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Updated: 1 hour 6 min ago

Supporting COVID-19 Mutual Aid Efforts

Thu, 03/19/2020 - 13:07
As the spread of the coronavirus has accelerated over the past week, we are reminded yet again of one key truth: The state will not keep us safe—but we can keep each other safe.

We know now that the best way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus is social distancing. But we also know that many people in our communities will need help to make social distancing possible—elders, disabled people, and immunocompromised folks who can’t run errands without compromising their health; workers who don’t have paid sick leave; and people whose anxiety is triggered by isolation, among others. 

Throughout DC, people are organizing to help their neighbors through mutual aid.

Mutual aid  is a form of political participation in which people take responsibility for caring for one another and changing political conditions, not just through charity or symbolic acts or putting pressure on their representatives in government. Instead, this is about actually building new social relations that are more survivable. 

You can find out more about ongoing opportunities and sources for mutual aid at the DC Mutual Aid Network on Facebook or on Instagram.

If you are able to contribute time, energy, skills, or labor, we encourage you to fill out the forms linked below, which will connect you to groups organizing mutual aid throughout the city.

You can also use the forms to ask for help, if you need help cleaning, running errands, dealing with prescriptions.  Most of us will end up needing to ask for help during this crisis.

Mutual Aid Request and Volunteer Forms: 

  • Ward 1
  • Ward 7 and 8: Call the hotline – 202-630-0336 – for those needing support or looking to volunteer. 
  • Takoma/Ward 4
  • Ward 6

You can also support by donating to groups organizing mutual aid efforts, including:

If you know of additional organizing going on in DC, please email or hit us up on social, and we’ll amplify your work.

Above all, please take care of yourselves physically and mentally. We are literally all in this together.

Yours in struggle,


The post Supporting COVID-19 Mutual Aid Efforts appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Martin Luther King Explains the Three Evils of Society

Mon, 01/20/2020 - 14:12

Fifteen years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., President Ronald Reagan signed the bill that would make the third Monday of January a holiday in his honor. Like many if not most Republicans, Reagan opposed the holiday. They believed that King was a communist. They didn’t like that he opposed the war in Vietnam and then of course there was all that business with the Civil Rights. The law almost passed in 1979, but it wasn’t until 1983 that it passed in both the House and Senate by veto-proof margins which forced right-wing hero President Reagan to sign it.

For that reason alone, I love this holiday. But every good thing has its unintended consequences. One of those is the commercialization of the holiday and the very successful attempt by corporations, the media, most of our elected officials, etc., to whitewash the memory of Martin Luther King. By focusing only on the speeches and actions that do not criticize Capitalism or US Imperialism, most Americans have no real understanding of the depth of King’s critique of the United States and its policies. Sure overt bigotry is bad and it’s kinda crazy to think of not sitting next to a Black person at a lunch counter or on the bus but all that talk about poverty, his support for unions and the anti-war movement–do we really need to go there?

In the spirit of honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. in a manner that is true to his vision, here is one of his lesser-known speeches.

The Three Evils of Society: Racism, Poverty and War

King delivered this speech at The National Conference for New Politics, which took place in Chicago over Labor Day weekend in 1967. Around 3,000 people, from hundreds of organizations, attended the conference which featured MLK as the keynote speaker.  The goal was to unify political activists of all races who believed in civil rights and opposed the Vietnam War.  President Lyndon B. Johnson felt so threatened by the conference, he instructed the FBI to attempt to track the attendants’ movements and thwart any long-term plans of the NCNP. As the commentary Revisiting MLK’s speech, ‘The 3 Evils of Society, ‘ suggests that this speech is the most prophetic and revolutionary address to date on the questions of militarism, poverty, and racism.

The running time is 43 minutes. For those who prefer to read, a transcript of the speech can be found at the bottom of this post.

The post Martin Luther King Explains the Three Evils of Society appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Black Lives Matter Open Letter to the Board of the Women’s March

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 11:46

January 15, 2020

To the Board and Staff of the Women’s March,

As we approach the 4th Annual Women’s March this Saturday, and especially given our interactions with Women’s March staff and leadership over the last month, it has become apparent, again, that all of our efforts to call you in have failed. You have failed both to fulfill your agreements to acknowledge the harm you have caused, and to complete the reparations you have previously committed to. This failure is clearly evident in your planning of this year’s March, as you are continuing to ignore the communities in DC in your practice, when you claim to be standing in solidarity with us in your words. We have attempted, repeatedly, to call you into more accountability and to actively restore the relationship with us and the communities we work with.

On December 27, 2018 we sent you this incredibly important email which carefully detailed the history of harms perpetuated by the Women’s March and those associated with the organization. Some of these harms included a failure to center DC, the continuous exclusion of local Black Trans women, and the permanent damage done to the local ability to organize. We continue to impress upon you that more than one thing can be centered at a time, and poly-centrism is essential in this work. In this instance:

“D.C. is more than Congress and the White House. It is more than the DOJ and the National Mall. For large mobilizations that come into the District, this means holding the reality of D.C. as both the nation’s capital, the center of empire, a necessary place for national protests, and home to real life human beings with important local issues. Local D.C. is a domestic colony and the actions of national organizers have to recognize that.”

And we’ve said, “Here in D.C., these unstrategic mass mobilizations distract from local organizing, often overlook the Black people who actually live here and even result in tougher laws against demonstration being passed locally.”

Last year we worked closely with Rachel Carmona, Tamika Mallory, and Linda Sarsour. This work was facilitated by DC Action Lab (who pushed Tamika and Linda to meet with us). Outside of the public gaze, in meetings and calls, we made some progress that included this public letter, written by the Women’s March. Even though there was no apology or recognition of harms included in this letter, as the agreement was that they would be detailed in a second letter, the Women’s March did state:

“We commit to being intentional about reaching out to local BLM chapters and other local organizations to understand their needs and to hear how we can ensure our work in their cities is not a burden but an opportunity for amplification and collaboration.”

We want to be very clear, the Women’s March failed to fulfill this commitment to us and to other BLM chapters. BLM Los Angeles has also experienced the same failure to reach out. To that end, it was particularly frustrating to come across a picture of one of our organizers’ car and our contingent in the local DC MLK Parade being used to promote this year’s March on Instagram, knowing that you did not continue with the process we agreed to nor reach out to us about this year’s march at all.

The organizers, advocates, DC residents, and grassroots organizations we are in community with were very skeptical last year, even after the public letter from the Women’s March. We took a lot of personal hits, including having our politics deeply challenged as a result of us publicly working with you, agreeing to speak at the 2019 rally, and marching with you. At great risk to her own credibility, one of our Core Organizers April Goggans, did a radio interview shortly after the beginning of the accountability process, where she publicly named that there seemed to be a new path forward for the Women’s March that was intersectional, inclusive, and responsive to local organizers.

We had a call later with Carmen Perez, National Co-Chair. During the call Carmen agreed to write a public apology letter that would speak to the harms we had relayed, as well as specifically address her role in talking to DC organizers during the Justice League’s March 2 Justice in 2015. She was also supposed to address her remarks on Angela Rye’s podcast on July 9, 2017, when she publicly disparaged DC organizers by insinuating that they are comparable to COINTELPRO and agitators. Carmen never sent or posted this letter. In fact, we hadn’t heard from Carmen since that call, until she reached out to April Goggans via email on January 6, 2020. This is not the only apology letter that the Women’s March committed to writing but then failed to send. At our two week debrief after the 2019 Women’s March, you committed to sending a detailed apology letter that acknowledged past harms. It has now been a year and you have not released the letter or completed any of the other steps you committed to during that debrief.

You have been planning this year’s March for the better part of 4 months but AGAIN waited until December to reach out to BLMDC. By the time you reached out everything was finished, and you expected us to rush to tell you about specific issues, just so that you could rush to check them off your list. A quick check-in or heads-up to even tell us you were still having a March would have been nice, as we’ve told you that MLK Weekend is a historically busy weekend in DC for local communities and organizers. As we have mentioned in the past, checking in with us and other local folks would allow us to see how we can work together around the impact to public transit for DC residents (most directly impacting Black and brown folks), space, port-a-potties (AGAIN), and more. Not this time. The harms you are perpetuating now have not changed, and clearly the Women’s March has not either.

As always, in building the world we want, we remain committed to continuing to walk in our values and principles when it comes to co-creating accountability. BLM DC is led entirely by Black femmes and we want to name that we will not be putting further emotional or other labor into this process until the Women’s March fulfills the commitments it made last year at our two-week debrief. We look forward to seeing the Women’s March Board and Staff take public accountability, make public apologies, and take public steps to repair harm.

Toward Liberation,

Black Lives Matter DC

Twitter @DMVBlackLives
Instagram: blacklivesmatterdc
Facebook: BLMDC
Our mailing list.

The post Black Lives Matter Open Letter to the Board of the Women’s March appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Sex Trafficking And DC’s Missing Youth – A Frightening Connection

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 22:00
The Sad Trend of Missing Black & Brown Kids

Approximately 300,000 children under the age of 18 are lured into sex trafficking each year. Girls are typically brought into the sex trade as young as twelve years old. Boys can be entrapped into the illicit trade at an even younger age. Sex trafficking tends to occur in impoverished neighborhoods, urban centers and along interstate highways. Most victims tend to be those associated with the foster care system, runaways or black. Forty percent of sex trafficking victims are African Americans. It is estimated that 62% of suspected victims are African American. In the District of Columbia over 2,500 cases have been reported as of 2017. It is reported that over 1,600 of these cases involve children. The same year in which controversy sparked over the amount of missing black girls in the District who received little to no media coverage. This form of modern-day slavery is prevalent in Washington, D.C. and is affecting our youth.

Sex trafficking is far from a victimless crime; it is, in fact, a multi-billion dollar industry that operates throughout the United States. Human trafficking is the act of recruiting, harboring or transporting for compelled labor or sexual acts. Human trafficking can also consist of forced marriages, organ removal, and domestic servitude. Sex trafficking can include but does not require movement. More than 2,000 children go missing each year in the District of Columbia. The Polaris Project study determined that the number of cases reported to a national trafficking hotline surged 25 percent. As of 2019, more than 100 children have been rescued from sex traffickers in the metropolitan area. When black and brown children are missing, little national attention is given to their plight. According to Natalie Wilson of the Black & Missing Foundation, black children who go missing, receive less media attention than white kids.

Communities of Color: Myths & Misconceptions

Youths who are victims of sex trafficking go through a process of manipulation. These kids are often targeted regarding lack of family support, bullying, and even struggling for social acceptance can make them targets. Often youth are groomed or tricked into false beliefs based on words told to them. The process can start off as innocent with toys, candies, compliments, etc and gradually began to escalate. By building a connection, sex traffickers begin to brainwash and manipulate their victims. Hallmarks of child sex trafficking can include unexplained absences from school, bragging about making or having a lot of money, evidence of physical abuse, sexualized behavior and acting withdrawn. Victims’ home life can revolve around violence, substance abuse, sexual abuse and more and will shape the perception of their predators as a saving grace. Boys can account for 13% of human trafficking.

