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AllEyesOnDC

Taking the News to the Streets

Beyond the DNC: Philly’s Black People Speak

PHOTO: The intersection of Broad and Erie streets in North Philadelphia/ Sam P.K.Collins

“The elections are a distraction. I’m personally not into it because I don’t know these people. I invest my time and energy into people who love and know me,” Hakeem Hawkins, owner of Black and Nobel Bookstore in North Philadelphia told AllEyesOnDC in response to an inquiry about the Democratic National Convention (DNC) taking place a couple miles south from where he spent most of the day selling cold bottles of water to passersby.

“I don’t want to invest my time if these politicians won’t come into my community,” he added, alluding to the conspicuous divide between convention goers ripping and running throughout downtown Philly and the natives who experience the hardships of daily life at the intersection of Broad and Erie streets and other enclaves in this historic American city.

Through Black and Nobel, Hawkins has fed his fellow Philadelphians knowledge and provided a platform for Hip-Hop artists and conscious scholars, including Dr. Umar Johnson, for the last 15 years, a feat that has made him a neighborhood star of sorts. During a visit to the bookstore, located an earshot away from Temple University, one could watch Phil Valentine lectures on a big screen television, order a shipment of books for incarcerated loved ones, and glean a cornucopia of books, pamphlets, and DVDs. This historic meeting place has also served as a de-facto drug detox center and meeting place for those wanting to turn around their tumultuous lives.

For Hawkins, directly tending to the community in this manner proves sufficient enough in making a change.

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Hakeem Hawkins, founder of Black and Nobel Bookstore, with DJ Khaled (Instagram)

So much so, he said he had no plans to participate in convention activities beyond moving his water operation near the Pennsylvania Convention and Wells Fargo centers and catching a DJ Khaled performance. Anything else would be feeding into political theatrics he says does nothing but boost the egos of its actors.

 

“I don’t spend time following a person. I’m an entrepreneur,” Hawkins, sporting a white cap peppered with green marijuana leaf imprints and a neon yellow tank top, said while sitting under a tent strategically placed next to the entranceway to SEPTA, Philadelphia’s metro rail system. “Once you do that, it’s fuck the system and I’m pretty sure the politicians who are entrepreneurs do their business stuff first. They’re all full of shit. With the little they do, they want to be rewarded,” he added.

Hawkins’ viewpoint, though divergent and somewhat controversial to those who belong to the Democratic Party, are based in fact, particularly when it comes to police-community relationships.

Under the leadership of the Democratic Party, Black people in Philadelphia haven’t fared well. After all, this is the city where the MOVE bombing, the 1985 incident that killed nearly a dozen Black people and set ablaze blocks of a middle-class community, happened at the urging of then-Mayor W. Wilson Goode, a Democrat, and the city’s police chief. More recently, the Philadelphia Police Department, with the support of a powerful union, has been cited for using controversial “Stop and Frisk” tactics against Black residents.

Other signs of systemic inequality, including disparities in healthcare access, quality education, and income, count as parts of a legacy of racial tension that goes back to American Independence, characterized by Black Philadelphians’ struggle to create their communities peacefully. Majority-Black cities and communities across the country have encountered eerily similar situations, brought on by a combination of white flight, the shuttering of factory jobs, the flow of drugs, and overzealous drug laws that punish those do what they feel they have to do to overcome these conditions.

“We don’t have friends in politics. They give us nothing for our votes and support,” Brother June, an employee at Black & Nobel and journalism student at Temple, told AllEyesOnDC. June, a returning citizen who found a love for reading while incarcerated, said his experiences in the criminal justice system showed him how attorneys, judges, and politicians prey on the ignorant.

“Anytime we start to think critically, they call us conspiracy theorists. Hillary Clinton’s husband signed the unjust laws that incarcerated Black men for a long time. She used the word ‘super predators’ and supported the law to further perpetuate slavery,” June added. These days, he wants to get North Philly residents engaged in local politics, mainly through his upstart City Talk Newspaper. Plans also include the launch of his own political party, a testament to the anti-establishment views that perpetuate underserved U.S. communities.

Political Favors at the Expense of the People

After the overtly hate-filled Klan meeting that was last week’s Republican National Convention, many politically active melanated people converged on the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia earlier this week eager to boost the morale of voters weary from months of Democratic Party infighting and frightened by the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency.

So far, party elites haven’t disappointed in putting together a show, rallying around Secy. Hillary Clinton and rehashing old political talking points about freedom, America’s promising future, and this country’s position as the “best in the world.” Hearing those messages from my living room on Monday and Tuesday didn’t make me feel too good, especially after considering the people who delivered them.

Just as I had suspected, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) turned out to be a pseudo-revolutionary, throwing his support behind the woman he constantly painted as a Wall Street darling, even after WikiLeaks uncovered the DNC’s attempts to sabotage his campaign. In what many touted as an historic address, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) kept referring to the “forefathers” who drew up the U.S. Constitution, totally neglecting the fact that the white, male group of Founding Fathers more than likely had his ancestors in shackles in 1776.

First Lady Michelle Obama, with as much Black Girl Magic as she could muster, sang Secy. Clinton’s praises, but not before describing an American utopia that in no way, shape, or form matches the conditions blocks away from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, or much of the U.S. for that matter.

Once again, our elected officials played politics with us, delivering more style than substance and duping their followers, as well as members of the public who believe they have no other choice than Clinton, into thinking that a special group of people will save them from the Hell they said is guaranteed to ensue if Trump wins in November.

By the time I touched down in the city of brotherly love on Wednesday, daytime convention activities had been well under way and Democratic delegates, along with other party members and media folk, gathered in the halls of the Pennsylvania Convention Center to discuss various issues and address the constituencies that make up the Democratic Party.

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AllEyesOnDC’s view from the press booth at the Black Caucus on Wednesday morning. (Photo by Sam P.K. Collins)

That morning, the Black Caucus kicked off on the terrace of the Convention Center, providing me an opportunity to hear commentary on Black America’s current state of affairs, particularly that from former Attorney General Eric Holder who would be delivering the keynote address that morning.

 

Nearly an hour before DNC Black Caucus Chair Virgie Rollins started the program, much of Black America learned that charges for the three remaining Baltimore City police officers on trial for Freddie Gray’s death had been dropped. While this didn’t come as a surprise to me, I must admit that I felt sorrowful for State Attorney Marilyn Mosby and other key players, in the government and outside of the establishment, who put in the work necessary to ensure the case would make it this far. Once again, police officers wouldn’t be held accountable for the death of a Black person.

Surely, the speakers in the Black Caucus that morning, including Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, would at least mention this news and devise methods of reforming a system that allows killer cops to walk the streets freely.

It didn’t turn out that way.

Instead, much of the conversation from Rawlings-Blake, and later Holder, centered on the drawbacks of sitting out this election or voting for a third-party candidate. In what I considered the most ironic moment of the morning, Rawlings-Blake told audience members to “think about the youth [who] don’t want [live in] a country ruled in fear.” Obviously, she forgot the quasi-Martial Law imposed on the young Baltimoreans who took the streets in the aftermath of Gray’s murder last year.

