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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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A list of possible new names for Lee Highway (Route 29) and Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway (Route 50) could be ready as soon as this December.

On July 13, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors could approve about 25 members for a task force to examine the possibility of renaming the highways and appoint the group’s chair.

The group would recommend whether to rename those streets and what new names to consider this December. A public hearing and decision could come in early 2022.

“Approximately 30 organizations and individuals have expressed an interest in participating,” Fairfax County Department of Transportation Director Tom Biesiadny said yesterday (Tuesday). “14 organizations and individuals declined to participate.”

This schedule was announced one year after the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which sparked Black Lives Matter protests nationwide. In Fairfax County, the movement prompted the board to consider renaming streets and structures with Confederate names.

Biesiadny and his staff presented their recommendations to the board’s land use policy committee for how to move forward with renaming Route 29 and 50 as well as streets and subdivisions.

“I think the schedule is good and compact,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “If we can get the recommendations by the end of the year, that would be helpful.”

The two thoroughfares are the first locations to be considered for new names after the Fairfax County History Commission compiled a list of street names, monuments and public spaces with Confederate ties.

The group identified more than 26,000 streets and places, which was first narrowed down to 650 well-known Confederate officers and locally-known Confederates and again, down to 150 assets confirmed to have Confederacy-associated names.

Neighboring Loudoun County is establishing a task force to consider renaming Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway, and a group in Arlington County is discussing new names for Lee Highway, Biesiadny said.

Some supervisors urged staff to keep coordinating with Fairfax’s neighbors.

“If it’s possible to be on the same page as Arlington and Loudoun, that’s great,” Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw said. “We shouldn’t be driven by their process, but that seems to be like a viable secondary goal.”

He also suggested the task force develop a naming plan that reduces confusion for local businesses.

“One of the things I have heard from businesses in and around the Kamp Washington intersection is that the status quo is very confusing,” Walkinshaw said.

Route 50 has four names depending on the location, Deputy County Executive Rachel Flynn explained to Tysons Reporter in December.

In Loudoun County, it’s John Mosby Highway, and in Fairfax County, it becomes Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway. Route 50 then becomes Fairfax Boulevard in the City of Fairfax, where it intersects with Route 29, also known as Lee Highway. East of the city, Route 50 turns into Arlington Boulevard once it’s back in Fairfax County. Read More

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The Falls Church City School Board voted Tuesday night (April 27) to rename two of its schools, effective July.

Thomas Jefferson Elementary School will now be called Oak Street Elementary School — a name it bore before it took the third U.S. president’s — and George Mason High School will be Meridian High School.

The vote concluded a lengthy process that involved public comments, surveys, and work by two renaming committees to generate new monikers for the schools in place of the names of white Founding Fathers who enslaved Africans. The approval came despite recent opposition from a group of high-profile citizens, including a former mayor and two former vice mayors.

“This has been a long and, at times challenging, process, but I do think we’re moving onto a newer and brighter time in Falls Church,” Board Chair Shannon Litton said.

Choosing the elementary school’s new name came easily. Each board member had the same top two picks — Oak Street and Tripps Run, in reference to a nearby creek.

Those who favored Oak Street argued, among other points, that naming the school after the creek is only one step removed naming it after a person, specifically the creek’s historical namesake, Silas Tripp, and that the name’s grammar and spelling could confuse students.

“If the run was not named after a person, I’d be in support of Tripps Run,” Vice Chair Laura Downs said. “I do have some concerns that, in the end, the body of water was named after a person, and we don’t want to find ourselves here years from now because of something someone found.”

For the high school, however, the board was split between Meridian and West Falls Church or West End before ultimately voting 5-2 for Meridian after many awkward pauses. A few members lamented the board-imposed rule of disqualifying the names of people dead fewer than 10 years, saying Ruth Bader Ginsburg would make a fine name.

Meridian’s proponents highlighted the fact that it had been proposed by a teacher, Meridian Street‘s history as a boundary for the original District of Columbia, and its global connotation, which they argued would be fitting for a school that offers the International Baccalaureate curriculum.

As a bonus, they added, “M” paraphernalia from the former Mason name will not be obsolete.

Opponents dismissed the bonus, criticized the name as generic, and worried that it would be unfamiliar to graduates, requiring frequent explanations of its ties to local history.

Elisabeth Snyder, the student representative to the board, said she could not find a clear frontrunner based on conversations with students and teachers. She shared that many had expressed support for Meridian because of “how it connects to IB and inclusiveness,” while acknowledging that the Falls Church association isn’t instantly apparent. Read More

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(Updated at 9:50 a.m. on 4/21/2021) Local officials and organizations expressed relief at the guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial for the murder of George Floyd, while also reiterating a need to address inequities and discrimination within the criminal justice system.

Yesterday (April 20), Minneapolis, Minn., police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murder and manslaughter for killing George Floyd on May 25, 2020 by kneeling on his neck. Captured on video, Floyd’s murder spurred protests against police brutality around the world, including in Fairfax County.

Within minutes of the verdict, the Fairfax County Police Department and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay shared their separate statements together.

Notably, FCPD’s statement does not specifically mention the trial or the guilty verdict, but does speak to their ongoing reform efforts and repairing trust in the community.

