Ward 8: The Diamond, The Power-Broker

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We often talk about Ward 8 as if it were the ugly step-child of the city. And while it’s true that this part of our nation’s capitol certainly lags behind her sister wards vis-à-vis the resurgence the city is experiencing, Ward 8 does not, and should not bare that weight alone.

Over the years there have been countless public and private special pro­grams supposedly designed to address the needs and concerns of Ward 8 resi­dents. While some have had a degree of success, others have not met their stated goals. They have only collected their checks and simply walked away from the people they promised (and were paid) to help. Still, Ward 8 moves, albeit sometimes very slowly, into her own.

The most recent city-wide elections showed that in the 2010 mayoral race, 12,993 Ward 8 residents voted; more than 10,000 of them for Vincent Gray. Similarly, in the 2011 special election, 65% of the nearly 3,000 people who voted voted for Vincent Orange. In any other ward in Washington DC, or in any other hamlet, quid pro quo politics would dictate that, at the very least, Ward 8 would be provid­ed for and served at a level equivalent to the rest of the wards throughout the city. But somehow Ward 8 has missed out on collecting on her part of deal.

Some may argue that the fault lies with the people and or the leadership of the ward. To some extent that may be true. However, armed with information, the ward is equipped to correct the situation. It may be that the fundamental culture of the ward will have to be altered before a significant change can occur. If you look at other neighborhoods around the city, it may be concluded that the change has shown up in the form of gentrification.

One has to believe gentrification is hardly the solution the majority of the current residents of Ward 8 are leaning toward. Change can be frightening, but it has to happen. The question becomes, “How will Ward 8 deal with the change that is inevitable?” Put another way, the question is, “Will the people of Ward 8 make their own change, or will they quietly conform to changes enacted by external forces?” Surely, the latter doesn’t have to be the case. That outcome would be so drastic for some that people who have lived for several generations in a neighborhood, will be forced out because they can no lon­ger afford to live there. Nor does it have to be that Ward 8 remains the ward with the highest unemployment, the highest crime, the highest poverty rate and so on.

The first steps toward Ward 8’s coming of age and standing in absolute equality with the other seven wards—with respect to voice, resources and services—should be taken by the people of Ward 8 and their elected and community leaders. Again, referring to recent elections, the people of Ward 8 have shown that they have the knowledge, power and stamina to be the body that can turn an election. As such, it would seem that elected officials would race to tend to the needs of this particular constituency. But that has not been the case. And upon close review one might arrive at one of two (or both) conclusions: 1) Several Ward 8 residents are willing to accept the deal in which they are paid to participate in a given campaign and be­yond that they will not engage. 2) Those running for office intentionally mislead the people, assuming that once elected they won’t have to encounter the voter again—at least not until next campaign.

Whatever the reason for the lack of participation and the general state of the Ward, a shift in the collective mind-set will have to take place in order for the people of Ward 8 to experience and enjoy real and lasting change. Ward 8 can not ac­cept any more band-aid approaches to problems. For instance, with a nearly 30% unemployment rate, the focus has to cut deeper than a “six week resume and how-to-interview workshop series.” These types of resources are very much needed. But if we’ve not dealt with how the recipient of the training thinks and feels about working; s/he will likely have little use for the train­ing.

In the same manner, when looking at the physical state of the Ward it would not be unusual to find dilapidated build­ings peppered across a neighborhood or to see children and adults throwing pa­per and other trash wherever they might be (and in some instances a trash can is very nearby). These kinds of neighbor­hoods and this behavior have nothing to do with the “norms” involved with being poor, or Black for that matter. Instead, these references have more to do with the workings of the self-fulfilling prophecy. In this case, neighborhoods are filled with trash, open-air drug markets and crime in part, because the city has failed to serve these communities. As a result, residents in these particular neighborhoods survive as best they can, according to their environ­ments—the more trash one sees, the more s/he indiscriminately throws on the ground.

Meanwhile, the few residents who are committed to working to ensure that Ward 8 grows and serves as the source and place in which the needs of its residents are met has to increase. Those noble few have served in the trenches, towed the line and now they are faced with having to decide whether it’s time to broaden the participation pool and cast their nets farther out into neighborhoods where they might find people—young and old, new-comers and long-time residents alike—who are willing to work together to ratchet up the Ward’s movement away from the status quo and toward it’s rightful place among the other wards of the city.

Whatever the Ward’s leadership decides in this matter, they should conduct their deliberations ever mindful of the fact that while Ward 8 may be treated like the ugly step-child, she is indeed a diamond in-the-ruff. And there are countless developers who recognize, and cannot wait to capi­talize on her beauty.

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