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Fairfax County has a long way to go before achieving racial fairness, members of the Chairman’s Task Force on Equity and Opportunity informed the Board of Supervisors Feb. 23 when presenting their initial report.
Inequities within the county stifle opportunity and must be overcome, said Chief Equity Officer Karla Bruce.
“We still continue to see evidence of systemic racism and injustice in other public and private institutions,” she said. “So it’s really critically important for us to fully employ our resources and ingenuity to address the inequities embedded in our community.”
Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay (D) said he formed the 42-member, volunteer task force last summer – in the midst of nationwide public-health, economic and racial crises – to help the county government change policy and leverage its investments to “shape the structure of opportunity strategically and, most importantly, intentionally.”
“We wanted folks to be bold in their recommendations and, frankly, make people uncomfortable along the way,” McKay said, adding, “Many of the barriers in place are by design and we must actively root out those problems.”
The task force during its first five months formed four committees to examine various issues and obtained the services of a community-engagement consulting firm. But not all feedback from residents fit the bill, Bruce said.
“Some of the community input received indicated that there are some in the community that do not acknowledge the history of racism affecting our country and our county and therefore do not understand why it’s so critically important that we consider equity strategically,” she said.
The task force’s committee leaders summarized their findings.
• The Cradle to Career Success Committee, led by Cypriana McCray, concluded there were racial and ethnic disparities regarding access to early childhood programs, opportunities for academic success and participation in academic-enrichment programs.
The county’s school system lacks a comprehensive career-planning approach, leaving black and Hispanic students disproportionately under-prepared for meaningful employment, and its hiring and recruiting policies have resulted in a workforce that “does not match the diversity of the student body,” the report read.
“From health-care to education, systemic barriers have long prevented our nation’s most marginalized communities from achieving financial prosperity,” said McCray, a member of the National Council of Negro Women’s Reston-Dulles Section.
• The Community Safety and Justice Committee, headed by First Baptist Church of Vienna’s pastor, Dr. Vernon Walton, found the county lacked clear standards for holding its law-enforcement personnel accountable. Local law enforcement also has a disproportionate number of negative interactions with minority members of the community, which leads to excessive use of force, the report read.
The law-enforcement system protects the interests and power of whites, law-and-order rhetoric overly influences police policy and racial profiling by police causes minority residents to live in fear, the committee found.
“Politicians aren’t willing to make the same sacrifices that oppressed constituents of color have endured for years,” the report read. “They say all the right things but still engage in the same condescending, selective social change work in which white establishments of power like the police partake.”
The Community Health and Wellness Committee, led by Northern Virginia Health Foundation president and CEO Patricia Mathews, found that existing policies and practices both inside and outside the county government produce health and wellness inequities.
Built environments often contribute to poor health in minority and low-income communities, which frequently lack representation in the health-care system, the committee found.
The Equitable Communities Committee, headed by Amanda Andere, CEO of Funders Together to End Homelessness, investigated the racial wealth gap, segregation of assets by geography, lack of investment in historically marginalized communities and the lack of power by persons of color and “lived expertise” to influence decision-making.
The task force issued 20 recommendations, such as ensuring that families with children under age 5 have access to affordable, quality early childhood programs and that those providers have opportunities for professional development.
The task force also favored expanding offerings for career and technical education, connecting youths with in-demand careers, making blacks and Hispanics aware of academic- and career-enrichment opportunities, monitoring racial profiling and excessive uses of force by law enforcement, and implementing implicit-bias and cultural-competency training.
The group also recommended that county officials “aggressively” increase the amount of affordable-housing for low-income residents, attract capital investment and economic opportunities in minority and low-income communities, intentionally include diverse representation in power and decision-making opportunities, and replace oppressive systems with equitable ones.
“Beliefs that explain racial disparities as wholly dependent on personal behavior and choice put the responsibility for fixing centuries of racial inequities on the shoulders of people of color,” the report read. In addition, “It is important for white people to become supportive accomplices and stop being allies with a savior complex,” it read.
The task force will work with county staff to develop ways of putting recommendations into operation and present those plans to supervisors in June.