Holder, in my opinion, performed a little better in the delivery of his keynote address. Unlike Rawlings-Blake, he addressed police brutality and weighed in on the Black Lives Matter movement as it exists, calling on its grassroots players to continue building their revolution in non-election years.

“People didn’t want to hear us when we talked about these police departments. The things we’ve been saying can be documented,” Holder said as audience members clapped. “For too long, people showed that Black lives didn’t matter and now we say that Black lives do matter. So don’t you let those brave young activists be marginalized. The Black Lives Matter folk have to not just make this a moment, but a movement. I need to not only see you during the presidential campaign. I need you to do the hard, boring work.”

I don’t know where Holder has been but the young people have been doing the work, even those not rallying under the Black Lives Matter banner. Shortly after leaving the cold, stale Pennsylvania Convention Center, I saw just that at different rallies within a three block radius. By Wednesday, Black Lives Matter and other Black grassroots organizations had already made their mark in that vicinity so it proved difficult finding groups of brothers and sisters.

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Kashif Cole traveled from Brooklyn to protest at the DNC this week on behalf of the oppressed people of the world. (Photo by Sam P.K. Collins)

After circling the block a couple times however, I found someone who had quite a bit to say about organizing as it pertains to awakening Black people and helping us achieve results. “Power is in the people and we can stand up,”Kashif Cole, a 21-year-old Brooklynite and representative of WorldCantWait.net, told AllEyesOnDC as he sat in front of a church.

 

“Beyond protesting, we can network and reach out to the people. Speak and be with them,” he continued.

Under the hot afternoon sun, we did just that, exchanging information and reasoning about Black unity, anti-capitalism, and grassroots organizing. Since taking my community work to new levels, I’ve reveled in such conversations, as they are the building blocks to movements that can catch fire.

“We have to do our own research and not take what anyone says at face value. We have to get educated and get powerful,” Kashif added. “We need more Black bodies on the ground protesting, not just when someone gets shot. It’s also very necessary to support Black business and take our money out of these corporations. The ultimate goal is revolution. We have to take down the system: no if, ands, or buts.”

That mantra became even clearer that evening after I heard President Barack Obama speak highly of Clinton and later hug her for what made a great photo op. Though I wasn’t in the Wells Fargo Center to capture that moment, a sense of calm overcame me listening to him talk about his political journey and encouraging those who booed to just go out and vote. After a couple seconds, I realized that it was a mix of adolescent nostalgia and the “Obama Effect,” what I like to describe as the president’s hypnotic presence, cadence, wordplay, and story telling that puts people at ease, even as he’s trying to sell us something that won’t do much good.

As a young voter in 2008 and 2012, I fell for this presidential marketing scheme. This time around however, I couldn’t let go of the fact that Obama, even as he praised her credentials, questioned Clinton’s judgment at one point. From the outside looking in, one could assume that their work together in the years since the 2008 Democratic Primary could’ve compelled this change of heart. I have reason to believe differently, understanding that when it comes to party politics, you have to move with the collective, even when that move is in support of someone who pretty much guaranteed her placement as the 2016 party nominee when she agreed to concede to Obama just eight years earlier.

Admittedly, I don’t have concrete proof of this assertion, but when you think outside of the box, you see the system for what it truly represents. Everything after that becomes commonsensical, even if the outside world doesn’t think so. Giving a group of people who have no agency a limited number of choices in who will run this country proves to be nothing more than a tool of control. Albeit, Clinton has decades of experience, but her mastery of party politics saved her more than anything else. The e-mail leak controversy that almost derailed the DNC and the subsequent cover up speaks to that.

Change Outside of the Political Arena

The global Black struggle for self-determination is more spiritual than anything else.

As a people without a common consciousness, we’re susceptible to the influence of outside forces that want our resources in return for nothing. Malcolm X told us this in his “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech, demanding that we as Black people build up our own institutions and take control of our communities. Without the common unadulterated heritage and backing of sovereign nations that other ethnic groups in this country have, doing that has proven virtually impossible for Black America.

That doesn’t mean that achieving this goal is impossible.

As I learned in my excursion throughout downtown and North Philly, there are people who understand that change initially comes from within. After that happens, they can change their communities, and ultimately the world. I stand with Brother June in saying that Black people, and maybe other oppressed melanated groups for that matter, need a political party that resonates with their values and needs. Obviously, that cannot happen overnight. Hillary Clinton supporters who point out that reality in their cajoling of those who don’t want to vote for her are terribly facetious for believing that we’re ignorant of these facts.

If one needs concrete proof that change is happening locally and outside of the political arena, they need look no further than Dominque White, a young mother of two who underwent a metamorphosis of her own less than a year ago. Even as she dwells on her bad decisions and stints on the streets, she remains persistent in changing her life and helping others, saying that forgiveness and unity are the keys to our salvation as a Black nation.

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Dominique White, 24, gives prophetic words of wisdom while with friends in North Philly. (Photo by Sam P.K. Collins)

“Unity is the key but people are very prideful. I had to let my pride go but it took me seven years running in circles to understand that,” White,24, told AllEyesOnDC steps away from Black and Nobel where she and her friends gathered on Wednesday afternoon. “These young people don’t want anything other than what they’ve been shown. It’s the same bullshit like who got shot and who’s late on their rent. If more people could show others how to be successful, we could all be successful. I want to see someone helping the next man, sharing their health and resources. That’s the only way to make a change.”

 

If only the DNC visitors, especially those of African descent, could take some time out of their trip to visit North Philly and other marginalized parts of this city to learn this lesson.

Film Screening, Panel Focus on Music and Activism of Mavis Staples

Photo: Mavis Staples (Courtesy) 

“You can’t have a movement without music!” Isisara Bey, executive producer of the annual March on Washington Film Festival told an audience of more than 100 music aficionados who gathered in the lobby of NPR headquarters in Northwest during the festival’s “Black Radio and Civil Rights” event earlier this week.

What transpired later that Tuesday evening would speak to the spirit of Bey’s words.

After enjoying the musical stylings of Victoria Purcell, Byron Nichols, Robert Ellis, and the NEWorks House Band, guests followed Bey and other March on Washington Film Festival committee members into a theatre where they watched Mavis!, a 2015 documentary about Mavis Staples, renowned R&B and Gospel singer and Civil Rights activist.

As a member of the Staples Singers, led by her father Roebuck “Pops” Staples, and a solo artist, Staples contributed to the soundtrack of the Civil Rights era, bringing contemporary pop hits that had a positive message such as “Long Walk to D.C.,” “When Will We Be Paid?,” and “I’ll Take You There.” Pop’s close relationship with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired this foray into “freedom songs” as the Staples Singers called their brand of music.