Due to a lack of resources for male survivors, there are limited resources for them. Thus in which research regarding abused male survivors is scarce. Statistically, 0.4% of cases are identified, meaning the majority of cases are not. The representation of sex trafficking in the media warps the perception of who’s at risk. Any child who has been abused or abandoned no matter their gender can become a victim of child trafficking. The image the media shows of who a victim might be is often not who it is. Anyone can become a victim. Trafficking can take place anywhere as the main goal is exploitation and enslavement. Many common misconceptions and beliefs hinder us from being aware of our surroundings and noticing when these situations are out of the ordinary.

Sexually exploited youths do not have the freedom and are not able to escape. Victims of sexual exploitation often suffer from physical, emotional, and mental abuse. One of the least acknowledged facts regarding child trafficking is an alarming number of black victims. Black youth between the ages of 12-19 have or will experience higher violent interactions than their white counterparts. This is because the narrative of the topic is victim vs exploiter. Case in point, Cyntoia Brown-Long was sentenced as a teen to life in prison for killing her abductor. Black girls are often labeled as the perpetrator rather than a victim. This makes them easy targets for predators. In 2013 60% of prosecuted minors were arrested for prostitution.

Statistics show that African-American men kidnap and traffic the majority of America’s sex trafficking victims. However, these traffickers are marketing and selling the services of their victims to a largely white, affluent base. Most people who pay for sexual favors generally have disposable income. For example, Jason Rodger or DJ KID has trafficked 700 black females. His criminal history of kidnapping, harboring and forcing minors to perform sexual acts go back far as 2011. The white south Carolina promoter also has AIDS that wasn’t reported to other parties until a 13-year-old victim revealed it. Rodgers is in custody but the story receives no coverage from mainstream media. This is because black victims are ignored. The suspects’ page is still active in which he boasts about his triumph: “I’m 36 with 693 BODIES (All Black females), WBU?”
Social and economic impacts on society can contribute to why certain areas are a hotspot for trafficking. The rise of social media has allowed it to become more accessible to order sex. While this can reduce violence among adult sex workers who work for themselves, the Internet has not been positive for young victims. Websites such as Backpage, Kik, Snapchat, and Instagram distribute services of young minors globally. Backpage CEO was even arrested in 2016 for conspiracy to commit pimping and other charges. The apps have been involved in over 1,000 child abuse cases. Youtuber Matt Watson’s video explained how predators even time stamp videos and comment when minors appear in a sexually explicit manner. These operations can be hidden under ordinary business establishments. To help put a stop to human trafficking the District of Columbia passed the Prohibition of Human Trafficking Act of 2010.

What Can Be Done?

Tina Frundt, Executive Director of Courtney House created the Washington, D.C. organization to help children who have gotten out of the illegal industry and to educate others to recognize indicators of possible sex trafficking. The organization encourages citizens who suspect children are being victimized to report their suspicions to law enforcement and in doing so possibly save lives.

Sex trafficking has been reported in hotels, brothels and massage parlors but victims can be recruited anywhere. There is no specified region for human trafficking as it is a global business. Workers and bystanders are being trained to recognize victims of child trafficking and online predators.

Gentrification and the rise of tourism in DC has made the city a sex tourist destination. The DC Bill Community Health and Safety Act of 2019 will also make it harder to find victims. By removing criminal penalties for engaging in sexual exchange trafficked victims are at risk. A better solution would be the Equality Mode as it would not hold the sex workers accountable but it would reprimand buyers. By providing options for victims to exit the lifestyle, this approach would make buying people a criminal offense. The model would help reduce the demand for sex trafficking. Becoming more educated on the topic can help save a life. Report any pages, threads or profiles that mention, discuss and engage in fetishizing lascivious acts with minors. Social media has helped these acts to spread through online feeds featuring child pornography and snuff films. Educate minors to become more aware of online predators, child exploitation and sex trafficking. The main goal of sex traffickers is to find the means to exploit the victim or have the victim leave home to engage in sex. As a reminder child sex trafficking is a genderless crime and can target anyone.

How To Report :

To help defend human dignity and end child exploitation the following options to report are listed below:

Report child abuse/neglect hotline: 202-671-(SAFE) or 7233. Representatives will ask for the following: General information regarding minors such as their name, gender, address, etc. The extent of abuse witnessed and any additional information.

Some people in specific professions, teachers, chiropractors, dentists and more can take FREE training classes. To access these free training courses click here. To report sexual implicit videos, images, text messages, etc involving minors please visit:

Baylor University offers recommendations to discuss the conversation and educate youth here. By noticing these signs and spreading awareness, you can help at-risk youth and save a life.

To contact safe havens for victims: The Courtney House: call 202 525 1426. The Black and Missing Foundation can be reached at 877 972 2634.

The post Sex Trafficking And DC’s Missing Youth – A Frightening Connection appeared first on Grassroots DC.

What Is A Dyke March?

Mon, 11/04/2019 - 08:05

A Dyke March is a lesbian visibility protest designed to promote activism within the LGBTQ community and bring awareness to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LBGTQ) rights. The First Dyke March took place April 24, 1993, as part of the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal rights and Liberation. 

During the 1990s, the LGBTQ community faced far more hate crimes than they do today. Many laws we have now that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation simply did not exist. We would not be where we are today, were it not for the activism that took place before and after the original Dyke March.

According to the Urban Dictionary, a dyke is a slang word used to refer to lesbians that was originally meant to be a slur. There are many theories surrounding the origins of the word and how it became used as an anti-lesbian slur. Scholars debate whether or not the origin came as a shortening for words such as morphadyke or hermaphrodite. In an earlier English dialect, the word was simply a contemporaneous term for women.

Regardless of its origin, a dyke describes a masculine tomboy or androgynous female. In recent years, the term has been re-appropriated by many lesbians who use it to identify themselves. Many people who identify as LGBTQ have been ridiculed by such words. For this reason, it is considered rude to use the word dyke unless you self-identify as one.  

By stripping the negative aspect of the word, lesbians reclaim the power of the word and own our own identity.  Transgender activist Jessica Xavier says, “Dyke is political. It’s an identity queer women could use as a means of our own empowerment, and having the march was this way to share in our queer sisterhood together.” Whatever words we use to describe ourselves our individuality and self-representation should be respected. 

Grassroots DC reporter Billie Mckelvie interviews fellow marcher Shelby Bass on why she attended the march.

The DC Dyke March is returning after a 12-year hiatus. It returns as an act of queer liberation. It is led by self-identifying dykes and as a protest for different issues regarding the LGBTQ community.  The DC Dyke March is an inclusive community that supports marginalized groups that are often ignored by mainstream media when reporting on LGBTQ issues. For more information visit:

The post What Is A Dyke March? appeared first on Grassroots DC.

It Takes a Village: A Celebration of the Life of Gary Hopkins, Jr.

Wed, 09/11/2019 - 20:12

On November 27, 1999, my son Gary Hopkins, Jr., was gunned down by an Prince George’s County police officer. This was years before smartphone videos made it possible for us to watch unarmed Black folks die at the hands of police on our social media feeds every week or so.

Along with mothers from across the nation who’ve lost their children to what is essentially state-sanctioned violence, I have been fighting to change the criminal justice system for the last twenty years. On October 26, 2019, we plan to celebrate the life of Gary Hopkins, Jr and those of other loved ones lost. It will be a day of healing, storytelling, performances and activism.

Grassroots DC is a partner in this event and will be presenting a short video about Gary Hopkins, Jr., one that we hope to eventually turn into a feature-length documentary. Below is the budget for the event. If you can support this effort, please go to our GoFundMe page and make a donation. You can also send a check to the Coalition of Concerned Mothers, 3304 Asher Street, Upper Marlboro, MD 20772. If you can’t support, please share this post with those who can. Thank you.



Gary Hopkins Jr. was an artist, writer, and a full time college student, whose life was taken by the police in 1999. Marion Gray-Hopkins, Gary’s mother, is hosting the first commemoration event after 20 years since his death, with the hope to (i) celebrate Gary’s life and achievements, (ii) bring together families who were affected by state violence locally and nationally to grow the movement against police terrorism, and (iii) collectively heal through this weekend long event, centering around an artistic ceremony and installation.

II. ABOUT A. Context:

Gary Hopkins, Jr., at the time of his death, was 19 years old, the youngest child of Gary Hopkins, Sr. and Marion Gray-Hopkins. Gary was the brother of Tahlita, Antwon and Tashia; he was also an uncle, cousin, nephew, and friend to many. Gary was also an aspiring rapper, writer, and producer, who was a full time college student majoring in mass communications with a business minor. On the night of November 26, Gary attended a dance where one of his friends got into a verbal altercation with another young man. Following the event, on early morning November 27, 1999, after breaking up the altercation and getting everyone into their cars, Gary was sitting on the window ledge of the lead vehicle when a police officer used his patrol car to block them from exiting the venue. The police officer got out of his car with his gun drawn, went up to Gary and placed the gun to his temple. The officer then pulled him off the car by the collar of his shirt when Gary stumbled backwards another officer, who was moonlighting at the dance, shot Gary in the chest killing him.

The officer who shot Gary was charged with manslaughter, which, following a bench trial, was acquitted by the judge. No charges were filed against the officer who precipitated the incident, although he was under investigation for several excessive force violations.

B. After Gary’s Death

Gary’s murder at the hands of law enforcement and the failure of the State to restore justice to him and his family have led Marion Gray-Hopkins, his mother, to become an activist against police terrorism, advocating for policy and legislative changes. Marion began her activism work with Prince George’s County People’s Coalition against Police Brutality and later began to partner with ONUS Inc.; Families United 4 Justice; American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); Code Pink; Progressive Maryland; Campaign for Justice, Safety, and Jobs (CJSJ); A Mother’s Cry; Black Lives Matter DC; and Amnesty International.

Marion’s activist work has led her to speak out against police terrorism locally, nationally, and internationally. Marion spoke at Rio De Janeiro, Brazil to support the “Beyond Borders” Conference; and Kingston, Jamaica for the “Broken but Not Destroyed Campaign.” She currently serves as a board member with ACLU Maryland, and co-founded and serves as the President of the Coalition of Concerned Mothers (COCM).

III. Case for Support

We appreciate you and your willingness to support the movement against police terrorism and specifically this event to commemorate the life of Gary Hopkins Jr.. With you support, we hope to achieve:

  • –  Bringing ​20 mothers​ from out of state and ​20 local mothers​ who were affected by police brutality to Washington, DC to attend the full day event.
  • –  Having ​150 participants​ (including mothers) at the commemoration ceremony for the evening program.
  • –  Reaching ​7000 people ​on social media, before and after the event.
  • –  Strengthening the foundation of this work: (i) healing: centering impacted mothers and families and creating a space for them to share their experiences, move through trauma and grief with community; we believe that impacted mothers need to be cared for and be well before they advance the work of the movement; (ii) building: when individuals are well, the community can be well; we believe the healing and collective sharing of mothers will set a strong foundation for trust building, relationship building, strategies building and thus, movement building; (iii) outreaching and modeling: police brutality and racial profiling of young black men have historically contributed to the enactment of white supremacy in America; by creating this space to share and grow together, this commemoration event will not only center Gary’s life, Marion’s experiences and those of local mothers, but also serve as a model for other spaces to be created nationally with the same purpose: taking steps to heal from white supremacy and fighting for collective liberation.


