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D.C. Area Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 16:39

Cross-Posted from DC Area Educators for Social Justice

We invite you to endorse and participate in the D.C. Area Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools from February 5-9 to bring social justice issues into the classroom and empower students of color across the D.C. area. Sign up, download resources, and more: http://www.teachingforchange.org/black-lives-matter-week-action

Teaching for Change, Center for Inspired Teaching, Washington Teachers’ Union, D.C. area educators, as well as community members are collaborating on D.C. Area Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools. This week of action builds on the momentum of the The National Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Our Schools campaign taking place in cities across the U.S. to promote a set of local and national demands focused on improving the school experience for students of color.

In these times of emboldened racism and xenophobia, we must listen to and elevate the voices, experiences, and history of our fellow citizens and communities under attack. The thirteen guiding principles of the Black Lives Matter movement will be highlighted during this week of action as a means of challenging the insidious legacy of institutionalized racism and oppression that has plagued the United States since its founding. The Black Lives Matter movement is a powerful, non-violent peace movement that systematically examines injustices that exist in the intersections of race, class, and gender; including mass incarceration, poverty, non-affordable housing, income disparity, homophobia, unfair immigration laws, gender inequality, and poor access to healthcare.

Each day will explore two to three of the Black Lives Matter movement thirteen guiding principles. In school, teachers across the district will implement Black Lives Matter Week of Action curriculum designed for pre-K through 12th grade classrooms. In the evening, there will be events for educators, students, stakeholders, and community members to actively engage in the movement.

The goal of the Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools is to spark an ongoing movement of critical reflection and honest conversations in school communities for people of all ages to engage with critical issues of social justice. It is our duty as educators and community members to civically engage students and build their empathy, collaboration, and agency so they are able to thrive. Students must learn to examine, address, and grapple with issues of racism and discrimination that persist in their lives and communities.

If you are interested in obtaining curricular resources, learning about the events and or exploring the different ways you can get involved visithttp://www.teachingforchange.org/black-lives-matter-week-action

The post D.C. Area Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Third Annual #ReclaimMLK Week of Action!

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 10:50

Guest Contributor:  Black Lives Matter DC

“Martin Luther King Jr’s life’s work was the elevation, honoring, and defense of Black Lives. His tools included non-violent civil disobedience and direct action. Dr. King was part of a larger movement of women, and men, queer, and straight, young and old. This movement was built on a bold vision that was radical, principled, and uncompromising. The freedom fighters who believed in this vision were called impractical, rash, irrational, and naive. Their tactics were controversial. Some elders distanced themselves from what was then a new movement for change. Some of the older generation joined in. Our movement draws a direct line from the legacy of Dr. King.

Unfortunately, Dr. King’s legacy has been clouded by efforts to soften, sanitize, and commercialize it. Impulses to remove Dr. King from the movement that elevated him must end. We resist efforts to reduce a long history marred with the blood of countless women and men into iconic images of men in suits behind pulpits.

From here on, MLK weekend will be known as a time of national resistance to injustice.

This MLK weekend we will walk in the legacy of Dr. King and the movement that raised him. We will #ReclaimMLK.”

                                – Ferguson Action

Three years ago, the #ReclaimMLK Week of Action was the first public event Black Lives Matter DC put on. Every year the week is phenomenal, touching hundreds of people and highlighting issues unique to Black DC communities. Kicking off each new year with a sense of purpose, focus, and a solid group of folks ready for strategic, principled, and organized resistance is amazing. This year will be no different and we hope to see you all there!

In addition to coming out to enjoy the events (listed below and attached to this email), we are looking for volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering please fill out this form as soon as possible. We would love your help collecting more items for the Silent Auction on Friday 1/19. If you or anyone you know wants to donate, please have them fill out this form.

Lastly, critically important events like these cost money to put on. We are an all volunteer grassroots chapter and need your help to cover the costs associated with this week. We have been able to secure many in-kind and other donations through hard work and relationships we have built. However, we still need your support to cover what remains. Please donate generously here today and encourage your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, etc. to do the same! Your help is greatly appreciated.

MLK Holiday DC Theme: Where do we go from here? Chaos or community?

FACEBOOK EVENTS (full flyer attached):

Blackout 2.0 Party

#BlackJoySunday

MLK Holiday DC Peace Walk, Parade, and Holiday Health Fair

2018 Theme: Where do we go from here? Chaos or Community.

Revolutionary Mothering: Mothers Building Community After Loss

Emotional Emancipation Circle

Resisting Chaos Through Organized Resistance: A Direct Action Training

Where do we go from here? Community Open House Fundraiser and Silent Auction for BLM DC and MLK Holiday DC Committee

#J2018- Year Anniversary of the Inauguration.

In Love and Solidarity,

Black Lives Matter DC

Text “KeepDC” to 91990 for alerts, updates, and urgent actions.

The post Third Annual #ReclaimMLK Week of Action! appeared first on Grassroots DC.

The Winter Solstice Holds Both Promise and Pain – In Memorium

Sun, 12/24/2017 - 11:14

Cross-posted from the Washington Legal Clinic

Remarks from Patty Mullahy Fugere at the memorial honoring those who passed this year while experiencing homelessness in DC.

In Memorium

Individuals who passed away without the dignity of a home in 2017

Chris Mason

Darius Duncan

Duane “Joey” Henderson

Galaxina Robinson

James King

Lisa Jennings

Mark Jenkins

Michael Kelley

Michael Dunne

“MS”

Mweane Sikuzote

Nick

Norman Anders

Joseph Watkins

Wilkie “Bill” Woodard

And thirty unnamed residents

***

December 21st.  The winter solstice.  I’ve come to look forward to this day with both relief and dread….relief that we have reached the point of maximum darkness and we’ll start squeezing a few more moments of sunlight out of each coming day, and dread that we must once again gather to celebrate the lives and mourn the loss of our brothers and sisters who have passed in 2017 while experiencing homelessness.  December 21st holds both promise…and pain.

When I was a kid, my mom received a phone call on the morning of December 21st, 1970, from her older sister, with whom my grandmother – my beloved “Nanny” – lived.  Nanny, who had spent the evening of December 20th sitting at the kitchen table with her cigarette, her pilsner glass and her crossword puzzle, went to bed, and then never awoke. She had passed unexpectedly during the night…in the warmth of her own bed, after going through her treasured routines, and, if I know my Nanny, after kissing my aunt and uncle good night and getting down on her knees to ask God to bless us all. It was, in a sense, a perfect, dignified, passing.

Placard bearing the names of people that died while homeless in the District of Columbia.

There were 45 deaths this year of people who lived unhoused in the nation’s capital that were very far from perfect passings…deaths of women and men who had no kitchen table, no warm bed, no family members to kiss goodnight, and for some, not even a floor to kneel upon for a prayer at the end of the day.

How is it that this continues to happen? Last year, we read out 51 names. In 2015, it was 41. In 2005, there were 34.

How is it, that in this nation’s capital, in this progressive city that has declared itself to be a human rights city, in this community that has committed itself to “making homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring,” how is it that we can continue to let this happen?

Read the entire article on the Washington Legal Clinic blog.

The post The Winter Solstice Holds Both Promise and Pain – In Memorium appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Investigating Ballou Means Investigating Ourselves

Wed, 12/20/2017 - 10:53

Cross-posted from EducationDC

[Ed Note: On Friday, December 15, the education committee of the city council held TWO related hearings on graduation rate accountability, arising from reporting that students at DCPS’s Ballou high school graduated without earning appropriate credit. Below, DC education activist Peter MacPherson puts the official investigation of what happened at Ballou into historical and civic perspective.]

It’s a big deal in a democracy when two branches of a government decide a third just isn’t working well, needs to depart this mortal coil, and then administers the coup de grace. That’s what happened in 2007 when former Mayor Adrian Fenty and every member of the city council—save one—decided to dispatch the elected Board of Education from this realm. It was a decision made by a small number of actors, with the support of elite institutions like the Washington Post and with no meaningful opportunity for District residents to express whether they wanted one of the city’s few vestiges of democratic life to disappear.

The elected Board of Education has now been gone for a decade. Those who eliminated it made the argument that putting the final authority for DCPS under the aegis of a single person, namely the mayor, would be the antidote for what was commonly described as a failing school system. It’s been a popular narrative in our country: that uninhibited executive power is what’s needed to fix the badly broken. Fire the non-performing and eliminate the bickering and the need to build consensus on an elected board. Develop a bold plan for improvement and then implement it without the barriers that an elected board represents.

After a decade of mayoral control, few would say that the city’s schools are actually fixed. Huge improvements have been made in renovating or reconstructing school buildings. But the benefits of the school modernization program have not been experienced equally, with improvements closely tied to race and class. The achievement gap between white and non-white students remains as jarring as ever.

Nonetheless, there is a persistent narrative that our schools have dramatically improved, that DCPS is “the fastest improving urban school district in the United States,” as the mayor and her lieutenants frequently note. These kinds of statistics are often cited by the editorial page of the Washington Post.

Besides scores on standardized tests, significant improvements in high school graduation rates are also mentioned as evidence of improvement. The latter, if the numbers are to be believed, is a success that DCPS Chancellor Antwan Wilson wishes to build on: In the next 5 years, he wants 85% to graduate from high school within four years and 90% within four to five years.

But it’s difficult to judge that goal, because the current state of achievement in our schools is actually unknown.

For instance, reporting by WAMU and NPR has raised considerable doubt about the actual graduation rate at Ballou in Ward 8. The school had reported an improvement in its graduation rate from 50% in 2012 to 67% in 2017. And the school also reported that all of its 2017 graduating class had been accepted to college. However, the WAMU/NPR reporting makes clear that those numbers are illusory. Evidence of excessive absenteeism on the part of students as well as the massaging of grades indicate that many were allowed to graduate when they in fact were not eligible to do so.

Our mayor and chancellor desperately want this scandal to be isolated to a single school. And if only Ballou is investigated, that’s where it will remain. As it now stands, the Office of the State Superintendent for Education plans to only investigate Ballou.

This is exactly why education reform in the District of Columbia is failing.

Those running education in the District are deeply invested in the reform model adopted a decade ago. Eliminating the elected school board and embracing a high-stakes testing paradigm were supposed to transform our schools. Those brought in to run the schools were sold as pedagogic alchemists who possessed the secret formula.

That narrative is paramount: The political and media class are not invested in all students succeeding academically. Essentially, they care about the perception that students are learning and achieving in our schools. When scandals appear, like the one involving cheating on standardized tests that USA Today uncovered (and even more since then), scenarios have been constructed to give the appearance that what was reported was limited to a few isolated examples. Unlike in Atlanta, where a similar scandal had taken place and a fulsome investigation conducted, much more limited inquiries were conducted in DC. In Atlanta, school system officials went to jail for their role in the cheating scandal.

No such sunlight was brought to bear on events here in DC. Cheating took place that was engineered by adults. And no one in DC went to jail.

