Taking the News to the Streets

African Unification Hosts Workshop about Personal Finance

Even with the political and social gains made in recent decades, many black families across the country remain mired in debt and generational poverty.  Experts and common folk alike agree that a substantial change in the status quo will require a shift in the way African Americans collectively think about money.

Dozens of men and women recently took that step during a two-day personal finance workshop at Francis Gregory Library in Southeast. The D.C. metropolitan region chapter of African Unification (AU), a national organization dedicated to bettering the situation of black people in the U.S. and abroad, hosted the event.

“Much of the black community doesn’t understand how money work and we know little about investment strategies beyond 401k’s,” Ameer Baker, president of the D.C. metropolitan area chapter of AU, told AllEyesOnDC.

On Saturday, Baker and his colleagues opened up the workshop with a short discussion before showing “7AM,” a documentary featuring black economist and author Dr. Claude Anderson that explores the missteps African-Americans made in starting businesses and gaining wealth in the decades since the end of chattel slavery.  On Sunday, finance expert Rob Boyd talked about credit and AU members raffled off three finance books.

“We have issues with money management and that’s why we end up in debt. People don’t understand generational wealth,” Baker added. “This event will help people become more comfortable in understanding how money works so they can be more financially well off. They should be investing in their goals and knowing how a strong financial foundation looks.”

The poverty rate in black America currently stands at nearly 27 percent, a level higher than that of war-torn Iraq, according to data compiled in the U.S. Census. Despite $1.3 trillion of buying power, African-Americans own less than 1 percent of the nation’s wealth. A report released by the Urban Institute earlier this year said black families attained nearly $11,000 in assets, a dozen times less than their white counterparts.

Though some reasons for the wealth gap include loss of property and lack of retirement accounts, Claude points to a myopic mindset among black business owners and a lack of support for black-owned businesses in “7AM.” Some people who watched the documentary on Saturday shared his sentiments.

“It’s about self-love and self-respect.  Our money has to circulate in our community,” Doc Kahres, budding entrepreneurship and chess instructor, told AllEyesOnDC. Kahres’ business venture focuses on holistic health, particularly spiritual and emotional well-being. “We’re in an uphill battle with skates on. At this point, I’ve been so focused on helping people that I haven’t thought about profit. I have to be more profit-focused so I can put that capital back in the community. That scenario adds another aspect of the discussion for me,” added Kahres, 24.

Pamela Dobbins said the messages of the weekend resonated with her. She told AllEyesOnDC that laying a foundation for her young ones often weighs on her mind, noting that she has been able to do so by living a low-key lifestyle and spending as little money as possible.

“My main concern is providing for my children’s education,” Dobbins, a professional elementary school counselor of 20 years, said. “I didn’t come out of college in debt because my father paid in full. I live a humble life and I buy my cars outright. It’s all about passing on an understanding that we have to live within our means and invest in something that we can pass on to our children,” added Dobbins, 44, a resident of Richmond, Virginia.

Erica Jones agreed with Dobbins, praising AU’s efforts and expressing her hope that the organization hosts more information-packed gatherings throughout the D.C. metropolitan area. Jones, a program assistant for a Rockville, Maryland-based organization that assists adults with developmental disabilities, attended a forum about police brutality AU recently hosted.

“People don’t understand that making money isn’t just about starting a business. Financial stability is hard,” Jones told AllEyesOnDC. “We need to make more connections and spread this information through word of mouth. AU is a very humble group, especially for people who are conscious. They’re getting more organized and getting the word out.”

Hundreds Commit to African Unity at the 2015 Global African Stakeholders Diaspora Convention

After the events of this past weekend, a future in which descendants of enslaved Africans can join their brothers and sisters across the Atlantic Ocean in developing the Motherland seems more like a reality than a pipe dream.

More than 600 Pan-Africanists from across the country and around the world recently converged on the nation’s capital and neighboring Baltimore for four days of fellowship, planning, dancing, and reflection during the 2015 Global African Stakeholders Diaspora Convention.

The event, hosted by the African Union Economic, Social, and Cultural Council (AU ECOSOCC) — an organization composed of civil society organizations that advise the African Union (AU) — allowed visitors to revisit long-term goals and come to a common understanding of how to best build cross-cultural relationships between groups that have long been divided.

“The greatest crime committed against my people was the transatlantic slave trade. We cannot talk about economics unless we put reparations on the table,” Queen Mother Dr. Delois Blakely, community mayor of Harlem, told guests in the Chesapeake II room of the Best Western Hotel and Conference Center in Baltimore, Maryland on Friday, the second day of the convention.