1. General Programming

The event is expected to take place from the evening of ​October 25 to end of evening October 26, 2019​ (location TBD), with the bulk of activities taking place on Saturday, October 26. Below is a break-down of the key parts of the program:

2. Artistic components

Art has long been the tool that uplifts our collective voice, helps us reimagine our reality, and inspires us to create a liberatory future. For this event, the programming heavily relies on the arts to achieve Marion’s vision and objectives to heal and find collective power with local and national mothers who were affected by police terrorism.

Our program has been in touch with friends, families of Gary Hopkins, Jr., as well as local artists in the DMV to tap into the resources and power within our community.

a. Performances

During the official commemoration ceremony on October 26 evening, there will be various performances to celebrate the life of Gary Hopkins, Jr., including:

  • –  Spoken Word performance.
  • –  Gospel singing performance.
  • –  Dance performance.

b. Art Workshop

After the Emotional Healing session, an art workshop will be offered for mothers to reflect and create arts on their own experiences; drawing from their personal story and adding to the collective voice and vision of the movement.

c. Art Installation

Our programming will be centered around an artistic installation, hereby referred to as an artistic altar (references and inspirations below). The altar is inspired by various religious and spiritual practices, where the altar is believed to be a sacred place where we can connect to the spirits of our deceased beloveds. It’s also a place for family members, friends, and acquaintances to show love and respect for people who passed away through prayers and offerings.

This altar will: (i) serve as a visual celebration of Gary’s life, as the artists will create both 2D and 3D suspended and installed art pieces that represent Gary’s dynamic personality, yearning for social change, loving compassion as well as his own artistic passion; (ii) an interactive altar where folks can give offerings in multiple ways throughout the event.

*These images serve as the centerpiece’s inspiration only – the final installation will be created by our artists as it pertains to Gary Hopkins Jr. and the current movement against police terrorism.

d. Artistic Offerings

There are two formal sessions of artistic offerings:

(i) after the art workshop: all art created during the art workshop will be installed by mothers onto the altar to showcase and build collective narratives on the effects of police terrorism on families as well as share their healing process.

(ii) at the end of the commemoration (after dinner), mothers, general participants as well as donors, sponsors will have their own rounds of offering. See section V for details.

There are also opportunities for participants and mothers to give offerings at any convenient time, either through prayers or written notes that can be installed on the altar.


VI. Donation Options

Our work in this movement heavily relies on the support of donors and sponsors. We deeply appreciate any support we get, and want to include our donors and sponsors in our programming as much as we can. Donors and sponsors will get their own round of acknowledgement and offerings: each support, regardless of the amount, comes with a candle. Donors will take part in our offering ceremony and place their candles on the altar to celebrate and honor the life of Gary Hopkins, Jr. along with family members and friends (other participants are also asked to donate a minimum of $20 to attend the evening program and will also participate in the offering sessions with their candles). Additionally, we have three suggested levels of donations with additional benefits outlined below:

The Visionary:​ $10,000 and above

The Change Agent: ​$5,500 – $9,500 The Collaborator: ​$1,000 – $5,000

Thank you very much for your time and support for this event and the movement against police terrorism. We look forward to working with you!

The post It Takes a Village: A Celebration of the Life of Gary Hopkins, Jr. appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Reparations: A Very Basic Primer

Thu, 06/20/2019 - 12:53
Reparations: a process of repairing, healing and restoring a people injured because of their group identity and in violation of their fundamental human rights by governments, corporations, institutions and families

On June 18, 2019, Stop Police Terror Project-DC hosted “If Not Now, When? A Discussion on Reparations” at the Peace Fellowship Church in Deanwood. One of the speakers was Mélisande Short-Colomb, a descendant of the slaves sold by Jesuits to save Georgetown University from bankruptcy in 1838. Anyone who thinks that reparations for African-Americans is impossible should listen to her story. The video below was shot by Grassroots DC Media Collective member Miheema Goodine.

Event participants agreed that most Americans do not have a clear understanding of reparations or indeed just how lasting and impactful the legacy of slavery has been. For example, Blacks owned 15 million acres of land at the turn of the last century, without reparations. Racist government policies, lack of access to capital and training, has dwindled that number to less than 1 million acres today. The few facts below, all researched by Stop Police Terror Project organizers, scratch the surface of the history that should be known when considering the issue of reparations.

1862: April 16, slavery is abolished in Washington, D.C., eight months before the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. The District of Columbia is also the only place in the United States where slave owners were compensated for having lost their human property. In other words, D.C. paid reparations to slave owners, but not to the slaves themselves.

1865: After The Confederate States of America were defeated in the American Civil War, General William Tecumseh Sherman issued Special Field Orders, No. 15, to both “assure the harmony of action in the area of operations” and “to solve problems caused by the masses of freed slaves, a temporary plan granting each freed family forty acres of tillable land in the sea islands and around Charleston, South Carolina for the exclusive use of Black People who had been enslaved.” The army also had a number of unneeded mules which were given to settlers. This is where the term “40 acres & a mule” originates.

Around 40,000 freed slaves were settled on 400,000 acres in Georgia and South Carolina. However, President Andrew Johnson reversed the order after Lincoln was assassinated, and the land was returned to its previous owners.

1867: Thaddeus Stevens sponsored a bill for the redistribution of land to African Americans, but it was not passed.

1877: Reconstruction came to an end in 1877 without the issue of reparations having been addressed. Thereafter, a deliberate movement of segregation and oppression arose in southern states.

1948: The Japanese-American Claims Act was passed, a law which authorized the settlement of property loss claims by people of Japanese descent who were removed from the Pacific Coast area during World War II.

1968: Founding of the Republic of New Afrika, a Black nationalist group that called for several states in the Deep South to be set aside for the establishment of a Black nation. The RNA demanded that the U.S. government pay $400 billion in reparations to Black people for centuries of systemic oppression during and after slavery.

1974: The U.S. government reached a $10 million out of court settlement with the victims of the Tuskeegee experiment —in which 399 Black men with syphilis were left untreated to study the progression of the disease between 1932 and 1972—and their families, which included both monetary reparations and a promise of lifelong medical treatment for both participants and their immediate families.

1987: Founding of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA), a coalition of groups that advocate for reparations for the African diaspora in the United States. They define reparations as “a process of repairing, healing and restoring a people injured because of their group identity and in violation of their fundamental human rights by governments, corporations, institutions and families. Those groups that have been injured have the right to obtain from the government, corporation, institution or family responsible for the injuries that which they need to repair and heal themselves,” and see the reparations issue as one of international human rights.

1988: The Civli Liberties Act of 1988 was passed, a federal law that granted reparations to Japanese Americans who had been interned by the United States government during World War II.

1989: Michigan Representative John Conyers introduces for the first time H.R. 40, a bill that, if passed, would establish a commission to analyze slavery in the U.S., its impact, and ways to address its lasting affects. This bill was re-introduced multiple times in the intervening years, most recently in January 2019. A hearing on the bill was held on Wednesday June 19, 2019–Juneteenth. A link to the video is at the bottom of this page.

1994: The state of Florida agreed to a reparations package for the Rosewood Massacre of 1923 – where the primarily Black town of Rosewood on the Gulf Coast of Florida was destroyed in an uprising that had been triggered when white men from several nearby towns lynched a Black Rosewood resident because of unsupported accusations that a white woman in the nearby town of Sumner had been beaten and possibly raped by a Black drifter. The package was supposed to compensate the 11 or so remaining survivors of the incident, those who were forced to flee the town, and for college scholarships primarily aimed at descendants.

The post Reparations: A Very Basic Primer appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Does the Mayor’s Budget Put People First?

Mon, 04/15/2019 - 10:16

“We are only as strong as a city as the ward that struggles the most. You cannot represent the District of Columbia as a whole and not reflect that in your words, actions and budget decisions.” 

These were Mayor Muriel Bowser’s words during her State of the District address. The chart below, researched and constructed by the Fair Budget Coalition, may help you determine if her words align with her proposals.

The post Does the Mayor’s Budget Put People First? appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Health and Beauty Expo and Black-Owned Sip and Shop

Fri, 04/12/2019 - 13:38

Each year, black consumers circulate $850 billion through the economy; 90% of those dollars are channeled to non-black owners.  Many Black-owned businesses are opened out of necessity for the community. The economic state of any community is partially related to the amount of money spent within it.  

Unfortunately, money is not put back into the black community as black-owned businesses are not supported.  This stigma derives from the thought that Black-owned merchandise is not as valuable or as high quality as products provided by big companies.  Instead of supporting multimillion dollar corporations that do not care about those who support it financially like Gucci, H&M, etc, we should discover businesses that support people of color.

To that end, Grassroots DC is hosting a Health and Beauty Expo at the Black Worker’s Center this Sunday, April 14 at 2500 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, SE, from 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm.

It’s particularly important that we support black-owned businesses that provide health and beauty products because Black people spend a disproportionate amount of their income on those products. Despite this, the beauty industry overlooks many people with rich skin tones and thick hair textures and does not provide a variety of diverse products aimed at people of color.  This shouldn’t be unexpected.

Thanks in large part to the media, it is unacceptable to wear many natural hairstyles to school or work.  In fact, the United States has a long history of banning Afrocentric hairstyles.  The history of the tignon (a hairdresser to conceal hair) was worn by free slave creole women, the law enacted by Governor Esteban Rodriguez Miro. This law was created so men can pursue affairs with Creole women.  Even today, many brands promote white standards and perpetuate racist stereotypes that black hairstyles are unprofessional.  People of color continue to be humiliated, shamed, and banned for their hair styles even when they are trending

The booming market of $2.56 billion dollars that people of color spend on products has caused many companies to began to cater to them. You also must be aware that brands do use dark skin women as props to show they are inclusive.  An example of advertising “light is bright” notion is the 2017 Dove commercial ad. The implication of a Black woman changing into a white woman represents “clean” shows that many big companies have hidden racism.

Even when a company like MAC Cosmetics offers a wide range of products, they’re not really designed with all of the issues brought about by darker complexions.  In order to create a custom foundation many people of color mix two colors for the perfect blend. Hormones, stress levels, climate, diet and lack of sleep all affect how your foundation no longer blends with your skin.  To address this, many brands that market to women of color create dark shades in order to attract customers.

Brands such as Fenty, Bobbi Brown, Smashbox, appear to be challenging stereotypical and regressive notions of beauty by creating color swatches they claim will create.  But hexadecimal color codes show how many of these companies shades that are for dark skin people are not.

In the commercial world, brands like Fenty have Photoshopped swatches in order to create the illusion of diversity.

