Recently, at the height of the controversy over efforts to amend a longstanding Arlington school desegregation plan that saw only black students bused, some white parents complained to reporters that media attention to the issue was "stirring up the black community."
Certainly, that could be one explanation for what happened. For Arlington blacks, who in the past were not seen very often at county government and political gatherings, started appearing with increasing frequency at School Board meetings about the same time that the local media began covering the issue closely.
But it is more likely that the seemingly sudden black interest in local government was the logical result of the black community's having stewed for 12 years over the 1971 decision by a federal judge that approved the busing of only black students to achieve integration.
Whatever the cause, no one can dispute the results. For out of that hearing-room presence came a victory--albeit a small one--and for Arlington County, predominantly white and affluent, a message. The county black community can be, if it wants to, a force to be reckoned with.
Still, the modest scope of the victory cannot be denied. After all the debate, the School Board amended the 1971 plan by allowing the youngest students affected by it to attend schools closer to their homes.
Specifically, under the new plan, kindergarten through third-grade students affected by the 1971 plan will be able to attend schools within South Arlington where most black residents live.
But the actual impact will be less than what the appearances suggest. Most of the 300 black children who spend as much as 40 minutes each way on a school bus in the name of integration will continue to ride those same buses. The revision will shorten the bus ride for only about 59 students this fall.
In addition, each of those 59 children will lose their right to attend schools in South Arlington upon promotion to fourth grade.
There are other signs that the victory is a small one. One is the simple fact that because of the attention devoted to the busing issue, other education issues raised by the black community this year ended up shelved temporarily "for more study".
For example, school officials, whose primary chore during the past school year involved school closings and consolidations, heard complaints from blacks about the disproportionately low number of black teachers and administrators compared with the number of black students, the disproportionate number of suspensions involving black students and inadequate or improper counseling for black students.
The board also heard on more than one occasion the complaints of many parents from the Nauck-Green Valley neighborhood who want their children to attend nearby Drew Model School, once that community's neighborhood school and anchor.
All of those concerns are now earmarked for study.
Even so, School Board Chairman Evelyn Reid Syphax, the only black member, who declared for all to hear "Thank the Lord" after the busing vote, is not dismayed. She sees the revised busing plan as a significant "first step," a "foot in the door" and notes that, before this year's actions, the plan had not been reviewed since it was approved in 1971.
"I am satisfied, but I don't think that everything concerned with busing of black children to achieve integration is over," Syphax said recently. But she also said she doubted whether any further actions to limit busing would occur in the coming year.
Other black leaders view the changes in the plan positively, although they also say they are not completely satisfied.
"We will go back to the board next year," said John Robinson, director of the Martin Luther King Community Center in South Arlington. Robinson was one of the most outspoken critics of the busing plan and organized much of the protest against it. He said he will organize blacks next year to address the problems of black secondary students bused for desegregation.
Such willingness to take a higher profile in the political process may be the best sign that the long dormant Arlington black community is rubbing the sleep from its eyes.
Robinson said, for instance, that blacks from the Nauck-Green Valley community will work to have the number of neighborhood children allowed to attend Drew Model School increased from 20 percent to 40 percent. That school draws students from all over the county, and attendance is determined through a lottery system.
This summer, Robinson also is leading a protest against the county government to ensure affirmative action in hiring.
Meanwhile, the Arlington chapter of the NAACP is working with black police officers who filed a discrimination suit against the Arlington Police Department.
Robinson and other blacks credit the board's action on busing this year and the optimism it generated to the leadership of Syphax, who steps down as chairman this week.
"Before, nobody really took their concerns to the School Board. But she . . . followed it through."
Syphax is not shy about her role, either. "If I hadn't addressed it, it wouldn't have been addressed," she said.
Her role in minority affairs during the next school year as she works through the last year of her term is expected to be equally aggressive. It is a time she says she will use to gain solutions to those issues only briefly discussed during the last school term, such as staffing.
For her, Robinson and other blacks, these are issues they say will "stir up" the black community next year. "They need to be stirred up," Robinson said. "Just because they live in the suburbs they think we don't have problems."