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Looking Back: AllEyesOnDC Does It for the Watoto

The June 16th edition of the AllEyesOnDC Show, filmed live in Sankofa Video Books and Café, proved to be one of a kind, specifically because those featured that evening became the youngest AllEyesOnDC guests in all the grassroots media platform’s existence. This installment of AllEyesOnDC, themed “For the Watoto,” aired on Facebook Live on the International Day of the African Child, the African Union’s annual commemoration of the 1976 Soweto Uprising.

The 1976 Soweto Uprising, for those who don’t know, popped off on the morning of June 16 that year when thousands of indigenous South African youth, fed up with the European-dominated education system’s marginalization of their native tongue, skipped school and led a series of street protests. South African police officers responded to these outcries with brutal violence, killing more than 700 young protesters and jailing many more. The 1976 Soweto Uprising, which inspired several other youth-led anti-apartheid campaigns, has since been depicted on the big screen and stage.

More than 50 years later, a new generation of Black youth in the D.C. metropolitan area has taken the mantle in the fight against global white supremacy and all that manifests from it. Four of these young people graced the AllEyesOnDC stage on June 16th, sharing their stories and showcasing how they use the arts to feed their minds and enlighten the masses.

These young people – youth motivational speaker and activist Elijah Coles-Brown and three young ladies from the Mass Emphasis Children’s History & Theatre Company – kept the audience laughing, awing, and thinking hard about the future holds for Black liberation. Elijah, the first guest, spoke about his activism and causes he’s furthering through his speaking tours throughout the country. Later, he returned as caricature of Frederick Douglass, decked out in a three-piece suit and gray hair, to recite one of the abolitionist’s 1865 speeches.

That evening, the three young ladies of the Mass Emphasis Children’s History & Theatre Company spoke about their roles in “The Sisters Who Fought with Their Pens,” an on-stage tribute to Phyllis Wheatley, Ida B. Wells, and other Black women who used the written word to advance the cause of Black liberation. The trio, scheduled to appear in a play about Kwame Ture and Colin Powell in July, also spoke about how the arts have raised their consciousness and prepared them for a world in which Black children aren’t protected. That evening, the young ladies also sang, recited lines from “The Sisters Who Fought with Their Pens” and even said the names of the 54 African countries, in alphabetical order.

This video captures the entirety of the June 16th AllEyesOnDC Show at Sankofa Video Books & Café. Check it out and mark your calendars for the July 21st edition where we’ll discuss African spiritual systems.

AllEyesOnDC: The “No Culture without Agriculture” Edition

No saying speaks more to Black people’s need to get back our indigenous ways than “There’s no culture without agriculture.” In the spirit of Earth Day, AllEyesOnDC wanted to focus on Our lost connection to the Earth and usher a call for getting back to our roots.

At Sankofa Video Books & Café on the night of April 21st, people in attendance, including this host, saw parallels between agriculture, genealogy, health and fitness, metaphysics, economics, and politics during a two-hour program that included interviews with Sherice, Sr., master urban farmer and leader of the Hippee Chic urban gardening/sustainability movement and Xavier Brown of Soilful City.

Baba Tarik Oduno, a fixture in the D.C. community and pioneer of “There’s no culture without agriculture,” broke down the meaning of that saying, reminding audience members that we must always honor our mothers and fathers and understand our history. After all, Baba Oduno said, “genius is in our genealogy.” Note that this segment was less of an interview, and more of a lecture, all to the audience’s benefit.

Wrapping up the evening was a demonstration by Christina Cook, a Teaching Artist Institute fellow, of how rhythm could boost communication for people on the spectrum (autism, ADHD, etc.). During this segment, five audience members, including Baba Oduno, beat on drums and learned how to create the perfect combination of rhythms – all without speaking a word to one another.

Check out this video and get a great look at what community and self-determination, as it relates to food production, looks like in the District of Columbia.

