ACT for Alexandria

Honoring Our Past to Understand Our Present

As the spring weather encourages us to explore Alexandria’s picturesque parks and streets, have you ever wondered who walked these lands before us?  Last week I attended a training by the Racial Equity Institute that began by honoring the people who originally inhabited the land of the DC region.  For more than 10,000 years, the Piscataway or Kinwaw Paskestikweya (roughly translated as “the people who live on the long river with the bend in it”) lived in a region that stretched from the western shores of the Chesapeake Bay to the Potomac River, including Northern Virginia. Members of the Piscataway live in our region today.  By beginning the training with remembrance and recognition, I felt more connected to the place where I live and work and to the people around me.  

The Racial Equity Institute provides training and resources to help people understand and address racism in their organizations and communities. The training was sponsored by Equity in the Center which works to shift mindsets, practices, and systems within the social sector to increase race equity. It offers programs and resources to help people nurture a culture of equity in their organizations. 

The two-day workshop presented a historical, cultural and policy analysis of the ways in which racism has influenced the present. From the establishment of the Jamestown settlement, to the enactment of land grant policies, to implementation of the GI bill, these and other seminal moments in US history have shaped our communities. They have privileged some and disadvantaged others. As I sat with a deeper understanding of the past, I began to develop new insights about the issues and policies that that we navigate today. 

ACT for Alexandria is Alexandria’s community foundation. We envision Alexandria as a vibrant place for all, where anyone can live a life to his or her full potential. When thinking of how we might address racism so that we can achieve this vision, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the enormity and complexity of the challenge. In his inspiring and moving memoir, Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson, lawyer and social justice activist, says that hopelessness is the enemy of justice. He encourages us to “get proximate” to those who experience inequality, noting “if you are willing to get closer to people who are suffering, you will find the power to change the world.” We must join as collaborators and allies in raising our collective consciousness about racism and build deeper relationships with our neighbors.

To support our collective learning journey, ACT for Alexandria has launched a Racial Equity Capacity Building Initiative, featuring workshops, funding, and community conversations. Throughout June, ACT will offer an Allyship Workshop designed to equip participants with tools to be active allies for racial justice. You can read more about this initiative here.

We also invite you to learn from organizations that are making a committment to equity.  Ask the Grantees:  Hear from Executive Directors Shannon Steene, Carpenter’s Shelter and Elizabeth Jones, OAR as they discuss how they are building a racial equity culture in their organizations. Both organizations received ACT Capacity Building Grants in 2018.  We will have time for Q&A so be sure to bring your questions!  This event is open to anyone interested in learning more about how to build a racial equity lens into your work.  Tuesday, June 25, 9-10:30am at Casa Chirilagua Community Center.  Register at:


Other helpful resources:

  • Racial Equity Institute’s Groundwater Metaphor.  The Groundwater metaphor is designed to help practitioners at all levels internalize the reality that we live in a racially structured society, and that that is what causes racial inequity.