It wasn’t always good news when the Town of Herndon and the topic of diversity appeared in headlines. But that, happily, is the past. Today this vibrant, third-largest township in the Commonwealth is defining itself with inclusion and progressive citizen participation--and finding joy in being a diverse community.
As an expanded Metro encourages new growth and our downtown is on the precipice of redevelopment, the Town of Herndon is grappling to find the right balance of economic growth with the commitment to retain the spirit of a small-town community. Conversations about our shared future are taking place across town from the bike trail to the beer garden, and kitchen tables and offices in between. Happily, these conversations have often been about challenging traditional ways of thinking so that
Herndon can fully embrace its future inclusive of everyone who is in our community — and in preparation for those who join us in the future.
Simply looking at the numbers shows Herndon’s diversity. The Town’s population is now majority-minority with a broad diversity of ages and ethnicities. Economically, the average resident’s income is higher than the state median. The makeup of our council mirrors the Town’s current demographics. Both our mayor and police chief are female.
But data only begins to tell the story. The heart and soul of what has become the new face of Herndon is the people. Herndonians are engaged and vocal, showing up at public meetings and community forums, serving on planning and developing committees, creating clubs and groups, and starting the successful small businesses that comprise more than 70 percent of businesses in the Town.
Town government has responded and encouraged this growing spirit of civic responsibility, renewing efforts to involve all residents, building bridges to the community through listening events that bring concerns to light and ideas to fruition. You only have to walk through the Town Green to see this is a real community. You only have to speak up to become a meaningful part of it.
Increasing civic involvement and a desire for diversity was obvious in the seemingly endless, rapid fire trips to the polls last year.
Herndonians turned out to cast their ballots in historically high numbers; even lining up to cast a primary vote in the rain and cold--and those voters cast a vote for more diversity; electing the first ever Latinx council member in Cesar del Aguila and the first Nepali council member in the country in Pradeep Dhakal. They also voted for Herndon-born Palestinian-American Dr. Ibraheem Samirah, sending the second-ever Muslim to the General Assembly with 59 percent of the vote. After the election, Samirah attributed his win to the involvement of grassroots volunteers.
On Friday our community gathered to learn more about one another at a celebration hosted by our Nepali neighbors. When the Mayor Lisa Merkel and Herndon Town Council proclaimed the first Nepalese American Heritage Day in America, council chambers were packed. The Nepali responded with “a joyous celebration!” with food and entertainment and an invitation, in all caps, “ALL ARE WELCOME!!!” That is how people who live next door become neighbors — and it’s through good neighbors that towns become strong communities.
Town of Herndon is a microcosm of the change in this country. There is still work to do, but the warm welcome of inclusivity is swelling here. I can hear languages other than my own and ethnic music softly hanging in the evening air as I type. This Town of Herndon resident couldn’t be happier to live right here, right now.