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School, Neighborhood Safety Advocates Look Toward New Academic Year

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In her fiscal 2022 budget proposal, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) calls for money for an enhanced Safe Passage program to provide a microtransit system for students who live east of the Anacostia River.

Under the proposal, more than 200 adults associated with more than 40 District schools would help guide the students in their daily commutes.

With the fiscal year starting in October however, the enhanced program wouldn’t start until next January — much to the chagrin of student safety advocates.

In response, members of a State Board of Education (SBOE) committee have called on District leaders to provide resources that could get the enhanced Safe Passage program started as early as August.

“We want students to feel safe on the first day of school. I don’t think it’s intentional [but] our city leaders get stuck into the government timeline that doesn’t align with our school schedule,” said Dr. Carlene Reid, the Ward 8 State Board of Education representative.

On July 7, Reid and her board colleagues sent D.C. Council Chairperson Phil Mendelson (D) a letter asking that the D.C. Council does its part to get the enhanced Safe Passage program started at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.

For Reid, carrying out such a request may require the use of funds left over at the end of this fiscal year, or enlisting volunteers.

“We at the State Board gave a gentle tap to remind people that this is what the application of the fiscal budget looks like. We have students who can’t wait until January 2022,” said Reid, also a member of the SBOE’s Outreach & Advocacy committee.

“As our letter concluded, the State Board is ready to assist.”

A State of Emergency

Bowser recently joined President Joe Biden (D) at a meeting where she shared her plan for gun violence reduction and requested the federal government’s assistance in amending the local judicial system to ease the prosecution of violent offenders.

This week, District homicides climbed past 100 for 2021, according to data compiled by the Metropolitan Police Department.

As violence reached levels not seen in more than a decade, many of the bloody incidents involved people under the age of 24.

At the beginning of the year, in the aftermath of college student Edward Wade’s gun-related death at the New 7 Market on Good Hope Road in Southeast, violence prevention specialists, city leaders and community members increased their focus on what many believed to an epidemic caused, in part, by the dearth of extracurricular activities amid the COVID pandemic.

In June, Bowser announced, as part of her FY 2022 budget proposal, a $59 million comprehensive, public-health-focused approach to preventing gun violence. In addition to enhancing the District’s Safe Passage Program, the plan allows for more youth activities and training of school resource officers.

Bowser’s plan also involves the city’s violence interrupters and credible messengers, the numbers of which would be increased. This aspect of the plan, which comes with a price tag of more than $8 million, comes on the cusp of a citywide grassroots movement that unites violence interrupters and credible messengers around the goal of quelling neighborhood disputes.

No Slide Zone Looks to New School Year

This summer, violence interrupters, credible messengers. Roving leaders, and religious leaders have taken to the streets in great numbers, meeting community members of various ages at events throughout the city and connecting them to resources and wraparound services.

This movement, touted as No Slide Zone, attempts to end acts of gun violence by not only expanding the web of influence and knowledge that these leaders have in pockets of the city, but addressing the apathy young people often feel about the conditions of their neighborhood.

Since its launch and adoption by Building Blocks DC earlier this year, the No Slide Zone movement has established a presence in all eight wards of the District, and parts of Prince George’s County, Maryland and Virginia.

In anticipation of the 2021-2022 school year, No Slide Zone organizers have met with coaches and administrators at some District public schools. Their goal centers on creating a network of teachers, parents, and community members that can help mediate disputes that have been brewing throughout the pandemic.

“Getting the young people back into the schools has been important,”said the Honorary Dr. Warees Majeed, a No Slide Zone organizer.

“Because class has been virtual, a lot of the students haven’t had interactions with the other kids, so the fights and the petty things haven’t happened. We’re just trying to make sure the things that have happened since COVID don’t spill in.”

For Duane Cunningham, another No Slide Zone organizer, known to many as Cousin Wayne, the movement’s potential lies in the community’s ability to trust the violence interrupters, many of whom have increased their coordination and dedication to sharing resources and information for a greater impact.

“It’s not just about putting the guns down. It’s about bringing resources, and not just jobs and money. It’s like clothes, beds and someone paying utilities — all the things we think a person would need in their household,” said Cunningham. “This is the first time all the violence interrupters are learning to work together. This has never been done in D.C.”

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