By Manon P. Matchett, Community Investment Officer, Greater Washington Community Foundation
As a proud and happy resident of the Hillsdale community for the past 15+ years, I have dutifully crossed the Anacostia River every day to travel to work. Most of that time has been spent working in philanthropy. The landscape has changed significantly these last few years.
The optics of my commute change as I travel downtown. As I exit the Frederick Douglass bridge and drive past the new DC United Audi and the Washington Nationals stadiums on each side of me, I am reminded of how change has come, slowly and sometimes painfully. Neighborhoods that were crime-ridden and desolate are now thriving communities with quaint restaurants, trendy boutiques and high-rise luxury apartments. Streets have awoken from their coma with a promise never to sleep again. This is a new city hustle and bustle, that is energizing, even calming. Yet, not all communities are experiencing the region’s progress and prosperity in the same way.
The reality of the work that I do at The Community Foundation and how our focus on improving our communities personally affects me and my family has hit home in recent weeks. Within the last month, yellow crime tape has decorated my street. Shots were fired. On the street where my family lives. The most frightening experience was watching Metropolitan Police officers canvassing my block for bullet casings. I walked away after the twelfth marker was placed on the street. Last Sunday, a young man, with a bright future was gunned down on his way home from the corner store. I purposely drive in the opposite direction, so I do not have to see his deathbed – a small plot of bloodstained grass.
As a community leader, funder, convener and advocate, The Community Foundation has a long history of responding to urgent and emerging community challenges by addressing both short-term needs and creating long-term solutions. Most recently as the number of violent crimes committed in the District has surged, particularly in communities like mine which are located East of the River, I have participated in conversations with the philanthropic community, community-based organizations, and the District Government to identify ways we can contribute to and accelerate various violence prevention strategies. As a result of these conversations, The Community Foundation has mobilized the generosity of local funders to support the implementation of a pilot program that targets a small set of District neighborhoods using the Cure Violence methodology. While this program is just beginning to launch, I am heartened by the ongoing work of local community groups who are already offering a range of solutions to address violence prevention in our homes, in our schools, and in our communities.
In 2016, the Greater Washington Community Foundation assumed grantmaking for Mayor Bowser’s Safer, Stronger DC initiative. This was a targeted, place-based approach to meet the unique and varying needs of high crime neighborhoods. Since then, we have successfully conducted three grant rounds totaling $4 million to 95 organizations serving 13 Police Service Areas in Wards 1, 5, 7, and 8. I am immensely proud of what this portfolio of organizations is achieving.
Over the next few weeks, grantees from the City Fund Safer, Stronger DC portfolio will share their stories of how their respective organizations provide necessary safety-net, violence prevention and violence intervention services to some of the most vulnerable populations and under-resourced communities in the District. None of them will tell how grueling and sometimes discouraging their work can be. Many mask the pain of being unable to help everyone. Quite a few are still grieving the loss of life and potential of those they have served. Yet, all of them wake anew each day ready to start all over again filled with hope and courage.
My own commuting mentality is evolving. On good days, I am not just crossing the river, I am crossing a bridge. I am coming home to new residences, redeveloping commercial corridors and more options for shopping and dining. Despite all this, I make the journey home filled with anxiety and trepidation because I do not know what to expect. To ease my spirit, I hum the lyrics to “Inner City Blues” from the iconic and native Washingtonian Marvin Gaye. Some days “it makes me wanna holler and throw up both my hands.” My heart calms as I turn onto my street and see an MPD cruiser parked nearby. It is temporary solace knowing that my community has one more night of peace.
A Safer, Stronger DC Blog Series
Read the first post in our new series from Karen Gardner, Executive Director of Reading Partners, a one-on-one literacy tutoring program for kids struggling with reading.