As we close out another Black History Month – though, as former NFL player and Loudoun County philanthropist Santana Moss said in reporter Nathaniel Cline’s story this week, the contributions, successes and stories of African Americans and their impact on our society should be celebrated every day, year-round – we reflect on the remarkable Black leaders, young and old, making Loudoun County a better place.
In this space last week, we ran in its entirety the award-winning poem from Rock Ridge High School sophomore Zahria Ford. Far as we can tell, it’s the first time we’ve dedicated our editorial page to running a poem in full, and we can all but guarantee we’ll do it again the next time Ford crafts such a poignant work of art and wishes to share it with the community. If you haven’t read the celebrated work, titled “Colors,” we encourage you to do so, and we challenge you to not get the chills as you read through it.
As readers know, we’re especially partial to the awe-inspiring skills of our local youth, something that can be found in our pages and on our website every week.
Bellen, after hearing fellow students commonly refer to peach-colored crayons as “skin-colored,” created the More than Peach Project, which creates and works to normalize the use of different colored crayons to represent diverse skin tones.
“There are different types of ways to be a leader. I do it by making sure no one feels left out,” Bellen said in late 2020.
More than Peach has achieved national recognition since its creation, leading Nickelodeon and Time to recognize Bellen as one of a group of “extraordinary young leaders who are making a positive impact in their communities.”
“It feels more like a movement than a project, because a project would be something that’s done one time,” Bellen said. “A movement means you keep on moving forward.”
That’s just so darn cool.
And there is, of course, Pastor Michelle Thomas, president of the NAACP Loudoun Branch and founder and executive director of Loudoun Freedom Center, who continues to move the needle when it comes to equity and racial awareness within Loudoun County Public Schools and other institutions in Loudoun County.
Thomas has been a constant news maker and equality-seeker for years, and while some in the community may not always agree with her stance or tact, we unflinchingly believe Loudoun is a better community for her persistent pushing of the envelope.
There’s no question that without Thomas there wouldn’t have come the recent news that Loudoun County Public Schools has agreed to a series of reforms following an investigation by the Virginia Attorney General’s Office into racial discrimination in the admissions policies at the elite Academies of Loudoun.
The agreement announced by Attorney General Mark Herring (D), a fellow Loudouner, goes beyond the admissions policies at the new Academies of Loudoun, a science and technology high school where African American students have been significantly underrepresented in the school’s student body.
The agreement also covers discrimination policies across the school system and places it under third-party monitoring.
These are just three examples of Black leadership in Loudoun. We acknowledge there are hundreds, if not thousands, of everyday Black community advocates worthy of recognition, and we endeavor to continue seeking out these stories. We are committed to telling the stories of African American culture and contributions within our corner of the world, and we pledge to do it 12 months out of the year.