District stakeholders have every reason to be skeptical of how city students are faring in our schools. The problem is that the civic bodies in DC that ensure accountability–the mayor, city council, OSSE, the media, the charter board–are so heavily invested in a particular narrative that they have largely forsaken their actual roles.

Before 2007, we had relatively poor oversight, and many schools and educational situations that were demonstrably bad. After the elimination of the democratically elected school board, all that has happened is a continuous storyof improvement. Actual and honest assessment has been abandoned. In fact, challenging the current educational orthodoxy seems as perilous as criticizing Joseph Stalin in Russia in the 1930s. Critics are forced from the system or characterized as dead-enders clinging to a sclerotic old order.

Common sense says we should be skeptical about what our city’s educational agencies are telling us about the progress of our students. The PARCC—and the DC-CAS that it replaced–have consistently shown that many District high school students have low scores on these tests. These test results, where some high schools have single digit percentages of students scoring proficient in both reading and math, should make everyone skeptical that 72.4% on average (the current graduation rate for the city) were able to credibly graduate.

We do not need an investigation just of Ballou. We need a comprehensive investigation of high school graduation rates at every high school.

And, as council member Robert White has asked, this investigation needs to be done by an entity that has no direct connection with the District government. The findings should be released independently and not filtered by the mayor, chancellor, charter board, or the state superintendent for education, all of whom have a stake in ensuring a positive narrative emerges no matter how egregious the treatment of students actually is.

During the past decade, those with direct responsibility for education in the city have placed the credit or blame for levels of student achievement on teachers and principals. The current education orthodoxy, which has been relentlessly defended for the past 10 years by city politicians, the media, and the business community with little questioning, has to be abandoned in favor of a far more rigorous assessment of what our students actually need. Their success or failure is not just a function of the schools or programming or personnel. It’s also very much about the context in which many DC children live their lives. Poverty matters. Food insecurity matters. Domestic violence matters. If we can start having reliable information about how students are actually faring in schools, we can start having honest conversations about how to help kids get the education they need.

But doing so requires the grownups–the actual adults in the rooms where these decisions are made every day–to start being honest. It’s hard to imagine anything more pernicious than a willingness to misrepresent what is happening to children in school.

The post Investigating Ballou Means Investigating Ourselves appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Organizer & Media Activist Meet and Greet

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 11:31

Grassroots DC exists to support progressive social change activism in the District of Columbia. We publicize events through videos, podcasts, press releases and blog posts. We also hold public education events in public housing communities and other public spaces.

In 2018, we will continue this work but we hope to do more. Unfortunately, as a small conglomeration of videographers, podcasters and bloggers we only have the capacity to support a limited amount of work each year. So we’re looking for a few good media activists to help us expand our reach.

Grassroots DC Winter Solstice
Organizer & Media Activist Meet and Greet
Sunday, December 17, 2017
1:00 – 3:45pm
Dorothy I. Height/Benning Heights Library
3935 Benning Rd NE

Join us and learn how Grassroots DC can support your organization and how you can become a better media activist.

The post Organizer & Media Activist Meet and Greet appeared first on Grassroots DC.

What You Don’t Know About the Homeless Services Reform Amendment Act of 2017

Sat, 12/02/2017 - 09:50

The Homeless Services Reform Amendment Act of 2017 is currently under DC Council review.  After mulling over the latest amendments they will vote on it again December 5, 2017.  Before that happens, we’d like Grassroots DC readers to have some basic information about this bill so we’ve cross-posted the following from the Fair Budget Coalition, which describes what happened during the debate of proposed changes to the bill on November 7, 2017.

“AT SOME POINT, WE HAVE TO DRAW THE LINE”

So said Ward 1 Councilmember, Brianne Nadeau, chair of the Committee on Human Services regarding the time-limit for the District’s Rapid Rehousing Program, a highly criticized program that places families from shelter into temporary housing. When the subsidy cuts off, families often find themselves unable to afford the market rent of the unit they occupy and soon end up in eviction court, and then circle back to the shelter door with a new eviction on their rental history.

During debate on the proposed changes to the Homeless Services Reform Act on Tuesday, November 7, Ward 8 Councilmember, Trayon White, introduced an amendment that would extend the rapid rehousing time-limit and introduce common sense measures to assess whether a family received proper case management services or is financially stable enough to afford their unit. However, this amendment was rejected 6-7, with Anita Bonds casting the deciding vote because, as she put it, “I was told to vote no.” (The Councilmembers who voted against extending people’s time in rapid re-housing under these circumstances were Mendelson, Nadeau, Todd, Allen, Cheh, Evans and Bonds.)

Though earlier this year, Nadeau championed the legislation that ended arbitrary time-limits for the District’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (TANF), she took a hard line on extending the temporary housing subsidy for the 1300 families currently in the program. “I understand your compassion,” she says, “but at some point we have to draw the line. This is a short-term program. We have other programs.”

A quick review of the housing programs funded in this year’s FY18 budget, reveals that this is not exactly the case.

There are currently 1166 families experiencing homelessness, according to the annual Point in Time Count. Additionally, there are over 1300 families in our rapid rehousing program, and an additional 40,000 families on the DC Housing Authority’s waitlist for housing.

In FY18, there was funding to support 174 families in the Permanent Supportive Housing Program and 186 families in the Targeted Affordable Housing Program and approximately 250 families from off of the waitlist. That means that there are permanent housing opportunities for about 610 families of the 42,266 families in the District who are not stably housed.

This basic math problem cuts to the core of our affordability crisis. Families don’t make enough money to afford market rate housing. The District has lost its stock of market-rate affordable units. Our Mayor and Council have not allocated enough money in the budget to provide housing for those who need it.