In Mavis!, Staples, then 75 and a music legend in her own right, tours the country with her band and reflects on her experiences as a standout member of the Staples Singers. The film, which featured late Civil Rights leader Julian Bond, hip-hop legend Chuck D, and other music stars, focuses on the longevity of Staples’ career and her ability to adjust with the times, as seen when she released two albums in the 1980s under the direction of Prince, and won her first Grammy in 2011 for her album “You Are Not Alone”.

After the film, a panel of music executives, activists, and journalists who knew and interviewed Staples spoke about the current state of the music industry for Black artists.

“I asked Mavis what it was like being artistic and in this community. You had to get people in their childhood talking about contemporary issues,” Sonja Williams, author, broadcast journalist, and a panelist, told audience members that evening while recounting a radio interview she had with Staples. “Once [the Staples family] started singing freedom songs, they knew that one of the ways to reach young people was with a rhythm and something more contemporary along with R&B.”

The panel, moderated by WHUR 96.3 FM’s Jacquie Gales Webb, also included Al Bell, songwriter, producer, and owner of Stax Records to which the Staples Singers were signed, and Jonathan Jackson, an entrepreneur and social justice advocate. For much of the evening, this group touched on the events that led to the dilution of socially conscious news and music.

Jackson noted that many artists didn’t have much incentive, beyond helping their people, to produce socially conscious material. During the panel, he also detailed how corporatization of the media over the last couple of decades had shut out divergent voices and marginalized disc jockeys who had positive, uplifting messages.

“Civil Rights didn’t equate with all musicians. You never really heard freedom songs on the radio. A lot of African-American artists were getting frozen out,” Jackson, national spokesperson for the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, told the audience.

“[Today], the media consolidation has taken away the responsibility of making community news in the African-American markets. In these urban markets, it’s all comedy. All the conscious personalities have been curtailed. More programmers have their hands tied. They won’t let news and information get through the urban formats. Local ownership needs to get back into place,” Jackson added.

Bell, writer of the Staples Singers’ hit 1972 hit “I’ll Take You There,” gave an even more detailed picture of how music unified Black people, regaling guests with the story of how he organized the Wattstax benefit concert at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in the wake of the 1965 riots. That event, which featured the Staples Singers and Stax Records artists, attracted more than 100,000 people and didn’t result in any incidences of violence.

“They tried to put us in a category where we were shiftless and not good thinkers but we were strategic business people,” Bell told the audience as he provided examples of musicians, radio personalities, and Civil Rights leaders collectively organizing across the country.

“The Black disc jockeys were like the mayors of their cities. When Dr. King would go to Philly, he would meet with Georgie Woods because he knew everyone,” Bell added. “That helped Dr. King but it was dangerous to have that kind of power. That’s why they thought it was time to mass merchandise music. They acquired the independent companies to monopolize and cut off the independent entrepreneurs and sell and market music to Black people,” said Bell.

The July 19th “Black Radio and Civil Rights” event counted among a slew of gatherings during the annual March on Washington Film Festival, founded by the Raben Group three years ago in commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington. The 2016 installment, which goes on until Saturday, kicked off on July 13th with an event at Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Northwest. Other programs have focused on the Green Book, a guide that helped Black tourists travel safely through the segregated South in the early to mid-20th century, Nina Simone, Maya Angelou, and other storied figures.

“Events like this expose you to what Black people have done culturally. It’s about the people who contributed to the Civil Rights movement,” said Maiyah Mayhan, a Howard University student who attended the Mavis! film screening. “These days, it’s hard to get people to play good music. That’s why it’s so important to be in spaces like this. The radio has shaped how sound is perceived. I appreciate Mavis Staples and other singers who were able to evolve with the sound,” added Mayhan, a junior from Los Angeles studying journalism.

Regional Book Contest Enters Fifth Cycle

PHOTO: Critically acclaimed author and native Washingtonian Jason Reynolds is scheduled to present the winners of the “A Book that Shaped Me” Summer Writing Contest at the 16th annual Library of Congress National Book Festival at the Washington Convention Center in Northwest./ Courtesy 

With the advent of an annual writing contest, parents and educators living along the East Coast can lay to rest their fears that their young ones won’t have many opportunities to read and write now the school year has ended.

For the fifth consecutive year, the U.S. Library of Congress, in conjunction with a bevy of public and school libraries in the Mid-Atlantic region, is hosting a summer essay writing contest that allows rising fifth and sixth graders to reflect on books that made an impact in their lives.

“I’ve been fascinated by the diversity and imagination in these stories. I want to see how young people are stretching their minds,” said Jason Reynolds, a critically acclaimed author and native Washingtonian who’s scheduled to present the winners of this competition, touted as “A Book that Shaped Me” Summer Writing Contest, at the 16th annual Library of Congress National Book Festival at the Washington Convention Center in Northwest on September 24th. The submission deadline passed earlier this week.

Since its 2012 inception, the “A Book that Shaped Me” Summer Writing Contest has attracted more than 1,000 entries from students in the D.C. metropolitan area, West Virginia, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. Each year, a panel consisting of members of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) selects 30 finalists. From there, a group of educators and children’s book authors choose three overall grand prize winners.

Reynolds, who has served as a judge in years past, explained the qualities he seeks in an ideal entry, stressing that students must be committed to doing their best, even if they don’t win a prize.

“I’m looking for excellence. The barometer is subjective but I need to know that students put in that work. Anyone who takes time to work on their essay should take pride in completing this one thing. Hopefully that will push them to complete other things,” said Reynolds, a Northeast resident.

The “A Book that Shaped Me” Summer Writing Contest comes amid a technological shift that has changed the way children absorb information and posed new opportunities to engage tomorrow’s leaders. More than half of pre-teens in the U.S. have accessed social media sites meant for adult use, according to information collected by Statista, a domestic statistics company. Studies have also shown that when used strategically, the internet can become a valuable research tool for young people.

Many public and school libraries across the country have caught on, creating spaces focusing on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics). Some of the librarians involved in the essay writing contest acknowledged these changes, saying they’re embracing the new while adhering to tradition.

“Today’s librarians are needed more than ever. They are leaders in the area of digital literacy,” said Audrey Church, AASL president. “There’s more information that people need to figure out and students need to develop critical thinking skills as they reflect on the importance of their book. This contest provides a wonderful opportunity for every child participating to think more fully about a book that he or she read. I hope that they reflect on experiences that are meaningful for them,” said Church, also associate professor and graduate school coordinator at Longwood University in Farmville, Va.

Myla Agyin, a 2012 finalist and student at BASIS Charter School in Northwest, said she can attest to value of introspection as it relates to the writing contest. Myla’s prize- winning essay centered on how Ben Carson’s “Gifted Hands” inspired her to pursue a career in the medical field. Since that pivotal moment, has excelled in her studies and become more vocal in conversations about current events.

“That contest was a great opportunity to express how I felt and showing how reading this book impacted me,” Myla, an aspiring pathologist, said. “These days I feel like my views get taken seriously. I’ve become more open. I feel like I can express myself. People need to see the truth ad get a better understanding of the world. I have future plans to write a book. I’m not sure what it will be about but it will be something that I find interesting,” added Myla, now 14.

