Newsletter

February has been a hectic month for McLean’s high schools.

While Langley High School drew some heat this week for a slightly cheeky book display sign in its library, rival McLean High School was shaken earlier this month by a different kind of conflict over messaging.

An unidentified individual defaced a rock in front of the school used by clubs and athletic teams around 9:23 p.m. on Feb. 8 by painting “ALM” — an acronym standing for “All Lives Matter,” the student newspaper, The Highlander, reported.

The rock had been decorated a week earlier by the school’s Black Student Union, which painted phrases like “BLM” — Black Lives Matter — and “I’m Black and proud” in recognition of Black History Month.

McLean High School Principal Ellen Reilly said in a newsletter on Monday (Feb. 14) that the school was “disheartened” to see the BSU’s message “met with vandalism.”

“At McLean High School, we believe unequivocally that Black Lives Matter,” she said. “We are invested in creating a culture in which all students and staff experience belonging as Highlanders. As such, we will address all issues of racism and discrimination at our school.”

According to The Highlander, school administrators have identified the person behind the “ALM” message, which has now been covered by white paint, but it was unclear what discipline they could potentially face.

Fairfax County Public Schools declined to comment when asked to confirm if a culprit had been identified.

The Fairfax County Police Department said it was aware of the incident but ultimately determined that no crime had been committed, since the school allows anyone to paint on the rock.

“The school took care of it internally,” an FCPD spokesperson told Tysons Reporter.

McLean High School’s Black student population has marginally grown in recent years, from 73 students in September 2017 to 103 students, as of January. That’s still just 4.4% of the school’s 2,370 students.

The isolation that the school’s Black students experience inspired them to create the BSU this year, according to The Highlander.

The day after the defacing incident, BSU President Jasmine Andresol, one of the group’s founders, delivered a message to students that FCPS shared with Tysons Reporter:

Martin Luther King stated that “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” On February 2nd our Black Student Union painted the rock in celebration of Black History month. It was vandalized last night.

As we walked to paint the rock last week, there were mixed emotions of joy and pride, but also fear. The fear was that someone would misunderstand the reason and meaning of why we decided to paint BLM on the rock. When you hear or see the words Black Lives Matter it does not mean that other lives do not. These words bring awareness to the struggles, injustices and racism that black people have endured in this country for far too long. The words that were meant to be a reminder to celebrate black history were seen as an opportunity to discourage our efforts.

We must continue as a school community to support, embrace and be kind to one another.

McLean High School students and staff also gathered at the rock after school to “stand in solidarity” with Black students, according to Reilly.

“We were uplifted to see how our student body came together to support one another,” Reilly said in her newsletter. “We are committed to keeping students at the center of our decisions and working alongside them to find a solution. As a school community we must continue to support and embrace one another. We are committed to learning and growing and building the best McLean High School for everyone.”

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Wade Hampton Drive in Vienna (via Google Maps)

Say goodbye to Wade Hampton Drive, because by July, the name will be a relic like Jefferson Davis Highway.

The Vienna Town Council voted unanimously after a public hearing last night (Monday) to rename the Maple Avenue side street Liberty Lane, removing the moniker of Confederate Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton III.

The council also decided to reimburse the residents living along the road for the issues the renaming will cause and set a date for when the changeover will be complete.

The consensus among the Wade Hampton residents who spoke at the public hearing was that while a name change would be disruptive, requiring them to file address changes with various governmental and business entities, they understood and supported the move.

“It was a wrong done many years ago, and the Town of Vienna has to take some blame for it, and it should be righted,” Wade Hampton resident Sharon Pott said of naming a street after Hampton.

Identifying herself as a resident of Wade Hampton for close to 42 years, Pott said she supports renaming the road but noted that “it’s going to require quite a lot of effort on everybody’s part.”

Several Wade Hampton residents advocated for changing the name to Roland Street, which would connect it to an existing road in the neighborhood, but others objected to that name as well.