Black Liberals, Their Use of “Hotep” and “Ankh-Right,” and a Denial of Nation Building’s Merits

PHOTO: A necklace of the ankh, a Kemetic hieroglyph meaning eternal life. The word ankh has recently become a new tool in insults levied against Black people seeking African consciousness./ Courtesy 

Earlier this week, the third day of Kwanzaa, named for the principle of Ujima, a Kiswahili word meaning collective work and responsibility in the African community, turned into somewhat of a nightmare – and ultimately a re-awakening for this author – when Dr. Umar Johnson, an electrifying, yet polarizing figure in the Pan-African community, released a 45-minute video diatribe aimed at his rival General Sera Suten Seti, a Detroit-based speaker with whom he has had problems for some time.

Johnson’s curse word-laden tirade, filmed in a Florida hotel room, caused quite a stir on social media throughout much of Wednesday and Thursday, especially among Black liberal academics and social commentators who spoke of a “Hotep Civil War.” While most in the “conscious community” chose not to give the squabble much credence, several self-proclaimed Pan-Africanists and leftist Blacks quickly condemned the actions of the self-proclaimed “Prince of Pan-Africanism,” saying he made a fool of himself.

For a few seconds, it appeared that the ilk of Black people in whom the good doctor had found fans and liberal Blacks, many of whom have used “Hotep” and more recently “ankh-right” in their descriptions of folks with Pan-African leanings, could agree on at least one thing — the cult of leadership that inflated Dr. Umar Johnson and General Seti’s egos – and has often led to the impotency of several local and national Black movements in recent decades – definitely impedes our fight for liberation.

Unfortunately, this is the furthest the relationship between those with Pan African leanings and liberal Blacks will ever go if the latter continues to tarnishes Hotep – the Kemetic greeting for peace – and the ankh, the Kemetic hieroglyphic that signifies eternal life, in their dismissive statements about Black people yearning to get in touch with their African roots.

Such a choice of words shows a disregard for an ancient history taken away from African people. Yes, even continental Africans lost modern-day Egypt when the U.S. Adm. Alfred Thayer Mahan and other Western leaders created the “Middle East” in the early 20th century. Thousands of years earlier, the Romans and Greeks ransacked Kemet and took many of her possessions. Today, Hollywood warps history, whitening the ancient Black people responsible for mathematics, science, and medicine.

Of course, those of us who consider ourselves somewhat conscious know that we don’t have a direct lineage to Egypt. We also know that American slavery is not the non-melanated people’s first time murdering and stealing from melanated people. Linking the institution of slavery to colonialism on the African continent and Kemet’s fall, helps us find a common oppressor while aiding in the spiritual journey that’s Knowledge of Self.

Many of us who study Egypt, even if for a second, develop an intellectual understanding of the Abrahamic religions that I would respectfully argue goes well beyond that of a good number of Afrikan pastors. Additionally, they are often more accepting of other spiritual systems, including the Yoruba, Akan, Dogon, Voudon, and others.

It’s my hope that Black liberals, and any other group of Black people that has disdain for proponents of African-centered culture, get to embrace their African heritage. Knowledge of Self is a personal process that opens the door to more spiritually fulfilling professional opportunities and connectivity to African people that every Black person should have, even if they don’t feel like attending every study circle or healing circle in the world. In many cases, it also makes one more independently minded.

To the credit of those who critique Pan-Africanism, globalization doesn’t quite afford Black people the privilege of separating from the rest of the world, especially because we don’t control any major resources. In the United States, the racial and ethnic make-up of U.S. residents, particularly those of African descent, has drastically changed since the wave of African independence in the 1950s and 60s. Today, African and Caribbean immigrants and their children count among a significant segment of the Black population in the U.S. Their ties to their home nation and its distinctive culture might not make Pan-Africanism, a call for the collective to unite under one banner, alluring.

