An upcoming Safe Passage Learning Walk in the neighborhood surrounding Center City Congress Heights Public Charter School in Southeast will provide an opportunity for parents, students and city leaders to be in accord about how to prevent incidences of violence that occur before and after school.
The learning walk will follow months of community meetings hosted by the Office of the Student Advocate to institutionalize a long-lasting Safe Passage program. Student advocate Dan Davis called the event the next stage in building trust between community members needed to support the endeavor.
“We’re doing this walk to build up capacity for safe passage and be more proactive with the schools about how adults and others should be more vigilant,” Davis said. “That [includes] making sure the adults know the environment, from school arrival to dismissal, and building upon the things that have taken place in Ward 8. It’s really about empowering the schools and stakeholders. We’re trying to tackle the same problems and we only talk in silos.”
By the end of 2018, the Metropolitan Police Department recorded 13 homicides involving minors. An additional 13 young people had been arrested for murder. The latest gun-related death, which involved a teenager in a Northwest rowhouse last week, compelled calls to curb youth violence.
In years past, iterations of the Safe Passage program placed volunteers along corridors throughout the city where fights had been known to occur. The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education designated Anacostia and Congress Heights Metro stations and Good Hope Road as safe-passage locations before and after school hours in 2017. Similar plans unfolded in other parts of the city near public and public charter schools.
As they discussed plans during a January Safe Passage and Student Safety roundtable at the FBR Boys & Girls Club at THEARC in Southeast, more than 50 community members implicated the societal conditions that prevent parents from properly raising their children, bureaucracy that isolates the returning citizens community from life-changing opportunities, and a school lottery system that made communities less cohesive.
However, D.C. resident and high school freshman Nehemiah Sellers had a more immediate response to youth violence.
For him, the success of Safe Passage programs depends on the support of Metro staff often within an earshot of a physical conflict. He recounted instances when adults watched teenager come to blows outside of Metro stations and on the platforms.
“Sometimes after school, people would get into arguments then there would be fights at the Metro station,” said Nehemiah, 13, a Southeast resident. “No one ever got hurt, so it wasn’t that big of a deal.”
Nehemiah, who said he’s been riding public transportation since the sixth grade, estimated his future commutes to his Northwest-based high school taking nearly an hour each way. At this point in his life, given what he has seen, Nehemiah said he has developed a strategy to avoid trouble.
“I know they can at least protect themselves, but it’s a warning [to me] to steer clear because I don’t want to get involved,” he said. “I avoid fights by making sure I’m hanging with people who don’t want to be a part of that. Or I just keep it moving, because I got stuff to do.”