It’s probably been nearly 60 years since this many people were on the site of the once-abandoned Ashburn Colored School.
Roughly 50 people gathered this evening on the property that once served as the education center for Ashburn’s black students. County government, law enforcement and school leaders stood in front of microphones, cameras and members of the press from throughout the Washington, DC, metro area to answer questions about racist comments and symbols that had been spray painted on the historic one-room schoolhouse over the weekend.
“This has put us back on our heels a little bit,” said county Supervisor Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn). “This does not define Ashburn or Loudoun County.”
Sheriff Mike Chapman, whose office organized the press conference, said investigators do not know whether it was a group of kids who vandalized the building, as many have speculated, but they are leaving “no stone unturned.”
He said his office is working with a business across the street that has a surveillance camera. The camera is likely too far to have captured activity on the school site, but it may have recorded people walking to or from the property.
“Maybe we’ll have video of some folks who were hanging around that may have been responsible for this,” Chapman said. “We’re taking this very seriously. … We’re not going to tolerate this kind of behavior in Loudoun County.”
Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) noted that the damage done to the school building struck a chord in the community, both locally and even across the country.
“This was a place where children could come learn and feel safe, and after all these years, in 2016, for this to happen, it is just reprehensible,” she said. But she noted the silver lining, of donations pouring in to help support the restoration effort that has been in the works for almost two years by the Loudoun School for the Gifted. “The community has come together in amazing ways. Within hours, we had people asking ‘what can we do, how can we help?’”
Since Saturday, the small private school has raised more than $55,000 to restore the school to its original state. That’s more than double what was donated in the 20 months since the students started raising money.
In an interview, Loudoun School for the Gifted’s founder and academic lead Deep Sran said the support generated since Saturday morning—both in kind and financially—has fast-forwarded what he expected would be a two-year fundraising effort.
“On Sunday, we had $1,000 coming in per hour. That’s what we were raising per month,” he said. “When you have a worthy cause, you get lukewarm support. But when it’s something that hits people emotionally, they really respond. That’s what we’ve seen.”
He has seen so much response that he’s having to limit how many volunteers can be on the site at once. A Community Day of Service is planned for 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday at the school and the 300 volunteer spots filled up within an hour. Learn more about the Community Day of Service and needs for the project here.
Supervisor Buona encouraged people to go to the GoFundMe site to support the renovation effort. He committed to donate $1,000. “Please chip in,” he said. “I know we will restore this school. … We need to turn hatred on its head.”
Read related stories: