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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.


The post A Timeline of Events Leading Up to The “Revitalization” of Barry Farm appeared first on Grassroots DC.

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.

The post Initiative 77 & The Crisis of The Tipped Minimum Wage appeared first on Grassroots DC.

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.

The post Barry Farms: The Destruction of a Historic Landmark appeared first on Grassroots DC.

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

The post Is It Time to End Stop and Frisk? appeared first on Grassroots DC.

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

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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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Fare Evasion Decriminalization

Fri, 09/28/2018 - 13:50
Fare evasion: the act of riding on public transport and avoiding payment for the required ticket of travel.

In July 2017, the Fare Evasion Decriminalization Act of 2017 was presented to the D.C. Council.  If passed, this act would make fare-dodging a civil act instead of a criminal act. The punishable fine would be no more than $100. The bill removes criminal penalties for fare evasion that currently subject violators to fines of up to $300, arrest, and imprisonment for up to 10 days.

Fare-dodging makes up 50% of all arrests in the metro system over a fare that could be as low as $2. Nearly 40 percent of the city’s commuters take some form of public transit. Many D.C. residents lack basic economic security and have been pushed away from jobs and schools; the increase in fares makes it harder for them to get to work.

The Save our System Coalition, a transit Union-funded activist group, is supporting Fare Evasion Decriminalization. Save Our System disputed WMATA’s characterization of fare evasion arrests, arguing that these policies disproportionately target low-income people of color.  Progressive activists and all but 4 D.C. council members state that the policy has a disproportionate racial impact. Studies show people of color are stopped more often than their white counterparts. Metro Police targeted metro stops heavily used by youth of color.  Fifteen percent of all stops in or around Gallery Place and 14% in or around the Anacostia station. Decriminalization will end this type of discriminatory action.

D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6)  even pointed out this racial discrimination as he himself stated being a white man in a business suit and avoiding to pay his fare has caused no penalties or discrimination.  “I  can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve tapped my card and it gave me the beep that said my balance had dropped below what the fare was,” said Allen, a daily bus rider. “And the driver just said, ‘Just fill it up when you get to the station.’ ” “I’ve never once thought, ‘I’m going to actually get a citation or have a criminal record for riding the bus,’ ” he said.

Another issue is homeless youth and their commute to school. Approximately one in every 24 students attending DC public schools and public charter schools is identified as homeless. The main barrier for homeless youth obtaining an education is transportation, which is important because if there isn’t a way to get to school then it becomes difficult to have an education.  Students between the ages 5-21 are offered free public transportation with a D.C. one card. If these students lose their cards then they do not have a reliable way to get to school unless they evade the fare. This moment can potentially result in a criminal record. The proceeds of such arrests go to the city where the incident took place and not to Metro. Since Metro is not being funded by such incidents, the argument about the amount of force necessary to make sure a payment is made is not persuasive.

Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld states people across demographic boundaries feel a sense of injustice that some people flout the rules and ride free, while others pay.  “It’s a fairness issue, across the entire community,” Wiedefeld said. “You have people in those same communities that they’re concerned about being targeted, who are paying their fares. And I think it’s right that everybody pay their fare.” Wiedefeld made a good point but ignored the bigger picture. Citations and arrests for fare jumping can severely impact low-income individuals and neighborhoods of color. No one knows another person’s financial situation but they may be dependent on the “free” bus trip for sanctuary. If all fare’s were free then the argument regarding how many individuals pay their fare would not matter.

WMATA’s recently completed Capital Needs Inventory (CNI) provides extensive detail of their infrastructure needs and the associated costs, which total approximately $25 billion, $15.5 billion of which are related to the safety and reliability of the system. Metro wants additional funding of $500 million each year that can be leveraged or used to issue bonds of high credit.

The D.C. Council has already raised the tax on ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft. As reported by Faiz Siddiqui, of Washington Post, the goal being to raise 178.5 million in new funding for metro.    

Public transportation is free in Belgium, Thailand, Estonia, Brazil, Poland, Miami, Baltimore, Boston, etc.  As a public necessity, some believe it should be free in the District of Columbia as well. 


The District of Columbia is an expensive city to live in. The cost of living is ranked 21 out of 538 cities in the world.  The average salary is $71,081 but the cost of living is 39.3% higher than the national average.  Therefore, a D.C. resident needs to earn $80,273 to live comfortably.  Financial struggles over transportation add another burden on commutes to work or school. 

If public transportation were free then the economy will save money on gas, reduce asthma and other illnesses linked to automobile generated pollution.  If there were more travel options to urban areas it would generate more efficient labor markets and a rise in business opportunities by making it easier for poor people to get to jobs.  

In order for public transportation to be free we would need a systematic plan.  Erik Olin Wright, a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin has one.  According to Wright, the key is to scale an already-subsidized industry with select free-fare groups into a system-wide program free to all.  “Of course public transportation has to be paid for,” writes Wright, “but it should not be paid for through the purchase of tickets by individual riders—it should be paid for by society as a whole through the one mechanism we have available for this, taxation.”  Public transportation shouldn’t be looked at just from an angle of reducing traffic and emissions. The right to public transit should not be seen as a behavioral mechanism, but instead a right available for all citizens.


