The debates over names and symbols used to represent a community are not new. Over the past several decades there have been repeated conversations about representation in state flags, monuments, sports mascots, and in the names of schools, municipal buildings, and major thoroughfares. These debates tend to flare up after incidents that cause public outrage, such as the mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in 2015 or the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020.
Perspectives about change
For some, such high profile events shine a light on underlying problems in our society linked to racial inequality and injustice. Some argue these problems are systemic in nature, being sewn into the very fabric of our communities through racial profiling and discrimination in housing, healthcare, and employment. Many think these inequalities permeate the very spaces in which we live and work, including street names and government symbols.
For example, it was the shooting of unarmed Black bible study-goers in Charleston by a White supremacist that finally tipped popular opinion enough in South Carolina that the Confederate flag was removed from the state house grounds. While this move didn’t “fix” racism in South Carolina, it was a symbolic act to acknowledge and repudiate the reverence that some held (and still hold) for the Confederacy.
Statistics show there is also a large number of people shot and killed every year by police. Black Americans are being disproportionately killed compared with White Americans and other groups. These incidents, some of which are racially charged, have fueled growing anger, distrust, and calls for change. In particular, it was the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, the cell phone footage of the incident, and the subsequent protests that have sparked a nation-wide reaction. This strong reaction is causing the debates about racial inequality and injustice to permeate communities across the country, even those far removed from the incident.
Many people want action. They are looking for some way to dismantle systemic racism, and make a public statement affirming their desire for justice. People are compelled to take some sort of stand, and one of the few areas within their sphere of influence involves the communities in which they live. It is in this way that the debate of using confederate names and symbols is no longer limited to abstract objects such state flags or school mascots. It is expanding to include things which touch our daily lives such as the streets we live on and the names of our neighborhoods.
A differing viewpoint
For some, the public outrage may seem out of proportion and without meaningful direction. They may question what their local street names can possibly have to do with events in Charleston, Minneapolis, and elsewhere. Some in the community feel that the name “Mosby Woods” has little to do with persons of historical significance or larger social concerns — it is, quite simply, the name of their home, the name of the neighborhood where they perhaps raised children or even grandchildren. It is the name of the place where they spent the most significant times of their lives and had their most significant friends. The suggestion that the neighborhood name, which has significant emotional attachment, might be hurtful to some can be perceived as hurtful to those memories and those emotions.
What’s happening now
People want a response and they want to affirm or deny a position. As members of the community, we should have an active say in our shared understanding, positions, and values that we present to ourselves, others, and potential neighbors. If we do not actively engage in the conversation, then we need to accept the results without complaint. The results may or may not align with one’s understanding, but all should have the opportunity to be heard.
The City of Fairfax will be reviewing names and iconography tied to Confederate-related historical monuments and markers, neighborhood names, street and road names, and the images incorporated in the City Seal. Our Community is included in that scope. During this initial review, the City of Fairfax and Mayor David Meyer reached out to Mosby Woods Neighborhood Association (MWCA) to inform us that the neighborhood name and street names had been identified as warranting further discussion. The MWCA met on June 15, 2020 and passed a motion to form a committee named Community Forward to ensure that all neighbors within Mosby Woods could have their voices heard.
MWCA has a representative in the City working group and the City also invited all residents to apply for an at-large seat. MWCA will continue to share updates from the City working group and opportunities for residents to engage in the conversation.
So, why are we here?
We are here to have a conversation. To make sure all voices are heard. To make sure that the public sentiment that prevails represents as much of our Mosby Woods community as possible.
If you had the opportunity to speak at one of the listening sessions, thank you.
There is still time to provide your opinion. You can write to CFMosbyWoods@gmail.com, or you can submit through the online form here. You can also engage with the City of Fairfax’s Connecting Fairfax City for All.
Don’t stay silent — let your voice be heard.