Addendum to a Two-Part Series
In our two-part series about “food deserts” which continue to disproportionately affect District communities in Wards 7 and 8, published Feb. 20 and Feb. 27, we focused on the deleterious effect that years of “food apartheid” have had on residents in Southeast, experienced at much higher rates among poorer communities in the District. The significant differences between the District’s eight wards have particularly been of grave concern and garnered the attention of the council members representing the two wards in Southeast, Vincent Gray and Trayon White, Wards 7 and 8, respectively. They, along with most city officials, acknowledge the lack of full-service grocery stores in Southeast as an inequity of services potentially threatening the health and well-being of an estimated 160,000 citizens who live East of the River. Strategies and legislation proposed by Gray were featured prominently in the two-part series.
Below, we include comments shared by White during an interview with The Washington Informer that appeared online as part of the Feb. 27 report but did not appear in the print edition due to limited space.
Ward 8’s Council member White: ‘Change is Already Here’
Just a few weeks ago, Council member Trayon White (D-Ward) hosted a budget forum at The Temple of Praise in Southeast where he laid out his priorities for the communities he represents and invited residents to share their concerns. Among the issues he says remain tantamount to his constituents and which he continues to devote significant attention in the alleviation of confirmed problems: the challenge of food deserts that Ward 8 residents still face.
“As for the delay in building grocery stores that many residents have requested, we first decided to hold a food justice walk which helped us to determine where the gaps are,” he said. “But we couldn’t proceed with construction because the funds weren’t there. The two full-service grocery stores currently being built were made possible because we were successful in securing $200,000 in the budget and now being utilized as we realize the requests of our residents and to the benefit of everyone in Ward 8.”
“We’re also building a state-of-the-art urban farm. We’re an agricultural people and so it makes sense to put resources behind this project. It’s reminiscent of what I’ve seen during my visits to Africa. During its peak, the Songhai Empire was one of the most powerful on the continent. They were committed to making the conditions needed so that they could grow their own fresh produce.”
“Fresh produce is just as important as having a full-service grocery store and I’ve been tougher on grocery and convenience stores in the District than anyone else. After receiving complaints about substandard conditions at publicly identified 7-11 stores, I turned up the fire, communicated with the Department of Health and pressed them to monitor conditions more closely.”
“People continue calling me on a regular basis and we’re making progress. And my colleagues on the City Council, for the most part, have been supportive of what I’m doing in Ward 8 and what Council member Gray’s doing in Ward 7.”
“Two stores [budgeted projects currently under construction] will certainly help but two stores are not enough. We’re going to bring more grocery stores here – some may even more resemble the kinds of stores you see in co-op systems. But we’re not going to become complacent,” White said.