Inclusion a Part of History and Future

Inclusion a Part of History and Future

The black population in Reston always felt part of the community, despite state segregation laws.

When Reston was founded, segregation still governed Virginia's daily life. But the newly formed community decided to go against what the state stood for in the 1960’s by making inclusion the planned formula for the population.

Through the vision and leadership of Bob Simon, Reston became a community where all would be welcome. It was unheard of at the time in Virginia to have a community that would be accept and invite people of color to purchase homes and land.

"We looked all over Northern Virginia," said Tom Wilkins, a long time Reston resident and community activist, "trying to buy a nice place to live." After a colleague recommended Reston, Wilkins lbought a house in the Hunters Woods district in 1969. Before he made the purchase, Wilkins was on an assignment in Philadelphia to set up a regional presence for the U.S. Department of Labor.

He described Reston as rural at the time, without a middle school, a high school or even a grocery store. But the fledgling town was also a place that provided black professionals with the opportunity to become homeowners and get involved in community processes. It was the only place of its kind he could find in the area, unless he wanted to live in an all-black community, which was not where he wanted to raise his family, he said.

"Bob Simon did an outstanding job," said Wilkins, "he didn’t have to stand up for inclusion, but he stood up for having a mixed community."

AFTER MOVING TO RESTON 35 years ago, Wilkins immediately became involved in the community. In those 35 years in the Reston community he said he never felt discriminated against. Wilkins, the first and only black president of the Reston Association Board of Directors, said he does not see any particular issues that are pressing the Reston community. His concern is that the community does not become overcrowded, and that it keeps its nice parks and recreation areas. He said one of the priorities for the community ought to be to keep the schools in good shape. He said Reston’s high school, South Lakes, gets a bad reputation sometimes, but it is still turning out good students and is a good school that should be supported, not criticized.

There is no doubt the Reston community will want to continue to welcome everyone who wants to live in Reston, but with the property values rising with each new assessment, it is becoming increasingly harder for all who want to live in Reston to do so.

Milton Matthews, the executive vice president of the Reston Association, recently moved to Reston. As an African-American who moved to Reston 35 years after Wilkins did, Matthews said he views Reston’s history as impressive. The way the planners thought of incorporating people of all backgrounds into the community, said Matthews, showed a lot of forward thinking. He said Reston will continue to be economically driven, bringing profitable businesses, and with them affluent residents, which will make it more difficult to keep the diversity of people within the community. "Intent and desire [for diversity] will be there, but the market will make it increasingly more difficult," for Reston to maintain its diversity, said Matthews.

Supervisor Catherine Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) said Reston has lived up to its goal of making everyone feel welcome to the community. Hudgins also moved to Reston in 1969. She said it is a community that chose the hard path of incorporating everyone’s thoughts, when it would have been easy to do what every other community was doing, excluding others’ opinions.

In the future, Hudgins said, Reston will remain a community that will make everyone feel welcome. "It is a community where everybody makes contributions," she said, "and everybody is recognized for their contributions."

AS A PART OF THAT recognition, February is celebrated as Black History Month. Wilkins said it was nice to have a designated month to celebrate the accomplishments black people achieved in history. He said it was important to be aware of one’s history, so that lessons for the future can be learned. However, he said, black history should be incorporated into the rest of the year.

He said black people had a huge impact on the history and the development of the United States, and the state of Virginia and that should be recognized more often that just in the month of February. A community activist, and the former president of the NAACP for Fairfax County, Wilkins is currently working on a program to help minority children be adopted into families in Fairfax County. "I’m a Restonian," said Wilkins, "and I’m fighting for what will make our community, not one of the best, but the best community in the United States."