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Black Activists Organize Counter-Protest to White Nationalist Presence In DC

Fri, 09/28/2018 - 12:50

During the summer of 2018, the National Park Service approved an application for a group of white nationalists who planned to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Led by prominent white supremacist Jason Kessler, lead organizer of the original Unite The Right rally, the gathering, known as Unite The Right 2, took place in Washington, DC. Starting the march from the Foggy Bottom Metro station, participants eventually made their way to Lafayette Square, the park across the street from the White House.

In outrage, a number of community members and activists banded together to organize a counter-protest of the far-right demonstration. With Black Lives Matter DC as the lead organizers, the Rise Up Fight Back Counter-Protest took place alongside the Unite The Right 2 rally.

With DC-based Black activists such as Black Lives Matter DC’s Makia Green,  Institute for Policy Studies Fellow Khury Peterson-Smith and Reverend Graylan Hagler from the Plymouth Congregational Church taking the stage to speak on the importance of community involvement and grass-tops accountability.


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Huge Win For Congress Heights Tenants!

Wed, 09/26/2018 - 11:53

A story we’ve been covering about tenants in Congress Heights who have been rallying against slum conditions in their apartment untis for the past five years received a huge win in their campaign this past July when Judge John Mott ordered CityPartners, a real estate firm based in Adams Morgan, to pay nearly $900,000 to finance repairs to the dilapidated buildings.

Read the full article of the win on CityPaper here, and to receive more information about how to support their campaign follow Justice First’s newsletter here.

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D.C.’S Status As A Sanctuary City in Doubt

Mon, 09/17/2018 - 08:34

The District of Columbia is a sanctuary city, which means that the city government limits their cooperation with the federal government’s effort to enforce immigration law. As a sanctuary city, District law enforcement cannot report undocumented immigrants unless they commit a serious crime. Federal agents in D.C. have begun to make arrests that have lead to the deportation of undocumented immigrants. Details regarding the arrests remain vague, as many question how these arrests are possible given the regulations that a sanctuary city should abide by. Recently, in the District of Columbia reports were made regarding detainment of undocumented immigrants.

The Heavy Hand of ICE

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is a US federal agency that enforces immigration laws while investigating criminal and terrorist activity. ICE detains and deports undocumented workers. ICE’S national fugitive operations program carries out raids through a specialized team. ICE often takes part in collateral arrests; a collateral arrest is defined as arresting undocumented immigrants who happened to be in the place they were raiding, even if there was not a warrant for them. Fugitive operations, the section of ICE responsible for raids, claims that its operations target the most threatening criminals and terrorist suspects.

Being an undocumented immigrant is a civil violation and not a criminal offense. It is a misdemeanor offense that carries fines and no more than 6 months of jail time if entering the country illegally. Undocumented immigrants have rights under the U.S. Constitution; for example, it is unlawful to hold an immigrant past their release. The rights bestowed by the constitution are not honored when residents are detained until ICE comes to deport them.

Data reported on sanctuary cities including crime, immigration and safety does not match the statements reported by the president. The crime rate of a sanctuary city is 15% less than non-sanctuary cities. According to Houston police chief Art Acevedo, deportation fears amongst immigrants have caused immigrants to stop reporting crime. Undocumented immigrants even assist police but the fear of deportation has caused a 42.8% decrease in reports of crime by undocumented immigrants. During Obama’s 8-year term in office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported over 3.1 million individuals. According to the department of homeland security, most apprehended people were convicted criminals and not law-abiding residents.

Obama vs Trump

The difference between Obama’s immigration policy and Trump’s is that Obama refrained from prosecuting adults with kids. He also tried to expand deferred action in 2014. Under United States administrative law, deferred action is an immigration status which the executive branch can grant to illegal immigrants. It does not give them legal status, but can indefinitely delay their deportation. Obama’s plan was to include the parents of children who were granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. The Supreme Court struck down the order in a 4-4 vote, making it impossible for the Obama to expand the DACA program as he intended.

Trump attempted to dismantle the DACA program but U.S. District Judge John Bates ordered the Trump administration to fully reinstate the DACA program. Danielle Bennett, an ICE spokesperson states, “these laws help protect against jobs for US citizens and others who are lawfully employed.” However, the idea that immigrants take jobs away from Americans is a myth. Economic experts report immigrants create more jobs than they fill, forming new businesses, investing capital and spending dollars on consumer goods.

Trump also signed an executive order that tore up previous guidance on how ICE should prioritize its operations. As stated by the White House press secretary Sean Spicer, “the goal is not mass deportation, but to eliminate exceptions President Barak Obama allowed keeping undocumented immigrants who weren’t a threat.” This policy priority makes virtually every undocumented immigrant in the country deportable. Trump’s administration also seeks to end catch-and-release, the practice of releasing immigrants apprehended at or near the border with the expectation that they will later show up before a U.S. immigration judge. Trump also changed the process for people claiming asylum in the US because they suffered persecution in the countries they fled based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or social group.