All this “inclusive” marketing by major corporations leaves small, black-owned companies in peril. Major corporations with unlimited resources successfully tap into the buying power of people of color without ensuring their needs.  Beauty brands are becoming inclusive because it is now mainstream, but is this a good thing?

Many products that have been advertised to African Americans actually contain hazardous chemicals that can lead to cancer. The Environmental Working Group analyzed 1,177 beauty, personality, and hair care products that are marketed towards people of color. Out of those products only, 25% were considered low hazard compared to the 40% marketed to the general public.  Hair products that are used to straighten hair actually promote hair thinning and loss. Toxic ingredients such as lye have been found in hair relaxers while formaldehyde has been found in straightening treatments.  But even products that contain no lye can cause chemical burns. Other health issues associated with beauty products include hormone disruption, allergies, reproduction damage, and even cancer.

The federal food, drug and cosmetic act of 1938 and the fair packaging and labeling act of 1967 is a government safeguard that is supposed to protect people from misbranding. Neither of these acts requires cosmetics to be approved by the FDA before hitting the market.  The gap between Black and whites health outcomes reflects a disparity of Black doctors.  By including more Black people into these professions, industries, and research, Black needs are more likely to be met.

The Health and Beauty Expo will be covering and talking about these discrepancies and products that are aimed for black women but do not hit the mark.  The goal of the Expo is to educate and uplift the community by highlighting local black owned businesses that specialize in our health and beauty needs.  The “Sip and Shop” will feature a variety of black-owned businesses that sell everything from Beauty, Hair, and Make-up services to vitamins, holistic healing, and plants, & more. Please come prepared to shop as vendors will be offering deals and you don’t want to miss! We will be discussing the “Pros and Cons of the Beauty Industry: How it Affects our Community and How can we Build.” The panel will include 5 specialists from cosmetologist to doctors that are licensed and certified. The Panel will also include you, you read it right “you”. Everyone is encouraged to join in the conversation. Topics will include colorism, common health issues in the black community, generational wealth and entrepreneurialism. The closing of the event will feature a stress-free hour to mix and mingle with other attendees and see some work showcased by some on the vendors.  This event is free and all ages are welcome.  Everyone in the community is encouraged to come.  We really hope to see you there.

Get Your Tickets:

The federal food, drug and cosmetic act of 1938 and the fair packaging and labeling act of 1967 is a government safeguard that is supposed to protect people from misbranding. Neither of these acts requires cosmetics to be approved by the FDA before hitting the market.  The gap between Black and whites health outcomes reflects a disparity of Black doctors.  By including more Black people into these professions, industries, and research, Black needs are more likely to be met.

Health and Beauty Expo will be covering and talking about these discrepancies and products that are aimed for black women but do not hit the mark.  The goal of the Expo is to educate and uplift the community by highlighting local black owned businesses that specialize in our health and beauty needs.  The “Sip and Shop” will feature a variety of black-owned businesses that sell everything from Beauty, Hair, and Make-up services to vitamins, holistic healing, and plants, & more. Please come prepared to shop as vendors will be offering deals and you don’t want to miss! We will be discussing the “Pros and Cons of the Beauty Industry: How it Affects our Community and How can we Build.” The panel will include 5 specialists from cosmetologist to doctors that are licensed and certified. The Panel will also include you, you read it right “you”. Everyone is encouraged to join in the conversation. Topics will include colorism, common health issues in the black community, generational wealth and entrepreneurialism. The closing of the event will feature a stress-free hour to mix and mingle with other attendees and see some work showcased by some on the vendors.  This event is free and all ages are welcome.  Everyone in the community is encouraged to come.  We really hope to see you there.

The post Health and Beauty Expo and Black-Owned Sip and Shop appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Honoring Marion Barry: A Recollection

Wed, 03/13/2019 - 15:18

A young Barry with Dr. King*

Following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, Black people throughout the United States snapped. Witnessing a man nationally considered a symbol of peace and hope brutally murdered became the trigger for what is known as the ‘King assassination riots’. In major cities, from Baltimore and Chicago, to smaller cities like Wilmington, Detroit, Black people across the nation unleashed their pent up rage regarding racism in the United States.

In DC in particular, there was an estimated $25 million in property damages, and innumerable businesses were forced to close. Black residents made up 50% of the city’s population in 1960, that number sky-rocketed to over 70% in 1970, due in part to the flight of white residents following the 1968 rebellions.

With certain sections of DC in a ruin-like state, millions of dollars in property damage, and the resultant injuries and deaths following the rebellions, the city was in desperate need of a strong Black leader.

Enter Marion Barry, a man who would become as beloved as he became notorious, whose vision set in place many of the safety nets low-income residents in DC are able to use to their benefit now.

Once, when speaking with a former colleague about Marion Barry, she decided Google search the phrase ‘DC mayor’. One of the search options in the bars below went on to read ‘DC mayor smokes crack’. Anyone who is remotely aware of the sting operation the FBI orchestrated with Barry’s ex-girlfriend Hazel ‘Rasheeda’ Moore would immediately understand this search option had been referring to Barry.

Before going into Barry’s history, I’d like to write my personal experiences with Barry; I’ve had the opportunity to cross paths Barry twice in my life.

Once, when David Catania set out to enact laws that would potentially have parents arrested for the accumulative tardies and absences of their children from school, I, alongside a cadre of young people in a youth program I had been apart of during my teens, decided to testify against this law before the DC Council.

While in support of the law initially, after hearing the testimony of four young Black men, Barry became vehement in his opposition to Catania’s law, changing his opinion immediately after our testimony.

Then, as an eighteen year-old just stepping into the political sphere, having my voice acknowledged by, both, a politician and an elder was a foundational moment in such a strange, turbulent, and developmental time in my life.

What may have been a year later, I attended a community gathering about the injustices the US government had committed against a group of men known as the Cuban Five.

Held at St. Stephen’s church in Columbia Heights, the drawing point for this gathering was the opportunity to hear legendary activist Angela Davis speak. People of various backgrounds participated in that evening’s event, filling the church and enduring DC’s infamous humidity to get a chance to share

Photo of Barry with wife and child being honored at the gala of the Gertrude Stein Democratic club, a gay political organization*

space with Davis.

After Davis spoke, Barry revealed himself to the crowd; strutting to the podium area in a full suit in spite of the heat. At the sight of Barry, the event’s attendees exploded into hand claps, cheers, and camera flashes. Standing beside Davis, Barry seemed content and majestic.

Of course, me at eighteen had no knowledge of Barry outside of stories I had been told by my mother and other adults. Me at seventeen had no ability to comprehend the significance of the man before me.

Born in Mississippi and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, Barry was raised by his mother and step-father alongside nine other children. Demonstrating an aptitude for political organizing and resistance early on, Barry, in his memoir, recalls rallying his fellow Black paper boys to hold their employer accountable to taking them on a trip for meeting a sales quota.

Not only did Barry possess a knack for political action and leadership, Barry also harbored a deep hunger for education. Graduating from LeMoyne-Owen College in 1958, Barry acquired a Master of Science degree from Fisk University and went on to pursue a Ph.D in chemistry from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. A dissertation away from receiving his doctoral degree, Barry, experiencing discrimination as the only Black person in his program and sensing the political urgency of the times,

gave up pursuing his studies to take on more responsibilities with SNCC and other civil rights organizations.

SNCC, also known as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, is regarded as one of the most influential political organizations active during the Civil Rights era. Birthed from student-sit in protest and a meeting organized by activist Ella Baker, SNCC had been involved in nearly every historical political action against injustice in the South during its time.

From 1960 to 1961, Barry operated as chairman of SNCC, in fact, Barry was the organization’s first chairman. Familiar with positions of leadership, Barry had also been appointed the president of his college’s chapter of the NAACP. It is likely that Barry’s tenure as president of the LeMoyne Owen’s chapter of the NAACP allowed him to develop the skills necessary to work as chairman of SNCC.

Following his eventual departure from his Ph.D program, Barry held leaderships positions within numerous organizations in the field of racial justice, his work eventually taking him up North. At the request of Civil RIghts leader James Forman, Barry moved to DC to begin, and manage, the city’s chapter of SNCC.

While often considered Washington, DC’s first Black mayor, Barry doesn’t actually hold that official title. Before Barry’s term as mayor of the District, Walter Washington, holding a law degree from Howard University, became DC’s first Black mayor in 1971.

Before his mayoral campaign in 1978, Barry co-founded an organization known as Pride Inc. Pride Inc. gave jobs to people of all ages work opportunities in the field of public sanitation. Some sources report that Pride Inc. employees were being paid the equivalent of more than $700 per week for their labor. Pride Inc. was, essentially, the prototype for Barry’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), often cited as the first job experience for many DC youth.

Not only did Barry create groundwork for DC youth to acquire opportunities to work during, and before, his tenure as mayor, Barry also enacted legislation that would benefit poor and working-class DC resid

A photo of Barry bearing his autograph*

ents as well. Barry signed into law the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA laws), which, after a change made by the DC Council last year, only gives the tenants of multi-family apartment units the right to purchase a property once the owner decides to sell the unit.

Often overlooked is Barry’s enthusiastic support of the LGBT community during the early years of his political career in Washington. Amidst cultural myths of heterosexual Black men being the ‘most homophobic’ members of our society, I believe it important to place Barry in league with Dr. Huey P. Newton and other heterosexual Black men who have spoken out against homophobia.  

None of this is to say Barry deserves a pass for some of the more disturbing allegations against him, such as stalking and, even, multiple accounts of sexual assault dating back to his time at SNCC.

What I am attempting to do is create space of all of Barry’s personas to be held and considered; Barry the ‘rapist’’, Barry the ‘good samaritan’, Barry the ‘mayor for life’, Barry the ‘civil rights activist’, and Barry the ‘substance abuser’. Before we apply any values judgement upon Barry’s character, may we first ask ‘Who was Marion Barry?’


*I am grateful for the Special Collections Office at George Washington University’s Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library for allowing me the opportunity to look through their archive of Marion Barry’s 1978 mayoral campaign

The post Honoring Marion Barry: A Recollection appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Martin Luther King Peace March in 2019

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 07:03

February may be the shortest month of the year, but Black History Month really begins on the third Monday of January, which is the day we honor Martin Luther King, Jr.  The federal government encourages citizens to celebrate the day through volunteerism, calling it a “day of national service.”  But many District of Columbia residents understand that we truly honor Martin Luther King, Jr. through political activism and not volunteerism.

Today, every elected official wants to hang their hat on the mantle of Martin Luther King, but many can’t claim that position without some hypocrisy.  In the fall of 2018, an overwhelming majority of District of Columbia council members overturned Initiative 77, a proposal placed on the ballot by District residents that would have gradually raised the minimum wage for tipped minimum workers from $3.89 to $15 per hour in eight years time.  Would Martin Luther King, Jr., have backed Initiative 77?  His support for Memphis sanitation workers, right before his assassination, suggests that he would have.

