Raymond Blanks, a community activist in Ward 7, is a former assistant dean at the Catholic University of America.
As their recent pontification shows, two D.C. Council members who represent the largely segregated area known as East of the River are recommending a name change. It is a serious suggestion but is without serious merit or community support. The council members, Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) and Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8), maintain this alteration is required to reverse the area’s current status, generate its transformation and elevate its reputation. The more familiar name is only a geographic description lacking real meaning and burdens the community with a negative connotation.
The two leaders urge that the area be rebranded as the East End. Their suggestion is the sound of the silly signifying nothing given the pressing needs of a community in decline. It also is inconsistent with the historical pattern of naming areas in the District. Dupont Circle, for example, was originally known as Pacific Circle but was changed
to Dupont to honor distinguished naval admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont. In contrast, East End is catchy and short, but it is a name without meaning.
A more adequate suggestion consistent with the historical pattern would be to name the area Douglass Enclave to honor the legacy of Frederick Douglass, the Anacostia abolitionist who tirelessly fought to emancipate black slaves and expand civil rights. This name would give the area panache and anoint it with a more positive identity. It also could further foster more community pride. The current name means nothing, and the proposed name is not an improvement. A new and appropriate name could foster an increased sense of a positive identity, something urgently needed to promote the bonds of community and advance the common good.
Yet the reality remains that more than a name change is required if the area is to become a more livable, safer and thriving community. Vigorous and robust efforts are necessary to halt its downward slope and stagnation. A majority of families on the east side of the Anacostia River
are headed by women. Fewer than 25 percent of students test proficient in reading and math. Unemployment is rampant, poverty is pervasive,
and many men survive on the margins. Dysfunctional families do not contribute to healthy and strong communities.
Equally critical is strengthening and advancing the sense of community with an increased synergy between residents and the government. Community residents must become more engaged partners to rescue this diminished area. Government alone can’t transform this area, nor can the people by themselves. Collaboration and partnership are essential, as is the increased investment of resources and talents of each sector.
The revival of Shaw and H Street resulted from a strong collaboration between government agencies that provided tax breaks and other supports developers needed to succeed. Similar levels of energy are required if the Douglass Enclave is to experience a similar transformation. The high levels of homelessness, high rates of drug addiction and death, and the persistent escalation of violence can only be seriously reduced and reversed when the public and private sectors, together with the people, invest in the best interests of the area’s residents.
The transformation of this area has to be more than a name change.
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