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Interfaith Communities for Dialogue (ICD) is an organization that brings together diverse communities to build trust, cooperation and caring within and among diverse religious, ethnic and cultural groups.  In this context, George Floyd’s death at the hands of police in May 2020, galvanized an intense concern about Racism and Systemic Bias – how it is manifested in our community, what is currently being done about it, and what we, as individuals and groups, can do to advance equity. To illuminate these issues and engage with others in working toward their resolution, ICD embarked upon a series of four educational workshops that were open to all who wished to participate.

In Workshop 1

Understanding Racism (October 25, 2020),  Camara Phyllis Jones, MD, MPH, PhD, Family Physician, Epidemiologist, and Past President of the American Public Health Association (APHA), offers real life scenarios and allegories to explain the societal forces that undergird racism and affect our perspectives and our reactions to situations and events.  She describes racism as operating on three levels – institutional or structural, causing differential access to services, experiences, and opportunities; personally mediated, whereby assumptions about an individual’s abilities, motives, or intents impact daily human interactions; and internalized, the tendency of stigmatized individuals to develop a diminished sense of self-worth. By putting ourselves in the shoes of “the other”, we can begin to appreciate the impact of these biases. 


Workshop 2

examines Racism in the Education, Police, and Judicial Systems (November 8, 2020). Three local experts discuss the evidence and impact of systemic racism in each of these sectors and the ways in which they intertwine, resulting in long term disparities of opportunity.

Mike Woltz, Chair of the Title I Parent Advisory Committee of the Fairfax County School Board as well as Chair of the Diversity, Inclusion and Outreach Committee of the Northern Virginia PTA, describes differential perceptions and treatment experienced by young males of color in Fairfax County Public Schools, leading to both short- and long-term negative consequences. 

Captain Darrell Nichols, the Equity Lead for the Fairfax County Police Department in One Fairfax and Co-Chair of the Human Relations Policy Committee notes that “Implicit bias, which people may not recognize as part of their outlook, affects everything - recruiting, promotion, training at the police academy, and arrests.”  His job is to train Team Ambassadors and the entire police department to recognize, understand and find solutions to adjust the lens through which they perceive and react to the people they encounter. He encourages his colleagues to ask: Who are we stopping and why?  Are we recruiting from a more diverse population?  Are we examining our personal assumptions?

Sean Perryman President of the Fairfax NAACP at the time of the workshop, is a leader in addressing equity issues including the school to prison pipeline, police reform, and technology and artificial intelligence policies.  He cites data indicating the disparity of reaction to both students and adults from different backgrounds when they exhibit the same negative behaviors. For example, students of color are more likely to be removed from the school setting for disciplinary reasons leading to escalating disruptions in their education and subsequent charges of involvement in criminal activity, a phenomenon known as the school to prison pipeline. Mr. Perryman expresses hope that this pattern can be broken by asking questions such as “Who are we suspending and what for?” 


Workshop 3

explores Systemic Racism in Health and Housing (January 31, 2021). Michelle Krocker, MUEP, Executive Director of the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance reviews the history of “redlining”, a practice created by federal policies in the 1930s that restricted access by “non-whites” to certain designated areas. While such practices are now illegal, the legacy of the racially segregated neighborhood patterns established through these policies remains to this day and continues to affect access to educational and career opportunities that ultimately reduce accumulation of wealth and upward mobility in African American populations.

Georges C.  Benjamin, MD, Executive Director of the American Public Health Association (APHA), cites data on the higher morbidity rates suffered by minority populations. Dr. Benjamin notes that your zip code dictates many factors, referred to as the social determinants of health, responsible for the root causes of health inequities.  These include access to healthy environments in schools and housing, good jobs and transportation, nutritious foods, safety, and green space. Dr. Benjamin advocates using zoning in a positive way, investing resources toward maintaining neighborhoods, building communities, and encouraging long term healthy relationships.  

Workshop 4

Building Bridges to Racial Equity (March 7, 2021) affords the opportunity to formulate ideas on how we, as individuals or as part of a community, can effect change.

Marty Swaim, co-founder of the Arlington-based nonprofit Challenging Racism and a lifelong educator, discusses the history of racism in the pre- and post-Civil War periods, noting the persistent political usefulness of divisive messages claiming that any gains by Blacks meant losses for Whites. She focuses on the importance of setting high standards for educational achievement and opportunity and development of civic pride.

Karla Bruce, Chief Equity Officer for Fairfax County, Virginia,  provides management of the One Fairfax strategic framework to create equitable opportunities for all Fairfax County residents. Engaging stakeholders and partners, she advises and supports the Board of Supervisors as well as executive and department leadership in shaping and directing policy.  Bruce discusses the One Fairfax focus on institutional and structural barriers and its operational goal of turning “islands of disadvantage” into “communities of opportunity”, noting that equity in all areas of community life requires fairness, not sameness.


Workshop participants brainstormed ideas to continue learning and to address the inequities in education, health, housing, justice, police, and other systems. This work will continue!

Workshop 5

Racism: Costs For Everyone And Ways To Prosper Together (March 13, 2022) opened with a viewing of a 2019 TedTalk by economist Heather McGhee, author of The Sum Of Us. In a series of anecdotes, McGhee demonstrates the psychological and economic harm experienced by individuals and communities because of their racist assumptions, including the belief that our resources constitute a “fixed pie” and the fear of losing something by giving a larger slice of that pie to “others”. This zero-sum thinking, McGhee explains, yields bad policy for all.  Engaging the community in team efforts can lead to revitalization and growth of the pie.


Workshop speaker Karla Bruce, who serves as Chief Equity Officer of Fairfax County, described how the county’s One Fairfax strategic plan is identifying and addressing local disparities. Importantly, she suggested how individuals and local organizations can play a vital role in strengthening “communities of opportunity”. She showed that data drawn from a report of The Center on Society and Health depicts resource-poor pockets of lower income residents, creating an “uneven opportunity landscape” in the county. The One Fairfax philosophy of “We ALL do better when we ALL do better” puts a strategic focus on equitable access to opportunities in all Fairfax communities.


Splitting into small discussion groups, workshop participants shared their thoughts and experiences with zero sum thinking, personal visions of an equitable future, and opportunities for action.

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