EDITORIAL: Israel’s Newfound Love for Africa Comes at a Price

PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) in Kenya with President Uhuru Kenyetta this week. 

This week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made his first visit to the Motherland as part of an effort to strengthen ties with African leaders and discuss investment opportunities throughout the continent.

During his first stop in Uganda on Monday, he commemorated the 40th anniversary of a hostage rescue mission in which his brother died. Netanyahu also explored the possibility of Israel imparting its knowledge about security and technology on the African state. Other stops on what has been called an historic excursion include Kenya and Ethiopia. In Kenya, Netanyahu confidently exclaimed that “Israel is coming back to Africa, and Africa is coming back to Israel,” perhaps alluding to the relationship his state had with a number of African nations in the aftermath of their liberation from colonial rule.

On the surface, such a trip could provide an opportunity for Africa to further develop and participate in the global economy, especially when the Israeli government’s $12.9 billion plan to strengthen economic ties with Africa is taken into consideration. In examining this event through a Pan-African lens however, it become apparent that Netanyahu’s outreach to African leaders is a desperate attempt to muster international support for Israel’s violent actions against Palestinians.

This move comes amid an ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians over the former’s occupation of the latter’s land and the subsequent torture of Palestinian people. In peace-keeping discussions, Netanyahu has made it clear that he doesn’t support the idea of a two-nation state, demanding that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a state and cut down its military forces. With the United States’ financial support, Israeli military forces have trekked throughout Palestinian settlements in the West Bank. The United Nations recently condemned these actions, urging Israeli leaders to halt this assault and wait until a peace deal is in place. 

These developments show signs of growing impatience among world leaders for what amounts to war crimes on Israel’s part.

In forging ties with African nations, Israel wants to ensure that their newfound allies won’t side with Arab nations in their resolutions against the Jewish state. 

Netanyahu, a student of history, has valid reasons for those fears. In the late 1970s, the then- Organization of African Unity, facing pressure from Arab states, passed a resolution recommending that member states sever ties with Israel in the midst of the Yon Kippur War. Decades later under the leadership of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, Israel lost its observer status in the African Union, completely removing it from the table. During his stop in Kenya, Netanyahu made public his wish to get Israel reinstated. These power moves allow him to build a coalition that will ease his nation’s ability to take over the entire West Bank.

As always is the case, African leaders dealing with other heads of state and power brokers must stay true to their predecessors’ commitment to remain socially and economically independent. In an increasingly globalized society, making that vision come to fruition has been very difficult, in part because many of the African countries rely on their so-called allies for aid and assistance. As seen with the Europeans during Colonization and with the Chinese today, that comes with a heavy price.

In short, Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, and Ethiopia’s Mulatu Tashome, along with their other African presidential colleagues must look at Israel’s outreach soberly. In addition, they must adopt a Pan-African, anti-imperialistic mindset that will embolden them to stand up against Israel’s assault on Palestinians. In doing so, they make it known that Africa won’t be used as a pawn in Netanyahu’s games.

Community Members Celebrate Kwame Ture’s 75th Birthday

By the end of his life, Kwame Ture cemented a legacy as a master organizer and staunch Pan-Africanist. As a leader of the All African People’s Revolutionary Party (A-APRP), he helped internationalize the Black freedom struggle and inspired countless young people in the process.

On what would’ve been his 75th birthday, a cadre of former colleagues and mentees gathered at Sankofa Video Books & Cafe on Georgia Avenue in Northwest to remember Ture and ensure that today’s grassroots activists keep his memory alive in the ongoing fight for African liberation.

“Kwame had been a catalyst and game changer in my life. It was great being involved in political work and organizing African people for a common movement and action,” said Jendayi Exum, an educator and lifelong D.C. resident who attended the Wednesday, June 29th event.

In 1976, Exum, then a student at American University in Northwest, met Ture during his visit to the campus. Within a year, she joined A-APRP and accompanied Ture on trips around the country.

“He wanted us to have a united Black front so he pushed for organizations to come together. He gave us an international perspective and helped us understand that all oppressed people must come into the struggle,” said Exum, also an organizer of African Liberation Day, an annual event A-APRP hosted in Malcolm X Park throughout the 1970s.

“Around that time, that’s when I first read ‘Destruction of Black Civilization’ and ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’ and saw how much I didn’t know,” she added.

Ture, born Stokely Carmichael, made his start as an organizer in the Civil Rights movement as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) where he brought the mantra “Black Power” to the national spotlight. After stepping down from the helm of SNCC in 1967, he traveled the world as the Black Panther Party’s Honorary Prime Minister, outlining his vision for Black Power before audiences in Guinea, North Vietnam, China, Cuba and other countries.

During the last 30 years of his life, a period largely overlooked by the mainstream media, Ture organized globally and spread his message of Pan-African unification and anti-imperialism. Inspired by his mentors Sekou Toure, Guinean political leader, and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, whose names he took on in his new moniker, Ture helped strengthened ties between Black and African liberation groups as a central committee member of A-APRP.

As with other leaders of his caliber, Ture became an enemy of the state, unable to return to the U.S. or his native home of Trinidad. In 1998, he died in Guinea of prostate cancer, an ailment he said was brought on by the U.S. government.

“Kwame Ture was the epitome of the new thinking and it had been a departure from what had been the call. The boldness attracted me,” said Hasinatu Camara, a key organizer of the event and someone who knew Ture closely.

On that Wednesday evening, Camara passed around a microphone and allowed guests to reflect on his legacy. Later, she told personal stories, including one in which Ture got her a custom-made birthday cake during their group’s stay in Guinea.

“He had philosophy we could use. We grew as comrades in our commitment to African people,” Camara, a former educator at the shuttered Booker T. Washington Institute said. “We would organize for African Liberation Day. We would propagandize. We led anti-Zionist campaigns. I want the young people to be vigilant and uphold their principles using the principles the ancestors left us as a guide.”

Camara’s words didn’t fall on deaf ears.

Rasheed Van Putten, a local organizer and self-proclaimed student of Kwame Ture, said the birthday celebration reaffirmed the importance of educating young people about a man who was able to bridge divides and unite people under a common goal.

“It’s the job of the conscious to make the unconscious conscious,” Van Putten, producer of Real Black & Gifted Live, a weekly radio show on Howard University’s Glasshouse Radio, said. “Kwame Ture often talked about serving the people and how he didn’t like the first person singular. Very seldom did he say ‘I.’ He always said ‘we.’ When people introduce him, he said ‘we thank you.’ His perspective was very forward thinking.”

How Jesse Williams Praised Our Grassroots Organizers More than We Do

PHOTO: Actor and award-winning humanitarian Jesse Williams/ Courtesy 

By now, most, if not all of the African world has watched or heard about Jesse Williams’ five-minute oratorical masterpiece at the BET Awards earlier this week.