Under president Obama, ICE’s policy was to prevent enforcement activities at sensitive places. The locations include schools, places of worship, hospitals and rallies where immigrants could go without the fear of deportation. These sanctuary places have lost their meaning under Trumps reign. ICE raids have caused detrimental damage to neighborhoods, financial stress on families, disruption of school attendance for students and physiological damage to children by breaking up families.

Communities Respond to ICE

In response to the raids, communities have hosted fundraisers to help families with food, money, to deal with trauma and convince students it is safe to go to school. Trump plans to diminish the power of sanctuary cities by not funding them. DC claims to be a sanctuary city but by cooperating with ICE it actually, raids, arrests and ships its residents out of the country. ICE recently raided at least five neighborhoods in DC, tearing at least 12 of our neighbors from their families and filling our communities with fear. Reports indicate that ICE agents racially profiled and indiscriminately detained people on 16th St. Credible reports also suggest DC police colluded with ICE in at least one of these raids. The Sanctuary Not Silence rally, organized by a coalition of groups headed by Sanctuary DMV, was held in response to those raids. The rally purpose was to discuss actions that must be taken to make D.C. a true sanctuary city. The video below shows speakers at the rally.

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Congress Heights Residents Organize a 5-Year Rally Against Gentrification

Wed, 09/12/2018 - 12:20

As developers in Washington, DC continue to push residents out of their homes and develop overpriced businesses and condos, long-time residents continue to discover creative ways to prevent themselves from being displaced. In the video pinned below, residents of Congress Heights, a neighborhood in DC’s Southeast quadrant, who live in a building owned by developer Geoff Griffiths, march to his house in DC’s Northwest quadrant in protest of his refusal to maintain the apartment complexes he operates. With the help of community activists and a non-profit developer, the tenants intend to purchase these buildings and create units of affordable housing:

If you’re interested in supporting the Alabama Ave./13th Street Tenant Coalition in their efforts, use this link to send a letter in support of the coalition to DC’s mayor, Muriel Bowser.

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How Colorism Subjugates Dark-Skinned Black Women Part 2

Wed, 09/05/2018 - 11:51

Growing up my cousins and I were raised together as siblings.  There were five of us including my twin brother and myself.  Our skin tone ranged from light to dark.  My cousin Alisha was raised as the golden child, given that she had naturally long curly hair 3ac 4ab, is racially ambiguous, and has a fair complexion. Her parents home schooled her because she was bullied at school for looks.

Eventually my cousin started to bully me. She would make comments like “guys are attracted to light skin girls”, “All the guys love me because I’m so pretty with pretty hair”, “No one likes dark skin girls”, and “You’re going to have to show your body and boobs to get people’s attention.” Those comments made me think that I’m not pretty, I won’t be accepted, and I began not to care about myself.

I did not see beauty within myself and I believed no one else did because of those comments. I became a tomboy and dressed like a boy. I wore cornrows and my clothes were a couple sizes too big. I went through puberty at a young age and I remember trying to cover up my boobs so no one would know I was a female. I even liked being referred to as a male because I did not have to deal with women’s standards of beauty.

It wasn’t until middle school when I saw that my cousin’s words had implications beyond me; light skin females are seen first and dark skin girls seen second. The other factor was my schoolmates. The “it” girls or popular girls always had light skin, “nice hair”, dressed well and always had guys asking for their numbers. The funny thing was that her side-kicks were always dark-skin girls that were not as well put together as she was. According to there standards, they looked good while she looked great. If she was not available, then they would go to her friends.

Once I went to high school I had a self-revelation. I basically felt that I do not need societal beauty standards inflicted on me in order to consider myself beautiful. I got into makeup, weaves, and wearing form fitting clothing. My issues with skin are still relevant but I became more accepting.

All those hateful comments made me feel contempt. “You’re pretty for a dark skin girl.” “Oh you are dark, and your name is weird. Let me guess, you’re African?”  And “She Jamaican? She dirty and her hair like a Brillo pad.”  Those comments on my appearance and smell, all associated with my skin tone, made me believe that I have to over-achieve in order to be seen. Beauty standards are color based but they should not be color based. In the words of the philosopher Confucius “Everything has beauty but not everyone sees it.” Physical beauty will fade over time but true beauty is timeless. There are advantages to having a dark complexion that can have social and economic benefits. Melanin acts as a natural umbrella and prevents your skin from receiving radiation and skin cancers. Having dark skin causes youthful looking skin and aids in human reproduction. Your attributes, characteristics and personality is what defines you, not your skin. Skin color should not be a defining factor to victimize a person.

The post How Colorism Subjugates Dark-Skinned Black Women Part 2 appeared first on Grassroots DC.

LGBTQ+ PoC Resource List

Wed, 08/29/2018 - 11:27

While mainstream LGBT+ rights organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and the NOH8 Campaign receive increasing amounts of attention, their ability to represent, serve, and be held accountable to the realities of non-hetero/trans people of color continues to lack.

If you are a non-hetero/trans* person of color in Washington, DC, the organizations/groups listed below may be of service to you.


