On Monday, February 27th 2023, Congressman Gerald E. Connolly hosted his annual Black History Month panel, including Black leaders from across the Eleventh District of Virginia, to discuss government, advocacy, and policy to elevate Black voices. Panelists spoke at George Mason University to a diverse assembly of students, faculty, and other members of the community both in person and via a Facebook Live stream.
Speakers included Fairfax County Supervisor Rodney Lusk, NoVa Black Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sheila Dixon, Judge Rohulamin Quander, Dr. Iona Spikes, and GMU Black Student Alliance President Madison Bryan-Barnes.
“We have a lot of work to do in addressing disparities in the area of housing, in the area of healthcare, and in the area of police enforcement… We have allowed a culture of impunity in America… and we need to move to a culture of accountability,” Congressman Connolly stated.
The conversation spanned the more than four hundred years of racial inequities in America, from the 1619 arrival of the first enslaved people from Africa to the contemporary propaganda surrounding Critical Race Theory (CRT) and honest education.
Connolly stated, “It is almost Orwellian, attacking Critical Race Theory, attacking teaching 1619. These are all attacks on our history, the good, the bad, and the ugly. How do we progress if we don’t learn that history accurately and learn from it?”
Judge Rohulamin Quanderdescribed these attacks as “an effort to hide the truth.” He continued with an acknowledgement of the bravery and determination of Black Americans in the face of these malicious lies, stating, “The Civil Rights movement, the resistance… which I couple with organization and resilience, that began downstate. August 1619.”
Dr. Iona Spikes argued that the need for a historically accurate and equity-centered education has never been more important, “as we’re educating our children and making sure that not only do they have an accurate account of history.” She continued to explain the need for representation for our children: “I want an example for a person like me, a person that looks like me.”
Congressman Connolly took the opportunity to acknowledge the career and advocacy of Congressman Bobby Scott, the longest-serving Member of the Virginia Congressional delegation. The panel also celebrated the recent election of Congresswoman Jennifer McClellan, the first Black woman to represent Virginia in Congress, a role model for young Women of Color across the nation.
Madison Bryan-Barnes, inspired by Congresswoman McClellan, expressed that her biggest goal is “to make sure Black students on this campus feel safe, empowered, and all-around educated.”
Supervisor Lusk highlighted the first graduates of the carpentry program at the new Community Center in Franconia District. “Every young student is not going to automatically go off to college, and we have to be thinking about how we’ll address their education and their future success.”
Sheila Dixon urged, “All people of color, all people, gather around and honor people for who they are and not just what their social and economic background is.”