By Frank Blechman
Over the last few years, the number of observers who have ‘discovered’ inequities in the American system has exploded. Everywhere commentators looked, they found problems in education, health care, employment, and (my goodness) law enforcement. Some highly partisan rascals have even noted discrimination in electoral systems, designed to make it harder for certain groups to participate in our democracy.
Shocked by these revelations, our elected leaders here in Fairfax County started appointing committees to study these issues and make recommendations to fix them. The Board of Supervisors adopted a “One Fairfax” policy) lens to use when assessing the programs, policies and operations of the County and its partners.
After personal study, consultation with experts, and community conversations, that group concluded that racism in Fairfax is real, and the effects of it run deep.
On December 3, 2019, the Chairman’s Stakeholder Council on Race, working with the “One Fairfax” Community Roundtable, delivered its final report to the Board. After personal study, consultation with experts, and community conversations, that group concluded that racism in Fairfax is real, and the effects of it run deep. Fundamentally, they argued, any change needs to start with defining shared values, and creating shared platforms to explore how those shared values could be applied.
On Feb. 23, 2021, the 42 diverse members of the Chairman’s Task Force on Equity and Opportunity presented their report and recommendations. The 20 recommendations went farther than previous reports, naming specific areas where the County and its partners could take actions to reduce inequities. Almost all of them involved creating the forums for the kind of ongoing communication between groups and sectors that has proven rare in our fragmented society. The hoped-for results included expanded access to early childhood education, more counseling and career training, ongoing public involvement in police oversight, holistic health care, affordable housing, community reinvestment, and change where inequities persist.
Although more detailed than prior reports, these recommendations were still more lofty goals than operational plans. There were no timetables for action and few clear assignments of responsibility. Realistically, every one of the recommendations will be hard to do, lengthy, and ultimately expensive.
Since the first draft of the 2022 FY Budget arrived at the Board of Supervisors at the same time, the Board deferred action on the Task Force’s work. Instead, they referred the report to the County Executive, with directions to develop implementation plans. Thus the plan to reduce deep social inequities in Fairfax County joined the Ark of the Covenant in the vast warehouse of good intentions.
Is it possible that some good actions will come from all this? Certainly, if the Board of Supervisors remembers and demands actual plans and budgets from the County Executive this year, some progress could actually begin next year. The results, of course, will take a generation to develop and persistence to evaluate.
I try to be hopeful. I think the current members of the Board genuinely want to do something about inequity. They recognize that we cannot just keep doing what we have been doing. However, they have a few other nagging things on their agenda: the COVID pandemic, rescuing small businesses, reopening schools, police and mental health reform, climate change, and wobbly regional systems (such as Metro).
Who has the power or the leverage to keep equity on the priority list? Right now, I don’t think there is anyone positioned to do this. Yet, maybe that’s the wrong question. Maybe there will never be ONE driving force for this kind of broad and deep social change.
This effort will need support from many actors at the top and the bottom. From the business community, one key indicator will be whether the Greater Fairfax Chamber of Commerce chooses to get involved. Their reluctance to engage in the “ten-year-plan-to-end-homelessness” explains why we are now in the twelfth year of that ten-year effort with no end in sight. On the other side, what role will the faith communities play? Several faith leaders took leadership roles in the equity task force. Will they and their organizations stay in this fight? Will VOICE and Faith Communities in Action press for meaningful timetables and budgets? Will new grassroots coalitions or networks keep these proposals alive and kicking?
The spiritual hymn reminds us “Heaven. Heaven. Everybody talkin’ bout heaven ain’t going there.” Good intentions are a necessary start, but it will take a lot more than that to get this train moving.
 https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/chairman/sites/chairman/files/assets/documents/combined list of recommendations.pdf