At a recent public safety forum Council member Trayon White, Sr. (D-Ward 8), sat facing a crowded gymnasium and was blunt about what’s been going on in his neighborhood, and what his constituents have been facing.
“We have to understand the intersectionality of the issues. No one is coming to save us but us, because this is our community,” said White in his opening statement.
The forum came as a timely one after a woman and a four-year-old child were shot in Anacostia two days before it, and an Anacostia high school student, Thomas Johnson, was fatally shot the week before.
One of the main ways White’s office planned to improve conditions in Ward 8 was advocating for more funding for local businesses and programs, initiatives, and organizations. He invited leaders of local organizations and schools to speak at the forum to offer suggestions for solutions to problems.
“We can do more and we should do more, but we won’t do more unless we organize and push the council,” White said.
The panelists, and members in the audience, mentioned the importance of governmental funding to helping the ward’s youth and families in the areas of housing, education, safety, and activity.
In his 2019 budget request, Council member White requested the council fund $1.3 million to support a pilot intensive youth mentorship program, and $10 million to be put towards violence prevention and intervention grants for the city’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, where the Safe Passage program is housed.
In May, the D.C. Council approved a budget of $15.5 billion to address the direst needs of the city, like improvements to public housing in Southeast Washington.
However, the approval came with debate among the council members about the allocation of funds, and a flat-out rejection from D.C.’s Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey S. DeWitt in June, haltering the spending process all together, according to The Washington Post.
Still, the push for more resources and adequate funding seemed to be on the tongues of panelists invited to speak at the forum last Tuesday.
According to them, educational and violence prevention programs, local school improvements, trauma-based solutions and mental illness resources, public housing and jobs all needed more attention, and funds.
“There is funding. We need to tap into that funding,” said panelist Regina Sharlita Pixley, a Ward 8 ANC commissioner and community member.
“They don’t see us”
Tyrone Parker, who runs the Alliance of Concerned Men, lost a 19-year-old son to gun violence. His loss, and the ones of other young men and women, makes him even more invested in improving the community.
Parker remains optimistic about the grants the Alliance received from the Attorney General Office, and the district’s Department of Youth and Rehabilitation Services, but more is needed.
“This is our first year, in seven years, of getting any real support from the city,” Parker told The Wash in an interview. He explained that changes in the city’s “agenda” affect the organizations who can benefit tremendously from financial support.
Around the office of the Alliance, newspaper articles and pictures of success stories decorate the walls. His team visits neighborhoods around the city, correctional facilities, and schools, mentoring young men and women to help them find other avenues for success – a practice that has been working since the early 90s.
Parker said that though funding is helpful, sometimes when the government steps in the voices of the people who have been doing the real work are drowned out, and the meaning of “community-based” is altered.
“I think it’s good if they make it inclusive of community-based grassroots organizations, now this thing has transitioned to a ‘government initiative.’ And there is no avenue for people to come in,” Parker said. “They’re the ones who’ve done the work.”
Founder of ManPower DC, Jimmie Jenkins, was at the forum and spoke to The Wash about his concerns regarding government funding being poured into Ward 8.
“I’m not that confident,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins, a father and Washington-native, said that families East of the River are still behind, and there needs to be more emphasis on “equality.”
“We have to do more, and we can’t get complacent,” Jenkins said. “We have to do a better job of organizing and holding people accountable.”
Optimism rare, but remains
Despite the uncertainty of funding and resources, people committed to their communities are still working. Some are still optimistic about the future.
India Blocker-Ford, a mother and small business owner in the Woodland neighborhood of Ward 8, said she feels “very confident” that new government funds for the area will be distributed.
Tyrone Parker says he “doesn’t sleep,” and believes that as long as people want to see change, it will happen.
“There always has to be a comma, and never a period,” Parker said.