Rather than voting for solutions that would help solve this problem (funding more affordable housing), the Council took a punitive approach by supporting changes to the Homeless Services Reform Act that would make it more difficult for families to get into shelter, make it easier to get kicked out from shelter, and institute arbitrary time limits for the rapid rehousing program.

And to make matters worse, right before this vote, the Council voted to give $82 million away to developers to build around Union Market, including $36 million to fund a parking lot, with no evidence whatsoever that this huge subsidy was even needed. There was not a single requirement that the jobs created are good quality, or that the developers subsidize affordable housing. All while claiming that we don’t have enough resources to serve the families in our “hemorrhaging homeless services system.”

In reality, it is this kind of unchecked development that drives up the cost of housing and ultimately push people out of their homes either into homelessness or into more affordable regions like Prince George’s County. It is District residents who have been displaced because of publically subsidized development that are flooding our homelessness services systems. By continuing to fund development while narrowing the door to shelter, the Council is exacerbating the problem, not fixing it.

When At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman tried to redirect the parking lot funds to support affordable housing and transit options, she only got support from At-Large Councilmember David Grosso, and was repudiated by the rest of the Council. Chairperson Phil Mendelson referred to the affordable housing crisis as “rhetoric,” and the rest of the council rolled their eyes. They funded luxury housing instead of affordable. Then they pivoted to blame homeless people from outside of the District for flooding our system, and disparaged the homeless families who they claim are lying to get into shelter when they have safe places that they could otherwise go.

This post is about accountability. It’s about the fact that the Chair of our Council does not believe that there is an affordable housing crisis and propagates the stereotype that poor Black people are lying to get into shelter, taking advantage of the system, and don’t know what’s best for their families. He re-introduced a harmful provision of the HSRA that was removed during the Committee mark-up that creates a “presumption” that families are lying about needing shelter if they are on a lease or “occupancy agreement” and demands that homeless families provide “credible evidence” that they have no safe housing to get shelter on a freezing night. He believes that the Mayor knows better than they do that they have a safe place to go, and this harmful philosophy was supported by Councilmembers  Nadeau, Cheh, Evans, McDuffie, Todd, Allen and Bonds.

What we saw at the Council was an affront to progressive values. To vote to give away that sum of money to developers while claiming there is not enough money to support homeless families was a slap in the face to every single District resident who has struggled to find affordable housing, who has come out to support homeless services, and who voted for “progressive champions” who would advance an affordable housing agenda. Hundreds and thousands of emails and phone calls and tweets, countless letters supported by scores of organizations throughout the city urged councilmembers to vote “no” on this bill. Elissa Silverman told advocates that she had not received a single e-mail telling her to vote for this bill. Yet, at the end of the day, the bill passed 11-2, with only Councilmembers Trayon White and David Grosso opposing.

In just a few hours, our Council drew the line by prioritizing corporate subsidies over the lives of homeless children.

The post What You Don’t Know About the Homeless Services Reform Amendment Act of 2017 appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Triggered: Street Harassment and Rape Culture In D.C.’s Ward 8

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 09:58

One can make the argument that it began on July 23, 2017, when community activist Schyla Pondexter-Moore and her two teen-aged daughters attempted to get a meal at a community food table in Ward 8 set up by the nonprofit Quest2Change.  Instead of getting a meal, they got an earful about how a tied t-shirt and a leggings justified harassment by the men in the community, including the men who were serving the food.  Schyla and her daughters left when the harassers, seven grown men, threatened them with violence.

The incident led to a Speakout Against Street Harassment sponsored by the newly formed group Reclaiming Our Bodies DC.  I went with my camera, expecting to get a few good soundbites, and to put together a 3-5 minute video about street harassment.  But the footage gathered that day has required a little more attention.  The result is the 30-minute documentary Triggered:  Street Harassment and Rape Culture in D.C.’s Ward 8.

The first screening will be followed by a panel discussion about street harassment.  Details are below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was clear at the Speakout that Reclaiming Our Bodies DC had touched on an issue that was about far more than one incident.  While most of the media focuses on sexual harassment among the political elites and Hollywood insiders, the rest of us are dealing with it in the streets.  Grassroots DC invites you to join the discussion.

The post Triggered: Street Harassment and Rape Culture In D.C.’s Ward 8 appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Black Lives Matter Long-Term Goal: Full Implementation of the NEAR Act

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 16:17

Black Lives Matter activists worked for two years to pass the NEAR Act and get it fully funded.  Now they’re working to see that it’s implemented correctly.   The video above, edited by Malik Thompson, is of a march and rally from April 2017.

By Eugene Puryear
Stop Police Terror Project DC

WHAT IS THE NEAR ACT?

The NEAR (Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results) Act establishes a set of long-term programs and policies to address public safety in DC specifically through a public health lens. These programs and policies have been empirically proven to reduce shootings and violence in cities around the US.

In its fullest form, the NEAR Act would begin to de-emphasize the use of policing and force as the primary tactic for ensuring neighborhood safety in DC. It would protect vulnerable and minority (namely Black and Latino) residents in high-crime areas of our city from further harm. It would support individuals involved in potentially violent situations instead of turning to incarceration or violence to resolve the issue at hand. The policy would thus pave the way for the long-overdue transformation of these vulnerable populations and neighborhoods towards a deeper culture of safety, support, and opportunity.

WHY WE NEED YOU NOW:

After passing the DC Council unanimously in 2016, and being fully-funded in 2017, the NEAR Act is now in its next phase: implementation. Despite being fully-funded, most of the provisions in the NEAR Act have not been implemented. As such, the NEAR Act remains largely unfulfilled as promised in 2016.