Del. Mark Keam, who represents the 35th District, including the Town of Vienna, said that the jury’s verdict “confirmed what the world witnessed.”

The Fairfax County chapter of the NAACP released a statement earlier in the day calling for peace no matter the verdict.

After the guilty verdict were announced, the organization re-posted NAACP national’s message on Facebook, which read:

“Justice has prevailed in the case against #GeorgeFloyds killer #DerekChauvin, but the work is not done! We must keep fighting to end qualified immunity, and we must get #PoliceReformNOW.”

Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano tweeted that the verdict was “a first step toward justice and accountability,” but he also called Chauvin’s trial “a dramatic reminder of the pain countless Black Americans experience as a result of a justice system that too often devalues their lives.”

Several of Fairfax County’s Congressional representatives said via social media that they agreed with the verdict.

Rep. Jennifer Wexton called it “a good day for justice.” Rep. Gerry Connolly wrote that the verdict was “just,” adding that “far too many Black lives have been cut short” and “we owe them real, structural change.”

“The jury confirms what we saw: Derek Chauvin is guilty of murdering George Floyd,” Rep. Don Beyer said on Twitter. “I’m thinking about George Floyd, his family and friends, who have been through such much.”

Wexton and Sen. Mark Warner urged their colleagues in Congress to support the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would require police to wear body cameras, establish a national registry for records of police misconduct, and limit qualified immunity as a defense in civil lawsuits against law enforcement officers, among other reforms.

Reston Now, Tysons Reporter’s affiliate site, reached out to the Fairfax County Police Association for comment but has yet to hear back as of publication.

Acknowledging that students and staff may be “experiencing a range of emotions” in response to yesterday’s verdict, Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand shared a list of resources for families and teachers to facilitate discussions about racism and help children “navigate this challenging time.”

“We must be fearless to bring forth change to ensure that our students and staff can learn and work in an environment where racism and hate are not tolerated, and all feel safe, valued, and included,” Brabrand said.

Photo by Nick Papetti

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Morning Notes

Lane Closed on Old Meadow Road Today — “The left lane of Old Meadow Road heading toward Route 123 will be closed for several hours beginning at 9 a.m. Friday, April 16, to permit minor asphalt repairs. This work was originally scheduled for Saturday, April 3.” [Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project]

Tension over Alleged Racism at Football Game Continues — Wakefield High School community members issued a letter on Wednesday (April 14) calling for a formal apology from Marshall High School in relation to a March 5 football game where players allegedly used racial slurs. Marshall’s coaching staff and parents have disputed that account, but some students recently released a statement criticizing their school for its handling of the incident. [Patch]

D.C. Airport Unveils New Addition — “After nearly 25 years, officials at Reagan National Airport on Thursday unveiled a much-anticipated addition, a sleek 14-gate concourse that will mark the end of operations of the much-maligned Gate 35X.” [The Washington Post]

Falls Church City Too Small for Retail Shopping — Even as Falls Church pursues a sizable mixed-use developments, Councilmember Ross Litkenhous says the city lacks the foot traffic or surface parking needed to attract retail merchants like Urban Outfitters or Macys. The city’s proximity to Tysons and Merrifield, though, means that residents still have many options nearby. [Falls Church News-Press]

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A second reported incident of racism at a football game involving Fairfax County Public Schools students has prompted the school system to schedule a meeting with athletic teams and coaches.

FCPS will be holding a “stand-down” meeting for all athletic teams and coaches “to begin this important conversation to support student-athletes in demonstrating appropriate behaviors required to play sports” in the school division, according to a new statement from the school system.

The statement “speaks to several incidents and we acknowledge that we have work to do as a school division,” FCPS spokesperson Lucy Caldwell told Tysons Reporter.

Of the “several incidents” Caldwell alluded to, two have been widely reported.

The more recent incident reportedly occurred at a junior varsity football game between T.C. Williams High School and James W Robinson, Jr. Secondary School on Monday night (April 5). During the game, a Robinson student allegedly spat on a T.C. Williams player and called him a racial slur. After this happened, the T.C. Williams team left the field in protest.

In the earlier incident, varsity Marshall High School football players were accused of using racial slurs against Wakefield High School in Arlington. One allegedly spat on a Wakefield player.

In the weeks since the game on March 5, the Wakefield students and parents have launched a campaign to demand accountability and change.

FCPS says in the statement that was released this morning that it “is aware of a number of allegations regarding the use of racially charged language and racial slurs in the past few weeks.”

“Our school division embraces diversity and strongly condemns hate speech and offensive, hateful language or racial intolerance of any kind on the sports fields, in school buildings or anywhere on or off school premises,” the statement says. “We will hold anyone found to have used such language while representing any of our schools accountable for their words and actions.”

FCPS says that players heard using such language will be ejected and suspended for future games, in accordance with Virginia High School League policies. Unsportsmanlike conduct will result in an immediate review of the game by officials and coaches.

The school division pledged to investigate “any incidents thoroughly” and to take “swift and appropriate action” if necessary. It has not, however, provided any update on the status of the investigation into the incident involving Marshall and Wakefield, despite multiple requests for comment from Tysons Reporter. Read More

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