Most of the citizens who showed up in Anacostia to participate in this year’s Martin Luther King Jr Peace March despite this year’s frigid cold, were to honor King’s activism.  The video below is a testament to the continuing struggle not only for civil rights but also human rights in the District of Columbia.

Props to Di Luong, first-time Grassroots DC videographer, and John Goodine, whose editing skills get better and better every day.

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A Timeline of Events Leading Up to The “Revitalization” of Barry Farm

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 14:57

With the deconstruction and rebuilding of Barry Farm (most commonly referenced as Barry Farms to residents and longtime D.C citizens) under way, it is important to understand some of the key factors of this process, what led up to it and how it has been affecting the existing community. Here is a somewhat concise timeline of events to provide context and stay updated on the fast-changing neighborhood.








Image credits: Joy Sharon Yi



  • The HOPE VI program was created in 1992 by the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development to redevelop public housing across the U.S into mixed-income housing. The goal of HOPE VI was to renovate and revitalize public housing to reduce crime and diversify living conditions. The intention was to create less dense living environments.
  • Many residents across the U.S that were affected by the reconstruction found problems with HOPE VI, seeing it as a process of gentrification. According to “The Urban Institute”, less than 12% of existing residents were able to move back into the renovated homes. Because HOPE VI did not require a 1 to 1 replacement for lower income residents, the program did eventually end up weeding out a lot of those residents altogether.
  • Through HOPE VI over 96,000 public housing complexes were destroyed and a little more than 107,000 were created; only 56,800 of those being affordable housing.
  • Arthur Capper and Carrollsburg Gardens were among the affordable housing in DC (formerly located in Navy Yard) that were lost as a result of HOPE VI.

New Communities Initiative (NCI):  

  • NCI was brought forth in 2005 as a response to budget cuts directly impacting D.C.’s public housing complexes and the maintenance of them.
    • Resident pushback was one of the many reasons that this process was delayed until 2014.
  • NCI was meant to be a revamped and more effective version of HOPE VI with a promise of 1 for 1 replacement for affordable housing tenants and units; an effort to make sure current residents could stay in their neighborhoods and have priority for the newly developed units.
  • Much like HOPE VI, NCI was created to redevelop public housing in D.C., to decrease crime, reduce concentrated poverty and eliminate economic segregation in neighborhoods in an effort to reintroduce the idea of mixed-income communities.
    • There is a common theory that concentrated poverty is why public housing is not as effective as it should be (as opposed to lack of funding being put towards the housing properties and overall negligence).
  • In addition to the idea of having a diverse community in terms of population, NCI plans on the new buildings looking diverse; ranging in size and style.
  • The initiative is specific to four DC neighborhoods; Barry Farm (located in Anacostia), Lincoln Heights (located in N.E), Northwest One (located in N.W in ward 6) and Park Morton (located in N.W in ward 1).

Barry Farm:

  • Barry Farm is a historic landmark in D.C, it started off as a settlement area for newly freed Black people after the Civil War in 1867. Barry Farm became the first public housing during WWII.
  • Barry Farm is located in Anacostia and (before deconstruction) had about 432 public housing units
  • The application for the first stages of the Barry Farm redevelopment were approved by the zoning commission in October 2014.
    • The plan would tear down any existing properties in Barry Farm and create 1,400 new housing (from low/mid rise buildings, townhouses and retail spaces).
  • In December of 2014 the Barry Farm aquatic center was opened (a part of NCI). This was the first stage of a larger process to renovate the Barry Farm recreational center (an estimated $26 million project). Many Barry Farm residents were unsettled by the renovated rec center as it is only available to residents with an ID which requires certain documents and resources that some families no longer have access (or easy access) to.
  • March 2016 the DC Housing Authority passed Resolution 16-06 “right to return”, which was meant to protect existing residents and their places within the community. This would make sure there was no confusion about the residents’ eligibility status and protect their entry into the newly renovated developments.
  • June 2017 “Resident Design Workshop” held by DCHA and DCMPED. Intended to get community feedback and input about plans regarding development features and layout.
  • August 2017 residents from Barry Farm filed a class action lawsuit against DCHA. The lawsuit was created in a pursuit to stall the redevelopment process and ensure that there would be enough housing for all of the current residents of Barry Farm. The lawsuit also mentions the horrid conditions of Barry Farm currently.
  • April 2018 Barry Farm is nominated to become an Opportunity Zone which would allow “tax incentives for investments in new businesses and commercial projects in low income communities” with the goal to help promote investments in new public infrastructure, affordable housing, businesses and capital improvement”
    • Many Barry Farm residents have talked about the need for prioritizing grocery stores (as there are VERY few in wards 7 and 8) over opening luxury retail stores.
  • In May 2018 residents push to preserve the beauty of their neighborhoods, as a response NCI commissioned art pieces to be made that represent the Barry Farm neighborhoods.

**Since news broke of the redevelopment of Barry Farm, over 70 residents have since relocated to Highland Dwellings and Sheridan station. The specific location of the other residents who have relocated have been unaccounted for.


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Initiative 77 & The Crisis of The Tipped Minimum Wage

Wed, 01/23/2019 - 11:43

The current minimum wage for most hourly workers in the District of Columbia is $13.25, which is set to increase to $15 come 2020. Tipped workers, however, receive a fraction of that amount per hour.  As of July 1, 2018, tipped workers (which can include servers, valets, and bartenders) receive $3.89 per hour, with an anticipated increase to $5.00 by 2020. The justification for this low hourly wage is the understanding that, in the case that an employee is unable to meet DC’s minimum wage with their tips, the employer will cover the difference. Therefore, a tipped worker who is unable to make $13.25 per hour in tips will have their wage supplemented by their employer under the Fair Shot Minimum Wage Amendment Act of 2016. However, restaurants in the DC area have been under fire for charges of wage theft, putting into question workers’ lived experience of this law.

Research done by the United States Department of Labor reveals that, nationally, the US food service industry has had higher rates of wage violation than any other low wage industry since 2008. In fiscal year 2018 alone, over 41,000 food service workers reported nearly $43 million in thefted wages.

Research done in 2011 by the Washington, DC chapter of the Restaurant Opportunities Center (also known as ROC), a non-profit based in Manhattan whose stated mission is to “improve wages and working conditions for the nation’s restaurant workforce.”, gives us a local perspective on wage violations in the restaurant industry. Following a year’s worth of research, ROC’s DC chapter released a 76 page report on DC’s restaurant industry. Table 7 (which can be found on page 25) of the report reveals that 33.5% of restaurant workers in DC report having experienced overtime wage violations and 11.4% report having experienced minimum wage violations.

As further detailed  in ROC’s report:


  • 11.4% of the workers spoken with reported earning less than $8.25 per hour, which violated DC’s 2011 minimum wage laws
  • Only 18.5% of tipped workers were able to correctly recall the correct minimum wage and only 9.7% knew the amount of the tipped minimum wage, even though it is the employer’s responsibility to post bilingual signs in the workplace detailing this information

A briefer report published by the Economic Policy Institute further reveals that:


  • Tipped workers in DC are largely people of color (70% of the tipped workforce while only 55% of the general workforce)
  • The median annual wage for servers and bartenders in DC is $22,763.
  • 13.7% of tipped workers live below the poverty line

Of course, given the unsavory conditions tipped workers were experiencing in the restaurant industry, movement to make change was inevitable.

In the spring of 2018, a campaign promoting Initiative 77 began. Initiative 77 was a ballot initiative (meaning that an adequate number of registered voters signed a petition to get a statute or amendment voted on publicly) that would rework DC’s minimum wage laws for tipped workers. Under Initiative 77, the tipped minimum wage would increase each year so that, by 2026, tipped workers would be making $15 an hour, the same as other workers in DC receiving an hourly wage. It seems that, in the frenzied coverage of the Initiative, many people assumed that tipped workers would begin receiving the minimum wage immediately, not understanding that employers would have 8 years to pay their employees the eventual $15 minimum wage.

The Washington, DC chapter of ROC became the primary driving force in support of Initiative 77 in DC. Faced with opposition from, both, restaurant owners and tipped workers themselves, Initiative 77 became one of the most discussed and controversial political topics in DC during the 2018 local election season. The proposal of Initiative 77 left the city cleaved into two camps; those in support of the initiative and those against it. A cursory glance through a DC area resident’s Facebook or Twitter feed from that period of time would very likely contain at least one charged debate over the initiative.  

Alongside the business owners and tipped workers opposing Initiative 77, Mayor Muriel Bowser and various members of the DC Council publicly opposed the Initiative as well. It must be stated, however, that many of the politicians in opposition to Initiative 77 have, at various points, received money from restaurants for their campaigns.

After being passed by voters by a more than 10% margin, Initiative 77 was repealed by eight members of the DC Council on Oct. 2nd, 2018.

I find myself clearly seeing the concerns raised by both parties regarding the pros and cons of Initiative 77; working as a cashier in an independent restaurant, I reap the benefits of the current minimum wage as well as tips. As a cashier, my job is far less complex than that of a server, however, I have far more security and ease regarding my wage. This level of security regarding pay is something I desire for each of my fellow restaurant workers, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet. As stated by the anonymous author of this Vox article “Living on tips does not guarantee me a sufficient income or economic security. Tipped workers experience a poverty rate nearly twice that of other workers. Currently, the median hourly wage for servers in DC is only $11.89… Relying on customer tips results in unpredictable income and makes workers more vulnerable to being sexually harassed or discriminated against by the very customers on whose tips we depend.”


This said, my very strong relationship with my employer in the restaurant I work in makes me consider concerns raised by restaurant owners about keeping their establishments open as well. While I don’t want to disregard the reality of greed our culture intentionally cultivates in each of us, I would like to believe that most business owners would choose to give generously to their employees if the resources were available.

Compass Coffee, a local coffee shop with a number of locations throughout DC, pays its starting baristas $13.25 an hour, and, once they’re passed the apprenticeship stage, they go on to receive a 25¢ raise. This pay is received alongside tips, which, based on information in this article from the dcist, averages around $5.71 an hour.

More prominently, in the same article, the author discusses changes Dolcezza Gelato has had to make to their payment structure in order, according to their owner, to continue to do business in DC. Now categorizing their hourly employees as tipped workers, Dolcezza’s baristas receive $10.50 an hour while the company’s gelato scoopers make $9.75 an hour, these wages being supplemented by tips.  

Robb Duncan is reported as saying “It totally, totally sucks. If I could pay my employees twice the minimum wage and give them health benefits, I would do it in two seconds. But for any small business, especially in D.C. right now, one needs to make adjustments. We’re doing what we feel is necessary to stay strong in D.C.”

Sips of Seattle, a family owned coffee shop located in downtown DC, shut down its business on on the 14th of December due to increases in rent, after 22 years of being a favorite of many DC residents. One of the co-owners of Sips of Seattle has a Spanish last name; Escobar. While I do not know the racial or ethnic origins of this particular business owner, I would like to use this information to highlight the reality that the businesses that are most vulnerable to increases of rents and wages are those owned by people of color. Even though Initiative 77 hasn’t passed, I’d be concerned about the ability of business owners of color to stay afloat amidst rising rent and labor costs.