For the so-called African American, the United States has somewhat of a misleading position as a stable and developed country. Albeit the signs that all that might be coming to an end within a generation, many descendants of the enslaved Africans who toiled this land feel like they’ve earned a place here. While somewhat noble, this mindset has in part conflicted with the gains that African-centered institutions made in the post-Civil Rights era to create an African identity in the U.S. that combats the poisonous caricature of Black man and womanhood inflicted on our children daily.

Our reverence for our ancestors’ sacrifices on American soil shouldn’t negate our need to connect and organize with our brothers and sisters across the globe. Just as young people are fighting police forces in the U.S., young men and women across the Diaspora are going toe to toe with their elected officials, some of whom have U.S. backing. I’m not afraid, nor have I ever been afraid, to admit that Dr. Umar made me privy to these connections somewhat.

However, that doesn’t mean that he, the men, and sometimes women, who Black liberals, including the authors of the widely popular Very Smart Brothas blog, call “Hoteps” aren’t without fault. Their need to boast about their “wokeness” speaks to this.

However, they don’t represent the entire African-centered community. In the interest of preventing the cult of leadership mentioned earlier, people who consider themselves conscious must hold the usual suspects – misogynists, the historically inaccurate, and the often hypocritical – responsible for their actions.

As far as African-centered organizing and nation building in the 21st century is concerned, many of us shouldn’t be close minded to some of what the present day offers. We should also understand, and embrace, nuance in our scholarship so that we don’t create a narrow-minded definition of a truly African-centered lifestyle. Many an organization have crumbled by turning off well-meaning Black people trying to find themselves in this twisted society.

No fellow Africans, I’m not asking us to hide who we are as a people. I’m not telling our people to put down to the RBG flag, to cease all mention of our ancestors or practice of African spiritual activity. I’m arguing that the dearth of intellectual gymnastics among members of the Youtube generation and a disregard for fresh discussions about various aspects of this liberation movement will hinder us.

If we’re to ever realize Nguzo Saba and become a global African nation, organization must be scientific and inclusive of all all aspects – including financial, agricultural, health, and education. It’s time to move beyond the smoke and mirror of social media conscious stardom. Doing so requires using the confidence that comes with that knowledge to launch long-term projects that move us closer to self-determination. It also requires us to be good representatives of the so-called conscious community in the way we spread our message. Not everyone will like us but they should never have to say that we’re disrespectful.

These days, the stakes are higher for African people in the United States, especially now that even some Blacks with Pan-African leanings have, jokingly, used “hotep” and “ankh right” to deride Johnson and others. This proves dangerous at a time when Pan-Africanism is under attack, not only from outside forces, but from those who consider themselves Black.

Shortly after Donald J. Trump’s ascent to the White House, a couple Black thought leaders spouted messages with xenophobic undertones like that in the president-elect’s campaign speeches. For example, Yvette Carnell of Breaking Brown remixed a conservative talking point about immigrants taking low-paying jobs, telling African Americans that to succeed as a group, they need to ignore a bloc that includes continental Africans, Carribbean people, Afro-Latinos, and other Black immigrants. In a later Facebook post, she mocked Pan-Africanism as a relic of the past that has no significance today.

But how can that be the case when Africans across the globe suffer just as badly, if not worse in some cases, as our ancestors in our interactions with the oppressor? Just like we share a common lineage, we have a common enemy in racism, capitalism, neocolonialism, war, and any other tool used to keep our people under siege globally. Kujichagulia, the Kiswahili word for self-determination and second principle of Kwanzaa, speaks to African people breaking free of those chains and controlling their own economies, governments, and schools without any exploitative influence from outside actors.

Personally, I don’t take most critiques of Pan-Africanism or Black Nationalism negatively these days. Rather, maybe because of a fervently curious mind that has taken me many places, I take those opportunities to develop my craft as a journalist and educator so that the concept of Pan-Africanism becomes clearer for my people and works even more wonders in my life and organizing work. That’s all AllEyesOnDC has been: a tour of my ever-evolving millennial mind.