Blakely counted among a slew of activists, scholars, and international leaders who spoke during the opening ceremony that morning. During her 15-minute speech, Blakely, who also serves as an ambassador of goodwill to the African continent, extolled the role of women in the Motherland’s economic growth, giving a rallying cry for African unification that included their input.

“The guiding force within you will keep you in the cradle of life [and give you the strength] to do what you’re supposed to do. Africa is what we want and is what we’ll tolerate. May you continue on the life path as we move forward,” Blakely added.

Two years prior to this assembly, the AU member states met on the 50th anniversary of its formation to devise a development vision for the Motherland. They outlined several goals in a document touted as “AU Agenda 2063.”

This action plan centered on a set of ideals including new trade and investment opportunities, eradication of poverty, peace and stability, and changes in the international financial infrastructure that benefit Africa.  “AU Agenda 2063” also designated the African diaspora as the “sixth region,” setting the stage for cross-cultural collaboration.

The convention kicked off on Thursday evening at the African Union Mission in Northwest during which revelers chatted among each other while enjoying drinks and African cuisine.  Activities on Friday at the Best Western included roundtable sessions themed around participants’ interests and issue areas. On Saturday, AU ECOSOCC hosted a community town hall at Coppin State University in Baltimore followed by an evening gala. Festivities wrapped up with a service on Sunday at Metropolitan AME Church in Northwest featuring The Rev. William H. Lamar IV.

“The interfaith service affirms the call for people to cross religious lines. Without peace, our other values are obsolete,” Evelyn Joe, AU ECOSOCC special advisor on diaspora relations, told AllEyesOnDC. “The African Union has a cultural conflict between those who trace their history through slavery and those who trace it through 20th century migration. Both groups have a role to play in African development.”

Mukasa Dada, a 1960s-era revolutionary formerly known as Willie Ricks, said he sees the African continent as his home. On Friday morning at Best Western, he showed friends, old and new, a photo of Stokely Carmichael, who he calls a close friend, and The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in which they’re walking alongside each other during the March Against Fear in 1966.

“Africa is our home and place of salvation. That’s why we need to have this United States of Africa,” Dada told AllEyesOnDC. “We have to combine both groups and give our people the truth about our history and show the Africans on the continent that we want to unite the home. We want to combine our philosophy and makes Africans stronger around the world. We have nothing in the west.”

For Mama Rashida Forman-Bey, realizing the dream of African unity and repatriation requires spreading the lessons of the conference among different groups. She told AllEyesOnDC seeing African people from different industries at the convention excited her and gave her some hope for the future.

“There were artists, grassroots organizers, and academics coming together,” Forman-Bey, a head of WombWork Productions, Inc., a Baltimore-based dance company, said. “The time is right for Africans everywhere to unite. We have to train our young people and let them know who they are by connecting them to the tradition.”

Nation Building 101 – Visits to Lalibela & Axum, Ethiopia

In the centuries after the end of Maafa – the worldwide separation of African people via the Transatlantic Slave Trade – people of African descent have struggled to foster a collective consciousness under a global system that favors everything European.

Brainwashed by the Western world’s portrayal of the African continent as a land devoid of history and culture, many African Americans continue to shun their stolen past. Meanwhile, Africans on the Motherland, many of whom suffer under conditions brought on by former colonizers, clamor to enjoy the trappings of the so-called First World at any cost.

Posted up over the Church of St. George’s in Lalibela, Ethiopia.

Earlier this month, I found a common understanding of the “black struggle” with my Ethiopian brethren during the Third International Conference on Ethiopia and Its Biblical, Historical, and Cultural Roots. During this trip, I along with five other African-American youth from the D.C. chapter of the National Black United Front (NBUF) joined a group of elders on a journey to unearth the African origins of Biblical history and highlight a history of congenial relations between Ethiopians and African Americans.

“We’re the continuation of a strong legacy. On this trip, we wanted to pick up the pieces and build on the foundation our ancestors left for the 21st century” Kamau Grimes, chair of NBUF’s international affairs committee and key organizer of the trip, told AllEyesOnDC. “Understanding our history allows us to transcend our petty differences. We have an unprecedented opportunity to travel, communicate and have the shared experience of our ancestors.”

In the months leading up to the trip, Grimes recruited members of our group and hosted Ethiopia study sessions. We prepared heavily for this excursion, meeting weekly in Sankofa Video Books & Café on Georgia Avenue in D.C. and reading scores of books about the origins of Christianity in Ethiopia and the achievements of Menelik II and His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I.