Rents for businesses are based upon the square feet of the establishment multiplied by a dollar amount that averages somewhere between $50 – $80. The annual rent of a space of 800 square foot, priced at $55 per square foot, would be $44,000 a year, requiring monthly payments of $3,666 to maintain usage of the space.

Ultimately, I find myself disappointed by this entire debate. When this issue over whether a minimum wage or a lowered tipped wage is best for DC’s restaurants is boiled down, we are, essentially, choosing one group of people’s livelihoods over another. Another point of contention for me is the responsibility of this decision placed into the hands of DC residents, many of whom have never worked in restaurants and know little-to-nothing about the industry. In an act of compromise, Mary Cheh, Councilmember of Ward 3, suggests that the the increase in tipped servers’ minimum wage take place over a 15 year period; increasing the tipped minimum wage by 66¢ per year as a way to safely gauge any burdens the increased wage would bring upon restaurant owners.

While I am appreciative of Councilmember Cheh’s attempt to consider the needs of all parties involved, I believe that this compromise fails to consider the reality of rising rents, nor does it center the experiences/demands of restaurant workers. The issue of Initiative 77 ties into much larger issues regarding affordable housing and living wages that are affecting every major city across the country.

In the long run, tipped workers on both sides of the Initiative and restaurant workers must understand that if they’re going to remain in a city with increasingly high rent prices, than they’d do well to band together with organizers working on affordable housing initiatives in their neighborhoods. Some organizations working on affordable housing campaigns across the city are Empower DC, One DC, and Keep DC 4 Me. Alongside participating in political action in the city, tipped workers should also rally together to ensure their employers comply with DC’s minimum wage laws.  As individuals, tipped workers can also contact the District’s Restaurant Opportunities Center if they have questions about their rights or join them on the third Thursday of every month for their Legal Clinic for Restaurant Workers.

Recently, new energy has begun to surge around Initiative 77; upset with the DC Council’s decision to repeal the Initiative, a DC bartender filed a lawsuit intending to delay the execution of the proposed repeal. Senior pastor of DC’s Plymouth United Church of Christ, Rev. Graylan Hagler, a supporter of this recent push, is reported to say “The restaurant industry filed a petition challenge at the eleventh hour. It’s their latest effort to thwart the democratic process. We will fight this delaying tactic in court, and will prevail in the end. We are not the kind of people to give up on D.C. workers who need a raise.”

Shockingly, on December 12th, DC judge Neal E. Kravitz ruled that efforts to place Initiative 77 on the spring ballot were invalid as a result of a mishap on the DC government’s part. As writer Gabe Hiatt states in the Eater article “Despite the work of petitioners to gather more than 25,000 signatures in a week, judge Neal E. Kravitz cited a procedural mistake by the D.C. Board of Elections… The elections board did not post public notice for a hearing on the referendum far enough in advance, Kravitz found, dooming the signature-gathering process from the start.” Meaning, essentially, that due to a procedural error on the part of the DC Board of Elections, the petitioners’ work was futile from the start.  

We shall see how pro-77 organizers will rally against Judge Kravitz’s ruling, however, the debate of whether Initiative 77, and the larger socio-economic contexts surrounding the debate, is far from over.

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Barry Farms: The Destruction of a Historic Landmark

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 12:42
Racism is the result of historic actions, thoughts, and laws that still impact society. Racism is embedded in the traditions and institutions of the United States. It is especially tragic when racism shows up in spaces that were built to be havens against it. Barry Farms has a rich history in which these instances occur.

Barry Farms, also known as Hillsdale, began as a settlement established after the Civil War in 1867 for free blacks and formerly enslaved African Americans. Abolition created labor problems, loss of productivity, and efforts to restore the plantation system.  In many plantation societies, governments sought to force former slaves back to work with strict vagrancy laws, coercive labor contracts and regressive taxes. Ultimately, the abolishment of slavery did not produce many changes. Former slaves continued to do their former slave work of tobacco farming, breeding and whatever was asked of them. Because the 14th amendment was not properly enforced, Reconstruction brought about Black Codes and the Ku Klux Klan. It was difficult for the formerly enslaved blacks to adjust to being free around whites and for whites to adjust to being around free blacks.

The Origins Of Barry Farms

The Freedmen’s Bureau was created by Congress in order to help former slaves adjust to society after the abolishment of slavery. The Bureau enlisted Oliver O. Howard as the commissioner whose job was to ensure the well-being of blacks, both free-born and formerly enslaved. Hillsdale was built by Oliver O. Howard whose mission was to advance the rights of blacks. The name originated from the landowner James Barry who was an incorporator of the Washington Canal Company.  After the property was purchased, African Americans squatted on it until arrangements could be made for them to build homes for themselves. Free black people were offered $215 – $300 to buy an acre of land to build a house and $76 for lumber to construct a house from the Freedman Bureau. Slaves wages varied but they received from $100 a year for unskilled work and up to $500 for skilled work. Freedman and refugees of the war worked every day for plantations in and around the District of Columbia and came home in the evenings to build their modest 14 ft x 24ft two-room houses, using the light of bonfires or lanterns candlelight.

The neighborhood was home to activists such as Frederick Douglass Patterson, Garnet C. Wilkinson, and Dr. Georgiana R. Simpson. Many historical accounts do not acknowledge the relationship the Douglass’s have with the resident and often “whitewash” the history. Charles Douglass, the son of Frederick Douglass was a teacher in the community and advocated for the District of Columbia Emancipation Act.  If the Douglass family’s connection to Barry Farm were better known, it’s possible that the future of the community would not now be in jeopardy.


The Deterioration of the Site

By 1900 Barry Farm’s original landscape began to be separated for construction. The Alexandria Branch of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad separated the community from Popular Point. Half of its original land was turned into military bases after WW2, which displaced a few of the descendants of the first tenants. The 20th century required a better means of transportation and more modern renovations, which led to many of the original homes being razed. Railroad tracks that had been laid for the construction of the Suitland Parkway, isolated Barry Farm between two traffic arteries: Suitland Parkway and Interstate 295.

Today the District of Columbia government plans to demolish and redevelop the historic site. The District’s Council wants to turn housing, that was at one time affordable, into retail space and market-rate units. These new upscale designs attract new residents while displacing the former tenants. When you observe the urban and modern surroundings of the neighborhood, non-residents view Hillsdale as the eyesore of Ward 8. But the D.C. City Council redevelopment plan, which puts the desires of new residents ahead of the needs of natives and long-term residents, is flawed. The area has been under development for over a decade as part of the New Communities Initiative to renovate dilapidated public housing. The Housing Authority has already begun to demolish the site while leaving residents with the option to relocate until the development is finished or move using a Section 8 voucher.

The citizens have had their fair share of injustice since the construction of the neighborhood. Over the years, the citizens have watched their community decrease in size. Today many health codes are violated on the property. They are often displaced only to later deal with gentrification or lack of affordable housing. Given the current health conditions, residents have experienced so much turmoil that they will fight to continue to live in horrendous conditions. The families of Barry Farms want their neighborhoods remodeled but they do not want to be displaced. The issue and fear are not to stop change, but to make sure that change benefits the people of the neighborhood. Demolishing this site will add fuel to the fire of racism and disregard the preservation of African-American heritage.

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Is It Time to End Stop and Frisk?

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 13:45

The Supreme Court ruled in 1968 that police must have objective evidence providing “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity before they can forcibly stop a citizen, and they must have an independent basis for fearing the person is armed before they frisk him.  Reasonable suspicion is when a police officer believes that an individual has a weapon which poses a danger to the officer, the officer may stop that individual to search or frisk the individual for a weapon.

Reasonable suspicion requires objective evidence.  A reasonable suspicion is not a Black person doing things that a bigot thinks they shouldn’t be doing.  Reasonable suspicion is not an unwillingness to comply with an “unlawful” police order.  The police can’t say, he didn’t want to be searched, and therefore I came to the reasonable conclusion that he probably has a weapon, which allows me to search him against his will.  It’s this kind or circular logic that makes understanding what is and what isn’t a lawful police order difficult to determine.

Anyone, but especially Black people, risks their safety if they refuse to comply with a police order, lawful or not.  So, chances are when a police officer or several police officers stop you in the street, you’ll likely comply. Understanding your rights, as they are laid out in the really excellent video below, can help keep you safe.

If the police behave professionally, they’ll let you know why they’re stopping you.  They should say something like, we’re looking for someone who just robbed the convenience store wearing those same sneakers that you have on.  Or something like that.   In other words, what is the reasonable suspicion they have that you have or intend to commit a crime.  If they don’t give you that information and then they demand that you comply with a physical search or “frisk,” what do you do?

To be sure, if the police do not have reason to believe that an individual is armed, above and beyond their suspicion that they have or might commit a crime, then an order from the police to comply with a frisk is illegal because it violates your constitutional right against unreasonable search and seizure.   They can ask you to give up your constitutional rights, but they can’t order you to do it.  At least, they can’t legally order you to give up your constitutional rights.

But it’s just a frisk, right?  The word itself sounds benign enough.  But having a heavily armed stranger ask you to put your arms on a car or a wall and spread your legs while he or she checks your pockets and runs their hands over your body in search of a weapon, isn’t benign.  I don’t want a stranger putting their hand in my pocket, sliding their hand between my buttocks or beneath my breasts, do you?  I certainly wouldn’t want a police officer doing that to any child of mine, as they did to the children in the video below.  The entire encounter is recorded in this Facebook post.

Stop Police Terror Project-DC, one of the many groups within the DC Movement for Black Lives Coalition, has been working to end abusive stop and frisk policies for years.  They have pushed for the passage and funding of the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results (NEAR) Act.  The main goal of the NEAR Act is to reduce violence in the District of Columbia by using a community-based public health approach to violence prevention and intervention instead of perpetuating broken and ineffective “war on drugs”-style methods like stop and frisk.

One of the key provisions of the NEAR Act is data collection.  It mandates that D.C. police officers maintain records on each stop and frisk by filling out 16 data points after each instance, including the race or ethnicity of the individual and reason for the stop.  Despite the fact that the D.C. Council has provided the DC Metropolitan Police Department with $150,000 to ensure that this data collection happens, the police department has to date failed to comply.

81.6 percent of police stops in the District of Columbia between 2010 and 2016 involved Black people.

What we do know from the limited stop-and-frisk data that the police have provided is that from 2010 to 2016, 81.6 percent of police stops involved Black people.   In addition, a report from the Office of Police Complaints, an independent body that reviews and investigates resident complaints, found that 89 percent of use-of-force incidents by police involved a Black individual from Oct. 1, 2016 through Sept. 30, 2017.  Office of Police Complaints numbers are useful, but they can only record those incidents that lead to a civilian complaint.  One has to wonder what the numbers would look like if the DC Metropolitan Police Department were actively compiling them as each incident occurred.

89 percent of use-of-force incidents by police involved a Black individuals from Oct. 1, 2016 through Sept. 30, 2017.