In closing, I say to those brothers and sisters who continue to use “hotep” and “ankh-right” in their talks about African-centered Black people, understand that yes, we hear you, but you’re still losing out on an opportunity to deepen your community work and advocacy on behalf of Black people. Please learn to see those men you call “hotep” as just flawed people, not representatives of an entire movement. Shoot, just gain some international context for what’s going on in the U.S. and I guarantee you’ll see Knowledge of Self much differently.

At least I hope so.

Young Women Criticize EMOC Initiative during Town Hall

Photo: Young Black girls embracing each other. (Taken from https://yeyeolade.wordpress.com/2011/05/27/black-rites-of-passage-for-young-black-girls-from-assatashakur-com/)

Native Washingtonian and community organizer Samantha Master knows firsthand the punitive nature of the D.C. metropolitan area’s school systems, especially when it comes to young Black women who break rules in a desperate attempt to escape life-threatening situations.

More than a decade ago, Master received a two-week suspension after administrators found a knife in her backpack. Then 13 years old, Master said she had to protect herself against an abusive boyfriend. Her story and pleas for leniency however, fell on deaf ears, jumpstarting a period of depression and disdain for school.

Though Master had the fortune of meeting an elder who helped her complete high school and enter college, she stressed that an untold number of young girls of color with similar experiences rarely escape the perils of a violent home life, particularly because school officials overlook their cries for help.

“It’s important that we understand that gender-based violence makes you fear for your safety in your community. As Black women, we have to speak our truth,” said Master, now 28, during the second of three town halls hosted by the D.C. chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on the evening of Aug. 3rd at Watha T. Daniel-Shaw Library in Northwest.

The event, themed “Leaving Girls Behind,” shared the moniker of a May ACLU report that criticized the D.C. Public Schools’ Empowering Males of Color (EMOC) initiative for ignoring the plight of Black and Brown schoolgirls. During the two-hour discussion, more than 20 Black and Latino women, many of whom represent advocacy, community, and legal organizations, watched a short film featuring Master and a bevy of Black girls who explained how their schools failed to address their mental and sexual trauma.

Shortly after, participants discussed what they considered the best means of connecting young women of color to resources that can aid them in safely navigating the school system and having a healthy coming of age. Topics included mentorship opportunities, methods of youth engagement, difficulties in empowering young women in the D.C. public school system, and how to force policy change.

“I’m always grateful to share my experiences but disheartened that they’re so common,” said Master, a member of Black Youth Project 100, an activist member organization comprised of millennials who want to secure justice and freedom for all Black people. “There are deep flaws in the Engaging Males of Color initiative and I’m interested in how divestment from it and investment in opportunities for young, Black people look,” said Master, a Capitol Heights, Maryland resident.

EMOC, the proposal in question, aims to improve the academic performance of boys of color through $5.5 million in funding for school-based and community engagement programs that focus on academic, social, and emotional support. Other plans in the works include the opening of an all-male high school housed within the former Ron Brown Middle School in Southeast and literacy-focused mentorship.

But some people say those moves won’t suffice if it leaves out Black and Brown girls. In its 39-page report, the ACLU concludes that DCPS cannot overlook the need to serve girls of color, citing persistent disparities between them and their white counterparts. Another criticism centered on the notion that single-sex schooling reinforces harmful stereotypes about young women. This document also determined that the D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, despite the prodding of local advocacy organizations and D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), hasn’t considered providing those resources for girls of color.

“We wanted to amplify the need for resources for girls of color. The Empowering Males of Color initiative didn’t address that. It was a missed opportunity; they did all this research about gaps between students of color and whites just to address a segment of that population,” said Kristina Jacobs, ACLU intern and key organizer of the town hall.

“We wanted to hear from our community members, specifically young women of color who’ve been enrolled in DCPS so that we can push an agenda that’s of the community. Our guests brought them full selves and showed how those experiences affected their identities,” Jacobs added.

Students who will attend the new all-male academy are in the midst of a two-week orientation taking place before the school’s Aug 22nd start date. Even so, the ACLU’s collection of data and crafting of a plan will continue, with some consideration of throwing support behind legislation that’s pending in the D.C. Council.

