By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor
mgreen@afro.com

The first graduating class from the D.C. Infrastructure Academy (DCIA). Pepco Utility Training School program has a lot to celebrate.  Not only have they completed training and accomplished goals of working with Pepco, the graduates are now sharing their stories through “Life Beyond the Line,” a portrait exhibit by D.C. photographer Reggie Cunningham, on display at Pepco’s Edison Place Gallery in Northwest, D.C.

“Being involved in this project represents an intersection of my talent and my value.  To be able to amplify the stories of local D.C. citizens means so much to me, and especially as a transplant here,” said Cunningham, who is originally from St. Louis, Missouri. “Too often we see people coming here and they take, but me creating these portraits, that allowed me to give and give back.”

Artist and photographer Reggie Cunningham in front of two of his portraits included in the “Life Beyond the Line,” exhibit at Pepco’s Edison Place Gallery in Northwest, Washington, D.C. (Courtesy Photo)

The opening reception for “Life Beyond the Line,” was held on Feb. 13, at the Edison Place Gallery, 702 8th Street N.W.  Despite drama happening outside of the gallery’s doors, after a shooting that involved both residents and police, the atmosphere at the opening reception was celebratory. Many speakers remarking on the outstanding results of the DCIA program and its participants beating the challenging odds many District residents face.

“Programs like this actually work and have the ability to change lives,” said Arlen Herrell, associate director of the D.C. Department of Employment Services (DOES).

“Since its opening in March of 2018, a year ahead of schedule might I add, the D.C. Infrastructure Academy has had one mission, and that’s to prepare District residents in the infrastructure industry,” Herrell added. “The individuals that we are celebrating today are an example of the positive things that can be achieved when government and business work together.”

DCIA graduate and Pepco employee Dervon Kyle, 29, of Northeast, D.C., remarked on how important the program has been to his overall development. 

“Life Beyond the Line,” will be on exhibit at Pepco’s Edison Place Gallery through Feb. 28. (Courtesy Photo)

“In the beginning I applied to Pepco, and then they invited me to their written exam and I failed the first time, but they reached out to me and sent me an email and sent me to the program.  So if it wasn’t for Pepco I wouldn’t even have been in the program, because I didn’t know anything about it,” said Kyle. “They informed me, I went through the program and I did everything I was supposed to do to be here today.”

DCIA graduate and Pepco employee Jabriel Ingram, shared a testimony with the crowd during the reception opening.

“I’m very proud of my journey and my brothers, that’s what I call my classmates and my coworkers, because we all worked hard to get here,” Ingram said.  

“I put my uniform on every day when I go to work and I’m just proud to be here.  I even put my uniform on my days off,” Ingram said to roaring laughter and cheers.  

Besides the career advancements, getting to showcase their stories through portrait was a powerful moment for the DCIA graduates, turned Pepco employees and artistic subjects.

“It was an amazing experience,” Kyle said.  “Given where I’m from and the things I’ve been through, this is a new experience, and I’m enjoying it.” 

For Cunningham, capturing the narratives of the graduates through photography was an eye opening and powerful moment as well.  

“It’s been so interesting learning about Exelon and Pepco and D.C. Infrastructure Academy, and what they’re doing, which is basically filling a gap that’s being left from disappearing technical and vocational schools,” said Cunningham. “They’re literally giving people a second chance at life, new beginnings, allowing people to care for their homes and their families, investing in under-resourced communities by investing in its people. At its crux that’s what D.C. is about- helping each other, building each other up and community,” he added. “I’m just really thankful to be accepted and to be chosen as a part of that.”

Guests can attend “Life Beyond the Line,” at Pepco’s Edison Place Gallery until Feb. 28.  Admission is free and open to the public Tuesday-Friday from noon to 4 p.m.

Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor