Instead of standing before a microphone and delivering a speech on his accomplishments, D.C. Council member Trayon White decided to employ another strategy for his recent State of the Ward address: He’d let his constituents do some work.
“A 30-minute speech doesn’t bring about the change that our ward needs,” White, a Ward 8 Democrat, told The Informer at his event that took place at the Bald Eagle Recreation Center in Southwest on Monday, Sept. 30. “People in this ward need to get involved in fighting our challenges. The people need to take on issues such as health, education, housing, public safety and budget equity. One person can’t do it alone.”
In his opening remarks to the roughly 350 people in attendance, White made it clear he takes his service as the ward’s legislator seriously.
White pointed out that 174 people have been the victims of gun violence in the ward and 32 youth have been shot in Ward 8. He said young people in the ward feel voiceless and said the gun violence really translates to an “‘absence of Dad’ problem.”
“Ward 8 consists of 82 percent of single-parent households and the overwhelming majority of those are run by African American women,” the council member said.
White chided some members of the audience for their complacency in the community.
“Bad things happen when good people do nothing,” he said. “Some of you have gotten too comfortable with the status quo. In this ward, I am afraid of ‘Negro removal’ because the African American population is shrinking in this city. Gentrification has become genocide and too many of you have become too complacent and too comfortable.”
After his address, White requested residents join one of several tables set up with working committees to deal with issues such as community engagement, workforce and entrepreneurship, mentoring, service providers, the faith-based sector, financial literacy/home acquisition and trauma/meditation/mental health. The residents had their choice of committee to join.
Residents in these groups had a facilitator, usually a member of White’s staff, and they discussed the issues as a selected resident wrote down opinions and next steps on a large sheet of paper.
The community engagement, workforce and entrepreneurship and trauma/meditation/mental health had a large number of participants while the service providers had only four. During the discussions, the residents sometimes became passionate and the facilitators seemed to encourage this.
White visited the groups, listening intently and at times injecting himself into the discussions.
Randell Strickland, who actively participated in the community engagement and became the committee’s scribe to write down member’s feedback, deemed the process productive.
“I am a Ward 8 resident and I am here in a personal and professional capacity,” said Strickland, who works for District government’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement. “I really enjoyed this exercise and I plan to stay involved. We must continue this because the survival of our community depends on it.”
White said there will be a follow-up session on Oct. 16 at the District Department of Housing and Community Development headquarters and a public safety hearing on Oct. 22 at the Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School, both located in Southeast.
During the event, the ward’s politics emerged as the chief topic in private conversations. Community activist Stuart Anderson and 8C ANC chairman Mike Austin, who are considering challenging White in the 2020 Democratic primary, attended the event but didn’t participate in the work committees.
White hasn’t announced publicly whether he will run for reelection next year, but many residents expect him to seek a second term. If he does, Vickie Moore said she will vote for him.
“Trayon White is so humble and is really involved in the community,” Moore said. “He really knows and cares about the people and is reliable.”
Ilene Goodwin, a lifelong resident of Anacostia who remembers when her neighborhood had a predominantly white population, hasn’t committed to supporting White but has an open mind on his possible candidacy.
“If he shows me he can make positive changes in Ward 8, then yes, I can support him,” Goodwin said.