Though she didn’t matriculate through the D.C. public school system, Temi Bennett, a D.C.-based realtor, recounted barriers she encountered as a young woman at an African-centered school in Chicago. She said that though administrators meant well, they provided more enriching activities for the males while relegating the young women to classes that reinforced gender stereotypes. For her, those experiences highlighted institutional inequities at a young age.

“While we didn’t get into strategy, I enjoyed hearing these diverse stories. It’s a great first step and I’m excited to see what happens next,” Bennett said. “The main thing we pointed out was the need for outreach to Black and Brown girls. I think the participation here speaks to that. The main thing is mentoring. Our girls need mentors that look just like them.”

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.

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.

MBYLI Wraps Up Another Year

PHOTO: Students lead a presentation during the closing ceremony for the Marion Barry Youth Leadership Institute on the evening of May 19th./ Photo courtesy of Jasmine Wilson/MYBLI 

A group of middle and high school students recently wowed an audience of their peers and family members with their problem-solving skills and reflections about their personal and professional journey during a gathering hosted by a District government agency.

During this event, the nearly 20 youngsters, a number of whom will attend the college of their choice this fall, celebrated the completion of another year in the Marion Barry Youth Leadership Institute (MBYLI), a youth development program housed within the D.C. Department of Employment Services (DOES). 

“Being in this program has been overwhelming [at times] but it helped me grow as a leader. I met lifelong friends, learned how to lead, network, and dress professionally,” Ebony Johnson, a youth mayor and a four-year MBYLI participant, told AllEyesOnDC during the Thursday, May 19th program, which fell on what would’ve been martyred activist Malcolm X’s 91st birthday.

Johnson counted among those who received honors during a two-hour program, themed “Malcolm to Marion: The Global Xperience,” at DOES headquarters in Northeast. Organizers named the event for Malcolm and late D.C. Mayor Marion S. Barry.

As one of two youth mayors, Johnson represented D.C.’s young people during public events, black-tie functions, and other gatherings, experiences she said pushed her into the spotlight. Hours before the start of the end-of-the-year program, Johnson finished her last day at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, Maryland.

This fall, she’ll attend Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C. where she plans to take lessons she learned about Malcolm in her political science and Spanish studies.

“I enjoyed learning about Malcolm X because he [created] a legacy [about] being yourself and doing what you have to do even if people won’t like you for it.  Leaders go through so much but they succeed when they surround themselves around successful people,” Johnson eagerly mentioned.

Throughout the 2015-2016 school year, more than 125 youth involved with MBYLI engaged in personal development, civic engagement, and work readiness training. This summer, 300 high school students will sharpen their academic and professional skills on area college campuses including Catholic and Howard universities, located in Northeast and Northwest respectively. 

Some students have also become more globally aware in their involvement with MBYLI. Last year, the program sent 13 young people to South Africa as part of a partnership with Global Kids, a nonprofit that allows students in underserved communities to connect with their peers across the world.

“This program keeps the kids busy and involved in different activities. My son has become more comfortable with public speaking [since joining],” Yolanda Allen told AllEyesOnDC, referring to Anthony David, a freshman at Washington Latin Public Charter School in Northwest. 

Allen, a Southeast resident, said that since enrolling in MBYLI, David has has taken on leadership roles and grown more confident in a society that often limits the career opportunities of young Black men to athletics and entertainment.     

“I want him to be a productive citizen and make our race proud as a Black man,” Allen  added.”I’m not losing my young one to the block. He has to do what he has to do. I highly encourage parents to do the same. It’s about the community. These students come from all walks of life and get along so well.”

Last week’s program served as testament to the sense of community MBYLI fosters. Throughout much of the evening, students answered to greetings of “Hello winners!” Phillip Walker, MBYLI manager, gave opening remarks, reflecting on his experience as a participant and alumnus of the program.