DeArmond Carter, a member of the nonprofit Historic Vienna who initiated the push to rename Wade Hampton Drive, expressed opposition to the potential namesake of the road, J.B. Roland, saying he held racist views and sympathies to the Confederacy.

“Continuing Roland Street would be an insult to Vienna’s African American community,” she said, recommending that the road instead take her family’s name in recognition of their 160-year history in the community.

Other residents preferred Liberty Lane as the replacement, citing the Town of Vienna’s role in getting Virginia to ratify Liberty Amendments Month as an annual celebration.

With the unanimously approved motion, the town council agreed that residents living on that road should be reimbursed $500 for the inconvenience, and that the changeover should go into effect on July 4.

“I didn’t want to go too cheap and I didn’t want to make it look like we were paying the residents off to make the change,” Councilmember Chuck Anderson said when some council members questioned the amount of the reimbursement. “I wanted to have a number that would start a conversation. It’s going to take time to find out what needs to be done to make the transition of changing the name.”

City staff will work with residents over the next four months to help them with the change.

Photo via Google Maps

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The McLean Community Center will mark Black History Month in 2022 with a panel on the film “Traveling While Black” (courtesy MCC)

The McLean Community Center has some notable names lined up for an upcoming panel to celebrate Black History Month, which has been recognized every February since 1976.

Announced in a news release yesterday (Thursday), MCC’s panel discussion on Feb. 4 will tie into its “Traveling While Black” virtual reality exhibit that has been available to visitors at the 1234 Ingleside Avenue facility since Dec. 15.

Open until Feb. 12, the film explores how both racism and the past 60 years of civil rights activism have shaped African American communities through a conversation in the D.C. restaurant Ben’s Chili Bowl.

The “Talk Back, Look Forward” panel will feature several key figures from the movie:

  • Director Roger Ross Williams, who became the first Black director to win an Academy Award in 2010 with the short film “Music by Prudence”
  • Ben’s Chili Bowl founder and owner Virginia Ali
  • Civil rights activist Courtland Cox, who helped organize student protests in D.C. during the 1960s
  • Rev. Dr. Sandra Butler-Truesdale, a D.C. music historian and minister
  • Tamir Rice Foundation founder and CEO Samaria Rice, whose son was killed by Cleveland police in 2014

Moderated by interactive media marketer Joshua Henry Jenkins, the discussion will begin at 7:30 p.m. and include boxed meals from Ben’s Chili Bowl that participants can pick up starting at 6:30 p.m.

“Ben’s Chili Bowl has modeled what it means to be a community center by being a leader in creating a safe space for the African American community,” MCC Executive Director Daniel Singh said in a statement. “We are honored to have legendary civil rights leaders such as Mrs. Ali, Mr. Cox, and Ms. Rice join us, with the artistic vision of Mr. Williams connecting all of them.”

MCC says Williams and Rice will be participating remotely.

Admission is free for all, but advance registration is required, and the number of patrons will be limited to encourage social distancing and prevent crowding due to COVID-19.

As a Fairfax County government facility, MCC requires face masks for all visitors and staff. Hand-sanitizing stations have also been set up throughout the building.

MCC spokesperson Sabrina Anwah notes that the organization decided to go with boxed meals for this event so that participants can “carry them to locations throughout the building or take them home.”

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A unique documentary is coming to McLean with a message about the danger and injustice that Black people face in America — in the past and present.

The McLean Community Center is making the virtual reality experience “Traveling While Black” available to visitors for free in its lobby from Dec. 15 through Feb. 12.

“As we near Martin Luther King Day and Black History Month events, we hope our patrons will take the time to come learn with us and become change agents in creating the world that Dr. King envisioned in his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech,” MCC executive director Daniel Singh said in a news release.

Providing 360 degrees of footage, the movie, which debuted in 2019 at the Sundance Film Festival, draws on a half-century of civil rights struggles for justice, framed through a conversation at D.C. mainstay Ben’s Chili Bowl.