  • Black Youth Project 100 DC ChapterTaken from the website: BYP100 DC is a collective of around 40 Black activists who organize, protest, lobby, and create to fight for Black liberation in the DC metro area [aka, the DMV]. Our chapter was one of the original BYP100 chapters started in 2013 after the Trayvon Martin verdict galvanized young Black activists to start BYP100 to strive for justice. Since then, we’ve been turning up for Black people by engaging in political education, organizing direct actions and campaigns, working with coalitions, participating in lobby days, and doing cultural productions like mixtapes and zines. We focus on transformative change and work through a Black queer feminist lens, meaning that we understand that oppression is intersectional and layered, so we focused our efforts on empowering the most marginalized members of our community. Email to inquire about getting involved.


  • DC Black Pride – inclusive Black-led pride events celebrating LBGT+ Black community. Events include night and day parties, open mics, and symposiums on sexual health If you have any interest in volunteering, fill out a volunteer form here.


  • The DC CenterTaken from the website: The DC LGBT Center educates, empowers, celebrates, and connects the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities. To fulfill our mission, we focus on four core areas: health and wellness, arts & culture, social & peer support, and advocacy and community building. Hosts support groups, cultural events such as film/literary festivals, and offers services for mental health. Visit this page to learn about volunteer opportunities, or other ways to get involved.


  • The Garden Concert Series – a Spring/Summer concert series led by queer women/people of color. Organizers partner with local musicians, local chefs, and local farmers to curate outdoor music shows during which participants are served a dinner prepared by local chefs.


  • HIPSTaken from the website: HIPS promotes the health, rights, and dignity of individuals and communities impacted by sexual exchange and/or drug use due to choice, coercion, or circumstance. HIPS provides compassionate harm reduction services, advocacy, and community engagement that is respectful, non-judgmental, and affirms and honors individual power and agency. If you’d like to learn about ways to get involved, please visit this page.


  • Latino GLBT History ProjectTaken from the website: The Latino GLBT History Project (LHP) is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit volunteer-led organization founded in April 2000 and incorporated in May 2007 to respond to the critical need to preserve and educate about our history. Our mission is to investigate, collect, preserve and educate the public about the history, culture, heritage, arts, social and rich contributions of the Latino GLBT community in metropolitan Washington, D.C. To accomplish our mission, the LHP creates educational exhibits from our historical archives collection showcased at cultural events such as, a Women’s History Month Reception, a Hispanic LGBTQ Heritage Reception and DC Latino Pride, educational presentations at local and national conferences and through our online virtual museum at


  • Impulse DCTaken from the Facebook page: Dedicated to sexual health education, advocacy, and breaking the stigma for gay men, both positive and negative. Supported by AIDS Healthcare Foundation.


  • SMYALTaken from the website: Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders supports and empowers lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth in the Washington, DC, metropolitan region. Through youth leadership, SMYAL creates opportunities for LGBTQ youth to build self-confidence, develop critical life skills, and engage their peers and community through service and advocacy. Committed to social change, SMYAL builds, sustains, and advocates for programs, policies, and services that LGBTQ youth need as they grow into adulthood. Visit this page to learn about volunteer opportunities, or other ways to get involved.


  • SwapDC – a queer women of color led initiative. SwapDC encourages clothing trade to prevent the articles from entering the waste cycle while creating family-friendly event spaces in the process.


  • Swazz Bar – a night-life event series whose focus is creating queer/trans centered, all inclusive dance parties, Swazz has begun to branch out to other types of events with its Swazz Bazaar, a holiday bazaar that will host queer vendors.


  • National Black Justice CoalitionTaken from the website: The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) is a civil rights organization dedicated to the empowerment of Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and same gender loving (LGBTQ/SGL) people, including people living with HIV/AIDS. NBJC’s mission is to end racism, homophobia, and LGBTQ/SGL bias and stigma. As America’s leading national Black LGBTQ/SGL civil rights organization focused on federal public policy, NBJC has accepted the charge to lead Black families in strengthening the bonds and bridging the gaps between the movements for racial justice and LGBTQ/SGL equality. Visit this page to discover ways to get involved.


  • The National Queer Asian Pacific Islander AllianceTaken from the website: NQAPIA is a federation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Asian American, South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander (AAPI) organizations. We seek to build the organizational capacity of local LGBT AAPI groups, develop leadership, promote visibility, educate our community, enhance grassroots organizing, expand collaborations, and challenge homophobia and racism.


  • No Justice, No PrideTaken from the website: As the once radical LGBTQ+ movement was consolidated into the non-profit industrial complex, Gay Inc. – a powerful network of nonprofits, wealthy donors, and political action committees – emerged to assimilate the movement into mainstream cis-hetero systems of power, including white supremacy, patriarchy, and settler colonialism, among other systems of oppression. This shift is most visible in Pride marches and celebrations – and here in DC and around the world – what was once a call to action for the liberation of our entire community has become a hodgepodge of corporate and state-sponsored interests directed by the most privileged members of our larger community. Visit this page to discover ways to plug in.