In Ethiopia, Grimes hosted a lecture about the early beginnings of the African-American-Ethiopian relationship at the height of the Italo-Ethiopian conflict. Much of that information came to life as we walked through the bustling streets of Addis Ababa, trekked through the hills and valleys of Lalibela, laid our sights on the Obelisks in Axum, and affirmed our commitment to total repatriation during a visit to Shashamene.

However, nothing proved more important to me than learning about contemporary Ethiopia through the experiences of the people I had the pleasure of meeting. Our two-day stay in Lalibela would provide me ample opportunity to see how folks really lived. During that time, our group visited the Church of Saint George and St. Mary’s Church of Zion – a location of the Ark of the Covenant.

Getting adjusted to the thin air in the high altitudes of Lalibela, Ethiopia.

Getting to these sites required driving in a van along a meandering dirt path up hills and valleys before taking a walk up high altitudes –- a feat that ultimately strengthened my American lungs. Our tour guide likened our journey to that often taken by priests. The more I interacted with the people along the way, the more I believed him.

Often time, men, women and children either had their hands out for change or tried to sell custom wares. I quickly learned that making eye contact would be a mistake, especially if you had no intention of purchasing their items. The persistence of the young boys in Lalibela could put the wealthiest American business executive to shame. When it came to making money, these fellas proved to be relentless, continuously making pleas for attention and walking with their newfound friends for miles at a time.

Though many of the Ethiopians I encountered were “impoverished” by Western standards, they didn’t have poverty of the soul. Unlike most of the homeless folk I came across the in the states, the brothers of Lalibela -– many of whom called me “rasta” because of my freeform locs — had a genuine interest in my life. They also had a thirst for knowledge and educational advancement.

Take Abrhams, a 16-year-old captain of the St. George Football Team, for instance. Back-to-back championships meant nothing to him without a college degree. He told AllEyesOnDC of his plans to pursue engineering as a career before asking to have a pen – a request students commonly make of their foreign visitors. Since my return to the states, we’ve exchanged emails a couple times. The young brother proved to be more gracious than I initially thought, often wishing many blessings for my family and friends.

I would forge a similar relationship with a young brother by the name of Ras Robin while touring Axum. Like other Ethiopians I met, he called me Rasta but his reverence for the Rasta lifestyle intrigued me. Robin, who recently turned 20, too had dreams of attaining an advanced degree, so much so that he cut his locs before entering school. That decision, he said, didn’t diminish his adherence to its ethical code. Robin always contended that Rasta was in his heart. That type of mindset extended to his studies, He told AllEyesOnDC that he hoped to become one of Ethiopia’s best engineers.

For the time being, however, he would become an informal AllEyesOnDC ambassador and lifelong friend. On the last evening of my stay in Axum, I gave him a fresh AllEyesOnDC shirt upon his request for clothing.  Soon after, we took a photo together holding up the diamond-like hand sign known as a salutation of peace.  My spiritual journey culminated on this stretch of the journey.

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AllEyesOnDC connects with Ras Robin of Axum, Ethiopia.

In learning about my Ethiopian brothers and sisters’ experiences, I gained a deeper appreciation for entrepreneurship, crafting, and a life without an attachment to material things. Allured by my hosts’ calm demeanor, I became more enamored with what the Motherland had to offer. I know now more than ever that African Americans – regardless of how far removed genealogically from the Motherland – should take similar steps to reconcile those differences. For me, there are several ways to go from here. I plan to travel to the West Africa and connect with my Liberian brethren. I also have visions of revisiting Ethiopia and taking up Amharic.

As a member of the Diaspora, the possibilities are endless so why wait? The collective future of the African race very well depends on this commitment to nation building.


Ethiopia Day 1: More Questions than Answers in My Search for Truth

“They made history for black people in this church, so this is your church,” the tour guide told our group seconds before leading us through St. George’s Cathedral, a 120-year-old landmark of great historical significance located in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital city.

Tour guide plays drums inside of St. George's Cathedral.
Tour guide plays drums inside of St. George’s Cathedral.

For an hour, we toured the Orthodox Christian church barefoot, taking in the smell of burning myrrh and gawking in awe at paintings of St. George, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, Jesus Christ, and other historical and biblical figures. After introducing us to a church elder, our guide played drums while chanting a hymn penned by Saint Yared — a routine commonly carried out during weekly services. He later showed us a prayer stick, which represented the staff of Moses and the cross on which Jesus Christ died. At a museum located across the complex, we gleaned through the Amharic Bible.

As our tour guide told us, St. George’s Cathedral evokes a sense of pride among Abyssinians.

A painting of St. George.