“‘Traveling while Black’ is a term people use to illustrate that in America when you are Black and you are going from point A to point B, you are always at risk,” director Roger Ross Williams said in a statement. In 2010, he became the first Black director to win an Oscar, awarded for his short subject documentary, “Music by Prudence.”

“Traveling While Black” features Samaria Rice, who lost her 12-year-old son, Tamir, when police killed him in Cleveland in 2014 while he was playing in a park with a toy gun. The Justice Department said on Dec. 29, 2020 that there was insufficient evidence to file charges against officers.

The movie also includes civil rights leader Courtland Cox. Among his efforts to bring racial equality, he worked to create a political party in Lowndes County, Alabama, and helped people there register to vote in the 1960s. The county eventually elected its first Black sheriff in 1970.

People can sign up online for hour-long appointments at the McLean Community Center from noon to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays through Saturdays and from noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays.

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Morning Notes

Plea Deal in Sexual Assault Case Rejected — A Fairfax County Circuit Court judge rejected a plea deal that would’ve sentenced a man accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a girl to three years in prison, stating that it did not “remotely reflect the magnitude of the defendant’s misconduct.” Prosecutors said they offered the deal because they feared a trial might end in acquittal due to issues with the Herndon police investigation. [The Washington Post]

Bias Incident Reported Near Mosaic District — “8300 block of Lee Highway, 9/19/21, 1:55 a.m. After a traffic altercation, the victim was approached by an unknown male who spat in his face and made derogatory statements regarding his race.” [FCPD]

Tractor Stolen from Vienna Softball League Shed — According to the Vienna Police Department’s most recent weekly report, a Town of Vienna Parks and Recreation employee reported that, around 1:41 p.m. on Wednesday (Sept. 22), someone broke into a shed that the Vienna Girls Softball League owns in Southside Park (1317 Ross Drive SW). A league representative responded to the report and said that a tractor had been stolen from the shed. [Vienna Police]

Scotts Run Fire Station Is Important Step for Tysons — Fire Station 44 “will be an important piece of the public-safety puzzle as the county continues its long-term transformation of Tysons from a suburban office center to an ‘urban lifestyle’ community,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said at the grand opening ceremony on Sept. 18. The station, which is in Tysons East, will eventually be complemented by Station 29 on the western side of Tysons. [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

Vienna Oktoberfest Still Looking for Volunteers — The Vienna Business Association and the Town of Vienna are still seeking volunteers to assist with the 13th Vienna Oktoberfest on Saturday (Oct. 2). The festival is in need of people 21 and older to serve as ID checkers and beer garden ticket sellers. Interested volunteers can sign up online for two-hour shifts, though anyone who volunteers for five hours or longer will get a meal voucher. [VBA]

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The KORUS Festival will return to Tysons Corner Center this weekend (courtesy KORUS)

After taking last year off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the KORUS Festival will return to Tysons Corner Center this weekend with an expanded scope that is expected to include acknowledgements of local first responders and the nationwide rise in hate crimes, particularly those against Asian people.

Now in its 18th year, the KORUS Festival is put on annually by the Korean American Association of Greater Washington (KAGW) as a celebration of the local Korean American community. Organizers say it’s the largest cultural festival by a single ethnic group in the D.C. region.

This year’s festival will be held in the Bloomingdale’s parking lot at 8100 Tysons Corner Center from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday (Sept. 18) and from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday (Sept. 19). A Maryland version of the event is scheduled for Sept. 25-26 at Westfield Montgomery Mall.

The free festival will feature food and retail vendors, games, a beer garden, a kids’ zone, and live performances, including taekwondo demonstrations and musicians ranging in genre from K-pop to Caribbean jazz.

Anna Ko, the festival’s stage and performances director, says COVID-19 health protocols will include temperature checks and a mask requirement for people who aren’t fully vaccinated.

“We are providing hand sanitizers, masks, first aid stations as well as a mandatory temperature check for all attendees,” Ko said. “The safety and the health of the public will be of top priority. If you are not vaccinated, please wear masks at all time.”

