State of the District Address
All of us should go to the National Building Museum and see the detailed model of the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative -- a visionary plan that was the product of the most far-reaching partnership in our city's history.
If the Council acts now to create the development corporation we need, we will soon enjoy a world-class waterfront with 100 acres of parkland and a 20-mile river walk. If the Congress acts now to pass the Watershed Act, we can finally heal our Anacostia River. And if we all act now, the river that once divided us can bridge the gap between east and west, privileged and poor, our past and our future.
The people in this community know it's possible.
Not that long ago, this neighborhood was dominated by blight and crime. There were few jobs and even less housing. Hope had begun to die. And now, we're sitting in a beautifully restored theater in an amazing neighborhood filled with jazz and nightlife, new renters and homeowners; food from every culture, and the neon glow of new stores.
Let there be no confusion: U Street is back. Our pride is back. Joe Gibbs is back. And, citizens, our city is back. Ladies and gentleman, the state of our district is stronger than ever. But we are far from done.
We can learn a lot by looking at those first hikers who reached the summit of Mount Everest. How did they do it? They climbed in stages-but never straight up the mountain. Instead, they went back and forth many times between each stage until they had built a strong enough foundation to move on to the next level.
That's something we can all relate to in our city. The path we've taken hasn't always looked straight. That's for sure. But, stage by stage, step by step, we have climbed. Stage 1: We got our fiscal house in order. Stage 2: Basic services were functioning again. Stage 3: Economic investment started roaring back to our city.
Now, we're about halfway up this mountain. But the distance that remains is filled with much tougher terrain-violence; inequities in health care; schools failing; democratic rights denied. And the fact is we can't afford to get tired.
You know why? Because there are too many people around us who are already tired. They are tired of living on the outskirts of opportunity. They are tired of having to leave their neighborhood to find a decent doctor or supermarket. They are tired of sending their children to a school where they won't learn enough or stay safe enough. It's immoral -- and I use that word intentionally -- that the gap between the haves and the have-nots is still so wide in the capital of the world.
If there were an easy path, someone would have found it by now. But we do have a compass -- it's the one that brought us this far. By taking risks and taking on the status quo. By understanding that we will only reach the top if we climb together. And so, if we want to reach the top, we must make sure that all children, not just some children, can live free from violence.
I'm not going to talk to you tonight about our response to 911 calls or terrorist threats-as important as those are. I'm not going to talk to you about our success cleaning up blight or solving homicide cases, as important as those are.
The fact is, all our gains pale in comparison to what we've lost lately. We lost Diamond Teague, a young man I met while he was cleaning up the Anacostia river, shot for no reason right on the front porch of his house.
We lost Devin Fowlkes, a student athlete from Anacostia Senior High, caught in the crossfire on his way home from a school dance. We lost Princess Hansen, a 14-year-old girl gunned down two weeks ago because someone didn't want her to talk about another recent killing she saw in her neighborhood.
And then, on Monday, we lost James Richardson, shot outside the Ballou Senior High School cafeteria in the middle of the day. His football teammates are walking around in t-shirts commemorating his life. He was just 17.
What in the world is happening to our children?
I can't say it more directly: This violence must stop.
Many of us in this theater went to a community meeting at Ballou on Tuesday night. It was the reason I postponed this speech. I wanted to be there. The Council, my Cabinet, our city's leaders -- we all wanted to be there.
A thousand students, parents, and neighbors crammed into the bleachers. One by one, they took to the microphone for the next six hours to pray, to yell, to cry, to ask for help, to search for answers. Some blamed security. Some blamed the lack of places for kids to go. Some blamed me. Some blamed themselves. No one, except the killer, is to blame. But all of us are responsible.
That night, parents got up and begged each other to pay more attention to their own children's lives; to search their bags; make sure they're in school; to love them; to discipline them; to give them values to follow and something to live for. "It starts at home," Devon Fowlkes' mother implored the room to remember. It starts at home.
A student at Anacostia high school spoke last, asking young people to take responsibility for what they do as well. "Before you point a finger, he said, "first point at yourself. Say, hey, how can I help?"
Many were very tough on me -- I'm not going to pretend otherwise. But no one was tougher on me than myself. Every time a child dies in our city, I die a little. We all do. But we must turn that unthinkable loss into a call for action to protect our children and punish those who hurt them.
We have eight police officers at Ballou right now, so that students feel safe returning to class. And I've given Chief Ramsey 10 days to come up with a Ballou security plan to ensure that students never again lose a classmate to violence.
We have counselors at Ballou to help students, teachers and parents during this difficult grieving process. We're supporting more community leaders and Roving Leaders in the area right now. And starting tomorrow, the Ballou community will have a 24 hour hotline they can call to get the help they need. You know, many of the people who spoke the other night were former students going back 30 years. And they talked about the great tradition at Ballou, how it used to be a model school where students excelled in math and science. Ballou can be great again.
I want to take what is working at other schools in our city and bring it to Ballou. Like other public schools, we can turn Ballou into a neighborhood center where children can get counseling and after-school care. Where parents can get health screenings and literacy training. Where the community has a central place to gather.
We're working now to transform 15 of our lowest-performing public schools. That has meant new educators, new staff, new resources-and, no surprise, better results. Just look at Noyes and Simon elementary schools: their reading and math scores went up by more than 30 percent last year.
I have committed to transforming at least five new public schools every year-and next year Ballou must be one of them.
But the most haunting question I heard the other night was from a student, who wanted to know where everyone was before, when this killing could have been prevented. No child should have to ask that question again. We all must do more. For our part, we will do more to give our children mentors to guide them, safe places to go after school, and jobs during the summer. We will do more to fund groups -- like the Clergy Police Community Partnership -- that are out there in our neighborhoods every day pushing for peace.
We will do more to focus the attention of every agency and community group on our most troubled kids-by helping them when we can, finding good alternative schools for them when we must. We will do more to get answers from our children, including hosting a Youth Summit focused on crime and violence.
And we will do more to give our law enforcement officers the tools they need to get the job done. They need a new Juvenile Justice bill that will help them hold juvenile criminals and their parents more accountable. I've submitted it, and I am asking the Council to pass it.
Our police department should have control over all crime-fighting in our city, whether it happens in our housing projects or at our schools. The other night people kept asking Chief Ramsey what more he could do. And he was forced to explain that it was the public schools, not the police, who are responsible for school safety.
© 2004 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive