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Bowser Tour Exemplifies Changes in Congress Heights Community

WASHINGTON INFORMER — D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser recently toured a District neighborhood known as “The Soul of the City.” Bowser (D), along with D.C. Councilmember Trayon White (D-Ward 8), local government agency leaders, and staff as well as advisory neighborhood commissioners, on July 17,  strolled along Alabama Avenue in Southeast and feeder streets in the Congress Heights neighborhood to hear the concerns of residents and examine the neighborhood’s infrastructure.

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By James Wright

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser recently toured a District neighborhood known as “The Soul of the City.”

Bowser (D), along with D.C. Councilmember Trayon White (D-Ward 8), local government agency leaders, and staff as well as advisory neighborhood commissioners, on July 17,  strolled along Alabama Avenue in Southeast and feeder streets in the Congress Heights neighborhood to hear the concerns of residents and examine the neighborhood’s infrastructure.

“Every month, I conduct these walks in neighborhoods to identify and address issues,” Bowser said. “I have done these walks in all eight wards. All neighborhoods need something.”

Until 20 years ago, Congress Heights had a reputation as a residential neighborhood plagued with criminal activity and abandoned housing. Positive economic activity started when the Congress Heights Metro Station opened in 2001 on the Green Line, next to the St. Elizabeth’s East campus.

With support of the mayoral administrations of Anthony Williams, Adrian Fenty, Vincent Gray and Bowser, the neighborhood has seen substantive growth and development.

The Shops at Park Village — a strip mall along Alabama Avenue – offers Giant as the ward’s only full-service supermarket, as well as a collection of clothing stores, barbershops, sit-down and carryout eateries that include Chipotle.

Last year, the Entertainment & Sports Arena opened at St. Elizabeth’s East, steps away from the western side of the Congress Heights Metro. The R.I.S.E. Demonstration Center, also on the St. Elizabeth’s East campus along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, has served several years as a meeting space for community groups.

There are plans for a new mixed development by Redbrick LMD, which will include residential, office and retail space to the extent that residents won’t have to leave the St. Elizabeth’s campus to live, eat, work, shop and play.

Despite the progress, Bowser and her entourage saw places where governmental intervention could make a difference. She walked from Turner Elementary School on Stanton Road, across the street to the sidewalk that rests on the eastern part of Alabama Avenue.

Bowser briefly engaged residents waiting at the bus stop in front of The Shops before proceeding south to the shopping center’s entrance.

Meanwhile, a group of protesters carrying a sign “No New Jails,” walked in front of her but didn’t get close because of the mayor’s security.

Bowser and her team walked into the small, cramped Turner-Parklands branch of the D.C. Public Library to talk to patrons. After that, they moved south on Alabama Avenue, walking past abandoned properties under the jurisdiction of the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development.

Bowser asked Polly Donaldson, director of the housing department, about plans for the properties, with Donaldson responding that her department has active plans for its development into productive space.

Upon reaching the Pop -Up Opportunity Center on Malcolm X Avenue, Bowser entered the gymnasium where she observed residents drawing and painting as a part of the center’s activities.

Afterward, Bowser walked to Congress Park Plaza where she spoke at length with resident Alice Peak.

“I told her that something had to be done about crime in the neighborhood,” Peak said. “These young people need jobs, and when they have jobs, they will act better.”

Peak also alluded to criminal activity in her area, saying, “the crimes aren’t solved,” and suggested that a new playground and water park might make a difference in the safety of her neighborhood.

Bowser’s walk included going to the back of Congress Parks Plaza where she heard residents’ complaints about rats. However, administrators at the D.C. Department of Public Works had already received information about the problem and pledged to work with the residents to bring about a resolution.

As the entourage left the Plaza, the wind started to blow hard and rain came down quickly. Bowser briskly walked back to the Pop-Up Center and postponed the rest of the tour that would have ended at Rita’s Italian Ice & Frozen Custard on MLK Avenue.

When she reached the gymnasium, Bowser conducted her wrap-up, imploring her staff to tackle the rat problem at the Plaza, as well as graffiti at Turner Elementary and the eyesore of abandoned property on Alabama Avenue.

Despite the last-minute inclement weather, Bowser seemed pleased with the walk.

“The walk went great,” she said with a smile.

This post originally appeared in The Washington Informer.

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Art

City Selects Ayodele Nzinga as Inaugural Poet Laureate

As poet laureate, Nzinga will make an inaugural address, partner with the city’s youth poet laureate Myra Estrada on a reading series, deliver four readings in Oakland, and write a poem that commemorates the city.

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Oakland first poet laureate Ayodele Nzinga, author of “SorrowLand Oracle” and “The Horse Eaters,” in an undated photo. (Photo courtesy City of Oakland).

Poet, playwright, and community activist Ayodele Nzinga was selected as Oakland’s inaugural poet laureate, city officials announced on June 11.

Nzinga is the founding producer and director of the West Oakland theater company Lower Bottom Playaz, established in 1999. She’s also the founding director of Black Arts Movement Business District Community Development Corporation, which produces BAMBDFEST, an international arts and cultural festival celebrating the arts in the Black community.

“Her decades-long commitment to Oakland’s art scene will feed the richness of her storytelling as she nurtures creativity in others,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said in a statement.

Nzinga is the author of at least two books of poetry: “SorrowLand Oracle,” a collection of spells, incantations, prayers, and “The Horse Eaters,” which is described as an origin tale, a reclamation of memory and a movement toward wholeness in thought.

Nzinga said she is “overjoyed” with her selection as Oakland’s first poet laureate.

“I look forward to representing ‘The Town’ and the honor of bringing poetry to the people!” she said in a statement.

As poet laureate, Nzinga will make an inaugural address, partner with the city’s youth poet laureate Myra Estrada on a reading series, deliver four readings in Oakland, and write a poem that commemorates the city.

“Whether in the visual performing arts, music or literature, the talents of the Town’s artists are world-renowned and deserve recognition and financial support,” J. K. Fowler, cultural affairs commissioner and chair of the poet laureate selection team, said in a statement.

City officials closed nominations on May 19 for Oakland’s inaugural poet laureate and five members of the city’s literary community selected Nzinga from other nominees based on five criteria.

That included their poetic work, and among other things, their understanding of civic stories around belonging, culture, and equity.

Nzinga will serve a two-year term until May 2023. Her selection comes with a $5,000 honorarium.

The date for the inaugural address by Nzinga has not been set.

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Community

West Oakland Food Giveaway Event a Success Through ‘Comm-Unity’

Common Unity is more than a slogan. It is the actual showing of what it means to be as one with the promise and actual example of itself. As one volunteer known as” Mr. Fab” said, “Community is nothing but common unity.”

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Photo Courtesy of Calle Macarone from Unsplash

First and foremost, I thank the Most High for making the June 5 “A Day of Giving,” a food and necessity giveaway a success. It was quite amazing to see all the sectors of our Oakland communities come together to make this event a fruitful and worthwhile effort at Ralph Bunche School and de Fremery Park in West Oakland from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

It was a volunteer-inspired effort that I describe as ‘Comm-Unity,’ which simply means common unity because it matters not what part of town you’re from. Whether a volunteer identified as a Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Catholic and or as a non-believer, it only mattered that they all had one reason and one common goal, which was to just serve others in need.

What was remarkable was the participation of those who were formerly incarcerated. Some members of this segment of the community showed up with their families and children and showed out by volunteering along with businesspersons and clergymen to help feed needy families.

The lines of vehicles stretched for more than one-and-a-half miles. More than 900 vehicles that had presented the Post newspaper coupon or had registered at the website address were presented with boxes of food and supplies. More than 200 volunteers loaded each vehicle after giving each driver a choice of a selection of the 52 different food items and household cleaning supplies on various pallets. Deliveries were also made to some elderly residents who did not have vehicles. The remaining food and supplies were distributed to non-profits that serve the needy.

