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AllEyesOnDC

Taking the News to the Streets

Month

March 2016

A Moment with Nana Malaya Rucker

Since the age of 16, Nana Mayala Rucker has brought African-centered folklore to life through spoken word and dance. Her craft for telling stories in this manner has taken her around the world. She has before well-known political powerbrokers. In her role as a “cultural ambassador” Rucker introduces people of various backgrounds to forms of African dance and music. In her journey, she learned more about the most remote places on earth and the elements of Africa they possess.

These days, Rucker performs and educates our young ones, ensuring that the arts remain a vehicle for change that people of African descent utilize to their fullest potential. At a time when schools in communities of color have embraced test-based curricula, this elder works hard to bridge the generational gap and ensure that young people have access to a time-tested means of the artistic education that has been proven to uplift. This mission bears a strong similarity to previous ventures, including Nubian Theatre & Dance Co., an international dance company that has exposed children and adults of African descent to the folklore and spoken word since the early 1980s.

In this AllEyesOnDC video, Rucker, a student of August Wilson, John Henrik Clarke, and other prominent African figures and scholars, reflects on her coming of age, how she rose in African consciousness, and the hurdles that she faced in her pursuit of international stardom. She then closes this segment with a performance honoring the late, great Rosa Parks on the 60th anniversary of the day she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama bus.

Trayon White Reemerges as Grassroots Candidate

Chapter two of what has become a modern-day David vs. Goliath story popped off last month when Trayon “WardEight” White, millennial community figure and protégé of the late, great Marion S. Barry, threw his hat into the ring for the Ward 8 council race, slated to culminate in an Democratic Primary in June that automatically decides the victor.

Last April, White lost a high profile race for his mentor’s seat to LaRuby May, a Florida-born attorney who had D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s endorsement and corporate financial backing, by fewer than 100 votes. Even with the defeat, White proved that his grassroots message could pose a considerable challenge to what some described as a well-oiled political machine.

With the Ward 8 council seat up for grabs once again, White, now equipped with a team that includes opponents turned allies, has refined his message and taken more of a direct approach in showing residents that he can best represent them at a time when development and displacement go hand in hand for many longtime Washingtonians.

“I think the people recognize that I’m a formidable candidate. During the last election, a lot of people counted us out,” White, a former member of the D.C. State Board of Education and onetime staff member in State Attorney of the District of Columbia General Karl Racine’s office, told AllEyesOnDC.

In early February, White registered as a candidate for the Democratic Party during a visit to the D.C. Board of Elections. Accompanying him that morning were Stuart Anderson and Jauhar Abraham, both of whom ran against White during last year’s election before shutting down their campaigns and endorsing him. Anderson, a staunch advocate for returning citizens and their families, currently serves as White’s campaign manager. Christopher Barry, the late mayor’s son and onetime contender for the Ward 8 council seat, has also reportedly thrown his support behind White’s candidacy.

At this point, White hasn’t revealed much about his campaign strategy but he has hinted at the construction of a movement coalesced around Ward 8 residents of various backgrounds, many of whom have seen him grow as a leader. In his interview with AllEyesOnDC, White noted that his areas of focus – which include economic development, public safety, and education – resonate with people frustrated with the status quo.

“Together, we’re stronger because it creates more diversity within the campaign. Residents know I have a heart for service. I’ve been consistent with serving the Ward 8 community. Folks are looking for someone who can represent the people. I can be an independent voice on the D.C. Council,” White added.

The current field of candidates in the Ward 8 council race, much smaller than last year’s, currently includes May the incumbent, White, Aaron Holmes, Bonita Goode, and Maurice Dickins. Whoever snatches victory in the next couple of months will have a lot on their plate.

Even with middle-income enclaves, Ward 8, a jurisdiction where African Americans count among the majority of residents, currently has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the D.C. metropolitan area and United States. With the lowest concentration of full-service grocery stores in the District, Ward 8 residents often have few, if any, accessible healthy food choices.

Public safety has also been a pressing concern. As of publication time, more than 190 instances of violent crime have been reported to the Seventh District Metropolitan Police Department (7D MPD) which oversees Anacostia, Congress Heights, and other communities within Ward 8. One of the most recent instances took place at a BP gas station on the corner of Alabama Avenue and Naylor Road in Southeast earlier this month during which gunmen fired more than 40 rounds. On that Sunday afternoon, Ivy Tonnett Smith, a 39-year-old woman from Northeast, died during the melee. Last year, East of the River reporter Charnice Milton died during a shooting not far from where that gas station while walking home.

In response to the spike in homicides during her first months in office, May organized “pop-ups” in those communities during which she talked to residents and helped them obtain social services and job opportunities. She also reached out to community members, attending large scale events on St. Elizabeths East Campus and spreading messages of peace and unity. Ward 8 residents can also read what their councilmember is up to via the “Councilmember’s Corner,” a column featured in some Southeast-based publications.

Even with such overtures to voters, things got a bit murky last summer when year-to-date homicides rose to a record of 103. To the chagrin of local Black Lives Matter activists and returning citizen advocacy groups, May supported a proposal by Bowser that, if passed, would increase supervision of parolees and those on probation. She also pushed for legislation that would impose huge fines on vendors selling K2, also known as synthetic marijuana.

