D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine has long realized that many District young people face problems such as bullying, economic uncertainty, family instability and bullying in their daily lives and wanted to be proactive in recognizing those who overcome those challenges to excel.
Racine did just that on Aug. 8 during the fifth annual Right Direction Awards at the One Judiciary Square Old Council Chambers in Northwest for 27 young people. The attorney general said that in a rapidly changing city, the needs of young people shouldn’t be ignored.
“We live in a city where so many parts are prospering and many parts are not,” Racine said to an audience of about 75. “Kids in D.C. are having a hard time. In Ward 8, 50 percent of children live at the poverty line. Many kids have to deal with issues of food insecurity, who they will stay with, getting help with their homework and violence is common in their community.”
Racine said he set up the Right Direction Awards to celebrate the young people who are getting through difficult challenges and “are making it through.”
To illustrate his point about going through adversity and persevering despite overwhelming odds, Racine selected Halim Flowers as the program’s keynote speaker. Flowers was sentenced to prison at 16 and dealt with the problems incarcerated youth offenders have when housed with grown men, such as solitary confinement and proving themselves in a tough, hostile environment.
In spite of the adversity, Flowers took classes at Georgetown University through its Prison Scholars Program and has published 11 books about incarceration, five of which are bestsellers. Through the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act authored by D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) in 2016, Flowers got his sentence commuted and left prison after serving 22 years.
Flowers said too many children in the District are being raised on the streets instead of by their parents or family. He said the problem with many children has to do with their fathers being incarcerated and not just being deadbeats.
Flowers encouraged the young people “to love those who love you.”
“Love yourself,” he said. “Love those who hate you because that is the kind of love that will transform our community.”
As the program proceeded, Lillie Mae Bonilla sat in the audience with her three children, Emily, Josephine and Julio. Bonilla’s family is biracial, with African American and Latino lineage, and her children struggle with trying to navigate between the two cultures in addition to dealing with the pressure of their teenage years.
Bonilla said the Right Direction Awards to her children validates her efforts to raise them right.
“I am very, very happy about these awards and I am very proud of my children,” Bonilla said. “I am proud of the hard work that they put into school and that they are always ready to help others.”
Alex Edwards also received an award for his advocacy on behalf of African Americans. Edwards has competed in oratorical contests in the Washington region and participated as a member of Alice Deal Middle School’s debate team.
“It is an honor just to be nominated and being awarded is a blessing,” Edwards said. “I want to help continue to bring awareness to strengthen the Black community. We have gone through so much as a people and I want to help continue to be a strong and vibrant people.”