EDITORIAL: Hatred, hope and healing
Last week, the Ashburn Colored School was vandalized with crude symbols and ugly words. The community responded with an outpouring of support and kindness. In just a few hours, citizens rose to restore the rightful meaning to a story that echoed wrongly throughout the world during a moment of meanness and fear.
Since 2014, the Loudoun School for the Gifted has been working to restore the dilapidated, one-room building that was constructed in the 19th century to educate African American children living in Northern Virginia. The building has been standing for nearly two centuries, but time has severely compromised its structural integrity. More meaningfully, the relevance of an important Loudoun County story was put at risk.
“I think the thing that I would most want recorded would be the story of the students who went there. …,” says Dr. Deep Sran, founder of the school and coordinator of the restoration, on the project’s webpage. “How do you bring that story to life? Telling the human story of what it was like to be a student there, and the arc of the promise of post-Civil War, the failure of reconstruction, then the community builds the school, with very little progress for decades, and then desegregation … That’s what I’d focus on.”
In an irony of despicable action, the graffiti of bigotry and hate had unintended consequences: it stirred our community to take notice of a volunteer project that aims to address past struggles, to try to make things right in current times. It even brought together Loudoun’s politicians and political parties to speak out against intolerance.
Proximate to modern schools and comfortable neighborhoods – the visible symbols of growth in central Loudoun County – the Ashburn Colored School stands as both a statement about our legacy and as a paradox about our progress. It asks us to reconsider questions about race and equality and to rise above bigotry as we measure our capacity to act as a caring community.
Following the vandalism, one citizen spoke with heartfelt advice.
“My heart goes out to you all,” wrote Vaughan Dues on the Facebook page of the Ashburn Old School Rehabilitation page. “Stay strong and committed to your dream and try to forgive the childish behaviour of a few misguided, unthinking and insensitive people.”
Forgiveness is a difficult and noble action, neither weak nor a capitulation. It should not be confused with giving in or with giving up our standards or principles.
Phyllis Randall, the chair of the county’s Board of Supervisors, agreed on her Facebook page: “Now is the time for our county to rise above retaliation or revenge.”
Before the vandalism, the restoration the Ashburn Colored School by students was regarded by most as a laudable class project. In February, Times-Mirror reporter Hannah Dellinger reported on the work by students at the Loudoun School for the Gifted to restore the historic structure. Since then, the building’s deeper meaning has been regarded with amnesia. It took an act of vandalism to restore sensibilities.
A GoFundMe account has now been set up to help in removing the racist graffiti (gofundme.com/ashburnoldschool?ssid=758222767&pos=1 ). So far more than $64,000 has been raised, including donations from both political committees and from several elected officials.
More is required than money. The story of the Ashburn Colored School should never be lost. A day of community service is planned from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the building, 20579 Ashburn Road, with a rain date set for Monday, Oct. 10.
It is time to show up. It is time to restore the rightful meaning to a symbolic building. It is time to heal.
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