Hamil R. HarrisPrince George's County

For New Carrollton Mayor, COVID-19 Food Assistance is Par for the Course

It was a fierce storm, but New Carrollton Mayor Phelicia Nembhard was unconcerned as she stood in the middle of Lamont drive and directed an endless line of cars into the parking lot of Charles Carroll Middle School.

The line of people picking up boxes that contained gallons of milk, juice, corn dogs and cans of vegetables stretched four blocks as city workers, from trash collectors to office clerks, put boxes of food into cars in this Prince George’s County city of nearly 13,000 residents.

“We feed 1,200 people on Wednesdays and another 600 on Fridays. It is just the pandemic,” said Nembhard, who was feeding and finding clothing for families in New Carrolton long before COVID-19 came to America, killing hundreds of thousands and gutting the assets of people from all walks of life.

From Charles Carroll Middle to Lamont Elementary to Parkdale High School, Nembhard was known as “the PTA lady” from the Moravia church who trolled around with a van filled with food and essential items. On one occasion, this writer was standing at a bus stop, and she rolled down her van window and said, “take this hat man,” with her Jamaican accent.

In 2018 Nembhard was drafted into public office after 55 voters wrote in her name and elected her to the New Carrollton City Council.

But what has once considered a political fluke in a local city election became very serious after longtime Mayor Andy Hanko died. In June of 2020, this 51 -year-old mother became the first African American to serve as the mayor of New Carrollton.

Nembhard, a licensed realtor, is a lawmaker who has come at the right time, say her supporters. But instead of hobnobbing in business suites, most people know her for her presence in the streets.

“Some people don’t have good jobs, and with the kids being home, many are short on food,” said Nembhard, who is a wise lawmaker, has quietly cleaned house in city hall as well, looking to install officials, black and white, who are loyal to her plan.

In addition to serving the community, she is revamping the local government, looking to fill positions that include deputy city administrator and director of finance.

Nembhard, who doesn’t run for re-election until 2023, said she never dreamed of being mayor, said she now gets calls from would-be politicians who want to emulate her.

“My goal is to reduce our taxes for city residents, stamping out our food shortage, and renovate an abandoned pool into a community center,” Nembhard said, adding. “We also want to develop a new community arts district.”

While there are many activities in New Carrolton, Nembhard admits she can’t do everything by herself. She is now recruiting community partners as well as members of the faith community to bring families closer.

“We are also partnering with United Baptist Church, Ebenezer Church of God, and Trinity Moravia to get our churches involved in the community because domestic violence is on the rise.”

Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the Greater Washington Area. Hamil has chronicled the Million Man March, the Clinton White House, the September 11 attack, the sniper attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the campaign of President Barack Obama and many other people and events. Hamil is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of the Washington Post where he writes a range of stories, shoots photos and produces videos for the print and online editions of the Post. In addition, he is often called upon to report on crime, natural disasters and other breaking issues. In 2006 Harris was part of a team of reporters that published the series “Being a Black Man.” He was also the reporter on the video project that accompanied the series that won two Emmy Awards, the Casey Medal and the Peabody Award. Hamil has lectured at Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, the American University, the University of Maryland and the University of the District of Columbia. He also lectures several times a year to interns during their semester in the District as part of their matriculation at the Consortium of Christian Colleges and Universities.

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