Children play outside in the Kenilworth-Parkside neighborhood in Ward 7. (Courtesy photo)
Children play outside in the Kenilworth-Parkside neighborhood in Ward 7. (Courtesy photo)

More access to quality day care and early learning opportunities are still needed in the Kenilworth-Parkside area of Northeast.

Convenient transportation for access to grocery stores and laundromats and mothers who have children with special needs continue to lack nearby quality education options, while individuals on fast-moving dirt bikes and mopeds have largely interrupted the peace and threatened the safety of the elderly.

While the area has begun to change, thanks largely to a five-year, $25 million federal Promise Neighborhoods grant that resulted from the work of the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative (DCPNI), problems still persist.

“There are too many guns in our babies’ hands,” said Mary Brown, executive director of DCPNI. “[Also], we have several returning citizens — fathers — in our male pool so access to jobs to support their families … access to mental health and substance abuse supports are needed.”

For Kenilworth-Parkside, which has more than 7,000 residents, its issues could prove bleaker if not for Brown and DCPNI, who’ve regularly made good on promises to help.

The organization has developed a Racial Equity Anti-Poverty, or REAP, platform that addresses the challenges residents in the Ward 7 neighborhood face.

REAP amounts to a business plan that DCPNI will operate under where officials will work with residents and the community’s indigenous leaders, with 25 partner organizations.

“DCPNI has developed a universal platform for locally-driven innovation and racial equity that advances a lifelong pathway to heightened human development and economic freedom,” according to a statement found in the business plan.

The platform puts community at the center of locally-driven solutions with a constellation of partners aligning efforts and sharing data so that they could measure on individual, family, and community levels, and within schools to demonstrate what effect they plan has.

REAP embraces a four-point recipe for community transformation, including respectfully and mindfully engaging the community to assess the needs and assets of families.

Brown said youth in the area have often complained that “there isn’t anything to do here… no restaurants, shopping, movie theater or places in the community to be entertained.”

“They need yearlong jobs … ‘It’s boring,’ and they say that’s why they get into stuff,” Brown said.

Homeowners have their share of complaints too, she said.

“Not enough parking because of bike trails, the fear of too much building in one space with only one way in and one way out and the inability to flip their property because of perceived foreclosures in the Paradise community,” Brown said, listing some of the complaints.

There’s also the fear of designated brown zones where an old recreation center previously stood and the fear of having their property and cars vandalized, she said.

Also, among the public housing community, there’s real concern about gentrification.

“We can say all day about a pot hole or work we have been needing in our community. We get no response,” Brown said, again relating the concerns of some citizens.

“The white people that move in on the Paradise side ask for bike trails. They get their bike trails and then complain about parking,” she said, quoting some residents. “So a perception that the gentrifiers are more accommodated than those indigenous to the community.”

From DCPNI’s perspective, there’s an on-going issue with fragmentation in the provision of supports within the community.

“Well-meaning government agencies and non-profits that may do good work are collectively disconnected, actually exacerbating many of the challenges that our children, youth and family confront,” Brown said.

It explains, in part, the four core values represented in the REAP platform: Relationships, Relevance, Rigor and Resilience.

Relationships suggests that “I am my brother’s keeper,” and all relationships are important and valued, according to DCPNI’s REAP business plan.

Relevance is realized by the suggesting that those closest to the challenge are nearest the solution and community members and leaders are core to identifying and implementing locally-driven solutions.

Rigor relates how imperative it might be to reflect and measure performance, outcomes and effect on an individual, family and community level while resilience counts as the capacity to adapt to changing political, social and economic environments and making it essential to deliver on the mission, according to DCPNI.

“Kenilworth-Parkside community members are at the center of our work in the District of Columbia,” Brown said. “They are instrumental in determining community needs and providing constant feedback on the success of programming to meet these needs.”

A great number of creative solutions have emerged from their experience and strengths and community members help inform the creation of data instruments used to assess progress, and actually assist in administering surveys and other tools, she said.

“We have been providing and will continue to provide intensive capacity-building to support our indigenous leaders in growing their capacity to lead and manage programming and service delivery in the community,” Brown said. “Within our philosophy of ‘Each One Teach One,’ we are also training our community leaders to assist us as consultants in working with leaders in other communities seeking to adapt DCPNI’s platform to meet their needs.”​

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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