In order for the NEAR Act to reach its full potential, it is going to require us as DC residents to make sure our elected officials fully and faithfully implement all of the comprehensive approaches in the NEAR Act. To do so, we want to create a corps of “NEAR Act Ambassadors” to show up to DC Council hearings, community events, ANC meetings, and candidate fundraisers and campaign events. In doing so, we have an opportunity to hold DC Council to their word and to begin the process of protecting the most vulnerable neighborhoods in our city from further violence with a better approach.

We would like to invite you to take part in a training that will equip you with the knowledge and skills to hold our DC elected officials to their word of fully implementing the NEAR Act, to move away from the failed approach of policing and incarceration, and to make DC an example for a better way to prevent and reduce violence while empowering and uplifting all of its residents.

THE TRAININGS:

The Stop Police Terror Project will be running a number of trainings in November for each Ward to provide interested individuals the skills and knowledge they need to be NEAR Act Ambassadors, to let our elected officials know that the NEAR Act is still alive in our minds as a priority for our city. Through these trainings, you will gain the knowledge and skills to mobilize your local neighborhoods/networks to show up to these events prepared to pressure our elected officials towards full implementation of the NEAR Act.

NEAR Act Ambassador Training
Wednesday, November 8, 2017
We Act Radio Station
1918 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE

We encourage you to attend the event for your Ward if possible, as there will be some Ward-specific information covered. BUT, everyone is welcome at any of the trainings, so please come to the one that works best for you even if it isn’t your home Ward. If you don’t know what Ward you live in, you can find out here: https://planning.dc.gov/page/wards-district-columbia.

Please share these events with your networks, and let us know if you have any questions. We look forward to seeing you at a training, and to working with you to ensure the promise of the NEAR Act becomes reality.

The post Black Lives Matter Long-Term Goal: Full Implementation of the NEAR Act appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Remembering Big Mike: Line Dance Instructor and Inspiration

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 19:02

I met Michael “Big Mike” Ballard four years ago when Grassroots DC moved into the Potomac Gardens Public Housing Complex.  He made regular use of our Community Resource Center creating flyers for the dance classes he taught and using the computers and the Internet access working for his church and the nonprofit he was involved with Sistahs with Purpose.  He taught at Knox Hill, Turkey Thicket Recreation Center and Potomac Gardens.  He passed on October 10.  He is survived by his mother Linda, sister Theresa and dozens and dozens of students and friends.  He was a kind and compassionate person who will be missed.  What follows is an article I wrote about him in 2015.

Kids can be mean. Few know this better than 36-year-old DC native and Potomac Gardens resident Michael Ballard. Michael Ballard was heavy all of his life. The kids called him Fat Mike. His mother suffered from weight problems also so she understood what it was like to be teased and humiliated at school. It was only natural that they would become extremely close.

Michael continued to put on weight throughout school. By the time he graduated high school he weighed 300 pounds. Many people assume that anyone that weighs that much can’t do anything. Michael proved them wrong by going to work right out of high school. From 2000 to 2005 he worked for Goodwill Industries in housekeeping, a job he enjoyed. In 2005 Goodwill lost their contract with the Armed Forces Retirement Home and Michael went to work for Melwood, a nonprofit that creates jobs and opportunities for people with disabilities, in their housekeeping department.

At Melwood, Michael faced discrimination. His co-workers claimed that he had body odor; that he took up too much space; that he moved too slowly and was unable to complete his tasks because he couldn’t fit into the bathroom. It was high school all over again. Within just a few months Michael had left Melwood and returned to Goodwill Industries. But the stress at Melwood had caused Michael to put on more weight.  He had a different project manager at Goodwill, one who didn’t know him well and he faced discrimination at Goodwill as well.

He was accused of sitting on and breaking Goodwill’s second-hand chairs. To address the problem, the Government Service Administration brought a bench to his job site exclusively for Michael to use. Unfortunately, his project manager, unwilling to find ways to accommodate an employee of Michael’s size, threw the bench into the trash.

Besides the stress of the hostile work environment, Michael developed an upper respiratory infection from working in Goodwill’s Garage. Despite all this, Michael continued to work at Goodwill from 2006 until 2013, when he was let go.

After losing his job, Michael’s health deteriorated. Due to his extreme weight, Michael had for years suffered from lymphedma— a condition that causes swelling in the arms or legs as a result of a blockage in the lymphatic system that prevents lymph fluid from draining well—on the bottom of both his legs. Michael also developed cellulites—a noncontagious bacterial skin infection—which spread from the bottom of both of his legs to his pelvis. This condition landed him in Washington Hospital for a ten-day stretch in March of 2013. From there he was transferred to Saint Thomas Moore Rehabilitation Center where he was bed bound for two months.

Two months of having to eat in the bed, having the bed made while lying in it, having his body turned and cleaned in the bed was more humiliating than years of being teased. Michael’s weight had made him a target for mockery but now it was risking his life. Michael knew that the only way to escape the derision and to save his life was to control his weight.

In May 2013, he went from being bed bound to being wheel chair ridden. Once in the chair, he was able to begin participating in physical therapy. Soon he was able to move around with a rollator. In December of 2013, Michael was well enough to move back home to Potomac Gardens but not without the use of two portable oxygen tanks.

By this time, his mother was in trouble. Being overweight herself, she had a hernia that had grown to the size of a soccer ball. In 2014, Michael’s mother had surgery at Georgetown Hospital. Terrified that he might lose his best friend, Michael’s stress levels soared along with his eating. While his mother was recovering, Michael’s weight ballooned. At 700 pounds, hospitalization was inevitable.