While KAGW remains the main organizer, the association decided to broaden the festival’s focus this year by partnering with community nonprofits, including Celebrate Fairfax and the Asian American Chamber of Commerce.

Ko says the event will also serve as a platform to show appreciation for first responders involved in Fairfax County’s pandemic response and to raise awareness about the need to combat anti-Asian hate crimes.

“KORUS is the ONLY event at this capacity by an ethnic group, Korean Americans,” KAGW President Steve Lee wrote in an email. “We have opened the door to ALL diversity to get to know each other and others better to fight against Asian hate and any hate issues.”

According to Ko, county officials plan to award COVID-19 first responder teams on stage when they’re scheduled to appear at 5 p.m. on Saturday. State legislators will be present as well.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay has been invited to present the recognition, according to Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik, whose district includes Tysons.

The KORUS Festival’s prominence reflects the increased visibility of the D.C. region’s Asian American communities, which have grown over the past couple of decades.

Released in August, demographic data from the 2020 Census showed that Asian residents now make up 20.3% of Fairfax County’s total population — up from 17.4% in 2010 and 13.1% in 2000 — contributing to the county’s new status as a majority-minority county.

However, the county has not been immune from the uptick in discrimination against Asians that has been seen across the U.S. during the pandemic, as illustrated in March when a student reported being harassed with anti-Asian slurs at Longfellow Middle School in McLean.

Bias crime and incident reports have increased in each of the past three years, according to the Fairfax County Police Department. The clear majority of cases have involved anti-Black discrimination, but the number of anti-Asian incidents went from six in 2019 to nine in 2020.

According to FBI data released on Aug. 30, the U.S. hit a 12-year high in the number of reported hate crimes in 2020, driven in particular by increased attacks against Black and Asian individuals.

“Hate crime is an issue in many places of our United States,” Ko said by email. “We are trying to change it in our area through this multi-cultural event, so we all can be united as one America and better America.”

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(Updated at 9:10 a.m. on 7/15/2021) Fairfax County is convening a “Confederate Names Task Force” specifically charged with making a recommendation about renaming the county’s portions of Lee Highway and Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway.

The Board of Supervisors approved the appointment of the 30-member task force on Tuesday (July 13).

The task force’s mission is to review the names of Lee Highway (Route 29) and Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway (Route 50) to determine if the roads should be renamed and, if so, what the names should be. A county-appointed facilitator will also work with the task force.

The roadways currently bear the monikers of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

This is a direct result of the work done by the county’s history commission to identify and inventory every place in the county named after a Confederate. The 539-page report noted that there were about 157 streets, parks, monuments, subdivisions, and public places in the county bearing names with ties to the Confederacy.

The most prominent were Lee Highway, about 14 miles of which runs through the county around Merrifield, Fairfax, and Centreville, and Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway. About 8.5 miles of that roadway runs through the county, including Chantilly and near Fair Oaks Mall.

Map of Lee Highway and Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway running through Fairfax County (Photo via Fairfax County)

“In Fairfax County, our diversity is our greatest strength and it’s important that we honor and celebrate that diversity,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said in the press release. “We cannot ignore what the Lee and Lee Jackson Memorial Highway names represent in our community and especially to our African American neighbors. The Confederate Names Task Force, which includes a diverse group, will examine and make recommendations on how both roadways can better reflect our values as we chart a positive path together for the future.”

The task force will meet monthly, starting later this month or early August, according to the agenda for the board meeting. The meetings will be open to the public, and the task force will seek input from the public prior to making a decision.

The group is expected to provide a recommendation to the county board by “the end of calendar year 2021.”

The task force is chaired by Sully District Planning Commissioner Evelyn Spain, who will be joined by 29 other members, including historians, civic organization leaders, homeowners’ association members, residents, professors, and faith leaders.

Spain says reevaluating the use of Confederate street and place names is necessary if Fairfax County wants to be inclusive and respectful of its increasingly diverse population.

