A growing number of citizens in Ward 8 agree that time remains of the essence in stopping, or at least retarding, forces that threaten to increase the cost of living for some of the District’s poorest residents and spur inevitable mass displacement.
Uniting around an effective strategy, however, remains elusive.
But that didn’t derail efforts initiated by the National Black United Front (NBUF) on Monday, Nov. 26 during which several dozen citizens from across the area gathered to discuss their concerns over a variety of overwhelming challenges that continue to disproportionately impact majority-Black communities East of the River.
“At the end of the day, the elders failed us. Y’all owe the youth, not the other way around,” Ivan Hall, a single father and lifelong Ward 8 resident who moved Uptown earlier this year to secure better educational opportunities for his daughters, said during the NBUF-organized “State of Southeast Town Hall Meeting” — moderated by Salim Adofo, chair of the D.C. chapter and ANC commissioner-elect for single-member District 8C07.
Within two hours, guests ranked the issues affecting Ward 8 in a survey, listened as ANC Commissioners Monique T. Diop (8D04) and Keeon Bassett (8B07) explained the duties of their positions and addressed schisms that have thwarted unity.
“We have a conspiracy where the people in leadership aren’t caring about us,” Hall continued. “If these leaders aren’t telling you about ownership, get them out of your community. We got a hierarchy of people who are getting too much money to give a [care].”
Others in attendance included Ms. Senior District of Columbia Emma P. Ward and John Cheeks, onetime candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives and proponent of expansive economic redistributive legislation for American descendants of slaves.
A representative of the Mayor’s Office of Community Relations and Services announced a groundbreaking for affordable dwellings on St. Elizabeths East Campus and T’Chaka Sapp, Ward 8 Council member Trayon White’s deputy director of constituent services, recounted the events of a recent turkey drive and requested more public support at council hearings.
Adofo also invited guests to join NBUF members at a future meeting to craft council testimony for pending legislation.
Minutes before Hall delivered his comments, Diop and Bassett summarized ongoing situations in their single-member districts. Diop, who represents the Bellevue community, said a small grocery store on the corner of South Capitol Street and Atlantic Avenue and a new office for 8D ANC commissioners have been opened.
Bassett, whose coverage area includes Stanton Road, and Alabama and Mississippi avenues, delved into her attempts to hold developers accountable to Ward 8 residents.
“We’re making sure they’re hiring Ward 8 residents for a project on Elvans Road. We’re moving forward to spearhead this before construction happens,” Bassett said. “Fifty-one percent of new hires are supposed to be Ward 8 residents. This is where it gets tricky. We have to hold these companies’ feet to the fire by making them come to our public meeting and bring records.”
For some participants in Monday night’s discussion, changing the tide will require more consistent participation in the political process by Ward 8 residents.
Regina Pixley, 8C04 commissioner-elect, lambasted the more than 30 Ward 8 ANC commissioners who she says have failed to maintain a visible presence like Diop and Bassett. Meanwhile, during his public comments, Commissioner-elect Darrell Gaston (8B04) expressed a desire to see elected officials engage ANC commissioners and residents more often.
Despite some apprehension to the significant presence of people who lived outside of Ward 8, some residents welcomed their guests, saying they look forward to what may transpire in future meetings.
“It was encouraging to see new faces,” said Veronica Proctor, a 52-year-old Ward 8 resident. “We don’t have as much participation as we need because some folks feel like they don’t have a voice. We have social services but there’s such a disconnect between those who need help and the providers. You’re expected to not be respected.”