Upon accepting the 2016 BET Humanitarian Award, Williams, a Black actor who rarely minces words in his analyses of domestic racial affairs, called out the United States for the litany of crimes it commits against Black people. A multi-ethnic audience of his wealthy and famous peers, and much of Black America, listened as he eloquently condemned state-sanctioned violence, cultural appropriation, capitalistic exploitation of Black people, and white disdain for Black expressions of pain.

In one speech, Williams placed a morally bankrupt media network on a road to redemption and galvanized people who had grown tired of seeing officers escape responsibility for their deadly use of force against Black men, women, and children. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media outlets lit up with commentary and memes of Williams and his fiercest quotes in what’s sure to be an historic speech. For the first time, those who followed the “woke” movement from afar gained new interest.

While I appreciated Williams’ numerous zingers, many of which I saw plastered all over my timeline, there’s an often overlooked line that truly resonated with me: the one in which he acknowledges the grassroots organizers across the country working to dismantle white supremacy. For those confused as to what I’m talking about, he said it before getting into the real juicy stuff. Still confused? I copied it into this commentary for your reading pleasure.

“Now, this award, this is not for me. This is for the real organizers all over the country. The activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. All right? It’s kind of basic mathematics. The more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize.

Every day in this naturally hypocritical country of ours, there are countless numbers of Black people in various communities who’re organizing, raising the consciousness of the masses, feeding the poor and homeless, forging coalitions, and pressuring elected officials to support their efforts – all in the name of Black Power. Many of them do this while speaking out against the white supremacist Babylon system publicly and on social media without hesitation.

Just as Williams has done repeatedly in the last few years, our outspoken grassroots warriors examine the issues of the day with a critical eye, forming a unique conclusion and demanding America atones for its centuries-long crime against Africans. However unlike Black America’s favorite woke actor and humanitarian, these brothers and sisters are often scolded for their viewpoints, with both family members and friends labeling them as “radical,” begging that they provide an analysis that’s more inclusive, softer, and endearing to the status quo, even if it doesn’t benefit Black people.

I myself have been on the receiving end of this kind of treatment.

Since coming into my African consciousness and adding an activist flair to my journalism, I’ve had college friends, cousins, aunties, uncles, and the like mockingly refer to me as Malcolm X, suggesting that I marginalize myself by candidly expressing my Black Nationalist beliefs. Some even try to convince me to “forget about the past.” In recent months, I’ve grown more confident in standing by what I say. In the process, I’ve built relationships with African organizers, young and old, and taken my message to the next level.

As often is the case, the work never stops, in part because there’s a significant segment of the diasporic African population hasn’t taken off their white mask to confront a world that hates everything about them.

Even worse, they vilify those of us who want to break out of the Matrix and take back the humanity stolen from us during Maafa, chattel slavery, colonialism, Jim Crow, all the way up to the present day via the prison industrial complex. When we question and speak out against the perpetrators of our suffering, our Black peers call us angry. When we revere our African history, our Black peers call us “Hotep” in a derogatory manner. When we demand justice without apology, we’re lampooned and labeled as militant.

In the same breath, these cocky critics praise Williams for his brave comments, even as he openly lambastes them for thinking that their money, material possessions, and social status will protect them from the wrath of institutional racism. To this day, many of them haven’t done much beyond writing “Black Lives Matter” in their status messages and fawning over the latest celebrity musing about current racial events. Whether they will step away from the sideline and tangibly contribute to the movement remains to be seen.

From what I understand, many folks in most nationalist circles write off our well-to-do, somewhat cowardly brothers and sisters, advising us to forget about them and leave them behind when Babylon falls. I tend to think differently, maintaining my faith in their eventual radicalization by remembering Harry Belafonte, Paul Robeson, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee and countless others who put their reputations and revenues on the line for the greater good.

Today, Jesse Williams and his contemporaries – including Jay Z and Beyoncé, Janelle Monae, and Zendaya – carry the torch in taking the conversation about the Black struggle to the mainstream and financially assisting grassroots organizers.

It’s time that the members of the Black young urban professional class, a group often known as Buppies, take notes and follow suit. They have to connect with the grassroots actors in their community and use their expertise, brain power, and resources to make our Nation more self-determined and economically independent. Very often, many of our elites take their talents to corporations, garner huge salaries, gentrify Black neighborhoods, and act violently toward their low-income counterparts. In essence, they’re perpetuating white supremacy – the very system Jesse Williams indicted.

If we are to truly see freedom across the board, ALL hands must be on deck, and not just on the computer screen. Just as Williams and others have done, those of us in positions of power must build with grassroots organizers and help keep the fight going on various fronts. We’re connected by virtue of our African heritage and common history of oppression. There’s no reason to stop at admiring what one man did. We can be the change we want to see. It’s just a matter of thinking outside of the box that America has created for us.

If you have a genuine interest in pushing the dial forward in the fight for our liberation and don’t know where to start, join us during what’s toured as the 2016 Message to the Grassroots, a part of the A Night of News & Music series at Sankofa Video, Books & Café in Washington, D.C., on the night of Friday, July 15th.

That evening, I’ll provide a critical analysis of current events, including Brexit and the closing of the Kendrick Johnson case in Atlanta, through a Pan-African millennial lens. Later, a number of neighborhood figures, each of whom is part of a grassroots movement for African liberation, will grace the stage and talk about their latest project.

Come through and build with your African brothers and sisters who’re in the trenches daily. If you can’t make that event, visit Sankofa and check out the extensive catalog of books that’s sure to make you question your “wokeness.” In anything you do, make sure you acknowledge and celebrate the work of our grassroots organizers just as Williams did in his viral speech.

I guarantee we’ll go further as a people for it.

Markus Batchelor Eyes State Board of Education Seat

PHOTO: Markus Batchelor, lifelong Ward 8 resident, community staple, and candidate for the Ward 8 seat on the D.C. State Board of Education./ Photo courtesy of Jamal Holtz 

At the age of 23, Markus Batchelor is far from a political novice. Since taking on the mantle of leadership in his adolescence, he has risen in prominence as president of the Ward 8 Democrats, ANC Commissioner for Single Member District 8C04, and most recently Ward 8 liaison in the D.C. Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs (MOCA).

As he gears up to challenge Tierra Jolly for the Ward 8 representative seat on the D.C. State Board of Education (SBOE), Batchelor reflects heavily on the experiences, elders and community programs that have enriched his short but fruitful life, pledging to do his part in creating a similar environment for thousands of youth if elected in November.

“Making sure children are successful is a community effort,” Batchelor, now the family and community liaison at the Far Southeast Collaborative, told AllEyesOnDC.

“My mother read to me at night and made sure to be involved at school. But she didn’t do it on her own. I had a neighbor who gave me chapter books to read. I had a deacon who took kids to vacation bible school for four weeks and that’s how he enriched the community. There was always someone on every block who looked out for me,” added Batchelor, a lifelong resident of Congress Heights in Southeast and an alumnus of the Marion Barry Youth Leadership Institute (MBYLI).