“Naming highways after Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson celebrates men who fought a war against the United States to perpetuate slavery,” Spain said in a statement. “One Fairfax requires us to look at these issues through an equity lens to understand how these names have negatively impacted our community and people of color as well as how Confederate names adversely impacts them today…I’m honored to be a part of the Confederate Names Task Force as we work toward building a more inclusive and equitable Fairfax County.”

If the task force recommends changing the names of the roads, the county will have to undergo a somewhat complicated process to actually make it happen — much like it was when Arlington renamed its portion of Route 29 and Alexandria renamed Route 1, which had been named after Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

If changes are recommended, the task force would need to provide two to five alternate names for each road. Then, the county board and task force will hold at least one public hearing to allow for comment about the potential change.

After the public hearings, the board will then vote on whether to take the task force’s recommendation. A timeline laid out back in May projected that could happen in early 2022.

If the board votes to change the highway names, it would then submit a resolution to the Commonwealth Transportation Board requesting the changes while also committing to paying for the signage.

If that’s approved by the Commonwealth, the board has to pass a budget item for the cost of the signs, and an interdepartmental working group would set up a timeline for the actual switching out of signs and, finally, officially changing the roads’ names.

The working group will also coordinate with other jurisdictions on their name changes.

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A police use-of-force study commissioned by Fairfax County revealed that officers use force too often and more than should be expected against both Black and white civilians.

Findings and recommendations of the study conducted by researchers from the University of Texas at San Antonio were presented at the county’s Board of Supervisors public safety committee meeting yesterday (June 29).

The study dove into the 1,360 use-of-force cases involving the Fairfax County Police Department over a three-year period from January 2016 to December 2018.

About 42% of cases were directed at those who are Black, 38% to those who are white. Hispanic and Asian civilians comprised 16% and 3% of such cases, respectively.

Additionally, Black civilians were 1.8 times more likely to have a weapon, such as a taser or firearm, pointed at them by police.

Some of the findings surprised the researchers. For example, there was a higher level of use of force cases directed at those who are white than perhaps expected, and generally, police used force against Hispanic civilians less frequently than they predicted..

“It’s a little bit unusual to findings like that, in my experience,” said University of Texas professor Michael R. Smith, one of the researchers presenting the study. “But those are what they were here in Fairfax County.”

For Black people, who make up about 10.6% of Fairfax County’s population, force rates did exceed proportional rates in most categories — disparities that Smith noted were expected.

Some of the disparities can be tracked to specific district stations as well.

Force used against Black civilians happened at higher rates in the Mount Vernon District as well as in  Franconia, McLean, and West Springfield.

Also, worth noting is that while use of force rates against Asian civilians, who now compose 20% of the county’s population, was overall lower across the county than other racial groups, it exceeded proportional benchmarks in Reston, Fair Oaks, West Springfield, and Mount Vernon.

Men are also much more likely to have more severe force used against them than women, which the researchers said was not uncommon.

A data point that roiled some county board members was if pointing a weapon (firearm or taser) constituted a Level 1 or more severe Level 3 use of force.

For the purposes of the study and after consulting with FCPD, researchers admitted they knocked down the severity of pointing a weapon, which altered the data.

“After some preliminary discussions with senior leadership of the police department, we re-coded the pointing of a weapon — typically a taser or a firearm — to a level one,” Smith said. “This showed…the disparity in force against African-Americans was largely [having to do with] the pointing of the weapon.”

The data revealed that Black civilians were close to nearly two times more likely to have a weapon pointed at them than white civilians.

“These coding decisions matter. It’s a conceptual question,” said Smith. “Police departments around the country and their communities are wrestling with this right now…How serious is it to point a weapon at someone?” Read More

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Stanley Stewart wasn’t the only one wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt among the crowd of people at the Juneteenth event outside the First Baptist Church of Vienna on Saturday (June 19).

But this gathering was more celebration than protest, serving as a kick-off for the Town of Vienna’s inaugural Liberty Amendments Month.