This time, Michael was offered the option of a sleeve gastrectomy, a procedure that removes all but twenty-five percent of the stomach and greatly limits the patient’s food intake. The operation was performed by Dr. Paul Lin at George Washington University Hospital in March of 2015. Seven months later, Michael had lost 301 pounds.

How did he do it? In addition to the gastrectomy, Michael started exercising with regularity and intensity. For three hours, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays he does water aerobics. His real passion is line dancing, which he does from 6:00 – 8:30 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Turkey Thicket Recreation Center. In fact, Michael has been line dancing for five years, but this December 1st will be his one-year anniversary line dancing at Turkey Thicket with a group that calls themselves The Line Dance Addicts. Michael no longer needs to use the portable oxygen to get around, although he still uses it at home. He is well on his way to full recovery from a lifetime of weight-related issues.

He is grateful for his second chance and is working to spread what he’s learned to the community around him. He has begun teaching line dancing to Potomac Gardens’ and Hopkins Apartments’ residents. Classes cost only $2 and it’s already proven popular with those of all ages and all sizes. Line Dancing with Big Mike teaches you more than the Nae Nae and the electric slide; line dancing with Big Mike teaches you that overcoming even extremely large obstacles is possible and easier when your community has your back.

The community that has Michael’s back as he continues to lose weight includes but is not limited to: Cheryl Thompson Walker, Kembal Bonds, Russell, Jordan, Miss Rita and Rita from Turkey Thicket, as well as Miss Paula Allen, Miss Reshida Young and the entire Line Dance Addicts family; Dee, Reggie, Adrienne Jenkins and Dr. Cristina Schreiber from George Washington University Hospital; Sisters With A Purpose and the entire Master’s Child Church Family under the leadership of Bishop Melvin Robinson junior and his wife and church co-founder Erma Robinson-Fitzgerald; and last but not least the Lord, his mom and grandparents.

The post Remembering Big Mike: Line Dance Instructor and Inspiration appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Many Languages One Voice Community Day

Sat, 10/07/2017 - 14:09

On September 24, 2017, Many Languages One Voice (MLOV) held an Emergency Planning & Community Defense Day (Día de Planificación de Emergencia y Defensa Comunitaria).

The event was designed to bring the community together to learn about our rights as immigrants in DC, prepare together, and celebrate our communities’ strength and resilience!
¡Nos reunimos para aprender nuestros derechos como inmigrantes en DC, prepararnos juntos, y celebrar la fuerza y la resiliencia de nuestras comunidades!

Workshops included:

– Know Your Rights in DC / Tus Derechos en DC
– Emergency Preparedness Plan Against ICE / Planes de Emergencia en Contra de ICE
– Legal Advice / Consejos Legales
– Community Defense / Defensa Comunitaria

Video byBen Parisi  with subtitles byJuan Carlos Vega.

According to MLOV Executive Director Sapna Pandya, “It was an incredible day, grounded in Puerto Rican and Mexican resilience & music, with opportunities for dance, joy, and important discussions of the threats to our communities & how we will combat them together organizing towards #ExpandedSanctuary in DC. We built a beautiful community altar, answered questions about immigration and employment abuse, and got folks connected to needed services.”

MLOV’s next community event, Dance in the Round: Circle As Sanctuary, is scheduled for Sunday, October 8, starting at 2:30 pm at the Columbia Heights Civic Plaza.

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Metro Service Meeting: Make Your Feelings Known

Wed, 09/27/2017 - 09:43

Tired of Metro fare hikes with no real improvement in service? Even if you appreciate the fact that Metro service allows many within the DMV to get by without the hassle and expense of a car, you may still wish their service were better. Now is the time to make your feelings heard.

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DC State Fair (Who Knew?)

Fri, 09/22/2017 - 14:25

Sunday, September 24, in Southwest Washington, DC, will see the arrival of the eighth annual DC State Fair from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. At Waterfront Station, the public is invited to enjoy contests that crown the city’s best growers, crafters, and cooks; performances from local musicians and dance troupes; and more than 55 food, art, and craft vendors showcasing and selling their wares.

This daylong celebration of all things homegrown is unique among local fairs and festivals: it is run entirely by volunteers, is free to attend, and is held in different neighborhoods from year to year, making the Fair accessible to all DC residents and visitors. This year, the DC State Fair is located at the Waterfront Metro Station at 375 and 425 M Street SW.

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Free Computer Classes

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 15:15

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Many Languages One Voice Defends DACA and Beyond

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 10:42

Written by Ray Jose
MLOV Youth Justice Organizer

On Tuesday morning at 11 AM, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that Trump and his administration has decided to end DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).  This means that the Department of Homeland Security will stop accepting new DACA applications (i.e. from people who are eligible but do not already have DACA).  Individuals who already have DACA and whose work permits will expire between now and March 5, 2018 will be able to apply for a two-year renewal if they apply by October 5, 2017.

