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Barry, Gray: Ward 8 is on the Move

4/3/2013, 9:51 a.m.

For a very long time, Ward 8 has borne the stigma of being the poorest section of Washington, D.C.

Social indicators paint a sometimes grim portrait of life in the ward, but at the 2013 State of Ward 8 address, hosted by Council member Marion S. Barry, a multitude of speakers told a large crowd at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church of the promise and bright future they say is present or just around the bend.

Several hundred residents, business leaders, government officials - including Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), and council members Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Vincent Orange (D-At-Large) - members of civil society, admirers, supporters and critics attended. The event was marked by a Metropolitan Police Department Honor Guard, the presence of Navy brass, members of the D.C. Defense Force, soaring gospel songs, a mini-sermon by the Rev. Charles M. Hudson, Jr., and remarks from several speakers whose delivery sounded like sermons too. The only element missing was strains of Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance playing softly in the background.

In his welcome, Hudson set the stage for those who followed.

"To those of you who've come east of the [Anacostia] River, welcome," he said. "I want you to know that this is the Promised Land. The last will be first and the first will be last. I couldn't have welcomed you at a better time than during Holy Week. It's not uncommon at this time to see a vision unfolding. A vision is a pictorial view of a preferred future, an inspired portrait of possibility fueled by the power of passion."

"How many of you know that it's possible for Ward 8 to be the best ward in the world? ... The Creator specializes in bringing us out of horrible situations. Never have we experienced so much newness. We've been promised a whole lot of things but this man [Barry] is delivering. He's risked his entire life in pursuit of an idea you cannot prove. He'll tell you what's happening not what's promised."

While Gray and other speakers provided specific examples of the changes taking place across the ward, Barry during his remarks assumed the role of preacher, exhorting those within the sound of his voice to throw off the shackles of dependency, embrace more personal responsibility and work actively for the transformation of the ward.

"I know some of you have had struggles, some of you have had storms in your life but you cannot give up, give out, or give in," said Barry whose arrival was greeted by rapturous applause, cheers and a standing ovation on the evening of March 28. "You have strength, tenacity that hope is coming."

Barry, 76, said it's apparent that many people have lost their way and too many have forgotten what the struggle is all about.

"The struggle isn't over," he intoned. "Racism and segregation is alive and well in D.C. Many of us have lost hope; many of us never had hope."

Ward 8, like much of the rest of the city, is undergoing changes that are redefining the ward. New 30-something residents are moving in, gentrification has taken hold, the Department of Homeland Security is coming and the Navy already has a significant and growing presence on the grounds of St. Elizabeths Hospital. But even as these changes manifest themselves, there is a fear that Ward 8 residents will be left behind in the business boon because many don't have the education, experience or business acumen to compete. And another concern is that gentrification will price people of modest means out of their homes and their communities.