“Going up and talking to strangers, I think at the beginning was frightening for her, but she really powered through,” said Aileen Gallagher, who was Milton’s professor at Syracuse University, where she received her master’s degree in journalism in 2011. “I think the reporting part was very hard for her. She was in there every week talking to me about stories … she never, ever gave up.
After graduation, Milton returned to D.C., where she lived in Ward 7’s Benning Heights with her parents, and wrote for Capital Community News. She garnered a reputation as an intrepid reporter who cared deeply about the communities she covered.
Maceo Thomas, an organizer who lives in Ward 7, met Milton while she was reporting on a project he was spearheading to get a mural on a building in his neighborhood. The project was controversial and Thomas assumed that since she was a young reporter, she’d simply write a fluff piece favorable of him.
He was wrong.
“I just assumed that because she was young, she would totally be on my side,” he said. “But she made sure to know the opposition to the mural.”
Milton largely wrote about news in Wards 7 and 8 and those she encountered while reporting said she was determined to show that these neighborhoods are more than just the city’s poorer wards, but rather communities filled with hardworking individuals who want to make the city better.
Her editor, Andrew Lightman, the managing editor of Capital Community News, noted that Milton was one of the few people in the city doing that grassroots level reporting in the east of the river communities. Her loss, he said, will be felt in those stories that will no longer get covered.
“Not only did they gun down a young woman, they also silenced one of our reporters,” Lightman said. “I think it’s a real loss not only for us and her family but also the communities that she covered … She was one of a handful of reporters across the District who was looking at the nuts and bolts of everyday life.”
Milton posted her articles on a personal Tumblr page. Here’s a look at some of the stories she wrote in D.C.
-“Raymond Tolson: Community Servant.” This is Milton’s most recent piece — a profile on longtime Ward 7 community activist and avid cyclist Raymond Tolson.
ANC Commissioner Janis Hazel (7D05) has called 68-year-old Raymond Tolson a “neighborhood jewel, a native Washingtonian, and our community’s historian.” Hazel met Tolson at a community meet-up during President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign, and they have worked together since. A lifelong Ward 7 resident, Tolson is constantly serving his community, whether as secretary of the Central Northeast Civic Association, photographer, or church deacon. However, it is his work with fellow seniors and youth advocacy that keeps him the most active.
“Will the 6D Substation Close.” A dive into the fate of a police substation in Southeast D.C. from August 2014,
The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region (CFNCR) initially leased the building now known as the 6D Substation to the city for a dollar per year. In February 2008, the city renewed the lease for $180,000 per year for three years, with the option to opt out after a year and a half; MPD planned to vacate the property by late 2009. While this did not happen, rumors circulated again in 2010 and earlier this year, when Mayor Vincent Gray and public safety officials broke ground on the new MPD Sixth District Headquarters and Youth Investigations Division in February.
-“Benjamin Thomas speaks out.” Milton’s March 2014 piece on Benjamin Thomas—a 91 year old whose been advocating for better government and life in his Benning Heights neighborhood for decades.
The Washington Post once called Benjamin Thomas an “unofficial mayor of the city,” due to community advocacy work in his Benning Heights neighborhood. “This government doesn’t hear very well,” the Post quoted him, “but I don’t give up very easily.” That was 16 years ago. “I feel so disappointed in what’s going on now,” said Thomas, who will turn 91 this month. However, he is still speaking out against an unresponsive government.
-“Ward 8 student challenges perceptions abroad and at home.” A December 2013 profile on an Anacostia teen who was one of 10 students chosen in the region to travel to Beijing as part of the Americans Promoting Study Abroad (APSA) Summer Program.
With [Jabari] Jefferson’s academic successes, his parents hope that he will continue changing others’ perceptions of African-American men in Ward 8. “One time Jabari was taking the bus and the police stopped him because he fit the description of a man who broke someone’s window,” said Raquel, Jefferson’s mother. “Luckily he was saved by a witness.” Despite situations like this she and Eric continue show their son that there is more to life than spending time on the street corner. “We hold an open-door policy with our children,” Raquel said. “We’re honest. If there are things he needs to answer for, we talk about it.” Eric agreed and added this piece of advice: “Listen and talk to your kids … We deal with the same issues, but we don’t use it as an excuse.”
– “Neighbors to raise funds for mural.” Milton’s October 2013 piece on a controversial public mural project in Ward 7 that made its way all the way to the mayor’s office.
While it received support from Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander, the mural project was at a standstill in the fall. After learning that Mayor Vincent Gray will be making the final decision, Thomas talked to him during MuralDC’s event for their Ben’s Chili Bowl mural. “When I spoke with [Mayor Gray] at the event he said that his people were handling it.” However, according to Thomas, a small group of residents convinced the mayor to block the project. While Mayor Gray is a Ward 7 resident, Lyons stated, “the Mayor doesn’t get involved. This was an anomaly.”
– “How an ANC accounts for its money.” An October 2013 investigation into the finances of a Ward 7 Advisory Neighborhood Commission.
Janis Hazel is upset. A representative for the 7D 05 single-member district (SMD), Hazel noticed that her Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC), 7D, has been accruing extra money over the last few quarters. “We have relatively few expenditures over the years,” she said. “Usually the money is used for office rent and bank fees.” However, she accused the ANC of refusing to spend its allotted money on those few expenses.A look into ANC 7D’s financial records seems to confirm her accusations. The Commission spent $698.22 for office rent during the first quarter of the 2013 fiscal year; in the 2012 fiscal year, it paid over $2,000 in the first and fourth quarters. However, the second and third quarters show no expenses. While her fellow commissioners did not comment on the situation, Hazel’s concerns raise questions about ANC finances.
-“Anacostia’s first consignment shop opens.” A May 2013 look at the woman who opened Anacostia’s first consignment shop.
As the youngest in her family, Sofine Williams says she was last at everything. While her siblings are married with children, she is still single. However, when she opened The Last Shall Be First Consignment Boutique in Ellicot City, Maryland, she became the first in her family to own a business. A year later Williams opened her second store in Historic Anacostia.
-“Uniontown rises again.” A March 2013 piece on neighborhood haunt returning to Anacostia.
Since August 2012, Uniontown Bar and Grill has stood shuttered on Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue. Once considered an example of Anacostia’s economic renewal, Uniontown was a popular hangout for community members and visitors until unpaid rent and legal troubles forced it to close. The closing was a major setback for a community in transition, but news of potential bidders gave community members hope. Now that Gabriel Tripodo has signed Uniontown’s lease and has begun the process of obtaining a liquor license, Anacostia residents could soon return to their neighborhood-friendly restaurant.