D.C. Council member Trayon White delivers the State of Ward 8 address to residents on Oct. 14. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

Ward 8 Council member Trayon White recently convened a State of the Ward Summit during which citizens from all corners of Southeast, not White, did most of the talking, making known their concerns about government response, senior services, public safety and other issues for nearly two hours.

On Sunday, Savoy Elementary School in Southeast turned into an incubator of ideas where residents of various ages and professional backgrounds outlined their vision for Ward 8 during breakout sessions, in the hopes that the council member and ANC commissioners would earnestly respond.

“I’m concerned about our young people and seniors,” said Charlene Hursey, 69, a Ward 8 resident of 20 years who took part in the summit. “I thought if I came and shared the information I got, it would make [the seniors I know] more willing to participate. I talked to the senior committee about transportation to events in the city.”

Hursey counted among more than 50 residents who candidly spoke about the conditions in Ward 8, expressing love for the place they call home while highlighting areas of improvement.

“It’s difficult to schedule the Department of Parks and Recreation bus,” she said. “The city offers so much, but we’re apprehensive about going outside because we don’t have a relationship with the young people. We don’t talk and there’s a disconnect.”

The summit was one of numerous community gatherings held since White (D) took office in 2016, including events at Union Temple Baptist Church and Rocketship Rise Academy Public Charter School, both in Southeast.

At Sunday’s summit, White pledged to integrate constituent suggestions into his legislative agenda.

“I wanted to do something different, more of a community call to action around issues of public safety, health, education, housing, workforce development, economic development and senior and youth services,” White said, acknowledging affordable housing and a lowering of the average median income eligibility requirements as a priority.

“This is an ongoing commitment to something we’ve done for two years,” he said. “This is a community-based approach and we use Ward 8 residents’ advocacy to push the envelope.”

In his remarks, White recounted visiting a teenage victim of gun violence at Children’s National Medical Center in Northwest last week, affirming the need for healing circles for affected families.

Later, he touted the construction of a Ward 8-based homeless facility, two recreation centers, and the Entertainment & Sports Arena in Congress Heights. White also outlined his efforts to curb the impact of traffic tickets and provide K-12 students in Wards 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 a violence-free passage to and from school.

White also addressed the controversy around his recent vote to approve the repeal of Initiative 77, a voter-mandated ballot measure to gradually raise the minimum wage of tipped workers to that of wage employees.

“They don’t tell you that this was in the law since 2016,” he told the constituents in attendance Sunday. “The referendum was misleading to a lot of people and would force some restaurants to close in Ward 8. I went around to several different restaurants and some of the workers were adamantly opposed to it. The new bill made sure there was a system where employees could report wage theft.”

The complexity of the wage bill issue strayed far from the mind of a widowed Ward 8 resident on the brink of homelessness.

The elderly woman, who did not want to give her name, said she sought answers about the lack of affordable housing for people in her predicament.

“It has been six months since my husband passed and I’m at the point where I can’t afford rent,” she said. “There’s nowhere to sign up for affordable housing. I’m just struggling, and it feels like they go higher on the rent. I had to go to disability services to make sure they didn’t go higher on the rent, but it’s still a problem. I can’t buy anything else.”

Nearly a month after the number of homicides in D.C for 2018 surpassed that for the previous year, Ward 8 resident Regina Pixley said she wanted to see more resources geared toward protecting young people and the elderly.

“Public safety is dear to my heart,” Pixley, also a candidate for the ANC commissioner seat in single member district 8C04, said during the public safety breakout session. “I have a son who was shot in both of his legs in August 2016. My uncle was killed 26 years ago. Violence has struck my family multiple times. I’m going to work and do something about this senseless violence. We have to look out for our babies and seniors who paved the way.”

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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