Forum Gives Voice to Community Members

Forum Gives Voice to Community Members

How to make “One Fairfax” tangible.

The following information was provided by VOICE (Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement).

On May 19, the four Democratic candidates for the chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors gathered at Bethlehem Baptist Church for a Candidates’ Forum organized by VOICE. The crowd of 650 public housing tenants, Latino immigrants, high school students, and others — from African American, Latino, white, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian families — came together to demand action on the county’s proposed “One Fairfax.” VOICE is an organization of organizations, consisting of 52 faith institutions throughout Northern Virginia.

Rev. Austin Almaguer of Vienna Baptist welcomed the crowd and pointed out that elections for chair are rare because there are no term limits. Furthermore, he said, “The margin of victory will be determined as history informs by a very small margin. VOICE: We can be the difference in this election.” The last time there was a similar election for board chair was in 2009, when Sharon Bulova won a special election by 1,206 votes. The last Democratic Primary, in 2017 for lieutenant governor, had a margin of victory of 6,237 votes in Fairfax County.

VOICE is non-partisan. Joseph Galdo, the Republican candidate for board chair, had already won the Republican Primary, so VOICE chose to hold an event with those who are running for the contested Democratic primary for board chair. VOICE leaders and allied institutions pledged to collectively sign up and turn out more than 3,000 voters on June 11, Primary Election Day.

Rev. Darryl King of Bethlehem Baptist Church said, “We have intentionally gathered here in the Gum Springs community not only because of its rich African American history, but also because it reminds us of what is at stake if we do not take bold action together.”

VOICE leaders shared first-hand stories of the serious cracks in building “One Fairfax.”

Elias Anwar, a senior at West Potomac, who uses the Gum Springs Community Center every day, described how the deep neglect of the Center has meant that youth playing hoops in the back must play in the dark because the lights have not functioned for more than 3 years.

“Gum Springs is like a second home to me,” he said. “They show that they care about me. They provide us food, clothes, and it’s where I have my summer job. They even paid for my prom suit. They take the time to look out for me. We don’t see that same kind of consideration for our community center. For example, the lights in the back court don’t work and they haven’t worked for three years. There is no handicap ramp for people to enter. And don’t even bring up the field in the back, it’s a natural field that gets trimmed once a year. The way I was raised was that you take care of the things that are important to you.”

Chimisa Walker, from the historic African American community of Odricks Corner in McLean, shared the story of how her grandfather helped build that community and today her mom is the last person still living there.

A woman from the Audubon Mobile Home Park on Route 1 challenged the next chair to stand with them to ensure the three mobile home parks that consist of 1,000-plus low-income families stay intact

“For many people, mobile homes are looked down upon,” she said. “For us, our mobile homes represent our community and 1,500 families. Memories of our families coming together every Christmas for a Posada celebration where we re-enact the story of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. Memories of organizing for a playground where we could play. Now our homes may not be glamorous on the outside, but the warmth and love they provide to us is unmatched.”

High school teenagers, who have talked to more than 200 high school students from across Fairfax, challenged the chair candidates, if elected, to work with them, not just for them, to increase badly needed mental health services in the public schools.

Kheira Bekkadja, a rising high-school junior, said, “I was very anxious, worried, scared, and every negative feeling you can think of. I was very self-conscious of two things: my name and my hijab. During my first week of school, whenever I’d introduce myself to my teachers and friends, I was worried I wouldn’t be acknowledged or welcomed because of the difficulty of my name. Personally, I was very happy to teach others my name. But, surprisingly that’s not what hurt the most. I organize with VOICE to figure out and implement ways for us to be welcomed and accepted unapologetically in our schools and communities.”