Earlier this year, Batchelor declared his candidacy for the Ward 8 State Board of Education seat, resigning from MOCA nearly 13 months into D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s term. Since then, it has been business as usual for the young politico who’s often found out and about at community gatherings, including ANC meetings and graduations.

During the D.C. Democratic primaries, he, along with members of his small campaign team, combed the main corridors, side streets, meeting spaces, and polling stations of Ward 8 with large blue, yellow and white signs in hand. Along the way, Batchelor cleared up any confusion about him running against D.C. Council member LaRuby May (D) and Trayon White for the Ward 8 Council seat. He also listened as parents and students vented about unresponsive administrators, culturally incompetent teachers, and unengaging school curricula.

For Batchelor, all aforementioned problems speak to what he described as the sitting Ward 8 representative’s lack of visibility and engagement with constituents.

This week, Batchelor started collecting signatures needed to place his name on the November general election ballot, affirming his commitment to challenging the status quo and getting parents more involved in shaping school policy. Plans if elected include restoring confidence in Ward 8 D.C. public schools, spurring parental grassroots organizing, pushing for allocation of additional resources, and the transformation of schools to centers that provide wrap-around services for families.

“I want to push for more PTAs and parent involvement. We need to empower both students and parents to advocate for themselves,” Batchelor said. “The State Board of Education members have to play that role as advocates for students and parents and galvanize them. No one is engaging our community. Our school board members have to get back to the basics and be community organizers, showing people that they have power. The schools don’t belong to the system or government. They belong to the community,” he added.

With the highest concentration of people under the age of 18, improving the quality of education in Ward 8 could cause a ripple effect for other facets of life for thousands of residents. The effects of high unemployment, a dearth of full-service grocery stores and amenities, drug abuse, mental illness, spikes in violent crime often follow youth into school, impeding learning and making parents feel powerless. Even worse, punitive measures taken against students maintain the school-to-prison pipeline.

Overall, D.C. Public Schools have a graduation rate of 58 percent, with the rates of Anacostia and Ballou High Schools, the only two of their kind in Ward 8, falling below 50 percent. Such conditions have compelled Ward 8 parents to look outside of the D.C. public school system, a trend that keeps Anacostia and Ballou underenrolled. Additionally, charter schools and private institutions outnumber public schools in Ward 8, a tell-tale sign of a national school privatization movement that has gained traction in recent years.

While some education experts have extolled these changes, some Ward 8 parents said they’re getting locked out of important conversations about their children’s education. For instance, Latiya Loring, a mother of two, said administrators at the D.C. Prep Benning Elementary Campus, formerly D.C. public school, don’t take her concerns about the Common Core standards and draconian disciplinary rules seriously.

“There are folks [in these schools] who are teaching just to pay their student loans. They go into poverty-stricken neighborhoods not knowing what these kids go through,” Loring told AllEyesOnDC, citing examples of when teachers punished her daughters for absences related to her bodily changes. “The kids get suspended for small things that could’ve gotten handled differently. It’s hard enough getting them through the door and we can’t keep discouraging them.”

Loring, an MBYLI alumna, said while she has never spoken to Batchelor extensively, she feels confident that he could bring a fresh perspective in the SBOE and ensure that administrators understand the complexities of life in Ward 8. “I’ve had a chance to see [Markus] in action and be that voice that gives us insight on the conversations young people are having. He sees what’s going on out there and he has access to certain areas because of his age.”

Jamal Holtz, a student who considers Batchelor his mentor, said he can attest to the young community leader’s ability to connect with residents and put his life on the line for D.C. youngsters. Since meeting Batchelor in MBYLI, Holtz has followed him around the city, learning the tricks of the trade and growing in his love for public service.

“I think Markus would make a great representative. He has been in the community his entire life,” said Holtz, a Bellevue resident and recent graduate of Friendship Collegiate Academy Public Charter School in Northeast.

“Long before he launched this campaign, he had visibility, going to graduations and talking to parents. He goes out in front of schools after hours. I know he’ll be very connected to parents and getting them involved. My entire family knows Markus. They look at him as a son and my mother [considers him] her son,” said Holtz, who’ll attend the University of Rochester on the POSSE Scholarship.

In late April, Batchelor took his outreach a step further when he accompanied a group of D.C. students to Flint, Michigan on their mission to supply those affected by the lead crisis with fresh bottles of water and connect with community leaders. The trip, organized by Black Millennials 4 Flint, a grassroots environmental justice movement, allowed the youngsters to better understand the effects of lead poisoning – and see Batchelor’s leadership firsthand.

“We didn’t have a lot of men present and the work we did was pretty tedious, requiring a lot of brawn to get things accomplished so we were grateful to have him,” Tricey Adams, founder of Black Millennials 4 Flint, told AllEyesOnDC. “He really encouraged some of the students on trip to be an intern for his campaign. It was powerful that all of the kids on the trip were from Ward 8. He inspired one of the young ladies on the trip to apply. That’s a testament to his commitment to the community and youth.”

Batchelor, who said he’s eager to revive elements of the Ward 8 community-oriented culture he knew as a child, admits that demographic changes and adult adverseness to interacting with rowdy youth impede that goal. However, he remains confident that he can do his part in helping parents and students to take charge of their school and communities.

For him, that’s the first of many steps in turning around a community that receives a bad rap for circumstances out of the control of those affected.

“We need someone on the school board who’s focused on quality of education and quality of life,” Batchelor said. “If they aren’t willing to talk about how poverty affects community and trauma and how home environment affects youth’s academic success, we’re doing them a disservice. Once young people get a better education, it’ll be easier for them to stand up for themselves. They can believe they can change things in their society,” he added.

D.C.’s Independent Voters Left Out Once Again

In this photo, a voter steps into a Northwest-based polling station. Less than one-fifth of D.C. voters registered as non-party affiliates, meaning they couldn’t participate in the June 14th Democratic primary. As history has shown, candidates who win the primaries go on to win the general election by default./ Courtesy photo 

Months of campaigning, canvassing, and debating came to an end on Tuesday when District voters took to the ballot box during closed Democratic primaries. Seats up for grabs during this election included those belonging to Wards 4,7, and 8 council members as well as D.C. Council member Vincent Orange, one of four at-large representatives.

Seeing as D.C. is a major Democratic city, candidates who garnered the most votes in the primary contest will more than likely breeze through November’s general election and into their coveted position of power. That means nearly one-fifth of non-party affiliated D.C. party voters are left out of the electoral process, a reality that doesn’t sit well with a growing contingent of this constituency.

“We want to go before Congress for D.C. statehood but we disenfranchise our own citizens when we don’t have an open primary system,” Southeast resident and non-party affiliated voter Akili West told AllEyesOnDC. “How are you going to be a state when you only got one party? The Republican Party is weak and people stopped believing in the ideals of the Green Statehood Party.”