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How Colorism Subjugates Dark-Skinned Black Women

Wed, 08/08/2018 - 13:50

Colorism, also known as shadeism, is discriminatory actions or comments based on a person’s skin color, tone or pigmentation. When you are told you are pretty for a dark-skinned girl that is colorism.  Colorism is not often seen as an issue or it is seen as “people just coming up with problems” or being “too sensitive.”

Colorism in the United States is the result of white supremacist ideology.  During slavery, Intercourse between whites and blacks created mixed-race offspring who had a social status, which set them above other, enslaved people.  Lighter-skinned African Americans maintained family and community ties that distanced them from their darker-skinned counterparts, this distance still persists today.  They were “to white to be black and to black to be white.” Researchers have documented the ways in which many black teachers in segregated schools during the pre-Brown vs. Board of Education era was infected with the attitudes that preferred lighter-skinned children over dark-skinned students.  Light complexioned African Americans who look down on darker-skinned African Americans were perpetuating a hierarchy of discrimination imposed by the white majority.

According to Leland Ware, Professor of Law and Public Policy at the University of Delaware:

In the early decades of the twentieth century, colorism fueled conflicts among African-American leaders, including Marcus Garvey, who was the head of the Universal Negro Improvement Organization. Unlike the NAACP, which fought for integration, Garvey proposed migration to Africa as the answer to the “Negro problem.” In 1931, Garvey, who had a very dark complexion and African features, claimed that W.E.B. Du Bois and the NAACP practiced colorism: Du Bois fervently denied Garvey’s claim, but there was some truth to it. Walter White was the head of the NAACP from the mid-1930s until his death in 1955. White’s light skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes did not display a hint of his African ancestry. White’s colorism was reflected in the image of African-American women he actively promoted in Crisis, a periodical published by the NAACP. The editors used photographs of predominantly light-skinned, college-educated women in an effort to displace entrenched notions of Black women as “Jezebels” or sexual victims. The editors wanted to refashion the image of Black women, but in doing so they promoted colorism. Today colorism is still promoted in society and the industry. Many celebrities are those of lighter complexion, occasional exotic dark skin and those who can pass the brown paper bag test.”

This mindset did not just stem from slavery but Biblical origins such as the Curse of Ham. According to Wikipedia, the story’s original purpose may have been to justify the subjugation of the Canaanite people to the Israelites, but in later centuries, some Christians, Muslims, and Jews interpreted the narrative as an explanation for black skin, as well as slavery. In the ancient Indian scripture of the Ramayana, there’s a scene that depicts a fight between a noble, fair-skinned king from the north, and an evil dark-skinned king from the south. This trope points to how people view the source of a person’s skin color between darkness as bad or evil and white are pure, clean and good.

People believe that colorism can end if a loving family that expresses how important and beautiful your melanin is regardless of its shade raises you. This is not the real-world experience of dark-skinned people.

I will talk about my real-world experiences with colorism in Part 2 of this series.

The post How Colorism Subjugates Dark-Skinned Black Women appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Night Out for Safety and Liberation

Fri, 08/03/2018 - 12:11

The first Tuesday of August, neighbors of communities from all fifty states take part in the National Night Out.  Local police departments host block parties, festivals and other community activities. According to the event website, “National Night Out is an annual community-building campaign that promotes police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie to make our neighborhoods safer, more caring places to live.”

However, this cause is implausible when agencies fail to provide officers with policy guidance, hold officers accountable for misconduct and collect data about officer’s activities. Most problems arise when police patrol under-resourced neighborhoods. Patrolling is supposed to keep people safe but in reality patrolling forces residents to give up their rights and lose their sense of security within public and personal spaces. Policing is flawed because it profits from stopping, searching, ticketing, arresting and incarcerating people.

The District of Columbia is the capitol of the United States. Despite being the capitol, DC is not funded as it should be given its stature in America. Issues like food deserts, medical assistance, affordable housing, education funding and a poor infrastructure are serious problems for District residents. These topics all deal with public safety as they correspond to resident stability. A Night Out for Safety and Liberation is a community-driven alternative to the National Night Out. The event aims to create new understanding of public safety. Join us for:                  

Night Out for Safety and Liberation
Tuesday, August 7
5pm – 9pm
Maroon House
1005 Rhode Island Avenue NE

Goals such as building connections with neighbors, ending mass incarceration and ending for-profit bail are designed to help community members re-imagine what public safety is. This event is aimed at giving power to the community and showing that we have a right to govern ourselves. We as a community should be able to depend on one another, lend a helping hand, tutor the mis-educated and defuse potentially violent situations. Equity, equality and power are the goals for redefining a community. Fear, prosecution and conflict should not be the main reactions to situations in the neighborhood. Instead, we should give power back to the community by shedding light on existing community resources and the variety of options available for achieving public safety.

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How To Have Effective Teachers In Every School (Or, What DC Doesn’t Do–But Should)

Mon, 07/16/2018 - 14:09

This crosspost from Valerie Jablow is for all those DC education advocates who really want to understand some of what would be needed to have effective reform in DCPS.  Good teachers need to be trained, recruited and supported.  