This news has obviously been devastating as we remain concerned about the pending uptick in immigration enforcement & raids that this announcement foretells. We also must remain vigilant that any calls for policy change (i.e. DREAM Act, etc.) do not use undocumented youth as pawns for a white supremacist agenda that calls for border militarization or walls, military service requirements, furthering the Muslim ban or expanded cooperation between police and ICE. In fact, we are already feeling the immediate impact of this announcement – just hours ago, workers from Matchbox came in to MLOV’s offices to say that 40 of their colleagues had been forced to resign yesterday due to their immigration status.  Following the announcement from Jeff Sessions came DC Mayor Muriel Bowser’s statement, “[calling] on Congress to quickly pass the Dream Act so that DREAMers across our country can continue to build a safer, stronger, and more prosperous country for all…Washington, DC will continue to stand with our nearly 800 DREAMers and the thousands of immigrants who live in the District. We are proud of our DREAMers and our support will be unwavering.” While Mayor Bowser says she “stands unequivocally with DREAMers,” in the same breath she is complicit for not holding Trump accountable for terminating DACA. At the same time that Mayor Bowser says she and DC are “standing with the DREAMers,” the District continues to tolerate dangerous loopholes in policies that have led to our immigrant residents being deported, police violence on Black and Brown communities, abusive employers who continue to engage in wage theft, displacement of long-term residents, and an education system that is failing our youth of color. In this moment, words are not enough.  We need a real #SanctuaryDC that keeps all DC residents safe, and MLOV will hold all politicians accountable for their actions or lack thereof.  

LOOKING FOR WAYS TO SUPPORT DACA YOUTH AND OTHER UNDOCUMENTED YOUNG PEOPLE IN DC?

HERE ARE A FEW THINGS YOU CAN DO TODAY: 1. Donate to support three of MLOV’s undocumented immigrant youth organizers by clicking here. These youth participated in the Summer Youth Employment Program but didn’t receive stipends because they are undocumented. When we reach our donation goal, extra funds will go to DC youth needing help paying for DACA renewal (cost is $495) and related costs.  2. Encourage DACA youth and their families seek mental health support through local agencies:
  • Mary’s Center
    202-846-8053
  • Latin American Youth Center
    (202) 319-2229
  • La Clinica del Pueblo
    (202) 462.4788
3. Join upcoming trainings provided by SanctuaryDMV to be trained in providing Rapid Response to ICE raids and ICE surveillance, which we are fearful may increase in DC and the metro area. .
Click on this link to register for an upcoming Rapid Response training by SanctuaryDMV! 4. Follow Many Languages One Voice on Facebook and Twitter to stay updated on how you can support our members’ demands for Sanctuary in Schools. This summer, MLOV trained 15 mostly undocumented immigrant youth to  be community organizers – preparing them to protect themselves, their peers, and their families.  As a result of holding local politicians like Mayor Bower accountable, funding for these youth participants’ stipends has been in jeopardy.  You can support our immigrant youth organizers by clicking here to donate.  Despite this threat, our youth have developed five critical steps that educators and administrators in the DC school system can take to keep them safe and support their education.  LEGAL SERVICES FOR DC IMMIGRANTS

As a result of organizing by MLOV in November 2016, Mayor Bowser released funds enabling local community organizations to provide pro bono legal services for DC immigrants. Refer individuals needing to renew their DACA or with other questions about their immigration status to the following MLOV partners:

  • AYUDA
    202-387-4848
  • Catholic Charities
    202-772-4352
  • DC Immigrant Rights Project (collaboration of Ethiopian Community Center & Lutheran Social Services)
    (202) 844-5430
  • Whitman Walker Health Legal Services
    (202) 745-7000
  • CARECEN
    (202) 328-9799
  • CAIR Coalition
    (202) 331-3320
To my undocumented family, to other DACA recipients, and to any community under attack by this White supremacist administration: we have been here before and we will continue to protect our community and resist.  Trump and politicians on both sides are deflecting the responsibility onto Congress to create a legislative solution, but we know that protecting only some immigrant youth is not enough. This moment is meant to divide immigrant communities into who is “deserving and undeserving,” it is meant to put the blame on parents of undocumented youth, it is meant to uphold the criminalization of Black and Brown immigrants who are disproportionately targeted by police, ICE and the criminal justice system.  This moment is meant to break us, but we are resilient people and we will fight for a liberation that goes beyond documentation or any legislation.

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Black August Finale

Mon, 08/28/2017 - 09:20

Black August is almost over.  What is Black August?  I found the following at The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement:

“Each year officially since 1979 we have used the month of August to focus on the oppressive treatment of our brothers and sisters disappeared inside the state-run gulags and concentration camps America calls prisons. It is during this time that we concentrate our efforts to free our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, and all other captive family and friends who have been held in isolation for decade after decade beyond their original sentence. Many of these individuals are held in the sensory deprivation and mind control units called Security Housing Units (S.H.U. Program), without even the most basic of human rights.” – Shaka At-Thinnin Black August Organizing Committee from “THE ROOTS OF BLACK AUGUST”

If you haven’t made it to any events yet this month, here’s your opportunity to make it to one final event.   

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Charlottesville and It’s Aftermath: D.C. Alternative News Round Up

Tue, 08/15/2017 - 10:41

A quick search revealed no reports from local television news of last weeks events in Charlottesville or the solidarity marches that followed.  Fortunately, the District also has reporters who routinely imbed with the activists and organizers at these events.  Here is reporting from two of them.  

One Dead After Car Plows into Anti-Racist March in Charlottesville

Written by John Zanga
DC Media Group

Charlottesville, Va. — Anti-fascist and anti-racist counterprotestors confronted a planned white nationalist gathering in downtown Charlottesville on Saturday. Multiple angry clashes between groups in the morning resulted in many injuries.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency and Virginia State Police moved in to end the protest. The Virginia National Guard was deployed and began patrolling Charlottesville.

But, in the early afternoon, a silver Challenger driving at high speed plowed through a march of anti-racist counterprotestors forming on 4th Street, tossing several people into the air like rag dolls before ramming into the rear end of another car. It appeared the car was driven deliberately into the crowd, then reversed and sped backwards.