A special shout out to the Oakland Post Newspaper Group, Trybe, Deeply Rooted, Ronald Muhammad, Ear Hustle, John Ya Ya Johnson, Missy Percy, Jamil Wilson, Attorney Anne Wells, ROC’S Richard Corral, Lee Oliveres, Jesus P. Peguero, Ricky “Styles” Ricardo, Paul Redd, Savior Charles, OG riders Arnold Torres, Gabe Zuniga, Rudy Yanez, Rolando Coffman; Janelle Marie Charles of Epsilon Phi Zeta, Mrs. Marsha Woodfork of Zeta Amicae of the Epsilon Phi Zeta, the Black Firefighters Association, Felicia Bryant, Mr. Fab’s Dope Era Clothing Store, Cesar Cruz’s Homie’s Empowerment, The Oakland Gumbo Cultural Group, Amina Nicole, Queen Johnson, Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church, Walter Culp and the entire staff of West Side Missionary Baptist Church, who helped with organizing, rental/warehouse space,  equipment rentals, insurance expenses, obtaining  permits, food donations, refrigeration vans and donation of funds, and purchases such as walkie-talkies, pallet jacks, forklifts, portable toilets, laborers, social media posts and recruitment of volunteers.

Several elected Officials, including the District 3 Councilmember Carroll Fife, clergymen, community leaders, community investors and local entertainers lent their support by volunteering to serve our community families in need.

We will continue to work with the Oakland Post Newspaper Group, to make June 5 “A Day of Giving” event a model for future giveaways of necessities that included boxes of oatmeal, fruits and vegetables including corn, green beans, pinto beans, chili beans, peas, pears, mixed peas & carrots, potato chips, gold fish and animal crackers, zoo crackers, Cheez-Its, cups of mixed fruits, granola bars, mac and cheese, Welch’s fruit snacks, canned pears, canned peaches, gallons of olive oil, whole chickens, varieties of luncheon meats (roast beef, turkey, sliced cheese), mixed nuts, Belvita breakfast cookies, Ritz crackers, canned chicken, spaghetti, whole wheat and white pasta, dry pinto beans, cases of bottled water, canned tuna, impossible burgers, masks, gallons of bleach, laundry detergent, surface cleaners, large rolls of toilet paper, paper towels, hand soap, toothbrushes, baby wipes, dishwashing liquid, body wash, dental floss and boxes of peanut butter.

I was moved by the tears and shouts of joy from some families and children when they were showered with boxes of food and cleaning supplies that literally loaded down their vehicles. One mother said she was accustomed to receiving one bag or a box of food that could last for a day or a week, but she never dreamed that she would be given enough food and cleaning supplies to last for months.

I pray that this approach of providing a sustainable amount of food that was inspired by the leadership of Mrs. Egypt Ina Marie King will shine as the beacon of hope, pride and promise before our God Almighty. Nothing is greater than the powers of God and when our hearts are focused on freely serving others, we then are giving praises to God.

I thank Rev. Ken Chambers and the Interfaith Council of Alameda County (ICAC) for coordinating a pop-up, drop-in clinic in a tent to provide COVID-19 vaccination shots during our food give-away.

Common Unity is more than a slogan. It is the actual showing of what it means to be as one with the promise and actual example of itself. As one volunteer known as” Mr. Fab” said, “Community is nothing but common unity.”

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Business

Go Fund Geoffrey’s

Whether it was Paul Mooney, Faye Carroll, Sugar Pie or Jay-Z performing or whether it was Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Mayor Elihu Harris, or Kamala Harris along with many of the Bay area’s elected officials they too have come to bask in the limelight of Geoffrey’s Inner Circle.

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Geoffrey's Inner Circle

For more than 30 years Geoffrey Pete ‘s business, Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, has been a cultural hub because of its full-service restaurant, live entertainment, nightclub parties, jazz music and community special occasion events. Faith-based organizations have also rented the spacious facilities for services and concerts. Their full-service restaurant, bar and live entertainment business along with their tenants and multilevel event rental spaces have been severely interrupted and devastated by the COVID 19 lockdowns and restrictions.

Whether it was Paul Mooney, Faye Carroll, Sugar Pie or Jay-Z performing or whether it was Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Mayor Elihu Harris, or Kamala Harris along with many of the Bay area’s elected officials they too have come to bask in the limelight of Geoffrey’s Inner Circle. Now those lights are dimmed due to the economic conditions that have descended on high intensity people-contact businesses.

Thanks to a group of customers and supporters a Go Fund Me page has been opened for the public to contribute to support Geoffrey’s Inner Circle https://gofund.me/b2541419.

The Post newspaper has notified the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce that regular articles concerning the needs of Geoffrey’s and other Black-owned Businesses will be published weekly.

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