Cross-Posted from EducationDC
written by Valerie Jablow

We know that teachers are the single most important school-based factor affecting student learning (Rice, 2003). Ensuring that students in all schools have access to effective teachers is critical for academic success. Yet, as in many other school districts, high-poverty schools in DCPS have fewer highly effective teachers compared with lower poverty schools (Gordon, Kane, & Staiger, 2006; Jackson, 2013; Sass et al., 2012).

Credit: Betsy Wolf, 2018. Graph was created using data Mary Levy obtained from DCPS responses to questions from the city council during performance hearings. The drop box with this information is posted on the council website.

Credit: Betsy Wolf, 2018. Graph was created using data Mary Levy obtained from DCPS responses to questions from the city council during performance hearings. The drop box with this information is posted on the council website.

One reason for such inequity is higher teacher turnover in schools with larger percentages of low-income students and students with low test scores, who are not on grade level–which affects many schools in DC.

Credit: Betsy Wolf, 2018. Turnover data for all staff (not just teachers) here is from the public drop box for the council education committee. PARCC data is from OSSE.

As DC public school analyst Mary Levy has documented, DCPS’s new hires alone leave at a rate of 25% per year, with staff leaving the 40 lowest-performing (and highest poverty) DCPS schools at an average rate of 33% per year. Studies of other jurisdictions have found similar results. For instance, a typical school in Chicago will lose half of its teachers within five years, and the 100 most disadvantaged schools there will lose 25% of their teachers each year (Allensworth, Ponisciak, & Mazzeo, 2009).

Credit: Betsy Wolf, 2018. Graph was created using data obtained via FOIA by Mary Levy from DCPS in SY2017–18.

As the graph above shows, teachers in high-poverty schools in DCPS have fewer years of experience in the system. That means that teachers are either moving to more affluent schools or leaving the system altogether, which creates teacher churn in our most disadvantaged schools.

The effects of such teacher churn are particularly pernicious, given that most of our publicly funded schools, particularly in DCPS, have large proportions of low-income students.

As it is, schools with high-poverty populations often have challenges that high-income schools don’t and thus need more instructional resources, including effective teachers, to increase student achievement. Yet in DC, low-income schools most often have fewer instructional resources—and less effective teachers—on average than high-income schools.

Since teacher mobility appears to be at the heart of the inequitable distribution of effective teachers in DCPS, to solve it we need to understand it. We know from research that effective teachers tend to leave schools serving largely disadvantaged student populations for schools serving more advantaged populations (Boyd, Lankford, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2005; Boyd et al., 2009; Feng & Sass, 2011; Feng & Sass, 2015; Hanushek, Kain, & Rivkin, 2004; Hanushek & Rivkin, 2006; Rivkin, Hanushek, & Kain, 2005; Xu et al., 2012).

One factor contributing to this pattern is that effective teachers tend to go to schools where teacher quality is most like their own, and thus end up in schools serving more advantaged students (Feng & Sass, 2011). Other factors, such as a school’s proximity to home or accountability pressure, also contribute to this pattern (Boyd et al., 2005; Feng, 2010).

At issue in DC as well are teachers’ perceptions that DCPS’s teacher evaluation system (IMPACT) is unfair to teachers who work in high-poverty schools. Under IMPACT, 50% of a teacher’s score comes from student learning gains, and 30% comes from classroom observations. In terms of increasing student learning, research has shown that a teacher who is effective is generally effective in any context (high- or low-poverty) (Glazerman et al., 2013; Lockwood & McCaffrey, 2009). However, research has also shown that teachers have lower returns on years of experience in high-poverty schools (Sass et al., 2012): it simply takes longer to reach a level of effectiveness because teachers there have to do so much more than just teach. In addition, classroom observations have been found to be negatively biased against teachers working in high-poverty schools (Steinberg & Garrett, 2016; Whitehurst et al., 2014).

The pressure inherent in such accountability can be a stressor by itself. If you know your job depends on how much students have learned, or how well they take a test on any given day, and you also know that your students are behind grade level so the likelihood of them scoring well is low under the best of circumstances, that’s stressful. If you know that someone is coming into your classroom to observe you and that will influence your rating (and thus your salary and your job), and you don’t know if a certain student will have a bad day and act out, that’s stressful.

As a result, teachers have many incentives to move to schools with less poverty–and DCPS is not doing much to stop them. Research shows that teachers move to schools where they can feel successful, and teaching in high-poverty schools is hard work. You’re not just teaching: you’re also trying to be a social worker and deal with trauma; acquire necessary classroom and technological resources; reach out to parents; and manage classroom behavior.

These hardships are often exacerbated by DCPS’s lack of support. Here are some examples just from my child’s school:

–Teachers don’t have working computers, yet the mandated curriculum requires blended learning, and student assessments are taken on computers. Teachers resort to Donors Choose to bring in computers, and then computers are trashed when they need repairs because there is no one to repair them.

–DCPS provides minimal support for kids experiencing trauma. A social worker told me it can take up to two years for an appropriate placement to be identified for a child who is particularly struggling. When a child is not in the right placement and/or doesn’t have adequate supports, it’s a lot harder for the teacher to manage classroom behaviors and focus on instruction.