Later, the young winners gave presentations about Malcolm X, the college application process, and their growth in the program. One group outlined a 10-point program modeled after that of the Black Panther Party that would counter spatial mismatching. Plans included a charter bus service that transporting students from McKinley Technology High School in Northeast to their Southeast neighborhoods.

Special guests included D.C. Deputy Mayor of Greater Economic Opportunity Courtney Snowden who briefly spoke to students and parents. Veteran developer Ibrahim Mumin gave the keynote address in which he highlighted Barry’s civil rights work and evoked Malcolm X’s nationalistic spirit.

“We should be about institution building. We can train people for years but if they don’t bring their skills back to the village. It doesn’t help the city,” Mumin told the audience. “We have to change the culture in D.C. We can’t be chumps and go along with people who do the illegal stuff. Let’s internationalize our struggle.”

The late Barry, often referred to as “Mayor for Life” during his storied career, launched MBYLI, then called the D.C. Summer Youth Employment Program, in the late 1970s. The program employed an untold number of young D.C. residents, many of whom went on to work in public service. MBYLI’s alumni association recently became a 501(c)3, a plan put in motion after Barry’s 2014 death.

“This program was nothing short of extraordinary for me. I’m using what I learned there and in college to give back to the young ones,” David Williams, 2011 MBYLI alumnus and current employee, told AllEyesOnDC. After graduating from the University of Maryland College Park in 2015, he took on the responsibility of training MBYLI students as an Omega leader.

Williams said such an opportunity allowed him to impart wisdom on those whose shoes he sat in at one point.

“We have to inspire these kids and impact them in a way that helps them grow. Our biggest challenge this year was finding resources. I used my personal finances to fund activities and it was rewarding to see how that affected them.”

#OurLivesMatter: One Year Later

If there’s any doubt that District youth want to quell violence in their community and boost civic engagement among their peers, young people at a local recreation center are slowly but surely laying those concerns to rest, all the while sharpening their leadership skills.

Since launching the #OurLivesMatter campaign at the FBR Branch of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington more than a year ago, this special group of students has engaged 600 middle and high schoolers in discussions about systemic inequality, cultural heritage, conflict resolution, and other topics. With the guidance of adult leaders, they act as ambassadors to the movement by spreading the word about their efforts and participating in intergenerational gatherings.

“I had the skills but didn’t know what to do with them until I came to the Boys & Girls Club,” Jazmine Jones, a student at Kipp DC College Preparatory in Northeast and “Our Lives Matter” representative, told AllEyesOnDC. As director of community service for Keystone, the Boys & Girls Club’s premier leadership program, Jazmine organizes citywide service trips. She said that since assuming this role, her confidence has boosted and she’s thinking more about what the future holds.

“I’m learning how to raise funds and plan events,” Jazmine, a Southeast resident, said. “[In the future], I see myself getting my mentoring program off of the ground. I want to get this message out to [students in] my school. Right now, I don’t have that much of an influence but I still want to be a leader. The Boys & Girls Club can help me get there,” Jazmine added.

Jazmine and her colleagues introduced the #OurLivesMatter campaign to visitors at THEARC during the 2015 Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday weekend. Events on that Monday morning took place amid an ongoing national discussion about police brutality in communities of color in the wake of Mike Brown’s police-related death in Ferguson, Missouri. The youth town hall at THEARC featured a collective of young activists and leaders who weighed in on issues of public safety, employment opportunities, and political awareness.

These topics reappeared later in the year when District homicides reached record numbers and residents, community members, and public officials called for a swift action from the Wilson Building. In August, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser proposed a set of polarizing crime prevention measures including police foot patrols and increased supervision and post-release searchers for returning citizens. Black Lives Matter DMV and other grassroots advocacy groups railed against the plan, calling it discriminatory against poor black residents and ineffective in addressing economic and social causes of violence.

