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Philip Pannell, the executive director of the Anacostia Coordinating Council. (Photo Courtesy www.anacostiadc.org/)

Patricia Owens, who lost her 22-year-old son Kevin, to gun violence at the end of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. parade on Jan. 19, a short time after the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade ended, said that the unnecessary deaths of residents must stop.

Later that day, two men were also shot but did not die. As a result, Philip Pannell, the executive director of the Anacostia Coordinating Council and a longtime community activist, spearheaded the effort to have a “Community Conversation.”

Two hundred residents of Ward 8 gathered Jan. 22 at the Old Congress Heights School. Their goal, to formulate a plan to present to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, with clear solutions for putting an end to the homicides and robberies in the Congress Heights neighborhood and the ward since last year.

According to statistics compiled by the District’s Metropolitan Police Department’s Seventh District, from Dec. 22, 2014 to Jan. 21, 2015, there were six homicides in the ward in contrasts to four at the same time in 2013. The statistics also reveal that there have been 26 robberies with a gun during that same time period, an increase since a year ago.

Mary Cuthbert, the chair of advisory neighborhood commission 8C

Congress Heights is a largely middle-income neighborhood in Ward 8 that includes the St. Elizabeths East and West campuses, a modern Giant Food Store, and a Black-owned IHOP. While it has comfortable amenities, it has had its share of violent crime. Mary Cuthbert, the chair of advisory neighborhood commission 8C wants it to end.

“We have had violence occur right around the corner,” Cuthbert said referring to the Jan. 14 shooting death of 17-year-old Philip Jones on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. “We are here to find out what is really going on and trying to solve a lot of crime that is going on. Our community is in disarray.”

In the past, Ward 8 community meetings were held for residents vent their frustrations. This time, Cuthbert said, things would be different. “This meeting is not a gripe session,” she said. “We are looking for solutions and results.”

The meeting was organized into four primary groups: youth, parents, government agencies and community organizations. Residents were encouraged to sit in the group that they were interested in by the meeting’s leaders.

In the first 15 minutes of the session, residents were tasked with identifying problems that their particular group faced. For example, residents in the youth group were charged with articulating the problems that children, teenagers and young adults have in the community.

Then second 15 minutes were mandated to come up with solutions.

After the sessions, five primary areas of interest were identified: parenting, mentoring, inter-agency-government coordination, public safety and jobs.

The interest areas were set up as committees and chairs were selected. Chairs were given the task of organizing residents to come up with an action plan that would be sent to the mayor.

While residents discussed the ward’s problems in their groups, some Ward 8 council seat candidates circulated their literature and talked with participants. Natalie Williams, LaRuby May, Chris Barry, Sheila Bunn, Jauhar Abraham, Eugene Kinlow, Sandra “S.S.” Seegars and Trayon White were among the Ward 8 hopefuls making the case for winning the April 28 special election.

D.C. Council members Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), Anita Bonds (D-At Large) and Vincent Orange (D-At Large) were present at the meeting, listening to residents’ concerns. Bonds said, “I wanted to come here and hear some solutions,” she said. “Law enforcement, government, and citizens need to work together to solve these problems.”

Patricia Owens said she made it clear what needs to happen in Congress Heights for the violence to stop. “We need more recreation centers over here and the schools need to stay open after classes are over,” she said.

James Mullings, a resident of Congress Heights, said that he’s happy he attended the meeting.

“I am very concerned about the recent shootings,” Mullings said. “I am glad that we are having real conversations with real substance on what needs to be done to stop the violence in the community.”