Howard University’s homecoming came to a close this weekend with a disappointing Bison football game, a royal court pageant Saturday, and a call to chapel yesterday. It was a curtain call for nine days of events that included a student fashion show, a community service challenge, step shows, and a street-naming ceremony. The events were in part overshadowed by the ongoing student demonstration at the historically Black college. Students have been sleeping outside in tents for weeks to protest housing issues that include rodents, bugs, and mold in dorms, as well as a lack of student representation.
“I’m not going to say that I expect a lot more … I expect decent housing,” Howard freshman Lamiya Murray, told ABC News, referencing the respiratory illness she said she developed from the mold in her dorm. “I expect to be in a space where I will feel safe and secure, but the dorms became a health hazard.” Murray is one of the students staying in a tent outside the Blackburn University Center on Howard’s campus.
Demonstrators’ demands include: an in-person town hall with school officials before November and a meeting with student leaders about a housing plan; the permanent reinstatement of student, faculty, and alumni affiliate trustee positions to the school’s governing board; and immunity for protesters. The latter demand is in response to an Oct. 13 letter from university leaders threatening student protestors with expulsion. Celebrities have expressed solidarity with student protestors and refused to perform at Howard festivities. D.C. residents have collected donation items at Buy Nothing neighborhood Facebook groups to support demonstrators as students continue their sit-in protests.
When STAY DC Won’t Stay
Another group of protesters demonstrated outside the Wilson Building on Pennsylvania Avenue NW yesterday, demanding an extension for the STAY DC deadline. The District’s federally funded rent and utility subsidy program will stop accepting applications this Wednesday, Oct. 27, at 7 p.m. City officials have said the deadline can’t be extended because it’s linked to the remaining funds available. After distributing $155 million in rental and utility aid to 23,000 residents since April, the remaining $105 million will be able to fund 19,000 more residents.
If D.C. gets more federal funds, city officials would ensure the District leveraged them to “bolster with additional funding those programs that existed before the pandemic” after funding all STAY DC applications submitted by the Oct. 27 deadline, John Falcicchio, deputy mayor for planning and economic development, told WTOP.
A Community Dialogue on Violence with Councilmember McDuffie
Funding was also top of mind for Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie and fellow panelists at a community dialogue Friday night about how to stop the surge in violence in D.C. The event, hosted by Metro Washington Labor Council President Dyana Forester at His & Hers restaurant in Northeast, came just before a deadly weekend involving multiple shootings and the arrest of Javon Duckwilder on charges for two homicides that occurred one year apart.
McDuffie, who just announced his campaign for attorney general, talked about the need to dedicate more District resources to creating and providing opportunities for residents to transform their lives, especially in light of the D.C. CFO’s revenue estimate increase of $311 million for the previous fiscal year. Instead of pointing fingers at law enforcement as the main problem in the city’s spiking gun violence, he said, residents should focus on systemic solutions for transforming residents’ lives.
“With all the funds that we just talked about, when the shots are fired, police show up, they flood our neighborhoods,” he said. “When they leave, nobody comes behind and floods those communities with opportunity … We need to flood those same communities with opportunity [that] have been struggling for years without hope.”
Fellow panelist and rap legend Yolanda ‘Yo-Yo’ Whittaker also emphasized the collective power of Black women to be part of the community solution. “With … us having the power of the vote, I think we need to … stop being loyal to officials who are not loyal and not backing up what they say,” she said.
It’s equally important for mothers, and their partner if they have one, to provide a better environment for kids to help stop the trend in violence, she added. “The problem I’ve been seeing is a lot of young … mothers and fathers not having enough resources to care for their families, a lot of families giving up on their children, quitting on them,” she said.
McDuffie also pointed to the “Baby Bonds” bill that he introduced and the D.C. Council unanimously approved last week. The program would allow for children born in the District on or after Oct. 1, 2021 to a Medicaid-enrolled family with an income less than 300 percent of the federal poverty line to be enrolled in a Child Trust Fund. Qualifying children would get up to $1,000 deposited in their trust fund every year until age 18, when they could access the funds.
“This is the way that you give people hope,” McDuffie said. “You don’t send them out on a mission with no resources and no hope, and expect that they’re gonna be law-abiding kids who find their way in a society that’s full of prosperity everywhere else except their hood … If you want to see a different reality in the city, then you gotta do something different.”
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