According to several accounts, Ward 8 has the highest homicide rate in the city. In fact, Ward 8 ranks at or near the top of most negative social statistical reports (i.e. obesity, HIV AIDS, unemployment, etc). A salient and stunning point regarding these facts is that so many people at all levels of community, local and federal government do, and have, known the plight and suffering of many of the people of Ward 8 for years. There have been roundtables, community forums, political promises and pleas from grieving mamas and grandmas about what must be done to stop the violence and better protect and educate those in Ward 8 and other poverty stricken neighborhoods of this, the Nation’s Capital.
It’s curious then that so little progress has been made; especially since other neighborhoods have been completely re-build and are now replete with fancy shops and restaurants, new street lights, immediate access to thorough and efficient city services, and are bustling with happy, secure, residents whose most pressing concern might be how to acquire more space for dog parks or bicycle lanes. These “hip” new neighborhoods are not bad; nor are the people who make them, necessarily of hostile spirit.
But when we look hard and honestly at the juxtaposition of the two societies here in our Nation’s Capital, we see clearly a gulf so widened by difference that the space in between can make for grounds that breed contempt and discontent. On one end of the spectrum poor, sometimes working poor, often only modestly educated Black people who for any number of reasons have not been able to access the resources their White counterparts get—in many instances inherit as a matter of right.
On the other side, there are people, more often than not White, who are for the most part well educated, and so better equipped to negotiate/create an enhanced quality of life for themselves and in their communities. It has to be without doubt understood how it would be easier for this group to focus on civic and community involvement and neighborhood volunteerism since they aren’t bogged down by the daily worries of how the rent will be paid or what the kids will have for dinner. They are, in fact, secure in their careers, the bills are paid and “the kids are all right.”
Mayor Vincent Gray talks about the vast differences between certain neighborhoods in the city—pointing out what it’s like to cross the Anacostia River and to experience the palpable disparities that exist from one side to the other. And after the recent shooting of three young Black people in the center of a Ward 8 school district, former mayor, and sitting Councilmember Marion Barry, said during an interview, “We have too many young people who don’t care about human life.” Taken together and added to the long, arduous struggles of the many disfranchised people of Ward 8, these statements and the history of torment, intra-group violence and self-loathing that constantly repeats itself should prompt us to re-examine what’s really going on in the lives and neighborhoods of Black and White Washington.
Such an examination would likely lead us to conclude that in order to even begin the processes of repair, we must first address the need for true self-determination; not with respect to the city’s fight for statehood, but among its people who have been stripped of their self-worth and who have consequently embraced the very mediocrity that imprisons far too many; We must seek to help to re-build a sense of worth and pride in those Black mothers and fathers who have somehow, perhaps unconscientiously, given up on themselves and so cannot impart absolute and unconditional love and guide their children in ways that would ensure their safe and healthy development; We must instill in little Black children the courage to dream and to hope, and to value themselves as precious so they believe, without doubt, in their own abilities.
If we were to carry out these and other human/e based strategies, we would surely see a decrease in the violence that now plagues so many Ward 8 neighborhoods because there would be an increase in the value placed on human life. Mr. Barry then is likely correct in his comment, all that’s left for us to do is to once and for all behave as if we know it, care and go to work helping to bring about the change we too often, and over many, many years have simply only talked about.
Similarly, there is much to be done on the other side of the river. In many instances the “more fortunate,” Whites, and several Blacks for that matter, don’t want to engage in discussions about disparities that break along race lines—though many of the same people are happy to talk about “class” or economic disparities. The lack of these discussions is the likely culprit in holding us all captive in our deep-seated prejudices and stereotypes and keeps us from moving forward with any sense of oneness.
If we are to ever truly become “One City,” we must, Blacks and Whites alike, acknowledge first, that there are distinct and concrete differences between the various races and cultures in the city, and those differences, like the differences between flowers, birds and precious stones can/should be admired and even celebrated, not ranked judged and deemed somehow inferior; Those residents who are for the most part White and live in the city’s more affluent neighborhoods must reach out to their “less fortunate” neighbors and offer help, not from a place of paternalistic obligation or a hand-out, but in the spirit of love and respect for their fellow human beings; those same people must begin to use their influence and power to ensure that the city’s government functions in such a way as to advocate for those who are unable to fight for themselves and serves as a fair arbiter in the distribution of services and resources.
Right now, there are too many people, young, old, Black and White who don’t place any real value on life; whether this is expressed through violence or disparity is of little difference, and the results are very much the same. But such attitudes and behaviors are corrected by loving and respecting oneself and others. In the same way, the differences between the city’s two majority populations situate them in places that are worlds apart. But bridges can be built if we first tend to the “souls” of all folks who must do the work.