The Battle of Adwa, a fight between the Ethiopian Empire and Italian fascists, took place on the grounds of the church in 1896. That year, Ethiopian soldiers, led by Emperor Menelik II — Selassie’s cousin and predecessor — defeated the European aggressors, carrying what they claimed to be the Ark of the Covenant – a wooden chest containing two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s rod, and the pot of manna. The historic battle happened nearly three decades before the Benito Mussolini and his men successfully occupied Ethiopia and forced Selassie – then known as Ras Tafari — into exile.

On that brisk Thursday morning, we soaked in pieces of that history. Even after the stress of a 12-hour plane ride and flare up of allergies likely caused by exposure to the air, I remained resolute to answer questions about Christianity that have weighed heavily on my mind since I consciously rejected the religion nearly two years ago. However, as some of my confidants predicted earlier this week, I came out of that cathedral visit with more questions than answers.

The tenets of the Christian faith as I and millions of Afrikan people worldwide have grown to know it were created during the Council of Nicea — a gathering of more than 310 bishops in the 4th century. At this meeting, religious leaders compiled a set of Christian beliefs and customs. That type of Christianity, as supported by the Roman Catholic Church, became a tool in the oppression of Afrikans worldwide in subsequent centuries.

Furthermore, learning about similarities between Christianity and ancient Egyptian spirituality – an older and more African-centered system – diminished its appeal. Unearthing that truth would be the final nail in the coffin in my relationship with Jesus Christ. That came after years of my struggles with judgmental clergy at my home church and feelings the ritualistic nature of how I had to connect with a higher power.

Ironically, the further I drifted away from Christianity, the more that aspects of the somewhat similar Rastafarian faith resonated with me, especially as I carried along on my journey to a higher Afrikan consciousness. I’ve overlooked the fact that Rastas were, in a sense, Christian because many of them cite the Biblical text’s mention of Ethiopia while denouncing the King James version of the Holy Book.

A painting of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I before the League of Nations.
A painting of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I before the League of Nations.

I was formally introduced to Rasta through my study of Marcus Garvey, famed Pan-African revolutionary and founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Upon learning about what Rastas celebrate as his prophecy of Haile Selassie’s rise as the second coming of Christ, my mission to spread messages of Afrikan unity became more of a spiritual calling rather than a profession. Additionally, the inspirational messages of the Honorable Bob Nesta Marley, Buju Banton, Jah9, Protoje, and other reggae artists crystallized what I consider an important transformation.

Due in part to my reluctance to connect to God through a routine, I haven’t embraced Rastafari as a religion. However, I appreciate its messages of railing against the Babylon system. Part of putting those words into action include forgoing a fresh shape up and neatly fitting suits for thickening, unruly locs and African garb. These aesthetically pleasing tools protect me against forces that don’t want me to represent the interests of Afrikan people in my news gathering.

Paralleling my favorite reggae artists’ references to Selassie, King Solomon, and Queen Makeda of Sheba to what I saw in St. George’s Cathedral proved refreshing. With that realization however came some confusion amid my efforts to chart out a chronology of Jesus Christ’s life and the part the Solomonic Dynasty played in introducing Orthodox Christianity to Ethiopians.

For a long time, there has been some discrepancy about when Ethiopians embraced what has come to be known as Christianity. Our tour guide clarified that point when he noted that the Abyssinians took on those principles in the 1st century – nearly 300 years before the Council of Nicea. Even so, the complication persisted as I thought about Jesus Christ as a historical figure rather than the physical representation of God.

The more I pontificated on that aspect, the more I realized that the Bible isn’t really a historical text, rather a compilation of stories for those who have faith in that belief system. At the age of 26, I know in my heart that I can no longer rely on faith alone when the stakes are high in keeping a clear mind. I’ve instead look to common sense as a guide. After that tour of St. George’s Cathedral, things still aren’t making much sense.

There’s always tomorrow.

AllEyesOnDC, Ethiopia, and News as a Unifying Force for Africans

My destination is homeward bound

Though force try to hold I down

Breaking chains has become the norm

I know I must get through no matter what a gwaan

– A couple verses from Destiny by Buju Banton

This week, I will embark on what’s sure to be the journey of a lifetime.

I, along with five Afrikan brothers and sisters, will visit Ethiopia during the Third International Conference on Ethiopia, its Biblical, Historical, and Cultural Roots. This eight-day, four-city tour will allow us to learn more about a place that much of the world knows as the Cradle of Civilization.

As a black man of African descent living in the United States, it’s paramount that I unearth what it truly means to be African in a society bent on disconnecting us from the true essence of ourselves. That’s what I’ve attempted to do for myself and others through AllEyesOnDC, a grassroots media organization dedicated to educating and galvanizing D.C. residents of African descent. This ambitious project will play a part in unifying Washingtonians of African descent and popularizing self-determination and self-advocacy.