Officially recognized by Congress as a federal holiday for the first time this year,  Juneteenth — a portmanteau of June 19 — serves as a symbolic commemoration of the U.S.’s abolition of slavery. It comes on the anniversary of the day in 1865 when a major general for the Union informed Texas that all enslaved people were now free.

“This wasn’t in no history book I read,” Stewart said.

The Juneteenth recognition represents the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983 to celebrate the civil rights leader’s birthday, following his assassination in 1968.

The Lone Star State became the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday, starting in 1980, and other states followed. More informal commemorations, though, began as early as 1866.

Wrapping around the church parking lot, Vienna’s Juneteenth Celebration featured informational booths, vendors, music, and more in addition to providing a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in the church.

Signs at the event looked at past historical figures and events, with one noting that slave labor helped build the White House and U.S. Capitol. Others highlighted U.S. senators who stood up for abolition.

An outdoor stage set up by the church hosted a variety of musical performances, including a gospel singer who sprinkled in references to Juneteenth and invited listeners to clap their hands if they’re free.

“It’s a start,” said Wes Cherry, a field underwriter with Foresters Financial operating with the group Focus on Community. The company is a fraternal benefit society that gives money back to communities.

For Cherry, the federal holiday recognition is much appreciated, but he also noted the move came at the same time that many state legislatures, including in Texas, are working to limit teachers’ ability to discuss racism in their classrooms.

The additional federal holiday also comes a year after last summer’s widespread protests for racial justice in the wake of several killings, including George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville at the hands of police as well as jogger Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot and killed by three white men in Georgia.

“America, while we love it, [has] to acknowledge our past and history,” said Vernon Walton, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Vienna.

Last year, the church held a rally for Juneteenth following the “lynching of George Floyd,” Walton said.  This year, he said he’s overjoyed that people can celebrate the federal government recognizing the holiday.

Despite the somber and painful legacy of the past that continues to shape the present, Walton and other attendees this year noted how the event drew diverse members of the community.

“People are here from all walks of life,” he said. “We really are blessed.”

The event’s kickoff ceremony remains to watch on social media. It launched the Town of Vienna’s weeklong celebration of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, which will be followed by events commemorating the 14th, 15th, and 19th Amendments.

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Morning Notes

Police Investigate Offensive KKK Flyers — Bigotry-filled flyers aimed at the Fairfax County School Board were found earlier this week in the Springfield and Sully Districts, apparently distributed by the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. School board members and local leaders, including Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay and the president of the county’s NAACP chapter, denounced the flyers, which are under investigation by county police and the FBI. [Patch]

County Government Observes Juneteenth — Fairfax County government offices are closed today in recognition of Juneteenth, which falls on Saturday (June 19). Fairfax County Public Library branches are closed, as is the McLean Community Center, but many park facilities are open, and the county’s trash collection services will proceed as normal. [Fairfax County Government]

Athletic Training Facility Opens in Falls ChurchCapital City Sports Academy will hold a grand opening ceremony from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow (Saturday) for its new, 4,500 square-foot sports training facility at 3431 Carlin Springs Road. Attendees can meet the owners and coaching staff, take a tour of the facility, and win two months of free classes. [Capital City Sports Academy/Instagram]

Volunteers Clean Up Vienna Park — “As Vienna Little League prepares to host Virginia’s Little League Major Baseball State Tournament in July, George C. Yeonas Park is getting a facelift with the help of two dozen sweaty and hard-working volunteers. On Thursday, around 25 volunteers who work for Dominion Energy showed up at Yeonas Park to tackle projects to improve the fields and other facilities.” [Patch]

Great Falls and North West Street Sidewalks Extended — “After much effort by @fairfaxcounty and @FallsChurchGov staff, and local residents, today we celebrated completion of the NW Street and GF Street sidewalk extensions. It was a beautiful day and I am so glad we were able to gather together in person!” [Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust/Twitter]

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