–DCPS doesn’t consider class size to be an important factor affecting student learning, despite a general consensus among researchers that class size matters for children in high-poverty schools in grades K-3. Large class sizes for kids who are multiple years behind grade level makes for an impossible teaching assignment, even for the best of teachers. That’s because in these situations, teachers need to spend more one-on-one time with individual students, which is challenging when class sizes are too large.

To be clear, it’s not wrong to have rigorous teacher evaluation systems—but in a school district like DCPS, with relatively few ineffective teachers to begin with, why is weeding out teachers the most talked-about policy solution when it also results in losing effective ones as well? Also, because student learning gains (a key part of IMPACT) have been available for only 17% of teachers in DCPS (Dee & Wyckoff, 2015), to the extent that IMPACT has rigor it is not seen in student performance. (In fact, a recent report showed that more rigorous teacher evaluations systems do not improve student performance.)

A growing body of research suggests that teachers do respond to financial incentives to remain at high-poverty schools–but that such incentives may need to be large and recurring to retain effective teachers in those schools (Glazerman et al., 2013; Springer et al., 2016).

Moreover, research shows that working conditions are still very important to teachers, regardless of salary (Horng, 2009; Milanowski et al., 2009). For example, Horng (2009) was able to disentangle preservice teacher preferences via a survey for elementary school teachers and found that an $8,000 difference in salary was not as important to teachers in selecting a school as facilities, administrative support, class sizes, or commuting times. Findings by Liu, Johnson, and Peske (2004) also suggested that recruiting teachers was not adequate; more focus was needed on retaining teachers and building teachers’ capacity.

This suggests a path ahead for our publicly funded schools that simply has not been approached effectively in DC.

Although DCPS provides generous bonuses to teachers for teaching in high-poverty schools, those bonuses are provided only under two conditions: having a highly effective rating and permanently giving up rights under excessing. (DCPS provides smaller bonuses to teachers in low-poverty schools–with the same conditions; see page 35ff of the contract here.)

Possibly worse, effective teachers in high-income schools have few incentives to move to low-income schools because they may be concerned that the move will hurt their effectiveness rating.

In other words, DCPS’s system places all of the risk of teaching at high-poverty schools on teachers—with no additional supports. Worse, this lack of support goes in many directions. Every year, for instance, good principals ask their best teachers what they need to stay, but there’s only so much each school leader can change. A school leader can’t acquire computers if they are lacking or hire effective teachers in the middle of the school year.

Research also suggests that teachers may be more willing to work or remain in low-achieving schools if they have a group of effective peers. One study of Teach for America (TFA) participants found that teacher retention in a school improved when TFA participants were placed in groups in each school during the 2-year program (Hansen, Backes, & Brady, 2016). Emerging evidence from other reforms suggests that effective teachers were more likely to move to high-needs schools when other effective teachers were willing to do the same (Partee, 2014).

Given the harmful effects of the inequitable distribution of effective teachers in DCPS, the question is whether city leaders will avail themselves of this research and use it to inform their decision making and policies going forward. The simple act of going into schools and asking teachers what do they need to stay is the first step. The second is to use what has been proven to work. And the third step is to revisit both, with the active collaboration of teachers.

In a city where competition rules the day in so many things, including our public schools, collaboration may seem old-fashioned. But to recruit, and retain, effective teachers in low-income schools, collaboration is the first, perhaps most important, step.

[Ed. Note: This post would not have been possible without the expertise of DCPS parent Betsy Wolf on issues surrounding the distribution, recruitment, and retention of effective teachers in DCPS. Wolf is an assistant professor in the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins, where she conducts independent evaluations of K-12 reforms and policies. All academic citations not linked herein are listed in the bibliography at the end.]


Allensworth, E., Ponisciak, S., & Mazzeo, C. (2009). The Schools Teachers Leave: Teacher Mobility in Chicago Public Schools. Consortium on Chicago School Research.

Boyd, D., Grossman, P., Lankford, H., Loeb, S., & Wyckoff, J. (2009). Who leaves? Teacher attrition and student achievement. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.

Boyd, D., Lankford, H., Loeb, S., & Wyckoff, J. (2005). The Draw of Home: How Teachers’ Preferences for Proximity Disadvantage Urban Schools. Journal of Policy Analysis & Management, 24(1), 113–132.

Dee, T. & Wyckoff, J. (2015). Incentives, Selection, and Teacher Performance: Evidence from IMPACT. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 34(2), 267-297.

Feng, L. (2010). Hire today, gone tomorrow: New teacher classroom assignments and teacher mobility. Education Finance and Policy, 5(3), 278–316.

Feng, L., & Sass, T. (2011). Teacher Quality and Teacher Mobility (Working Paper No. 57). Washington, D.C.: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, The Urban Institute.

Feng, L., & Sass, T. R. (2015). The impact of incentives to recruit and retain techers in “hard to staff” subjects: An analysis of the Florida Critical Teacher Shortage Program. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.