For LeVar Jones (no relation to Jazmine), teen program director at the FBR Boys & Girls Club and adult lead on the #OurLivesMatter campaign, changing the status quo means allowing young people to speak freely about their problems. He says that environment will help them overcome societal pressures to fulfill negative stereotypes and perpetuate cycles of violence. Earlier this month, participants looked back on the first year of those efforts to raise the youth’s consciousness during a host of Martin Luther King, Jr. events.

“How do we create spaces where young people could exist as they are? Since last year, we’ve started this conversation and took it to other places like Baltimore and New Jersey where the young people are involved in activism,” Jones told AllEyesOnDC. “It’s about getting our young people passionate about movements they care about and showing them their lives matter because they engage in positive things. The good inside us unites us while we allow all that other stuff to corrupt us. There’s a healing that has to take place. The youth have to honor who they are.”

The installation of a state-of-the-art recording studio also provides such an opportunity for the lyrically gifted men and women who frequent the halls of the FBR Boys & Girls Club. This recent development followed the introduction of photography and other graphic art mediums into the program. Erikah Moore, a member of the “Our Lives Matter” campaign since last September, said she grew in her role as head of the media crew and member of the Alloy Achievers, FBR Boys & Girls Club’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) program, by using these resources.

“We work to get the teens in the neighborhood to come here to find the things we found in this program,” said Erikah, a student at Banneker Academic High School in Northwest. “As youth, we all have to come together because we’re the majority. It makes no sense for us not to band together to help bring awareness to issues about young black men and women being attacked in the streets. This is a nonviolent movement.”

The urge to avoid a turbulent atmosphere compelled Darren Gibson to stay at FBR. Since meeting Jones three years ago, he has been involved in a bevy of extracurricular activities he said exposed him to another world. Gibson recounted connecting young brothers to similar opportunities years later.

“The whole experience put me in a different environment. Here, I learned the importance of my voice and how it could make a difference,” Gibson told AllEyesOnDC. “Right now, I’m helping a young guy get into music, especially since we just built a studio. We’re not just rapping but going into different genres of music. I see nothing but motivational music coming out of that studio.”

Welsing Remembered as Scholar Who Loved Black People

In the years leading up to her death, scholar-warrior Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, with the help of friends and colleagues, fought tooth and nail against the very forces she described in her 1991 book The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors.

That battle, however, would prove to be futile.

Welsing’s confidants say exploitative lawyers and timid power brokers in the D.C. Zoning Commission foiled her attempts to stop what has been described as the Jewish Primary Day School’s encroachment on her property. For years, high noise levels emanating from the private school’s playground rattled the 80-year-old psychiatrist, possibly causing the stroke that landed her in MedStar Washington Hospital Center on New Year’s Eve.

The news of Welsing’s Jan. 2 death shocked many who recounted seeing a clear-thinking, vibrant and mobile elder during public appearances locally and across the country months earlier. Such a healthy disposition, even in the scholar’s last moments, didn’t surprise Januwa Moja, a nationally renowned artist and Welsing’s close friend of 40 years who recalled often seeing her face light up during discussions about racism.

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(L-R) Nana Malaya Rucker and Moja present an artistic work inspired by Dr. Welsing at a memorial service on Jan. 14/ Photo by AllEyesOnDC

“Dr. Welsing was for us as a people 24/7. Her first priority was her patients, then the Welsing Institute,” Moja told AllEyesOnDC, referring to the three-hour long sessions Welsing held in Howard University’s Blackburn Center in Northwest on the second Thursday of each month between September and May of the academic year.

“Once she prepared for her patients, she would prepare for the session on the second Thursday. She was speaking everywhere and always hopping on planes. During those times, she was traveling by herself. In her 80s, she kept it moving, working on our behalf and elevating our consciousness. She read almost everything that had to do with our people,” Moja added.

Welsing, a Chicago-born alumna of Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio and Howard, rose in notoriety during the 1970s and 1980s after she defined racism as a global white supremacist system built out of a white minority’s fear of genetic annihilation. She reached this conclusion after hearing Neely Fuller, author of United Independent Compensatory Code System Concept, mention such a perspective. That encounter inspired her to find out why white people have acted in  this manner historically.

