by Asra Q. Nomani
Fairfax County Public Library officials are paying controversial writer Nikole Hannah-Jones, author of The 1619 Project, $35,350 for a one-hour lecture on Feb. 19 at the McLean Community Center, with a price tag that amounts to $589 per minute, according to a copy of the contract obtained by the Fairfax County Times.
Fairfax County Public Library, a county government agency, is paying $29,350 of the total fee and the McLean Community Center is paying $6,000, according to Jessica Hudson, library director.
Local taxpayers are raising issues with the expenditure, coupled with the $22,500 that the Fairfax County Library paid for divisive author Ibram X. Kendi for a 60-minute virtual discussion last month. The combined amount to both speakers comes to $57,850, or about the annual starting salary of $54,421 for a librarian in Fairfax County. This past August, library officials announced they were curtailing operating hours because of “ongoing staff recruitment challenges.”
“By my estimates, the Fairfax County Public Library is using over $60,000 in taxpayer funds to host Ibram Kendi and Nikole Hannah-Jones as speakers,” said William Denk, a local resident who first alerted the Fairfax County Times to the bill, after discovering the fee. “I would like to see the Board of Supervisors reach out to Kendi and Hannah-Jones to ask that they return these funds to Fairfax County to help our local homeless population.”
The event, called “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story – Meet Nikole Hannah-Jones,” is scheduled for the McLean Community Center’s Alden Theater, which seats about 383 people, over the President’s Day weekend.
The contract for Hannah-Jones, an advocate for “equity” programs nationwide, states, “The Library is responsible for the following expenses: First Class Airfare,” including “non-stop, direct (when available) airfare.”
On its official website, Fairfax County Public Library states that its Board of Trustees makes budget recommendations to the county’s local 10-member Board of Supervisors, which sets the county budget and local tax rates. The library has a 12-member Board of Trustees, representing the county’s nine districts, one at-large, one representing the school board, and the other the City of Fairfax. Their website includes their biographies and contact information.
In its advertisement for the event, Fairfax Public Library states, “Celebrate Black History Month! The 1619 Project illuminates the legacy of slavery in the United States and highlights the contributions of Black Americans to American society. Nikole Hannah-Jones will discuss The 1619 Project, its reception, and her book, The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story. A Q&A will follow her presentation.”
The contract states that “any additional services, appearances, requests or activities” that Hannah-Jones provided not stipulated in the contract “may require additional fees,” and “Library shall not plan any additional appearances or activities” without the Lavin Agency’s written agreement. The expenditure comes amid growing skepticism over the misappropriation of taxpayer funds.
“This is a direction we’ve been following recently in the misuse of public funds for propaganda programming,” said Michael Albin, a Fairfax County resident since 1979 and a member of Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance. “Now they’ve upped the ante by paying $35,350 to Nikole Hannah-Jones, not for her ideas, but for her star power. For her ideas, you can read her book (at the library!) or go online to read them for free. She’s invited to sabotage American history and ideals at a library talk, and when?… get this, on Presidents Day weekend, a patriotic national holiday. If that isn’t sabotage of our values, I don’t know what is.”
Albin said that the alleged misappropriation of funds is promoting a controversial “equity” policy that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted some years ago, called “One Fairfax,” following contracts with outside consultants, PolicyLink and the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity. based in California. One of the themes is “Equity benefits everyone.”
The latest expenditure for Hannah-Jones comes after a string of big-ticket payments to Kendi. As reported earlier by the Fairfax County Times, three local agencies — Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), the Reston Community Center, and Fairfax County Public Library — have also paid divisive author Ibram X. Kendi a total of $58,500 for three hours and 50 minutes of talks since 2020, most of which were virtual.
In response to criticism about the expenses for recent library events, Hudson said that the Hannah-Jones event is “in line with Fairfax County’s One Fairfax Policy and the MCC [McLean Community Center] Governing Board’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and access.”
This is an excerpt from an article originally published in the Fairfax County Times. Asra Q. Nomani is a former Wall Street Journal reporter who lives in Fairfax County.