In the end, I envision viewers learning from the guests on my show, many of whom use their talents to sustain them and improve their communities – many times without help from a government that has proven to be bureaucratic, judgmental, and relentlessly punitive presence in the lives of the common man.

This mission became even more personal for me last month when I made AllEyesOnDC a full-time endeavor. No longer am I churning out content for other media outlets. I’m my own man conducting interviews and writing pieces of direct value to my community. The additional time and editorial independence will allow me to take this grassroots news organization to the next level, building something of great magnitude similar to what my ancestors have done generations ago.

This endeavor couldn’t have come at a better time. The nation’s capital as black Washingtonians have known it has all but disappeared and the powers that be show us time and time again they don’t have their interests in mind. Families that have lived here for generations now live on the outskirts. Even there, they struggle to make a living.

The people of Ethiopia, then led by His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, faced a similar situation during the Italo-Ethiopian conflict between 1936 and 1941. That fight played out on the main stage, with black people in the United States rooting for their brothers and sisters on the Motherland. In the end, Ethiopians took back their land, despite having less resources and international support than their Italian foes. The subsequent events that took place after the Italo-Ethiopian conflict – particularly the rise of Rastafarianism as a spiritual force — show the power of unification and faith in self in the heat of the moment.

As I enter a new chapter of my professional journey, I too will have to learn to lean on my faith and understanding to jump through hoops and hurdles. The skeptics in my dwindling circle of family and friends have expressed their concern to me about forgoing financial security to build a news and community enterprise from scratch.

To them, I say this:

For thousands of years, we’ve suffered under the thumb of white supremacy — a giant that has thrived off of tools stolen from the Motherland. To this day, little has changed, even with the passage of landmark antidiscrimination legislation and significant economic gains. In part because we lack sense of self, we’ve failed to build and sustain institutions that would garner us an economic position in the United States.

Even worse, the few black mavericks who start their own businesses in their communities receive little to no local support. These days, the black dollar stays in the black community for no more than six hours. Even worse, we spend more than $1.3 trillion annually, little of which goes to a black person.

For many of the educated black people among our ranks, the solution has often been to look to and accept the ideology of those who have oppressed us for centuries. That mindset compels them to look at the poor and marginalized black people with disdain. Unbeknownst to them, the very system that they espouse treats them less than their white peers. We often see it in wage disparities, housing and employment discrimination, misrepresentation in popular culture, and especially in the application of the law.

It is for that reason I believe that I have no choice but to create an alternative media platform that speaks to the concerns of black people in D.C. and around the world. No longer will I complain about mainstream news networks’ failure to highlight the truth of our situation as Afrikan people. The knowledge I have gained in the last couple of years shows me that expecting any different from the de-facto fourth branch of the U.S. government will be futile.

Instead, I will look my ancestors – communal and familial – and take on this endeavor to tell the D.C. Afrikan’s story. In learning more about Haile Selassie and the place he called home, I will be further inspired to build something of my own that my community and descendants can take pride in. After all, isn’t that the mark of a great legacy?

Residents, Activists Weigh In On Mayor Bowser’s Policing Proposal

The sounds of protesters’ chants and police sirens caught Aaliyah Ruffin’s ear on what was otherwise a quiet night in Congress Heights. Moments later, she, along with some family members, stepped out on the front lawn and watched as a swarm of protesters marched along Alabama Avenue with signs, banners, and bullhorns in hand.

More than a week after taking to the streets for Jason Goolsby — a University of District Columbia student violently detained by officers outside of a bank in Eastern Market — members of Black Lives Matter DMV and other groups rallied against D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s plan to curb violent crime they say unfairly targets ex-offenders. The pandemonium took place on the eve of a D.C. Council hearing about the proposal for increased police powers.

For Aaliyah, the controversy surrounding the mayor’s proposal brought to mind her yearlong school project about the hurdles returning citizens face in their transition to physical freedom.

“I’ve decided to write about discrimination against ex-convicts because I see it everywhere,” Aaliyah, 17, a senior at Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy, told AllEyesOnDC. “Returning citizens have already done their time. I know the state has to keep close watch on them but [they have to] trust them. Some [of these] people are just trying to get over their past. They should be given a second chance to prove themselves to society.”

Tuesday night’s activity counted among a bevy of on-the-ground efforts to combat and raise awareness about Bowser’s proposal. Amid a spike in homicides this summer, she asked the D.C. Council to “close some gaps in our laws” she says allow ex-offenders to commit violent crime. By the time Bowser announced her plan in August, 103 homicides have taken place, two shy of the 2014 total.