One person was killed and 19 people were injured.

Charter said that moments after the car backed up, medics were on the scene helping the inured. He was shaken up by the incident.

As many as 30 right-wing groups, led by Alt-Right personality Richard Spencer and accompanied by known supremacist David Duke, rallied at Emancipation Park over city plans to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

The clashes erupted almost from the start of the permitted protests, which began at 10 a.m. Elements from the KKK, Neo-Nazis and the Alt-Right, were met at every turn by about 1,000 counterprotesters.

Mace and tear gas was sprayed with bottles, sticks and smoke grenades thrown by White Nationalists toward Antifa. Antifa returned volleys as White Nationalists waded into the Antifa to attack them with sticks and smoke grenades.

Police formed lines between two rows of barricades, separating Nationalists from counterprotesters. But for an unknown reason police pulled back as more Nationalists arrived, marching in a column down Market Street to confront Antifa. It was at this point that the confrontations saw their most bloody moments.

White supremacists have descended on  Charlottesville since City Council voted to take down a statue of General Lee in an effort to remove Southern Heritage symbols of the Civil War. On Friday night, Neo-Nazis carried torches through the Grounds of the University of Virginia, chanting Nazi Germany slogan “Blood and Soil.” They attacked, beat and maced anti-racist protestors. Conflict also broke out when anti-fascists confronted White Nationalists at the Lee statue.

Update:  A police helicopter which had been monitoring the protests crashed following the dispersal.  Initial reports are that two died in the crash.

 

DC Remembers Charlottesville with march from WWII Memorial to Confederate statue by MPD

written by Luke
DC Independent Media Center

On the 13th of August, DC area residents protested the Nazi outrages in Charlottesville, VA. What began as a medium size march from the WWII Veterans Memorial to the White House mushroomed into a huge march from the White House past Trump Hotel to the Albert Pike (Confederate) statue by MPD. https://archive.org/details/DCCharlottesville8132017540p

Yes, DC has it’s very own statue commemorating a man who loved slavery and the Confederacy so much he moved there from the north to become a Confederate general. A similar statue of Robert E Lee in Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, VA has sparked a controversy over its pending removal blocked by a court. This has been the excuse for ever-larger KKK and Nazis rallies there that culminated in the death of one counterprotester and serious injuries to 19 more on August 12, 2017.

One demand of the protesters here in DC is that a staute commemorating slavery and murder be removed. This should be done before it becomes a magnet for neo-Nazi torchlight parades and terrorist attacks. Oddly, two videographers were nearly run down by a car driving on the sidewalk near 7th st about a half hour after this DC protest ended, but preliminary indications are this incident was only a “normal” drunk driver rather than another terrorist attack.

The deliberate and deadly, ISIS-style vehicle attack on anti-Nazi protesters in Charlottesville by comparison cannot be called anything other than terrorism and murder. All that hate came from somewhere. There seemed to be a consensus in the streets that it comes right from the top. The crowds in DC responded to Trump Hotel with massive boos and chants of “Shame shame shame,” holding Trump himself responsible for the river of hate that has inundated the US since he began his campaign.

In nearby Alexandria, VA, protesters marched on the home of notorious (and notably punched) neo-Nazi leader Richard Spencer. The IWW showed up there with their flags and remembering Heather Heyer, though DC IWW reports that (contrary to earlier rumors) she was not an IWW member. Richard Spencer hid on his roof, with just his cellphone camera peeking over the side.

Video of the massive DC marches for Charlottesville Includes bonus footage from Charlottesville providing 1 min synopsis(0:31 to 1.38)

 

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Lobbying on Behalf of District Children and Youth

Thu, 05/04/2017 - 20:04

Beyond voting or joining a well publicized march or rally, many citizens are unsure how to become politically engaged.  One of the most effective ways to have an impact on public policy is to tell your local representatives what you want.  Lobbying is not just for professionals paid by corporate interest groups.  In fact, government and the institutions they regulate are far more fair, just and equitable when regular citizens like you and me show up at their office and insist that they listen to what we have to say.

With that in mind, the DC Alliance for Youth Advocates (DCAYA) will meet with Councilmembers and staff to advocate for a more youth-friendly District budget for FY2018 at the Wilson Building on Thursday, May 11.  According to the DCAYA, the District’s proposed FY2018 budget leaves significant funding gaps for a number of key programs that could better address the needs of  children and youth.

Council markup on the mayor’s proposed budget is scheduled for May 16-18, so May 11 is a critical time to reach out to members and remind them of the importance of our budget asks for DC’s youth, which include:

  • Transportation: $2 million to extend transportation subsidies to adult and alternative learners through the School Transit Subsidy Program
  • Youth Homelessness: Up to $3.3 million more to fully fund the Year One objectives of the Comprehensive Plan to End Youth Homelessness
  • Expanded Learning: An additional $5.1 million to fund the new Office of Out-of-School Time Grants and Youth Outcomes and better meet the need for quality youth development programming
  • Youth Workforce Development: A comprehensive implementation plan for coordinating and funding youth workforce development initiatives to build on the progress of DC’s WIOA State Plan
  • Per-Pupil Funding: A 3.5% increase in per-pupil funding in the FY18 budget to bring DCPS closer to an adequate standard for education funding next school year
  • Proposed Tax Cuts: Ensure revenue is available to fund these and other critical priorities by delaying the $40 million in estate tax and business tax cuts slated for 2018

For more information, contact Jamie Kamlet Fragale, Director of Advocacy and Communications for Academy of Hope Adult Public Charter School, or CLICK HERE.

 

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