainly true here in Alexandria," said Tutu, who is a clergy resident at Christ Church. "Right here — in this corner of God's green earth — we get the chance to choose the future, not just of Alexandria, but of the entire world."