If the proposal passes, parolees and those on probation are subject to increased supervision and post-release searches by the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA) and other entities. Those who violate the terms of their release could be taken into police custody for up to 72 hours. Police union representatives told the Washington Post that armed officers would be on site to detain them. More than 10,000 people would be affected.

Aaron Goggans, founding member of Black Lives Matter DMV, said the law will further marginalize D.C.’s black communities. He told AllEyesOnDC that the mayor and D.C. Police Chief Kathy Lanier have ignored the capitalism and white supremacy that breeds the violence engulfing the city.

Members of the Black Lives Matter DMV interrupted Bowser on the day she announced the plan. Since then, they have reached out to returning citizens’ advocacy groups and residents while advocating for more of a restorative justice mode that takes into account the trauma people in impoverished communities often face. “The people most affected by these draconian laws will be those living in black communities in Southeast. We wanted to canvass and raise awareness to let folks know that the bill might go through,” Goggans said.

“It’s a continuous drama for folks who haven’t been given the appropriate time and resources. We have to re-frame the problem and find constructive ways to build up communities,” Goggans added. “The population affected [by this policing program] is wide. Returning citizens can’t afford to live on their own in D.C. so they live with the relatives. So when cops go in for searches, it affects entire families. We have to build an understanding with folks in power. We’re in this for the long haul.”

Some residents, however, aren’t too enthusiastic about the efforts of Black Lives Matter DMV and other advocacy groups, often describing many of them as outsiders not directly affected by the local violence.

Donna L. Watts, a 20-year resident of the Fairlawn neighborhood in Southeast, said those who oppose Bowser’s proposal haven’t read it in its entirety, telling AllEyesOnDC that keeping the peace should be a priority. Watts, a self-described “conservative from the South,” arguments about poverty and lack of opportunity don’t suffice.

“The proposed legislation should be in effect until for a pre-determined period of time fairly measuring its effectiveness of non-effectiveness. If it is proven to not work, those opposed will have the benefit of not hearing an elected official bring it up again,” Watts, a self-described “conservative from the South” said, adding that arguing this point to detractors often proves futile.

“If I made a decision that got me tangled in the criminal justice system, I can’t see where I have the room to ask for rights beyond the basic human rights,” she said. “There are plenty of families raised with on low-to-no budgets and the lack of capital was not a reason to go on a make bad life-altering decisions. Send offenders to a Turkish prison, or allow all of our U.S. prisons to be privatized, then take a second look at today’s’ criminal justice tactics before picking up a picket sign against it.”

However, some D.C. Council members and legal experts disagree, saying Bowser’s plan would erode trust between law enforcement and people living in the District’s most crime ridden neighborhoods. During Wednesday morning’s hearing. D.C. Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) said the city needs to address crime as public health emergency and devote more resources to community building.

Southeast resident David Allen shares those sentiments.

Allen, a 65-year-old retired surveyor, counted among the many who pounded the pavement on Tuesday evening. Recounting his experiences as a troubled youngster and that of nephews who have come into contact with the D.C. police, Allen expressed a desire for city leaders to provide offenders, young and old, with options beyond punishment.

“When they had this all-hands-on-deck mentality, more killings happened. We don’t need any more of the law. We need humanity,” Allen told AllEyesOnDC. “The police have a lack of respect. They are legalized gangs so it’s up to us mothers and fathers to take back our communities. [Where are the] skills development programs. We don’t have any trade schools around here. [The police] can no longer have the carrot-and-stick method. Give us a third option.”

Thoughts of Millennials Who Didn’t Attend ‘Justice or Else’

Courtesy of
Courtesy of
Earlier this month, thousands of people of African descent converged on Downtown D.C. to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March. The event, themed “Justice or Else!” attracted black men, women, and children from across the country eager to take the fight against police brutality and systemic racism to the next level.

The hype around the mass rally, however, didn’t prove enough to convince some young people to support the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and Nation of Islam (NOI) on October 10. Those who stayed home did so out of disdain for the NOI’s views on women and homosexuality, and skepticism about the event’s effectiveness.

“Min. Farrakhan is indoctrinating people who are looking up to him [when he says] homosexuals are not sane and he calls them swine,” entry level professional and local activist Maronel Stewart told AllEyesOnDC, referring to YouTube videos of speeches she watched. “That could be a hindrance to our brothers and sisters opening up to members of the LGBTQ community.”