And then there’s the question of the policy’s effectiveness.   According to research done by Stop Police Terror Project-DC, Stop-and-Frisk does not keep people safe and is rapidly becoming the most discredited policing practice in the United States. Studies of the tactic in a wide variety of cities have revealed clear racial bias and extremely low “effectiveness” as the overwhelming majority of people stopped hadn’t committed any crimes. Almost 90% of the 5 million people stopped in New York City since 2002 have been completely innocent. Each of those years, at least 80% of those stops were of Black or Brown people. In Baltimore, police conducted several hundred thousand stops a year from 2010-2015, almost exclusively in lower-income Black neighborhoods.  But only 3.7% of these stops resulted in any sort of criminal citation or arrest.

As a result of the DC Metropolitan Police Department’s failure to comply with the data collection provision of the NEAR Act and because of the ineffectiveness of the policy itself, Stop Police Terror Project-DC,  in conjunction with the ACLU-DC, BLM-DC and other Movement for Black Lives organizations, have launched the No More Stop and Frisk Campaign.

No More Stop-and-Frisk: Panel & Workshop Campaign Launch
Saturday, January 5, 2019
6:30 – 9:30 PM
Anacostia Arts Center
1231 Good Hope Road SE

Originally, Stop and Frisk was meant to interrupt crime.  But because it is so often used illegally, instead of stopping crime it is far more often the only crime being committed during an encounter with the police.  For more information about the No More Stop and Frisk Campaign, contact

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This Is What Democracy Doesn’t Look Like: Banneker/Shaw Edition

Mon, 11/19/2018 - 13:25

Cross-Posted from Education DC
Written by Valerie Jablow

At last week’s November 15 council hearing, on the plan to build a new Banneker high school at the site of the closed Shaw Junior High, dozens of public witnesses testified, advocating for either Banneker or a Shaw middle school of right on the site.

But after more than four hours of their testimony, it took less than 10 minutes for the two government witnesses to outline DC’s newest educational initiative–which would be doing whatever someone in power wants.

The opening 5-minute salvo came during acting DME Paul Kihn’s opening testimony, in which he presented a rationale for not putting a Shaw middle school of right in Shaw–as called for in multiple capital plans as well as the 2014 boundaries study.

Cautioning about “using data” to determine a need for a Shaw middle school, Kihn recited population forecasts from the office of planning as well as current and expected enrollments, the “average boundary participation rate” in DCPS (24%), and available capacity at Cardozo.

After blithely concluding that all that “data” show that there is no need at all for a Shaw middle school of right, Kihn amazingly floated the idea of a citywide middle school at the Shaw site because, uh, no boundaries!

It’s hard to imagine that Kihn really does not know that the lottery works for schools of right as well as for schools of choice.

As it is, boundary participation rates are not indicative of enrollment–as the staff in his own office know very well because by using their own data, I can see that DCPS’s Sousa middle school has a 68% in boundary participation rate–and is underenrolled. While Stuart-Hobson, fully enrolled for the last several decades, has a 25% in boundary participation rate.


The other seminal moment of testimony was this 2-minute clip of interim chancellor Amanda Alexander (who in that role is subordinate to the acting DME).

In it, Alexander responds to a question from education committee chair David Grosso, who asked her to explicate the meetings DCPS held with the Banneker and Shaw communities about the plan to locate Banneker at Shaw. While explaining (eventually) that the decision to locate Banneker at Shaw was made after the feasibility study was completed (August 15, 2018), the interim chancellor stated that the Shaw community was engaged on the subject starting in May 2018.

This sounds good until you realize that the idea of Banneker at Shaw had been raised months before, in February 2018 (see here for all the Banneker modernization plans), when the Banneker feasibility study was undertaken.

But the feasibility study strangely explored only two options: Banneker at its current building and Banneker at Shaw. As thorough as it is in its examination of those options, the study contains nothing about a Shaw middle school in Shaw nor any discussion about other sites for Banneker–or data to justify expanding it to almost twice its current size.

It appears that someone somewhere ruled all of that out well before February 2018–something no official at the hearing ever raised.

The sad truth behind all of this public obfuscation is that Banneker still needs a renovation and an appropriate facility.

More to the point, Banneker’s renovation has been deferred for so long that it falls in the same disturbing pattern of inequity that we have already seen in our city for school resourcing and modernizations. It was that pattern, in fact, that led the council to enact the PACE Act in the first place, to ensure political power was not the driver of modernized, adequate, and safe school spaces.

Yet, instead of focusing on that urgency and the fact that no one in his own office pursued a fulsome feasibility study examining all the “data” for Banneker around the city, the acting DME used his time at the hearing to admonish advocates for a Shaw middle school of right for not being “practical” and “fiscally responsible.”

This was pretty rich, given that later in the hearing the acting DME had no accurate cost estimate whatsoever to share with the council on the new Banneker at Shaw.

And it was also pretty rich given that Kihn spent time talking about how he thought some Shaw residents “feel excluded” from the planning and the importance of public officials not going into public meetings with a “predetermined outcome.”

Now, it is possible that hundreds of people complaining for weeks before the hearing–and testifying in droves during the hearing–about the lack of public engagement in Shaw on this subject suffer from mass hallucination. (See their apparently non-hallucinatory petition here.)

Nonetheless, the fact remains that the acting DME used his time at that hearing to characterize the actual disenfranchisement of actual DC residents in the alteration of an actual plan for an actual school in their own neighborhood as one of mere hurt feelings–and politely promised to do better and engage well going forward.

There were other disturbing notes as well.

For instance, no city leader even mentioned the new Bard high school, whose plan is publicly amorphous: we don’t know what it will be or even where it will be and whether its creation (in conjunction with an expanded Banneker) will necessitate closing one or more DCPS high schools. For all anyone in the public knows, that is the intended outcome of both projects. Data, schmata!

Also, when asked about keeping Banneker at its current building, Alexander noted that the building is “not fit pedagogically” to suit high school students because it was built as a middle school. (Thank goodness no DCPS high school is in, say, a repurposed elementary! Oh, wait.)

Then, when asked if she considered St. Elizabeth’s as a location for a new Banneker, Alexander responded that it would be “disruptive” to the Banneker community, since many of Banneker’s students come from wards 4 and 5.

Having heard public witnesses at the same hearing opine about what they considered the silliness of Shaw parents not wanting their middle school students to travel far from home, I can only think that there is no way that this hearing was ever intended to question the decision made by someone, somewhere, that Banneker will go at Shaw.

After all, only two council members were present for most of the hearing (Grosso, there the entire time, and Ward 6’s Charles Allen for most of it), despite the fact that the Banneker at Shaw proposal is at least roundly estimated to cost $143 million–a significant sum completely outside the planning process that the council itself enacted.

More to the point, Grosso himself supports Banneker locating at Shaw and doesn’t want to pause the plans–in agreement with acting DME Kihn, who noted (without offering evidence–oh, that pesky data again!) that pausing the plan was not in the city’s or community’s interests.

And yet, while Kihn went out of his way to note that many DCPS schools of right have excess capacity, what he didn’t say was that expanding Banneker thusly might not be good for any school, even Banneker itself–and especially at Shaw, where it would be in close proximity to two under-enrolled DCPS high schools of right.

(Data on the effect of creating new schools was not the only thing happily unexamined by those in charge: Charles Allen noted that Kihn’s population analysis in the clip above was the first time he had heard those numbers, and he worried about their veracity.)

In the end, the driving interest of both Kihn and Alexander at that hearing was not doing right by this process or even examining its effect. Rather, their interest was rooted in a decision that had already been made, no matter the consequences. The public, late to the party, was left to fight it out amongst themselves.

(Not coincidentally, I heard neither Kihn nor Alexander mention “rights” with respect to schools–only “access.”)

So here is where we stand:

–No accurate cost analysis for building Banneker at the Shaw site except that it will cost at least $143 million;
–No apparent consideration of other sites for Banneker;
–No plan for a middle school of right for Shaw;
–Misleading data used to discredit a Shaw middle school of right;
–Misleading statements about public engagement on the subject;
–No analysis of the effect of the expansion and/or move of Banneker;
–Complete flaunting of the PACE Act;
–No explanation of what the existing Banneker building would be used for, much less Garnet-Patterson;
–Plenty of people in Shaw attesting to not being engaged whatsoever, while the interim chancellor says they were engaged and the acting DME says they just “feel excluded” and
–Neither David Grosso nor our education leaders wanting to even pause and ask how this fits in with the plan for Bard or a plan for the city at large to invest in its own schools.

Hmm: what was that bit about a “predetermined outcome”?

The post This Is What Democracy Doesn’t Look Like: Banneker/Shaw Edition appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Screening and Discussion of BackBurner Dreams

Mon, 10/29/2018 - 15:57

Over 200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson ushered a bold proclamation in The Declaration of Independence when he wrote :

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equally that they are endowed by their creator with inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

History has revealed that by “all” the Founding Founder meant only white, mostly-land-owning, and mostly Western-Europeans. Yet despite the erasure of legal rights to minorities, Blacks, Native Americans, and the Third World Majority, America has served as ground zero for the fight these marginalized groups’ wage to squarely place themselves as innately possessing those inalienable rights that the Founding Founders heralded as so hallowed.

The undergirding question of “Who deservers to pursue happiness”, is one that is explored in the 2006 critically acclaimed film The Pursuit of Happyness starring Will Smith, as Chris Gardner – a father who although down on his luck is able to overcome his situation through grit, determination and exceptional skill. While a poignant and beautifully cinematic piece, the movie narrowly defines those who are worthy of pursuing and achieving their dreams.

In the beginning of the movie, Chris Gardner’s inability to financially provide, is rectified by his partner Lydia’s diligence. Lydia is the one that takes the double shift when money is tight, and she is the one that misses work to fulfill her parental duties when Gardner is unable to pick up their child Chris Jr.

The movie intimates that only the exceptional and those who can afford to have their lives supported by the others are allowed to pursue their dreams. Everyone else is expected to forfeit their own dreams to bear the brunt of the socio-economic burdens placed on them. Far too often, those burdens are placed squarely on the shoulders of women.

In her new documentary, Brenda Hayes sheds light on this silent societal erasure of marginalized women, by posing the following questions: What would it mean if three women, of color, three mothers, began to pursue the dreams that once invigorated them in their youth? What would it mean if they took hold of their birthright, and started to feed the dreams that fuel their souls. Through her 39-minute documentary, Hayes touches on the intersection of mental health, white vs black feminism, income inequality, and societal status.

As groups like Black Lives Matter, lay siege to the  systems and structures that insure that the bodies of Black and Brown peoples are not entitled to the same life and liberty as the “all” in Jefferson’s proclamation, artist-activists like Brenda Hayes, challenge the preconceptions of exactly “who” is entitled to pursue their own happiness through the pursuit of their dreams.  Ms. Hayes film posits that all people (including the often missed women of color and caretakers) should be entitled to their dreams and the pursuit of those dreams. According to Ms.Hayes, the purpose of her film is to, “encourage the audience to reflect and be inspired. To empower women to reflect and act and to examine the challenges with which we are faced.”

