Rally Raises Awareness of Boys and Girls Club Closing

Michael P. Moss | 7/23/2009, 2:04 a.m.

Residents who hope to bring attention to the shuttering of the Robert V. Murray Clubhouse #11, a Boys and Girls Club in Ward 8 held a rally at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X Avenues on Sat., July 18. In April, Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, one of the region's largest youth organizations, announced a plan to close four clubs and sell others as part of a major restructuring to address a $7 million deficit. The Congress Heights club closed on Wed., June 15.

Last month, the D.C. Council enacted the €Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington Property Acquisition Emergency Act of 2009.€ The Act authorized the District to enter into an agreement with Boys and Girls Clubs to purchase the Frank R. Jellef Branch in Georgetown, the Mary and Daniel Loughran Clubhouse #10 in Columbia Heights and Eastern Branch Boys and Girls Clubs on Capitol Hill for a total of $15 million. Seven and one half million would be paid at settlement and the remaining $7.5 million would be paid in equal amounts over the next four years. The legislation also authorized the District to contract with Boys and Girls Clubs to provide summer camp and/ or after-school programs at the purchased sites through Fiscal Year 2010.

€It probably saved my life,€ said Trayon White, a member of #11 for nine years where he played football, baseball and basket. White, 25, a 2006 honors graduate of Maryland Eastern Shore University, with a degree in Business Administration, also credits #11 with preparing for college.

Club #11, located at 620 Milwaukee Place in Southeast, was reportedly purchased by Friendship Public Charter School which operates a nearby campus, organizers said. The Boys and Girls Club has undergone significant renovation in recent years. Funds were raised by the community to purchase lights for the football field. The Washington Redskins also contributed toward upgrading the football field and renovation of the Teen Center. D.C. United, Washington€s professional soccer team, provided funds to build a soccer field. The Washington Mystics (WNBA) also provided funding for the computer lab/learning center and upgrades to the gymnasium.

Tamika Hampton, founder and CEO of Bridging the Gaps for Us, Inc., which organized the rally, said the closure of #11 reflects a failure to consider the interests of Ward 8 youth. €Ward 8 has the largest number of kids and the least recreation opportunities,€ Hampton said. €Our kids are being set up for failure. I grew up in this community and it hurts to see it falling apart. Times are worse than bad,€ she said.

Hampton, 26, said that children are being displaced for no good reason. €They€re pushing 600 kids into the streets. At least two already have been murdered.€ She said plans for youth displaced by the closing to use a recreation facility at Anacostia High School in Southeast would be untenable because of territorial disputes. €It€s like telling them to commit suicide,€ she said.

Andrew Gaston, president of Bridging the Gaps for Us, said that he joined #11 when he was 10-years-old. €It kept me out of trouble year-round,€ Gaston said. €I learned to be a team player and active in my community.€ Gaston, 39, later volunteered at #11 for six years. He said that he finds it €frustrating how [#11€s closure] was kept from the community. There hasn€t been any conversation between Friendship and Ward 8,€ he said.

Nicole Jones, Bridging the Gaps for Us vice president, carried a sign that asked: "Where Are Our Kids Going to Go?€ Jones, 31, once worked as Teen Director at #11. €This is my duty,€ she said. €All of our children are a part of me.€

Supporter William Lockridge, the Board of Education Representative for Ward 8 walked along Martin Luther King Jr., Ave. with a bullhorn shouting €Save our youth.€ Lockridge, 50, said that Ward 8 should have been consulted about the closure.

€Considering its investment in #11 over the years, [Ward 8] should have been given right of first refusal to purchase the property,€ he said.

Calls for comment to the school were not returned.