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Prominent Black Women Back Reeder for D.C. Council

As the race for a crucial D.C. Council seat enters its home stretch, Dionne Reeder, a third-generation Washingtonian and entrepreneur who branded herself as a collaborator and bridge builder, can now count a bevy of high-profile Black female political and business figures as her strongest supporters.

Days after endorsing Reeder, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) joined Black female political candidates, business owners, organizers and academia for an intimate gathering Sunday afternoon at an upper Northwest enclave to raise campaigns funds on Reeder’s behalf and issue a call for on-the-ground action in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 general election.

“When I work with members of the council, you have to have people who are collaborative. [Reeder] has the spirit, personality and know-how,” Bowser, said to the dozens of Black women in attendance as she explained key differences between Reeder, running as an independent, and At-Large Council member Elissa Silverman (I), the incumbent with whom Bowser has clashed over the D.C. paid family leave bill.

Bowser stood among a cadre of speakers singing Reeder’s praises, including Women’s March co-host Tamika Mallory, Prince George’s County Executive Candidate Angela Alsobrooks and Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.

“Members of the council shouldn’t use D.C. as an experimental battleground,” Bowser said. “More than that, we have to get behind a woman who represents a missing voice on the council. There are women on the council, but none like Dionne. She will have my vote. We need you to engage your network of women and men and encourage them to put up a pink yard sign.”

A collective known as the Women of Substance & Service touted the event as the U.N.I.T.Y. Gathering, a private function and fundraiser for the Dionne for DC campaign.

On Sunday, guests visiting the suburban Spring Valley home of Marie Johns, former deputy administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, paid anywhere between $250 and $1,000 for admission and nibbled on mac ‘n’ cheese, salmon balls, chicken, pasta salad and other hors d’oeuvre to the tunes of DJ One Luv.

They later listened as Alsobrooks, a lifelong Prince George’s County resident, told the story of Reeder’s service to her late grandmother nearly four years ago when they shared a room at Washington Hospital Center in Northwest.

Alsobrooks said Reeder, recovering from knee surgery, came to her grandmother’s aid as she suffered from symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in the dead of night. Upon her release, Reeder, on crutches, visited Alsobrooks’ grandmother on occasion and wrote letters to hospital officials about hospital staff mistreatment in her time of need.

Reeder later continued the tribute to Black matriarchs, evoking the memory of her late mother, a figure on Kenyon Street in Northwest who often fed her neighbors fish dinners. She also reflected on her experiences as co-owner of Cheers At the Big Chair on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Southeast.

“I’m standing on the shoulders of women who allowed me to serve them, but showed me how to serve you,” Reeder said while standing next to Bowser, Julianne Malveaux and ANC 8C Chair Mary Cuthbert.

Reeder stressed that Bowser needs support on the D.C. Council to create laws that help Washingtonians from all walks of life.

Reeder also revealed her goal of collecting 51,000 votes in the remaining weeks before the election, including those of infrequent voters and people unfamiliar with her platform focusing on seniors, affordable housing, small businesses and vocational training in D.C. schools.

Recent outreach efforts include phone banking, appearances across all eight wards of the city as part of her #WorksForAll tour, and voter registration. If elected, Reeder said she would be readily accessible to residents via an open-door policy, community visits and immediate replies to emails.

“It’s important that we add quality of life for seniors,” she said. “They’re paying their rent and buying medicines before they pay attention to their quality of life. Let them age in place. Give them what’s necessary.”

Reeder also highlighted what she called the benefits of vocational training for students and differentiating herself from her opponent in her support for free enterprise and legislation to provide funds needed for expanding affordable housing.

“We need to look at ourselves and include vocational training and IT training in our schools,” Reeder said. “[Bowser] runs the school system, but she needs help doing it. Our city needs restaurants. The business community is an employer of D.C. residents. If you push businesses out, you won’t have the flavor of our communities.”

U.N.I.T.Y. Gathering host committee members echoed Reeder’s sentiments, lamenting what they described as the divisive climate of the D.C. Council.

Cora Masters Barry, an honorary chair who collaborated with Bowser, Alsobrooks, Johns, Campbell, Mallory, Malveaux, Marcia Dyson, Constance Berry Newman and Mignon Moore, among many others on this effort, cast Reeder as the antithesis of Silverman, who at one point said she wanted to cut funding for the Mayor Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Program, named for and started by the late D.C. political icon.

“Dionne Reeder is the first politician that I’ve ever met that embodies the spirit of Marion Barry,” the widow Barry said. “She’s courageous, smart and humble. She connects with people, and people come first in her heart.

“Unity is important because we’ve been disconnected,” she said. “There’s one Black woman candidate so we have to do some Black girl magic. As African-American women, we need our voices heard and need to get behind Dionne to make that happen.”

Reeder has decades of experience in the District’s public, private, and nonprofit sectors. After working on Capitol Hill, Reeder joined the DC Community Prevention Partnership, where she helped more than 200 first-generation college students matriculate to an undergraduate institution.

As D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams’ Ward 8 neighborhood services coordinator, she managed a budget of more than $9 million to address youth violence. More recently, Reeder connected D.C. youth with employment opportunities and engaged community members at the Far Southeast Collaborative.

Reeder’s colleagues and those who’ve worked with her in the community shared their views about the woman they hope will become one of D.C.’s at-large council members.

“Dionne brings sincerity and she’s in the trenches for people who are facing insurmountable odds,” said Theodora Brown, a lawyer and DCPS parent activist who met Reeder during a training for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Drug-Free Communities Support Program in Mississippi.

“She’s convicted about helping people,” Brown said. “We need someone who understands the plight of folks squeezed by the economic divide. She speaks to that and it resonates with the people.”

Cuthbert, chairwoman of ANC 8C, which includes Congress Heights in Southeast, said Reeder knows how to get the job done and demonstrates a knowledge of government operations that would greatly benefit the council. The elder community leader also expressed a desire for unity on the council and more community engagement.

“We need to work together as a team,” Cuthbert said. “There has been one council member who doesn’t support people of color. This is a city of diversity. Gentrification needs to be explained to the people east of the Anacostia River. They don’t understand it and feel the mayor can stop it. You can’t. It’s nationwide. We have to come out to meetings and be educated on the issues. You can’t sit home and assume.”

Marsha Middleton, program coordinator for the Ward 5 Drug-Free Coalition, recalled what she described as Reeder’s tenacity and dedication to reaching solutions while at the DC Community Prevention Partnership.

“Dionne loves D.C. and the people of D.C.,” Middleton said. “She’ll be an advocate for the haves and have-nots. She works to get the job done, no matter how long it takes. She’s open to working with everyone, and she has no problem teaching. Dionne has an extremely organized campaign with all types of people who have provided financial support. That’s why she has an excellent chance of winning.”

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