On November 3rd, Social Conscience PBC  will host a screening of Backburner Dreams where these issues will be further explored and discussed. A panel discussion with the director and members of the community will occur after the screening. To purchase tickets visit :

For questions, please email :

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Screening and Discussion of Incompatible Allies: BLM, March 4 Our Lives and the US Debate about Guns and Violence

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 08:13
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America present a film screening and discussion of the documentary Incompatible Allies: Black Lives Matter, March 4 Our Lives
Sunday, October 21
6:00 – 8:00 PM
Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church
301 A Street SE
Washington, DC 20003

In response to the enthusiasm generated by the March For Our Lives, the largest anti-gun violence demonstration in the nation’s history, Grassroots Media DC, produced a documentary that features Black student activists in the District of Columbia.  Working in conjunction with Black Lives Matter-DC, our aim was to capture the experiences Black youth have with gun violence and their perspectives on gun violence prevention and community safety.  The result was Incompatible Allies:  Black Lives Matter, March for Our Lives and the US Debate about Guns and Violence.  Below is the trailer.

The documentary includes interviews with students from schools across the District. The video offers a perspective often excluded from national conversations about gun control, highlighting the ways that violence in white communities is often seen as a national crisis, while violence in African-American communities is often ignored.

“I became frustrated with the fact that national attention and money was being thrown at white students, while black students – who experience gun violence at far higher rates – were being ignored and left out of the conversation,” said Dornethia Taylor, a Core Organizer with Black Lives Matter who conceived of the video project. “When I heard the March for Our Lives was coming to DC, without engaging with the ways that gun violence affects black folks in our city, I decided to get local black young people together to share their stories. This video project is the result.”

Students in the video speak to a variety of differences between the dominant narrative around gun control, and the lived experiences of Black students. “As a community disproportionately targeted by police, we are very skeptical of calls for increased funding for police in schools,” Taylor added. “Further, guns have poured into our communities unregulated for decades. Piecemeal approaches to gun control that don’t address root causes of violence will not make us safer.”

After the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the students from Parkland, Florida immediately became media darlings and hailed as the only force strong enough to move the United States to adopt gun reform.  To their credit, the Parkland students organized the largest anti-gun violence demonstration in the history of the nation.  Recognizing that media bias gave them a platform while others with similar goals were largely ignored, they invited young Black and Brown activists to share the stage with them.

But is the gun reform that the Parkland students call for in line with the demands of the Black Lives Matter Movement, with whom they claim to have an affinity?  Will March for Our Lives last beyond the mid-term elections?  What can Black Lives Matter activists teach the Parkland students and the vast numbers inspired by them about organizing and sustaining a movement.  Perhaps more to the point, should they even bother?

If the momentum behind the March For Our Lives turns out to be fleeting, where should those who are committed to ending gun violence direct their efforts? This documentary attempts to answer that question. At the very least, we hope to deepen the conversation about gun control, gun violence and violence in general within those communities who choose to screen the documentary.

For information about obtaining a DVD of the full documentary and/or scheduling a screening within the District of Columbia Metropolitan Area, please contact

The post Screening and Discussion of Incompatible Allies: BLM, March 4 Our Lives and the US Debate about Guns and Violence appeared first on Grassroots DC.

How Colorism Subjugates Dark Skin Women Part 3

Fri, 10/12/2018 - 12:33
The Beauty Industry Marginalizing People of Color

Make-up is a huge aspect when dealing with colorism. Cosmetics are used as a mechanism to cover up dark spots. For dark-skinned individuals we are considered a dark spot. No matter your heritage there are issues with skin complexion.

When I was younger I used make-up as a highlighter and cover-up.   I used to wear make-up all the time but it became hard because I could not find one for my tone and always had to mix them. Most beauty stores in predominantly black neighborhoods have only selective shades of foundation that are aimed at those of a lighter complexion.

I did not feel pretty or acceptable without makeup. At one point I actually debated bleaching my skin when one of my schoolmates referred to me as a “dirty Jamaican.” Fenty Beauty by Rihanna has gotten so many praises and consistently sells out due to its range of foundation.  Her line is a make-up success for dark-skin girls and those with albinism. Many make-up companies do not offer varieties for darker complexions as they have centered around light-skinned women for so long. These companies buy large quantities of supplies in order to produce an abundance of supplies pertaining to its lighter skinned demographic. So despite being generally ignored or marginalized by mainstream magazines, black women spend billions of dollars on cosmetics, desperately searching for something that works.

Beauty expert Al-Nis Ward explains why there is such a variety shortage. According to Ward, “the only difference between a lighter shade and a darker shade is the ratio of pigmentation. All foundations contain the same four pigments.”   

This understanding is used to explain the main variations of “beige” foundation. According to Tasha Reiko Brown, a makeup artist in New York, there is no need for a variety of foundations; the real problem is the amount of blush used.  However, this does not make sense.  Foundation is a skin-colored application used to even out your skin tone, blur pores, hide imperfections and make your skin appear smoother.  Blush, on the other hand, is a cosmetic for coloring cheeks in a variety of shades. A body-painting cosmetic should have color variety since it is skin-color based. The use of color applied to your cheeks should not affect a beauty tool that is supposed to blend with your natural complexion. These foundations always appear too light or do not cover undertones.

Tasha also looks at the use of blush rather than foundation. She states that to pick the right foundation you should consider undertone, shade range and then the correct texture for skin tone. Blush is seen as lipstick that is a pretty color that becomes lighter on deeper skin tones that are more pigmented.  It is an issue when you have to buy multiple colors in order to make the perfect blend or when you must bring your own set of makeup while those of lighter skin do not.

African-American women spend $7.5 billion annually on beauty products, but shell out 80 percent more money on cosmetics and twice as much on skin care products than the general market, according to the research. This trial and error generates billions of dollars instead of marginalizing make-up for darker-skinned complexion. Black consumers define mainstream culture. According to the Atlantic, Black buying power is projected to reach $1.2 trillion this year and $1.4 trillion by 2020, according to a report from the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth. 24.3 million Black women are trendsetters and brand loyalists who play a vital role in influencing mainstream culture in fashion, beauty, television, music and civic engagement for women of all races. Realizing the large demographic dark-skinned individuals consist of questions why this market is ignored. This is when the issue becomes more than skin deep. Victims of colorism feel the need to cover up dark spots with three different types of foundation, they feel the need to sexualize themselves in order to appeal.

The Effects of Dating while being Dark-Skinned

As a victim of colorism, I realized that people of my own race and color prefer lighter variations of me. The borderline is when your personal preference is used to discriminate against another’s preference and glorify your own.

The other issue was finding a partner. Dating is hard because there is so many characteristics people want in their ideal partner. Comments about how individuals only date those of light complexion are a regular occurrence. These comments come from men or women and are often my complexion if not darker.  All this made me understand that there is a limit to my beauty and for me to not revert back to that dark place, I should just become ok with it.

An example is that my ideal partner is a woman with dreadlocks. This is my ideal type but I will not discriminate partners based on that preference. Meaning I don’t only date people with “locks” but I instead connect with a person. This level of singling out is a mild example of the self-hate that exists in every community. In India a bride refused to marry a groom because of his dark complexion. They also lighten the complexion of the bride in the marriage propasal ads. Pamela Bennett, an assistant professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University, found that multiracial people — such as Black-White, Asian-White or Native American-White — fall between Blacks and Whites in the American social hierarchy. Aesha Adams Roberts gives research that economists explored how dark skin has been associated with being poor, evil, ratchet or ugly and how this consequently has impacted whether or not someone is seen as attractive and therefore, valuable as a life partner. The realization of being a particular color makes you seen or looked at a certain type of way.

My dealings with this turned into my outlet for writing. My pain and frustration made me see myself as just a voice. I never wanted to be picked on or the center of attention but I wanted people to hear what I had to say. Over the years, my voice grew stronger along with my desire to be heard. To have people of your nationality or origin discriminate against you hurts; Especially when they are your shade or darker. You just have to expect it.

Not everyone is strong enough to handle these insults and strive. Many struggle with insecurities, commit suicide, feel the need to date outside their race as they are not accepted or don’t strive because they feel being the center of attention made them be ridiculed. Dr. Richard H. Seiden, professor of behavioral sciences at the University of California’s School of Public Health in Berkeley, states, “Blacks suicide is often a sign of the inner anger caused by the troubles of life, such as racism, that can take their toll – by suicide or even homicide.” In these same neighborhoods lies diversity that continues to cause ripples in today’s society.

The post How Colorism Subjugates Dark Skin Women Part 3 appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Remembering Standing Rock and Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Tue, 10/09/2018 - 11:44

About 525 years ago, Christopher Columbus brought white supremacy to the islands of the Caribbean.  It wouldn’t be long before it made its way to Turtle Island (aka North America) where it soon became the law of the land.  This extended the European tradition of enshrining every human right and beyond to white men who own property (and by property I mean land, people, wives, children, etc.) while denying those rights and privileges to everyone else.  End result, the worst and yet least talked about genocide in human history. Despite this, or perhaps perversely because of this, President Franklin Roosevelt designated the second Monday of October Christopher Columbus Day in 1937.

Fast forward to 2016 and the United States elects a president that completely embodies the principles of white supremacy that Columbus unleashed on the indigenous people of the Americas.  So, no surprise that the Treaty of Fort Laramie that the Sioux rely on to protect their reservation is being ignored by Energy Transfer Partners as they build the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline a stone’s through from their water supply.

While the electoral college has helped to keep the philosophical descendants of Columbus in power, the descendants of all those others tended to side with the Sioux.   In an effort to stop construction of the pipeline, Sioux Water Protectors, along with many Native Nations and non-Native allies staged months of continuous protest at the Standing Rock Reservation.  The pipeline might have been stopped had we elected someone other than Donald Trump.  On the other hand, maybe not.  President Sanders would have either halted construction or routed it away from the Missouri River, but President Clinton?

If elected officials consistently put the desires of corporations over the needs of their constituents, does that make them philosophical descendants of Christopher Columbus?  His atrocities were committed to enrich the Spanish crown?  The most that non-aristocrats could hope for was that some of that wealth would trickle down to them.  Shaking the legacy of Columbus and the white supremacists who followed him is the job of a lifetime not a single campaign.  No one knows that better than the indigenous people of the Americas.

So, we should not be surprised that the Sioux Nation not only continues to fight to protect their water, they also continue to fight for the many things they need on the reservation.  But they’re not just fighting to insure that their water doesn’t end up contaminated, they also continue to fight for the many things they need on the reservation.  The tenacity of the Sioux Nation, and indeed all of the Indigenous nations who survived the genocide following Columbus’ arrival, provide us all with excellent lessons in tenacity.  Those who are new to the fight against white supremacy should take heed.

The video below of the 2016 Columbus Day demonstration by the DC Standing Rock Coalition is a reminder that victories can be won on many levels.

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