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Arlington Spotlights: Sarah Summerville

Sarah Summerville worked on the Bill Clinton presidential campaign in Alabama and moved to Arlington in 1992 to work on the Presidential Transition Team. Sarah worked in presidential personnel during the transition, and after the transition she accepted a political appointment at the Pentagon and decided to remain in Arlington. In addition to establishing herself as a prominent employment law attorney, Sarah has accomplished a great deal through her civic activism. We spoke with Sarah by phone to learn more about her story and experiences within the Arlington community.

ACVS: Tell me a little about your experience as a community activist here in Arlington.

SS: I got involved in activism in Arlington really in 2003 when I formed an organization called No Arlington Stadium. This was around the time developers wanted to build a baseball stadium in Pentagon City.

ACVS: Could you explain a little more about the No Arlington Stadium project?

SS: I’m very proud of the No Arlington Stadium organization. I was one of the founders and we started working [against the building of the stadium] in March of 2003. We were successful! As you know, it was built in D.C. [Nationals Park]. As you can see, it wouldn’t have been a good fit for Arlington. D.C. had the space, infrastructure, parking, and Metro. Our capital [city] needed a team to call its own.

neighborhood day protest
No Arlington Stadium

ACVS: Did the No Arlington Stadium effort lead into you founding the African American Leadership Council

SS: Yes, it did. The stadium started being built [in Washington, D.C.] and I went on to a new issue, the African American Leadership Council. We founded that organization in 2007. The leadership council was an African American grassroots organization. It consisted of civic association leaders, black pastors, community activists, business leaders, elected officials and others.

ACVS: How did you all go about forming the African American Leadership Council?

SS: The whole notion and idea of forming the African American Leadership Council was the brainchild of Frank Wilson, a member of the Arlington School Board. He thought we needed to form an organization to groom African Americans for elected positions. He was going to be retiring and a bunch of us were invited to [the first] meeting at Mount Olive Baptist Church. We listed issues we wanted to address and decided we did not want to be a PAC [political action committee] to raise money to support candidates. We wanted everyone to be free [to choose] who they wanted to support. Then we developed strategies to create a presence in the County for when issues came up that we felt like we needed to be present at the table.

ACVS: How did you start to organize, and what issues/concerns were you focused on?

SS: First we developed strategies to communicate what we were working on to the African American community; that was our purpose. We recruited point people for various targeted groups, for example, the African American pastors, the civic associations, NAACP, African American business community leaders, sororities, fraternities, and the Virginia Black Caucus. We wanted to stay focused on the police department's policies and practices. Another part of our mission was affordable housing, and there was heavy support among the group to work closely with Arlington Public Schools on the achievement gap.

Sarah Summerville accepting Women of Vision Award
Women Of Vision Award

ACVS: Among all that you’ve accomplished with the African American Leadership Council, is there a project or accomplishment that sticks out particularly?

SS: We held forums for political candidates to come and answer questions from the community. We had a candidate’s forum in 2014 that also included a straw poll. It was for the 8th Congressional District at Mount Zion Baptist Church. The African American community came out to hear the candidates; the church was full to capacity. It was an opportunity for candidates to connect with eligible voters that they had not been able to in their regular campaign stops. The candidate forums were the biggest successes we’ve had in gathering the community. It wasn’t just congressional candidates. There were School Board and County Board candidates -- anyone who was on the ballot.

ACVS: What impact do you think that this work has had on the community?

SS: It’s had a great impact from the standpoint of what we organized for: to be a communication vehicle. We got information out to the community and they participated.

ACVS: Switching gears a little bit, I know you’ve been holding your family reunions in Arlington for several years. What about this community makes you want to share it with your extended family?

SS: There’s a major concentration of convenient activities in many of the Arlington neighborhoods for out-of-town guests to enjoy. I chose Crystal City, but I could have also selected Clarendon/Courthouse, Rosslyn or Ballston. We chose a hotel that connects directly to a Metro [station], Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, and a variety of shops and restaurants in the Crystal City Underground so family members could move around and access all of the conveniences without going outside. It’s too hot and the weather is too unpredictable for people to have to rely on walking everywhere outside. For my family reunion, we have approximately 120 family members (young and old) from all over the country, so safety is a big concern and Arlington is very safe.

Faulkner family reunion
Falkner family reunion

ACVS: What makes Arlington unique as a destination?

SS: What’s unique here is that my family did not have to stay in D.C. to have access to all the sights. They were able to stay in a community kind of place where they were free and safe to roam around. For my family, I think we were ideally situated and located.

ACVS: What are some of the activities that you and your family participated in, in the Arlington and the D.C. area?

SS: It was quite easy to organize, with Arlington being the base it gave us the opportunity to take advantage of other nearby places. We had a private wine tour 45 minutes from Arlington and we also did a family day at the National Zoo, only a 10- to 15-minute drive. Another activity was a Monuments by Moonlight tour, which stops at the Iwo Jima/Marine Corps War Memorial here in Arlington. The finale, the tour that everyone participated in, was the African American Heritage Tour through KB Tours.

Author: Olivia Jacobs