In The Isis Papers, Welsing postulated that people of color, especially those with darker shades of melanin, are targeted in nine major areas of activity including politics, law, entertainment, labor, sex, and war. Her premier work included a collection of essays penned over the course of more than 20 years. For many, Welsing’s scholarship made sense of the mental issues black people continued to endure one generation after Jim Crow. It also inspired Public Enemy’s album Fear of a Black Planet, introducing her to legions of young people.

In the decades since she developed what’s known as the Theory of Color Confrontation, Welsing has unflinchingly defended her position to white and black detractors alike, contending that back people’s failure to understand the totality of racism impedes progress and maintains the status quo. In 1973, she debated Dr. William Shockley, physicist and proponent of eugenics, debunking most of his points and pushing him into abject obscurity.

The Millennial generation became familiar with Welsing’s work after her appearance in the Hidden Colors documentary series. In recent years, they counted among a significant number of people in the audience during her lectures across the country.

“She had this infectious energy and came ready to deliver this message about white supremacy and racism,” Millennial singer, rapper, and songwriter Jeni Calhoun, told AllEyesOnDC. Last August, she met Welsing during a lecture at Fisk University in Nashville during which the warrior-scholar signed a copy of The Isis Papers.

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Lorne Cress Love, Dr. Welsing’s older sister and WPFW stalwart, spoke before more than 200 people about the late warrior-scholar on Jan. 14th/ Photo by AllEyesOnDC

“The first time I came across The Isis Papers, I wasn’t ready for the knowledge,” said Calhoun, an employee of Jazzy 88.1 WFSK, located on Fisk’s campus. “Now that I’ve come back to it, it has a different message because I have a higher level of consciousness. I love how Dr. Welsing always broke down stuff and showed us how racism affects us on all fronts. I see all of the propaganda and things they’re doing to keep us enslaved in this system.”

After Welsing succumbed to complications from her stroke, students and fans took to social media to mourn who they considered a legend and staunch advocate for black people. A multigenerational gathering of more than 200 community members took place at the Blackburn Center earlier this month in place of Welsing Institute. That evening, guests poured libations, told stories about the late Welsing, watched YouTube videos of her interviews, and purchased copies of The Isis Papers.

Two more events, a 40-day ascension ceremony and memorial service, are scheduled for February and March respectively. Despite minimal acknowledgment of Welsing’s work by the mainstream establishment, her influence among those who consider themselves “conscious” remains strong, making a large turnout at future events a strong possibility.

“If she was white, Dr. Welsing’s passing would be on the front page of the New York Times and all over CNN,” Dr. Gregory Carr, chair of Afro-American studies at Howard, told AllEyesOnDC. “The critique of whiteness has become so vogue but it’s something she and Neely Fuller pioneered. With The Cress Theory, Dr. Welsing was attempting to answer the call for a social science paradigm to analyze racism. That’s why she identifies as one of the great theoreticians of the 20th Century.”

Carr, critical of how social media diminished young people’s will to read and organize interpersonally, said that youth could best honor Welsing by eradicating the white supremacist system methodically, not only in times of tragedy. “Organizing is based on collective study and work. That’s what Dr. Welsing often talked about,” Carr said. “There was always a mix of talking and work but that’s all it is now. What we have to do now is commit ourselves to real time organizing and building between generations.”

Technology enthusiast and podcaster Big Baba Rob shared Carr’s sentiments, telling AllEyesOnDC that he wants to honor her memory by acting in the manner she often encouraged her audience to exemplify: respectful of one another.

“Dr. Welsing wanted us to be smarter and act better as a people,” said Big Baba Rob, 42. “She wanted us to be aware and fight. Her lectures and book analyze where we are as human beings. We have to educate ourselves. We’re being dumbed down and things are setting us up for failure. That’s why we must continue to fight.”

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