In February of this year, DACL did a video series entitled “I am Black History” as part of D.C.’s celebration of Black History Month. (You can check it out on our YouTube channel, @DCAgingNews!) We were planning on continuing the video series before the Public Health Emergency (PHE), but the PHE changed all of our plans.
I’ve been thinking about the concept of I am Black History because D.C. is so rich with history and you — your generation — has an incredible wealth of knowledge and experience that we need to remember.
These days, you, and the lives you’ve led and continue to lead, have been on my mind: the lifetime of experiences and the changes you’ve seen over the course of your lives. Many of you participated in the 1963 March on Washington, and many of you participated again in the 2020 March on Washington.
In a span of 57 years, this city, and this country, has transformed itself. Now, we have a Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services, Wayne Turnage, who is the son of sharecroppers. Virginia Ali, the owner of Ben’s Chili Bowl, served and was a part of the Civil Rights Movement, including the original March on Washington. Our own Mayor is a fifth-generation Washingtonian. We’ve had a two-term Black president.
When I say that seniors made D.C. the incredible city that it is today, this is what I mean — the deep connection to social justice, the incubation of Black arts and music, the constant reshaping of D.C. to reflect what the Mayor calls D.C. values. Of course, this is the city where a road was named Black Lives Matter Plaza and written in unavoidable letters on the street.
And yet, 2020 has shown us how fragile and illusory progress towards equality really is (if anyone needed to be reminded). There has been so much to grieve. And because of COVID-19, it can feel like we’re alone. But we’re not.
I know this because Washington, D.C. is Black History, and this city continues to add to that history. I haven’t been able to talk to as many of you lately as I’d like, but the conversations I’ve had have been heartening.
I’ve been able to meet centenarians in the past few weeks, and this year, it occurred to me that we’re not just celebrating longevity, even though longevity is certainly worth celebrating! We’re celebrating the lives of ordinary people who have become extraordinary in their own ways. Some are quiet. Some are flamboyant. All of them have done the best they could to live their best lives and continue to do so.
Part of the powerful history of D.C. is how Washingtonians have shaped the city by showing up to vote. At every virtual event we’ve held over the past several months, at least one person has asked about voting — how to do it safely, how to encourage others to vote, how to make sure each vote is counted.
Living in D.C. has taught me that voting isn’t just about expressing an individual preference. Voting is really about creating and supporting the community we want. If you aren’t registered to vote, get registered. The deadline to register online or by mail is October 13. Please visit dcboe.org/Voters/Register-To-Vote/Register-to-Vote to get registered. Or, you can register and vote at the same time in person.
If you’re already registered to vote in Washington, D.C., your absentee ballot will be mailed automatically to you (you don’t have to request it) if it hasn’t been already. You can fill it out and mail it back or drop it off at one of several Board of Elections boxes throughout the city. If you want to vote in person, early voting is from October 27 to November 2, from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. On Election Day, November 3, vote centers will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
I’m going to ask one more thing of you. Many of you have friends and family who live in other states. Please encourage them to register and vote. Our election on November 3rd is urgent. For Washingtonians, this election could be the one that decides whether we finally receive the American promise of representation in Congress. For all Americans, this election is a referendum on whether or not we believe in democratic ideals.
Each of you has played a critical role in making Washington, D.C. the city it is today. Continue making history. Continue fighting for Washington, D.C. Continue believing that America can be better than the founding fathers could ever have imagined. See you at the polls (in spirit)!
Please visit DC Department of Aging and Community Living at dacl.dc.gov.