Since its introduction, the anti-crime bill has stalled, perhaps a testament to how polarizing the issue of public safety has become in gentrifying city. Earlier this month, May switched gears, introducing the Social Equity Empowers Dreams Act, legislation that would close disparities in health, education, and business development via incentives for development east of the Anacostia River and deadlines for Mayor Bowser to present plans for a hospital and language immersion school among other resources.

As seen in other areas of the District, such improvements come along with displacement. Despite such prospects, some residents, long frustrated with rampant violence and lack of economic opportunity, have welcomed the development slowly creeping over their side of the city. Whether the ongoiong projects will result in a change of fortune has yet to be seen.

Prominent community figures, including Nikki Peale of Congress Heights on the Rise and Charles Wilson of the Historic Anacostia Block Association, have commented on record about the sluggish transformation following the presence of the Coast Guard on St. Elizabeths West campus. Earlier this year, news of a deal for a $56.3 million Wizards basketball practice facility and Mystics arena garnered mixed reviews, mainly due to a concerns about displacement.

During a gathering at the Players Lounge on Martin Luther King Avenue in Southeast last month, White, surrounded by family, friends, and loved ones, reminisced about his upbringing as a youngster and activist in Ward 8, telling guests that he could balance his obligations on the council and that to his constituents if elected.

In the weeks after, White, along with an army of supporters donning apple green and red T-shirts and toting campaign material have knocked on doors and walked the streets of Ward 8, chatting with residents and spreading the word about his new endeavor. In conversing with his neighbors, Trayon said he increasingly understands the importance of economic development that prioritizes common folks’ wellbeing.

“I’m not against development. I’m pro-people development,” White told AllEyesOnDC. “D.C. invests in the infrastructure but lacks the focus and strategy to build the bridges for everyday people. The poor are getting poorer and poverty is getting more concentrated. People from all over the city are moving to Wards 7 and 8. It’s not being addressed and has translated to higher crime. At the end of the day, I represent the interests of the people. I’m a community organizer. It’s at the heart of who I am.”

Kenneil Cole, one of the young men that White mentored during his time as a football coach at a now shuttered recreation center, said he plans to send an absentee ballot from the confines of his Delaware State University (DSU) dorm room, noting it was the least he could do for a person who kept him on a path to academic success.

“I’ve known Trayon since I was 10. He had never been very tall so it was funny walking up on him and seeing a man of that stature,” Cole, a 22-year-old junior at DSU, told AllEyesOnDC, recounting college tours White would often take students on, which included schools in Tennessee and Delaware.

“He was always known for helping people. If I were to call him about my school fees and problems, he would make me laugh. He has done a lot for the community. Those people don’t come around very often,” Cole, an aspiring masters of public policy candidate, added.

Ward 8 resident Amanda Lee said she plans to vote for White because of the way he galvanized support among the young black males in the community. She recalled seeing voter turnout among her contemporaries increase immensely during last year’s special election, all due to the prospect of Trayon winning the race.

“Trayon was in the trenches getting young men registered. He was able to do a lot in the last minute with little money,” Lee told AllEyesOnDC. Issues she said she would like to get addressed include mental health and homelessness.

“That led me to believe that he would be the best fit for a ward that’s unique from other areas. He’s from Southeast. It’s hard to replace Marion Barry. Not just because of his resume, but because of the love he had for black people,” Lee, a D.C. government employee, wife, and mother of one, added.

Kim Harrison, Ward 8 resident of 40 years and education advocate, also said she could attest to White’s passion for service, noting that the best scenario for Ward residents would be White sitting on the D.C. Council alongside people who won’t easily acquiesce to bad deals, as well as business and corporate executive demands.

Harrison, who lives near 7D MPD, recounted White’s community involvement through Manpower DC and Helping Inner City Kids Succeed, also known as HICKS, telling AllEyesOnDC that he has always been able to navigate social and political circles to secure resources for his people.

“This isn’t new for Trayon. He’s pretty astute,” Harrison said. “He has always come back to give to his community before he ever thought about running for public office. I don’t see the same passion for helping the poor with any of the other candidates. Trayon can work with those who are trying to get on the council. If they win those seats, he could get support. Their presence on the will help [him] represent the interest of the people, particularly those who reside east of the [Anacostia] River. ”

Ward 8 resident Porche’ Jordan however had a slightly different take.

Jordan, an artist also known as Porche’ 9-11, said that unity should be the primary goal for whoever secures the Council seat in April. While Jordan, former PTA president at William E. Doar, Jr. Public Charter School for the Performing Arts, hasn’t decided on a candidate just yet, she expressed her hope for a more conciliatory solution.

“I hate to do the rival thing. I wish they could both be on the bill,” Jordan told AllEyesOnDC. “I’ve had the honor of working with Trayon [White] on a few events and he spoke at the eighth grade graduation. Even so, I would say LaRuby [May] is included among those trying to bring unity in the community. That’s a beautiful thing with her. I know she has a good heart.”