The decision to sit out of “Justice or Else!” didn’t come quickly for Stewart, who initially planned to participate with her boyfriend as an act of black resistance. But as she learned more about Min. Farrakhan’s take on issues related to black women and gay rights, attending the march in solidarity with her brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community seemed like a conflict of interest.

So she forwent the march, choosing instead to deep condition her hair and eat breakfast in her pajamas while watching re-runs of The Simpsons. In a Facebook post earlier that week, Stewart railed against those who overlooked what she described as Min. Farrakhan’s misogyny and homophobia for the “bigger picture.”

“How could you claim that you support the black community when you ignore the disrespect of women and LGBTQ people in our community for the ‘sake of the movement’? There’s no room for hate.” Stewart, 22, said.

“In one of Farrakhan’s speeches, he said professional women were failures and they couldn’t be happy without men,” she said. “In another he implied women need to be dressed a certain way to be respected. These are ideas that shouldn’t be promoted by a leader in the black community. He has a responsibility to be inclusive and respectful of black women and LBGTQ people. That’s just something I didn’t see from him.”

Stewart’s sentiments echoed that of some Millennials who felt conflicted about “Justice or Else!” but attended anyway out of an obligation to support Min. Farrakhan and NOI. However, for some who made that choice, parts of his more than 3-hour speech didn’t sit well.

While Aaron Goggans, campaign coordinator at the DC Employment Justice Center, said he enjoyed seeing the exchange of black dollars on the National Mall, he took to social media to criticize Min. Farrakhan’s call for women to “sacrifice themselves for their offspring because they’re genetically programmed to do so.“ He, too, noticed a seemingly blatant disregard for black women’s control over their bodies.

Popular blogger TheNewAfrican also grappled with her decision to attend the march, saying it showed her that much work remains to be done to address the complexity of blackness she said elders often gloss over. In her Tumblr post, titled “Reflections on the Million Man March,” she too criticized Farrakhan’s diatribe against abortion and called on members of the black community to unlearn oppressive behavior that hinders the present-day movement.

In the weeks leading up to the march, NOI, along with other organizations, rallied support among black women during panel discussions at Galbraith A.M.E. Zion Church in Northwest and Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast. Even there, the organization’s conservative messages often clashed with those that resonate with young black women.

Tia Dolet, president of the Black Graduate Student Association at University of Maryland, College Park, faced a similar dilemma when she attended campus forums about the state of the black male population. She said that when it came to matters of academic achievement, some panelists placed blame on the young women, telling them to help their brothers more.

Fatigued of male-centered dialogue that didn’t acknowledge women’s significant role in today’s movement, Dolet decided to sit out of “Justice or Else!” She mulled over her choice with her fellow executive members, many of whom were either black women or members of the LBGTQ community. She later recounted reading criticisms of Min. Farrakhan’s speech on social media and hearing the stories of friends leaving in the droves.

“It’s always about attending these mass gatherings but never about protecting our issues,” Dolet told AllEyesOnDC. “I get upset when you try to get people to rally after something happens to a black woman and they don’t show up. We put our gender on the back burner and are starting to understand that it has to be addressed. I feel some type of way when black male leaders ignore us and place blame on us for whatever reason.”

Like Stewart, Dolet remained resolute in articulating her point of view among those sympathetic to Min. Farrakhan’s cause. She said productive dialogue came out of that, with some young black men understanding the importance of intersectionality, defined as the crossing of different forms of oppression.

“A few black men have been receptive to the idea of inclusiveness and intersections,” she said. “We have to make sure that everyone gets a hashtag. It starts with a conversation and looking at the dynamics to understand why we march for some and not for others. There are gender issues in the black community.”

Even with a post-march meeting, outline of demands, and a call to boycott corporations during the holiday season, some Millennials who didn’t attend the march see little value in asking the oppressor for justice.

Bowie State University student Amadu Jalloh, suspicious of the NOI’s involvement in the assassination of famed member Malcolm X, said attending “Justice or Else!” would have went against everything the late activist represented. Against his friends’ wishes, he worked on the day of the march, criticizing NOI’s inclusion of other oppressed others he said have seen relatively more progress.

“We can never be in our space because we need the approval and validation of other races. That’s one thing I’ve noticed,” Jalloh told AllEyesOnDC. “We need to focus on ourselves. Those other groups are treated as humans, but we’re not. This was a big social meeting, not a rally for justice. I would have liked to see more black unity. If it’s a march about inequality, then it should have been us. It’s very important to see ourselves in this struggle.”