West counts among the more than 72,000 registered D.C. voters who don’t identify with the Democratic, Republican, or Statehood Green parties. Last summer, he and five colleagues formed Emancip8, a political action committee that advocates for open primaries and educates voters about what West describes as the perils of the majority party’s stranglehold on local politics.

Emancip8’s inception came, in part, out of frustration with the litany of scandals plaguing the D.C. Council in recent years, including those involving former D.C. Council members Harry Thomas, Jr. and Michael Brown, along with what residents have described as the coalescing of sitting Council members and city officials around D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) as she attempts to secure deals for developers.

For West, this kind of political maneuvering confirmed the Democratic political machine’s exploitation of residents who suffer from few quality education choices, skyrocketing utility bills, and dearth the wrap-around community resources. He went on to cite Ward 8 Council member May’s absence from a Ward 8 Democrats campaign event, saying that D.C. Democratic politicians, feeling secure in their position within the majority party infrastructure, often take their voters for granted.

“I think it would be refreshing to have this type of engagement and shake the game up a little bit, all for the sake of a healthier Ward 8,” West said. “People have become timid, complacent, and with the attitude of resignation. [To them, it’s the thing of] If you can’t beat the politicians, join them. Everyone wants to be on the side of the winner.”

However, West and members of Emancip8 want to ensure that voters understand their power. With the D.C. Democratic primaries over, plans in the works include rallying independent Council members around the idea of open primaries and hosting community events where residents could learn about the benefits of a political contest in which all voters, regardless of the party affiliation, can participate.

Making this goal come to fruition may prove to be an uphill battle.

The prevailing argument for closed primaries centers on the threat of outside forces influencing the affairs of political parties. In 2000, the Supreme Court voted 7-2 against open primaries, saying that they violated political parties’ First Amendment right of free association. In the majority opinion, then-Justice Antonin Scalia argued that allowing non-party affiliated voters to participate in party contests “could be enough to destroy the party.”

Since before Home Rule, much of D.C.’s majority African-American population joined the Democratic Party, due mainly to its support of Civil Rights legislation in prior decades. Since Walter E. Washington (D) became the District’s first mayor, winners of subsequent Democratic primaries for that office have automatically snatched victory in the general election.

With more than 75 percent of the electorate registered under the Democratic Party, this continues to be the case for many Democratic politicians. In the D.C. Council, all but two seats belong to members of the majority party, as mandated in the Home Rule Act of 1975. Those two representatives, Elissa Silverman and David Grosso identify as members of the Independent Party. In years past, Democratic politicians desperate to win office in unfavorable conditions circumvented these electoral rules, switching to the Independent Party rather than face defeat in the party primary.

In recent years, voters nationwide have increasingly shied away from the major parties for more substantive reasons, a phenomenon that has caused a ripple effect throughout several electoral contests. In April, 3 million independent voters couldn’t vote in the closed Democratic primaries to the dismay of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I- VT) who has gained support among young people disillusioned with income inequality, corporate greed, and other issues. Nearly 20 percent of Maryland voters who registered as independent faced the same dilemma that month when they couldn’t participate in closed primaries. In his Baltimore Sun op-ed, David Bittle railed against the Democratic establishment, arguing that closed primaries benefit party elites, and not common folk frustrated with their political leaders’ acquiescence to lobbyists and special interest dollars.

Kentry Kinard, public charter school educator and non-party affiliated voter, shares these sentiments, telling AllEyesOnDC that closed primaries hinder free-thinking people’s ability to hold elected officials accountable during elections.

“The election process is the biggest thing stopping a sincere political reform movement or revolution. As long as there’s dark money in politics and we have the electoral college and superdelegates, I don’t see any way that the people can get a hold on their elected officials, the people who are supposed to represent them,” Kinard, 33, said.

During his interview, the Ward 5 voter spoke candidly about city politics, saying it seems that leaders, including D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D), his representative on the D.C. Council, see their position as a stepping stone to something greater rather than as a means of helping constituents. For Kinard, the leadership style of today’s politicians differ greatly from that of the late Harry Thomas, Sr. and Marion S. Barry, Jr., both of whom he said easily related to the people.

As a non-party affiliated voter, there’s little Kindard could do to influence policy at the ballot box. However, he has found alternatives in making his voice heard, one of which include joining advocacy organizations. He said this method has been of great use, helping him voice his concerns about affordable housing, school choice, the minimum wage, and public transportation.

“The cost [of living is] getting higher and it’s not getting any easier on the residents who’ve been living here for a long time. We’ve seen rapid gentrification in all of the wards,” Kindard said. “That’s why you got to make your own decision. Electoral politics is one part of a holistic process. Get involved through organizations. You can see what’s holding us back and keeping us from having the power that we’re taught we’re supposed to have in our democratic system. We have to get the money out of politics. Right now, the dollars have more of a voice.”

Lifelong D.C. resident and non-party affiliated voter Zaccai Free said he found similar success in acting outside of electoral politics, often attending rallies and testifying at D.C. Council hearings.

Like most independent voters, Free has little faith in the two-party system, a world he said has become inundated with cronyism and pay-to-play politics that don’t benefit voters committed to the major parties. That belief, however, hasn’t stopped him from holding elected officials accountable when it comes to marijuana legalization, arts education, and criminal justice reform.

“Once the politicians get into office, it’s their job to respond to the will of the people,” Free, a Ward 7 resident, told AllEyesOnDC. “The more you push them to represent your interests, the better. People just vote and walk away, forgetting that aspect which I feel is the most important part. If you’re not in your representative’s ear, your vote is a wasted one.”

While the primary contest between D.C. Council member Yvette Alexander and former D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray has sparked interest among politicos, the race has infuriated Free who said he’s frustrated with what he described as the lack of action against high illiteracy and spikes in youth violence in the area.

“It’s sad that we have to choose between an absentee incumbent and a former mayor who survived a scandal by the skin of his teeth,” said Free, who lives in Benning Heights. “There’s a lack of vision in Ward 7. We don’t have anyone who’s connected to the people. The Democrats are doing what the establishment machine often does: keep its power. It’s not about helping the people.”

As the dust settles from the grueling months of Democratic Party infighting and party members unify once again, West said he has his sights set on helping independent voters have their voices heard by the next election. In doing so, he wants to challenge the narrative of Black people giving one group all of their voting power.

“There’s an unfair assumption by African Americans that they have to be Democrats. I’ve always missed out on the primaries and for years, it didn’t matter that much. I felt that there weren’t many political choices. Now things are changing as far as people running outside of the ticket. There are some real independents in this city but you still have to vote for a Democrat, or a Democrat disguised as an Independent.”

Forum Centers on Jobs, Development

(L-R) G. Lee Aiken, Robert White, and David Garber addressed residents’ questions about job preparedness, unemployment and underemployment among east-of-the-river residents, high levels of lead in the water, community-police relationships, and small business ownership during the Equitable Economic Development Forum on May 31st./ Photo courtesy of Kymone Freeman

During the evening hours last week, Southeast resident Jennifer Blocker left her home and walked up the street in search of answers at what was anticipated to be the largest community forum to take place during this election season.