Glazerman, S., Protik, A., Teh, B., Bruch, J., & Max, J. (2013). Transfer incentives for high-performing teachers: Final results from a multisite randomized experiment (NCEE 2014–4004). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance.

Gordon, R., Kane, T. J., & Staiger, D. O. (2006). Identifying effective teachers using performance on the job. Discussion Paper Series (Hamilton Project), 1(1).

Hansen, M., Backes, B., & Brady, V. (2016). Teacher attrition and moblity during the Teach for Amercian clustering strategy in Miami-Dade Public Schools. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 38(3), 495–516.

Hanushek, E.A., Kain, J., & Rivkin, S. (2004). Why Public Schools Lose Teachers. Journal of Human Resources, 39(2), 326–354.

Hanushek, E.A., & Rivkin, S. (2006). Teacher Quality. In E. Hanushek & F. Welch (Eds.), Handbook of the Economics of Education (Vol. 2). Elsevier.

Horng, E. (2009). Teacher Tradeoffs: Disentangling Teachers’ Preferences for Working Conditions and Student Demographics. American Educational Research Journal, 46(3), 690–717.

Jackson, C. K. (2013). Match quality, worker productivity, and worker mobility: Direct evidence from teachers. Review of Economics and Statistics, 95(4), 1096–1116.

Liu, E., Johnson, S. M., & Peske, H. G. (2004). New Teachers and the Massachusetts Signing Bonus: The Limits of Inducements. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 26(3), 217–236.

Liu, K. (2010). Peer group effects on student outcomes: Evidence from randomized lotteries (Doctoral dissertation). Vanderbilt University, Nashville.

Lockwood, J. R., & McCaffrey, D. F. (2009). Exploring student-teacher interactions in longitudinal achievement data. Education Finance and Policy, 4(4), 439–467.

Milanowski, A. T., Longwell-Grice, H., Saffold, F., Jones, J., Schomisch, K., & Odden, A. (2009). Recruiting New Teachers to Urban School Districts: What Incentives Will Work? International Journal of Education Policy and Leadership, 4(8).

Partee, G. L. (2014). Attaining equitable distribution of effective teachers in public schools. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress.

Rice, J. (2003). Teacher quality. Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute.

Rivkin, S., Hanushek, E., & Kain, J. (2005). Teachers, Schools, and Academic Achievement. Econometrica, 73(2), 417–458.

Sass, T. R. (2008). The stability of value-added measures of teacher quality and implications for teacher compensation policy (Brief 4). Washington, DC: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research.

Sass, T., Hannaway, J., Xu, Z., Figlio, D., & Feng, L. (2012). Value added of teachers in high-poverty schools and lower-poverty schools. Journal of Urban Economics, 72(2–3), 104–122.

Springer, M. G., Swain, W. A., & Rodriguez, L. A. (2016). Effective teacher retention bonuses: Evidence from Tennesse. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 38(2), 199–221.

Steinberg, M. P., & Garrett, R. (2016). Classroom composition and measured teacher performance: What do teacher observation scores really measure? Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 38(2), 293–317.

Whitehurst, G., Chingos, M., & Lindquist, K. (2014). Evaluating teachers with classroom observations: Lessons learned in four districts. Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution.

Xu, Z., Ozek, U., & Corritore, M. (2012). Portability of Teacher Effectiveness across School Settings. Working Paper 77. National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research.

The post How To Have Effective Teachers In Every School (Or, What DC Doesn’t Do–But Should) appeared first on Grassroots DC.

Basic Videography Workshop at We Act Radio

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 13:22

You’re a progressive activists or organizer.  You show up for events that teach people about your causes and confront officials who are not, generally speaking, asked to account for their actions.  You learn things yourself that you didn’t know.  You want to share what you’re learning at these events  with your friends and everybody you know who you wish had been there but wasn’t. 

So you pull out your camera phone or your DSLR or your camcorder and you start recording.  You shoot a few minutes of one speaker and a few minutes of another and maybe get some crowd shots.   At the end of the day you load it up to your Facebook page, your Twitter account, your Youtube channel and hope for the best.

It isn’t until you play the footage back that you realize that you were too far away from the speaker for your recording device to really get what they were saying.   The conversation of the people standing next to you is pretty clear though.  Or maybe the shot looked okay when you were shooting, but now that you’re looking at it, the African-American speaker’s face is pretty dark.  The white folks standing next to her/him/they is fine though.  Is there racism in the camera?  Maybe.  But it isn’t anything that can’t be overcome with a few good tips.

Understanding how to adjust the exposure settings on your so-called point and shoot device, making  the best use of available light and placing the camera where the speaker not only looks good but can be heard are all techniques we’ll be teaching at Grassroots DC’s next Basic Videography Workshop.

There’s something to be said for sharing a few minutes of a good speaker at an event via social media.  But if you want to make sure your video looks good, sounds good and maybe even includes a specific call to action, like, when is the next event?  Who should they contact to join the cause?  What specific policy should they ask their elected officials to support?  Then this event is for you.

There will be food and young people are welcome.  Contact for more information.

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