D.C. Council member Trayon White gave his inaugural State of the Ward address Thursday evening at the Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast, issuing a call for action in his quest to uplift the community.
In his popular call-and-response style, White began his speech with a quote from Washington Informer Publisher and civic activist Calvin W. Rolark Sr.: “If it is to be, it is up to me.”
The theme of the his address, “Be Ye Ready,” a reference to Biblical scripture, invoked his famous slogan, “Don’t just stand there, do something!”
“I believe that bad things happen when good people do nothing and my job is trying to bring those people together to ensure we have a great community to live, work and play in,” he said. “We must fight for our community because if we don’t stand up and stand in the gap, no one else will.”
Located east of the Anacostia River, Ward 8 has long been physically and economically cut off from the rest of the city’s growing prosperity. The median family income in Ward 8 dropped nearly 17 percent between 2006-2010 and 2010-2015, from $28,979 to $24,096. By comparison, while it rose in Ward 2 from $114,752 to $189,324.
Ward 8 has the city’s highest unemployment rate and contains the highest percent of residents who cannot access fresh food.
White said collective efforts within the community are a “must” and challenged the audience of community leaders and constituents to get involved in their neighborhood, adding that his office often struggles to get residents to attend hearings.
“I simply cannot do this alone,” White said. “I am only as strong as the people I lead.”
White hails from the very streets he presides over in the D.C. Council as the Ward 8 representative. The Ballou High School graduate grew up in the troubled Washington Highlands neighborhood, where his household experienced bouts of food insecurity and he often witnessed the drug and violent activity that plagued the area.
“It’s an honor to lead this ward,” White said. “This ward raised me.”
As a teenager, White got into legal trouble for stealing cars. In a 2008 Washington Post article, White said after his beloved teacher and mentor died, he began attending church and started “changing on the inside.”
He said with the help of the church, his grades improved, he became involved in student government and he began thinking about college.
Through his time in college at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in Princess Anne, Maryland, he traveled weekly to D.C. to mentor and coach sports with the East of the River Clergy Police Community Partnership before founding his own nonprofit.
He said his goal is to create “equitable solutions” within the ward to allow its residents to participate in the city’s overall prosperity, to make sure that “Ward 8 is not the last and the lost” and to empower people in the community to fight violence.
In November, White became the newest and youngest member of the council, coming aboard with a plan to serve some of the city’s most underserved populations.
The longtime Marion Barry protégé ran unopposed in the race for the Ward 8 seat once held by Barry after defeating then-incumbent LaRuby May in the primaries. He had previously lost to May in a 2015 special election to fill the seat, which was vacated by Barry’s death, by about 80 votes.
Since taking office in January, White has introduced a dozen pieces of legislation, many of which have been supported by more than half of the Council, and has secured several budget deliveries for the ward.
“Where there are no resources, there can be no outcomes. So we put our money where our mouth is,” he said. “It’s not about a handout, it’s about a hand up, because everybody needs somebody.”
Some highlights: $200,000 secured for nonprofit grocery stores, $200,000 to fund community grocery stores, $250,000 for a food incubator within the ward, $750,000 in small business and nonprofit grant opportunities, $11.9 million expand the ward’s recreation options, $15 million for a new recreation center in Congress Heights, an $8 million TANF extension in the city and a $17 million infrastructure training facility set to be located in the ward.
“The legacy I would like to leave when this is all said and done is ‘Trayon White not only led, but bought people up and helped them to lead,’ because I’m only as strong as the ward is,” he said. “We focus a lot on building development, but we need to work on people development.”