Not long after entering THEARC on Mississippi Avenue in Southeast, Blocker, a community member of more than a decade, told a panel of Ward 8 D.C. Council candidates about her precarious living situation and the constant threats of eviction coming her way amid impending development and rent hikes.

Each person on stage that night addressed Blocker’s concerns. Bonita Goode stressed the importance of proactively engaging developers years before their plans come to fruition. Aaron Holmes briefly explained the difference between development and gentrification, stating the former could benefit the community if done correctly. Trayon “WardEight” White decried regulations that shut out low-income residents based on fluctuating measurements of “median income.”

None of those answers, however, appeased Blocker.

“There’s so much development going on and I haven’t gotten an answer about what [developers and elected officials] are doing. I want them to let us know,” Blocker told AllEyesOnDC at the end of the Equitable Economic Development Forum, a three-hour gathering that attracted more than 100 community members, activists, and grassroots organizers on May 31st, the 95th anniversary of the Tulsa Riots.

“If developers are coming through, people should be able to keep their home at the price they currently got on the books. Some of the laws they said they have in place aren’t really there. Folks aren’t equipped [for this] so we have to be educated,” Blocker added.

Guests who attended the forum have long shared similar apprehension to the changes coming to economically struggling communities of Wards 7 and 8. For nearly a decade, much of the District has undergone an urban renaissance at the expense of Black residents whose history in the city spans generations. As upper and middle-class whites flocked to D.C.’s gentrified neighborhoods, more than 40,000 residents got pushed out to the suburbs, succumbing to the burden of rising rent and property taxes.

In 2011, D.C. lost its Black majority for the first time since Home Rule, an event some described as a sign of the changing tide in “Chocolate City.” Until recently, areas east of the Anacostia River remained virtually untouched but construction projects underway, including the Wizards’ practice facility and Mystics’ arena on the campus of the former St. Elizabeths hospital, have raised eyebrows among residents who fear that they too will be displaced.

That Tuesday evening, Kymone Freeman, co-owner of We Act Radio, and WPFW 89.3’s Jennifer Bryant moderated forums and Q&A sessions between residents and candidates for the At-Large and Ward 8 D.C. Council seats. Community member-submitted questions touched on job preparedness, unemployment and underemployment among east-of-the-river residents, high levels of lead in the water, community-police relationships, and small business ownership.

“This event is our effort to bring the goals outlined in the 2015 City First Foundation Community Development Conference to fruition by including the very people who are affected by policy,” Freeman told AllEyesOnDC.

During the event, he lectured audience members, imploring them to gain more of an understanding of how politicians and developers often collude to displace them. “These solutions presented work toward a collective vision for the development of housing, small business and employment in D.C.’s most vulnerable communities,” Freeman added.

That evening, a cadre of At-Large D.C. Council candidates, including David Garber (D), Robert White (D), and G. Lee Aiken (D.C. Statehood Green Party), sat on stage on a long table alongside Belluve resident “Ms. TJ” as they weighed in on issues of the minimum wage, the D.C. public school system, and rising housing costs. When an audience member asked candidates if they would work to get rid of D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson if elected, all except Garber answered “yes.”

In spite of some of her well-articulated points, audience members often reacted negatively to Aiken, an elderly white woman, with loud coughs, particularly after she referred to them as “you people,” in her pleas for them to get involved in the political process.

Garber also became the center of slight controversy when an audience member took to the mic and recounted a negative experience he had renting living space from the D.C. Council candidate. As the night went on, focus shifted more to policy issues, with candidates giving wonky solutions to residents’ most pressing problems.

In response to inquiries about the possibility of the minimum wage rising to $15 per hour, White, a fifth-generation Washingtonian, said it would be a good start, adding that a viable jobs program would give residents the tools needed to advance professionally and earn more. On stage, he pledged to improve programs he said suffered under Orange’s control.

“Vincent Orange has been [on the Council] for a decade and we haven’t been a decade better. $15 an hour is good but you’re still living in poverty,” White told audience members. Throughout the evening, he showed strong support for D.C. statehood, reflecting on his work with D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton to further that cause and pointing out that the District loses out on millions of dollars because commuters can’t be taxed.

“If we pay federal taxes like every jurisdiction, we should have the same voice and a say in the direction of this nation. We [also] have to train our people up. We have a failed jobs program under Orange. We’re not even spending the millions of the federal money [given to D.C.]. We need someone who can pick up the ball Vincent Orange dropped and run with it.”

The Ward 8 candidates faced similar pressure to answer questions about lead water, public safety, jobs, schools, and economic development.

Throughout that portion, Holmes and Trayon White reiterated talking points about their community experience and knowledge of the political process. The former suggested bringing schools together to share best practices and providing long-term tax relief to residents most likely to be affected by gentrification. In his responses, White recounted bringing attention to lead water in D.C. schools early on and drew a connection between the public health debacle and the school-to-prison pipeline.

In a performance comparable to that of Walter Mondale during the 1984 presidential election, Goode often challenged residents to take their communities into their hands, positioning herself as a conduit between them and D.C. Council, rather than a “savior.”

“We need to start educating and changing ourselves,” Goode told the audience in an effort to dispel the notion that Ward 8 doesn’t have community institutions that can address violence, employment, and other issues. “This thing has mostly been a popularity contest and money campaign. It’s important for us not to lose interest. I want people to read and get that knowledge. We need to change our mindset, support ourselves, and strengthen our own communities.”

To Freeman’s chagrin, not all contestants for the June 14th Democratic primaries showed up.

Ward 7 Council member Yvette Alexander and her challenger, former D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray declined to attend; their absences automatically cancelled that segment. Others missing that night included D.C. Council members Vincent Orange (D- At-Large) and LaRuby May (D- Ward 8). May and Gray sent letters expressing their commitment to equal development and stopping resident displacement.

Sirraya Grant, Ward 7 resident and Gray supporter, seemed unmoved by the Ward 7 candidates’ absence. She told AllEyesOnDC that the time for debating has passed.

“I can see why they didn’t show up. At this point, forums should be over,” Grant said. “It’s about getting early voting and getting the candidates out there. Candidates should be able to galvanize their voters. We need new leadership. Yvette Alexander hasn’t really addressed a lot and you don’t really see her engaging residents and getting stuff done until campaigning time. It shouldn’t take an election to get the streets fixed,” she added.

A lifelong Ward 8 resident who went by the pseudonym Malcolm X had different thoughts, saying he cherished any opportunity for those hoping to be elected officials to address the people.

“I’m very happy that we’re having conversation about economic development. It’s appropriate for Ward 8,” Malcolm, a baby boomer, told AllEyesOnDC. “If the agenda is political, let the candidates have their say and show that they’re doing their best. Too often, we’re quick to criticize, but we don’t take the time to listen. It’s great that the floor was open for residents to ask questions.”

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