Even though Doug E. Fresh, otherwise known has the human beat box, kept a crowd of roughly 200 students, teachers, and community members on their feet during an afterschool block party, Oct. 4, it was the safety of D.C. students traveling to and from schools that made the Man the Block event memorable.
Designed as an initiative of safe passage by the Richard Wright Public Charter School, located in Northwest D.C., the Man the Block program brings together students, parents, city officials and the community surrounding schools to serve as safety ambassadors.
“The benefits of the program extend beyond safety. The involvement of families and other community leaders sends an unmistakable message to students that adults support and stand with them. Students see that the community cares about their future and is committed to ensuring they get a great education in a safe environment,” Marco Clark, founder and chief executive of Richard Wright said in a statement. “Ensuring student safety is something every adult can get involved in . . . When you drop your child off at school or pick him or her up, stick around a few extra minutes to make sure other students getting on the bus or walking to the Metro get there safely.”
Seven years into the program, residents who live around the Eastern Market area in Southeast D.C. say there are many efforts to ensure the safety and security of students, despite increased crime in the area. According to Trulia Real Estate brokers, in the last year more than 600 counts of theft, 51 robberies, and 12 assaults were logged in the Eastern Market area.
In addition to the actual crime, residents like Jerry Lee said students face interactions with individuals visiting service providers in the area. “There are a lot of homeless people and people with mental health problems that linger in the neighborhood, which can be frightening for these kids going to school. Sometimes the people are asking for money, other times they are simply in the middle of their own crises,” Lee told the AFRO. “It creates unnecessary tension and anxiety for young people standing at bus stops or trying to get a snack on the way home.”
Though Community Connections, the city’s largest non-profit mental health agency and the Aquila Recovery Clinic operate within blocks of several public and charter schools, there is no record of their clients being involved in any crimes.
“Sometimes when students leave school they can be loud and a little disruptive to the people who live nearby, so the program has helped me to understand my responsibility to the neighborhood,” student Kayla Masters told the AFRO. “Just like I want to get home in a safe and in an orderly manner, the people who live in houses around the bus stop don’t want me throwing down my litter or infringing upon their right to quiet.”
Richard Wright’s Man the Block program is calling for additional volunteers to help students navigate the streets and public transportation. Additionally, the Executive Office of the Mayor (EOM) has initiated a Safe Passage deployment utilizing government volunteers from various agencies. This initiative began during the last week of the school year and they were deployed several times during the summer for safe passage associated with the Summer Youth Employment Program.