Within a week, Ward 8 residents experienced nearly a dozen shooting incidents and a fatal on-campus stabbing that sent shockwaves throughout the entire District.
The ongoing bloodshed revived, once again, questions about how to stop the deaths of Black women, men, and children.
It has also highlighted residents’ skepticism about the District government’s ongoing efforts to tackle violent crime at its root.
“We’re our own liberators. Each community, city, and nation has to be in its own favor,” said Jay Sun, a lifelong Anacostia resident who’s currently crystallizing plans for a grassroots program focused on literacy, agriculture and health care.
Jay Sun, who’s also a co-founder of youth mentoring organization Cedar United, Inc., counted among several dozen people who attended an Aug. 19 community meeting that D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) hosted at United Planning Organization (UPO) Anacostia Community Service Center on Good Hope Road in Southeast.
While speaking before White, Gun Violence Prevention Director Linda Harlee Harper, and several community members and organizers, Sun challenged the notion that government officials, and those working on behalf of the government, could enter beleaguered communities and capture the attention of youth entangled in street beefs.
Sun reiterated that point when he later spoke to The Informer.
“You can’t have a director of violence prevention who ain’t bust their gun,” Sun said. “Why would young people heed the advice of someone who doesn’t know the spirit of the underworld proletariat class? There are rules of engagement you have to understand.”
‘We’re Always Slighted….’ 
As of Aug. 20, the District homicide death toll creeps toward 130.
The community meeting at UPO Anacostia Community Service Center took place one day after a 16-year-old student fatally stabbed Kemon Payne in front of KIPP DC College Preparatory in Northeast.
Kemon, 15, had ties to Southeast going back generations.
His death not only caused KIPP DC College Preparatory to close on Thursday, but invoked fury among some Southeast residents, like Robin McKinney, who pointed out the need for a community-based network that helped families in the aftermath of tragedy.
Though she acknowledged resources the District provides to families of gun violence victims, like hospital rides and covering of funeral costs, McKinney, an ANC commissioner, revealed that Southeast residents seeking answers about their loved ones often experience disrespect at crime scenes.
“We’re always slighted east of the Anacostia River,” said McKinney, commissioner of ANC 8A06 which includes the Anacostia neighborhood. “Time and crime don’t have an income or color. When do we come together as a whole community? I’m sick of it at this point.”
Building Blocks DC Seeks Long-Term Solutions
Earlier this year, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced the launch of Building Blocks DC, a program that addresses gun violence through a public health approach. She appointed Harper, then senior deputy director of Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, as director of gun violence prevention.
In partnership with the Gun Violence Prevention Emergency Operations Center, Building Blocks DC engages people participating in and affected by violent crime. Through engagement specialists, it connects them with resources and opportunities.
Building Blocks DC also coordinates the activity of District agencies, nonprofits, and community leaders already immersed in violence prevention work.
This latest gun violence prevention tool serves as an umbrella for violence interrupters, credible messengers, and other people meeting District residents in their communities.
Last month, Bowser announced $750,000 in grants to more than 60 individuals and community organizations tackling gun violence.
However, as Harper explained, results won’t come overnight.
On Aug. 19, she told residents at UPO Anacostia Community Service Center that Building Blocks DC’s success relies on establishing trust among those in need of resources, and bringing in as many community members as possible.
“People are speaking out who maybe you didn’t hear from before. On the other side, the shootings continue,” Harper said.
“The violence interrupters are doing the daily work from their heart and are able to reach out and connect the people we’re trying to reach,” she continued. “We have to figure out how to work together no matter if you have funding [or] who funded you. It will take each and every one of us.”

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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