UDC Students Find Hope In Tony Lewis, Jr.’s Message


By his 11th birthday, Tony Lewis, Jr.’s father, alleged head of a D.C. drug syndicate, had served nearly two years of a life sentence in a federal penitentiary on the other side of the country. HIs mother also developed what would later be diagnosed as schizophrenia. Even with the guidance of a loving grandmother, Lewis said he navigated life in the District with his street smarts during a time when the city gained a reputation as the “murder capital.”

Decades later, Lewis, college graduate and community activist, reflected on those childhood experiences in “Slugg: A Boy’s Life in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” a book that has been heralded as a coming-of-age story for those trying to find their way.  He recently discussed his published work, childhood memories, and current events during an event at University of the District of Columbia (UDC) in Northwest, his alma mater and an institution that has given countless  Washingtonians a pathway to a better life.

“In my life of service, I get asked this question of how I didn’t fall into this trap,” Lewis told Dr. George Derek Musgrove, professor at University of Maryland Baltimore County and moderator at Wednesday night’s discussion. “Many people in my community succumbed to addiction, prison, [and violence]. I’m still trying to figure out the process and chart out how I became a respected activist. The way I could connect with people was being transparent. My story helped people see the greatness in themselves,” Lewis added.

More than 200 students, professors, and D.C. residents filed into UDC’s Theater of the Arts for the two-hour event that included a question-and-answer segment and cupcake social. Audience members watched as a  montage of Lewis family photos played from a projector. During the discussion,  Lewis and Musgrove discussed violent crime in D.C. during the 1980s and 1990s, the school-to-prison pipeline, discrimination of returning citizens, and the lasting effects of mass incarceration.

Such conversation provided Lewis the opportunity to reflect on his life experiences, give historical context to his father’s incarceration, and rail against the forces he said vilify poor black people for decisions they make out of desperation.

“America took the African–American drug dealer and voided him of his humanity. My father wasn’t a bad person. He just made bad decisions,” Lewis said. “ When [mass incarceration] is so entrenched in your community, you don’t really see it as a bad thing. Two of my cousins are serving more than 40 years in prison. The title of the book isn’t to catch you on to something. It’s to show you that people from my childhood are either dead or in prison.”

Lewis, a community star of sorts, found fans in the audience that evening.

Christopher Mitchell said Lewis’ story challenged a misconception that UDC is a subpar institution. Mitchell, a freshman at UDC, enrolled in a tech training program at Year Up shortly after graduating from Friendship Collegiate Academy in 2012. However, failed attempts to gain employment drove him to enroll at UDC, where he’s currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, a field he said piques his interest.

“Being at UDC makes me feel great. It’s good seeing people adding to their life and doing something constructive,” Mitchell told AllEyesOnDC. “ This school allows people who can’t afford an out-of-state college education to live their dream. Tony Lewis, Jr. broke down so much and made these concepts simple so that people could understand it. That’s how I could relate.”

Latanya Rogers, professor of literature at UDC, shared Mitchell’s sentiments. She told AllEyesOnDC that, unlike marquee academics, her students could see Lewis in themselves.

“This is a nontraditional campus so our students are familiar with that crossroads experience where they have to make that choice,” Rogers said. “The lesson for them will be in what factors helped Tony Lewis, Jr. choose the right path when he had so many opportunities to go the wrong way. Also, he’s so relatable. He’s not a big shot telling people what to do.”

Though he graduated from Gonzaga College High School in 1998,  Lewis said it would be years before he appreciated the value of a college degree. During the event, he told Musgrove that studying alongside men and women decades his senior at UDC inspired him to complete his studies. In 2004, he graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in urban studies. He also attained a certificate in nonprofit management, a tool in his effort to help at-risk youth and ex-offenders.

Anika Spratley Burtin, professor of education at UDC, said stories like Lewis’ inspire her work at the university. Burtin started her tenure at UDC in 2012 after working at Johns Hopkins. During her interview with AllEyesOnDC, she too challenged fallacies about the university, saying that students’ desire to better their lives compels academics to leave flagship institutions to teach there.

“Hard-working staff and academics come here to change lives. UDC provides an opportunity for our students to [determine] their life trajectory,” Burtin told AllEyesOnDC. “If our students are native to the area, what does that say about our community? They should see UDC as a beacon. You can get a quality education and make your dreams come true.”

Mikey Dee Talks Music Career, Life, and D.C. Issues

D.C. hip-hop artist Mikey Dee visits AllEyesOnDC and discusses his career, locally coveted Metro tour, and the intricacies of the music business.

Hip-Hop Lyricist Competition Comes to D.C.

Sam P.K. Collins interviews Jeff Mimms of Jack’n for Beats and Chicago hip-hop artist Sinatris about a contest in the D.C. area for aspiring artists.

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