Sa-Roc the MC Receives a Hometown Hero’s Welcome at Sankofa

Last week, conscious hip-hop artist and native Washingtonian Sa-Roc the MC performed in a packed Liv Nightclub in Northwest. More than 24 hours before gracing the stage however, a small audience that included fans, family members, and friends got to know the lyricist more intimately.

On the evening of Tuesday, March 1, nearly 40 people converged on Sankofa Video Books & Café on Georgia Avenue to chat with Sa-Roc and vibe to her music during a two-hour meet-and-greet event. During this function, she addressed visitors with short remarks, passed out copies of her work, and chopped it up with admirers.

“It feels good to be in D.C. I wasn’t doing much of my music here so it feels good to display my work in my hometown,” Sa-Roc, a former Howard University student and alumna of the NationHouse School who hails from Southeast, told AllEyesOnDC during the meet-and-greet. “It’s formative. I’ve been living in Atlanta for so long that people don’t see me as a D.C. artist. Being in the D.C. music scene solidifies things in my mind.”

Since leaving the District in 2002 to pursue her music career, Sa-Roc hasn’t come back home, other than to perform every once so often. Even so, her lyrics, arguably the most conspicuous sign of an Afrocentric upbringing, reflect a life and absorption of culture indigenous to those living in what was once known as “Chocolate City.” Sa-Roc’s vast discography includes “SA-ROC: Journey of the Starseed,” “Supernova,” and most recently “Gift of Magi.”

In her music, one can hear remnants of go-go, old-school hip-hop, indie rock, and other musical genres. Sa-roc’s influences include Jimi Hendrix, Earth Wind & Fire, and Gil Scott Heron, perhaps a testament to the rebellious nature of her craft and rebellious lyricism. These days, she counts among the handful of prominent black female emcees that don’t bare it all for the screen or rap about their sexual exploits. Such a dedication to being the “other” has led to collaborations with Jay Electronica, Nappy Roots, Afrika Bambataa, David Banner, and Stic.man of Dead Prez.

Nich Lewis, mother of two young women and community member who lives in Northeast, told AllEyesOnDC that she respects Sa-Roc, so much so that she wants her daughters to look to her as an example of black womanhood. On Tuesday evening, Lewis and her brother strolled into Sankofa eager to chat with Sa-Roc during the meet-and-greet.

“Sa-Roc’s classy and operates on divine energy. I first checked her out on ‘Spittin In Da Wip,’” Lewis said. “She gets her point across without taking off her clothes. That’s scarce in this generation. Listening to her music makes me feel like Chocolate City never died.”

Southern Illinois University professor Najjar Abdul-Musawwir echoed Lewis’ sentiments, saying the entertainment industry has slowly pivoted toward a more conservative, wholesome look in recent years mainly due to an oversaturation of sexually explicit content. Musawwir, who’s currently conducting research about the African origins of the Banjo at the Smithsonian Institute, came to the event with a friend.

That evening, he too talked extensively with Sa-Roc and even pledged to attend her show at Liv, stressing that black people must support art that uplift the race.

“I’m putting my money where my mouth is. I’m really glad that Sa-Roc is putting this music out,” Musawwir told AllEyesOnDC. “Some artists throw out sloppy singles. She’s top grade. All of her stuff is of the highest quality. In this society, we have downgraded ourselves so much that people are thirsty for this type of music. Sa-Roc is of the people and for the people. She dresses up her music with knowledge.”

If Sa-Roc left a mark on anyone that evening, it was Ja-Dor Stewart, a middle schooler and aspiring R&B singer who attended the Sankofa meet-and-greet with her mother. Ja-Dor, who’s currently applying to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Northwest, said Sa-Roc showed her what’s possibly for a young artist growing in her African consciousness.

“Sa-Roc came out of the African culture to make music,” Ja-Dor told AllEyesOnDC. “She’s standing up as a positive influence for a lot of youth at a time when the music industry is trying to take down a lot of good artists. She’s blazing a trail to show us that we don’t have to be status quo.”

Follow Sa-Roc on Instagram and Facebook.

McKenton Talks about D.C. Lingo & His Growing Comedy Empire

For the last three years, D.C.-born comedian McKenton has regaled audiences around the country with his quips about his life and facets of the human experience. A unique part of his comedy centers on his use of slang indigenous to Washingtonians.

In recent months, McKenton has taken his talents to the Internet with “Storytime with a D.C.N*gga” and other clips featuring members of High Quality Band along with other local celebrities. These videos, along with other material on Instagram and other social media platforms, quickly made him a favorite among Washingtonians scattered across the country. McKenton’s growing catalogue also speaks to the lengths he’ll go to put D.C. on the map as a hub of comedic talent.

During a recent interview with AllEyesOnDC host and founder Sam P.K. Collins, McKenton touched on the need for local artists and media figures to support one another. He also talked about how he plans to preserve the D.C. culture and rep for the home team through his comedy. As you’ll be able to tell by listening to the clip, the audience at Sankofa Video Books & Café loved this man, a sign that black people of all backgrounds can play a part in the Pan-African liberation struggle.

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