Justice Sunday Addresses Mount Vernon Issues

Justice Sunday Addresses Mount Vernon Issues

Dr. Vernon C. Walton, senior pastor First Baptist Church of Vienna

Dr. Vernon C. Walton, senior pastor First Baptist Church of Vienna

Dr. Vernon C. Walton, senior pastor First Baptist Church of Vienna, organized and hosted the church’s 8th annual Justice Sunday this past week. Speakers addressed poverty, food insecurity, homelessness, affordable housing, public safety, health care and other areas needing an equity view.

“Jesus Christ Himself said, I’ve come so you might have life and have it more abundantly,” Walton said. Abundance does not translate to money but to access to healthcare, education, housing, and safety, Walton said. These basic things are not generally available as they should be.

“There is no difference between my school and your school because of the color of my skin or the zip code. ... Abundance suggests ... I too am able to drive my car down the street and go to the mall, and have a reasonable expectation that my child and I are able to return home. Abundance suggests that I spent a week working [and] that I'm able to make enough to provide a roof over my head," Walton said. 

Walton acknowledged the weight of the responsibility in the daily decision-making process wears him down. He spoke of how Jesus calls for accountability in stewardship in the Gospel of Matthew.

“Today, it is how one treats the poor and marginalized, Black and brown people, women, LGBTQ, and everyone else,” he said. “There is importance in seeing and appreciating people’s full humanity rather than focusing on their brokenness or classes.” 

Our actions toward others reflect actions toward Him. “He will ask, and inquire of us, ‘How did you handle the poor … the homeless and unhoused … the educational tests that are within our system … What difference have you made? What solutions have you offered,” Walton said.

Walton asks: “Are you satisfied with 60,000 [Fairfax County] residents experiencing food insecurity, … more than 1,200 unhoused, … 15 percent of the student population at Northern Virginia Community College being homeless? Are you satisfied with the proposed state budget offered five days before Christmas that cut $10 million from permanent supportive housing, … [banning books] that tell the story and journey of the people who’ve made significant contributions back to America?”

Affordable Housing: 

Mary Paden, a Mount Vernon resident, serves on Fairfax County’s Affordable Housing Advisory Council as a representative of the Fairfax NAACP, of which she is the Housing Committee’s chair. Speaking on behalf of the NAACP, she updated the county’s affordable housing initiatives and detailed their challenges and the fallacy of the “trickle-down” economic theory. Paden told of racial disparities in the criminal justice system contributing to Black people being incarcerated and impacting their lives when returning to society. And she shared solutions. 

“Rents are up; property values are up, meaning property taxes are up. It’s hard to buy; it’s hard to rent. It’s hard to live in Fairfax County; a lot of people are moving out,” Paden said.

According to Paden, there is a flawed belief that by increasing the supply of high-end housing, the market will eventually trickle down to more affordable housing, making it more accessible to lower-income buyers. Creating housing that is more accessible to lower-income buyers must be more effective in facing resistance from the local community.

‘The suburbs were created for a reason," Paden said. “You all know what that is, and they want it to stay that way.” Paden said. “We need community support.”

According to Paden, the county’s housing committee also expresses concern for those currently experiencing homelessness. She said that while Black individuals make up 10% of the overall population of Fairfax, they constitute 50% of the homeless population.

The inequities seen in the county's criminal justice system have resulted in a significant number of Black individuals being imprisoned and then released.

They can't rent an apartment, get a job, or get back into society. Paden characterized it as a “free fall” for the individuals, resulting in them being at “the bottom of the barrel." Preventing individuals from being homeless is one method to combat it.

Paden referred to the availability of tax credits for developments that incorporate affordable housing units. She advocated for the current tenant bills, giving tenants more rights so landlords do not exploit them and "more support at eviction court from legal aid lawyers.” The legal aid lawyers and the State Housing Trust Fund require financial support. The funding has increased compared to previous levels, yet more is needed.

According to Paden, the most effective way to accomplish these tasks is to contact lawmakers personally. “I encourage all of you to email me at housing@fairfaxnaacp.org,” she said. 

Public Safety

Supervisor Rodney Lusk (Franconia), chair of the board’s public safety committee, recounted growing up under his grandparents' care and values and his experience as a public servant.

Lusk cited the three valuable teachings his grandparents imparted to him. One, if you say you are going to do something, you have to do it. Two, if you live in a community, you have the responsibility to serve that community. And, if you see someone suffering, if you see someone in need, you have the responsibility to help them, Lusk said.      

Lusk provided an overview of the committee’s accomplishments since 2020. Following the police murder of George Floyd and nationwide and local protests, Lusk, Chairman Jeff McKay and others solicited community input on police reform and received hundreds of responses, recorded in a matrix. 

One early recommendation was to implement police body worn cameras, which have proven beneficial for transparency and accountability, Lusk said.

Lusk with Supervisor Walter Alcorn put together a co-responder motion that the board approved. “We’re talking about the very beginning of the process of the 911 dispatch; we have to figure out if people have mental health or substance abuse issues. We're going to send a trained clinician out with a police officer to help them,” he said. 

In 2023, Lusk created the Police Reform Matrix Working Group which reviewed the community input and developed a proposed action plan. 

The Matrix Working Group took hundreds of recommendations recorded in the matrix. After synthesizing them down to 50, Pastor Walton presented the committee's findings to the public safety committee.


Lusk said that the police department is, as a result of that matrix, in the process of changing the General Order that deals with the pointing of a firearm. We're going to now look at a way to capture and record that as a reportable use of force,” Lusk said. 

In addition, they created the Courthouse Self-Help Resource Center inside the Public Law Library. The public, on an ad hoc basis, can access informational materials, forms, and legal resources and receive referrals to legal services or other agencies and services that may be available, among other things. “There are people who don't understand the language, going into the courts, and they have no idea what's being said in the courtroom,” Lusk said.

For more on Justice Sunday, see page 10-12 https://connectionarchives.com/PDF/2024/021424/FxCo.pdf