By James Wright, Special to the AFRO,

D.C. Council member Robert White was the keynote speaker at the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization’s “First Fridays” meeting May 4 at the organization’s headquarters in Northeast. White is one of a series of speakers designed to bring the District’s leaders to the ward to talk about matters concerning economic development and governance.

In the past few months, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) have addressed the group. White spoke to a group of 50 people and he didn’t mince words.

Robert White is an at-large Democrat on the D.C. Council. (Courtesy Photo)

“When I came to the council, the things that I wanted to prioritize consistently were affordable housing, education, workforce development and addressing the concerns of returning citizens,” he said. “I want to be a voice of the people and those who are left behind on the council.”

Ward 7 has the highest percentage of Black residents with 94 percent of its population followed closely by its neighbor, Ward 8, that is 92 percent African American. The ward has working class neighborhoods such as Marshall Heights, Lincoln Heights, Benning Heights, Benning Ridge and Capitol View plus solid middle-class enclaves such as Hillcrest and Penn Branch and gentrifying areas such as Deanwood and Kenilworth.

The D.C. Council is considering the comprehensive housing plan that deals with the land use and how the city will use its housing stock and manage its housing policy. White said, in response to a question by the AFRO, that he doesn’t like the comprehensive plan. “I think the comp plan needs to go back to the beginning,” he said. “It doesn’t talk about gentrification and doesn’t sufficiently address how it will keep people from being pushed out of the city. As a result, I am a vocal critic of it.”

White is a strong advocate of returning citizens since joining the council in 2016. He is working to get returning citizens a transportation stipend, a free identification card and another staff person added to the District’s office of returning citizens. He also is working on getting $1.5 million for returning citizens to be able to start their own businesses. “All returning citizens want is a shot,” he said.

White said that like many District residents with a small child, he deals with paying the high cost of child care. As a legislator, he is dealing with the issue. “It costs $1,800 per month, per child, in the city for quality child care. That is too much,” he said. “Plus, you have many dedicated child care workers who want to work with children but they make an average of $26,000 a year in the city and that is not enough.”

Babatunde A. Oloyede is the president of the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization. The “First Fridays” is his brainchild. “We have these forums so that residents and business owners can come meet with city officials and network,” Oloyede told the AFRO. “That way, we can help these businesses grow.”