|ONE DC Emancipation Day by Ashley Crawford|
|Friday, 18 May 2012 18:49|
"Fun-ga Ala-fia, A-shay, A-shay." Welcomes and blessings. For weeks, I had heard the lyrics of this traditional Nigerian song rehearsed by many of the young girls who drop in to the Sasha Bruce Richardson Youth Center where I work, and now here I was, singing along to these same lyrics as drummers played at the ONE DC Emancipation Day Celebration on April 16. Small world? Not quite.
From beginning to end, the Emancipation Day Celebration echoed many of the same concerns and challenges that I seek to overcome in my daily dedication to youth development in the low-income community of Clay Terrace, where theRichardson Youth Center is located. Opening with an outdoor community yoga session led by Andrea Christie, the celebration focused not only on educating the community about the history of Emancipation Day but also on discussing important current topics such as holistic wellness. Coincidentally, earlier that same day, I had helped plant fruit trees outside of the Youth Center with the goal of empowering youth and community members to increasing self-reliance through better access to healthy foods. Whether we are tutoring youth on their homework, practicing hip hop dance moves, or meeting with youth one-on-one, we aim to provide a safe place for youth to express themselves and develop healthy relationships.
On April 16, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act and freed enslaved African Americans in Washington, DC; yet, many would argue that the systems of slavery are still operating in America. A highlight of the Emancipation Day Celebration was the passionate discussion on what has been termed the "New Jim Crow." Mass incarceration rates of African American and Latino women and men in the U.S. has been a recent hot topic, sparking genuine discussions around the cycle of oppression the criminal justice system continues to perpetuate in America.
Working in Clay Terrace, which as of May 2011 had the highest youth arrest rate among all of D.C.'s residential neighborhoods, has forced me to confront the reality that nationally, one in three African American men is currently under the control of the criminal justice system. Each day, I confront that reality by offering healthy and engaging alternatives to at-risk youth. The racial and economic discrimination behind mass incarceration is an enormous obstacle for those of us who seek justice; but if we each take small steps to uplift and organize those in our communities, we can have a serious impact, and that is exactly what ONE DC is about. You only have to look to ONE DC's accomplishments with the Duncan Co-Op and Martin Luther King Latino Co-Op, regular community classes focused on community organizing and social inequity with DC residents and local groups, and initiatives in organizing around the Right to Live and Work in DC for evidence of the power a community possesses.
I believe that everything happens for a reason, so I see no coincidence in the overlapping of my work in Clay Terrace and the missions of ONE DC. As a young African American woman who is socially conscious and aware of systemic inequities, I joined the membership of ONE DC to let my voice be heard, organize to take action, and learn how to exercise political strength to create and preserve racial and economic equity.