Triggered: Street Harassment and Rape Culture In D.C.’s Ward 8

One can make the argument that it began on July 23, 2017, when community activist Schyla Pondexter-Moore and her two teen-aged daughters attempted to get a meal at a community food table in Ward 8 set up by the nonprofit Quest2Change.  Instead of getting a meal, they got an earful about how a tied t-shirt and a leggings justified harassment by the men in the community, including the men who were serving the food.  Schyla and her daughters left when the harassers, seven grown men, threatened them with violence.

The incident led to a Speakout Against Street Harassment sponsored by the newly formed group Reclaiming Our Bodies DC.  I went with my camera, expecting to get a few good soundbites, and to put together a 3-5 minute video about street harassment.  But the footage gathered that day has required a little more attention.  The result is the 30-minute documentary Triggered:  Street Harassment and Rape Culture in D.C.’s Ward 8.

The first screening will be followed by a panel discussion about street harassment.  Details are below.Reclaiming Our Bodies Flyer 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was clear at the Speakout that Reclaiming Our Bodies DC had touched on an issue that was about far more than one incident.  While most of the media focuses on sexual harassment among the political elites and Hollywood insiders, the rest of us are dealing with it in the streets.  Grassroots DC invites you to join the discussion.

Remembering Big Mike: Line Dance Instructor and Inspiration

Big_MikeI met Michael “Big Mike” Ballard four years ago when Grassroots DC moved into the Potomac Gardens Public Housing Complex.  He made regular use of our Community Resource Center creating flyers for the dance classes he taught and using the computers and the Internet access working for his church and the nonprofit he was involved with Sistahs with Purpose.  He taught at Knox Hill, Turkey Thicket Recreation Center and Potomac Gardens.  He passed on October 10.  He is survived by his mother Linda, sister Theresa and dozens and dozens of students and friends.   The memorial service is scheduled for Saturday October, 28th at Hunt Funeral Home, 908 Kennedy Street NW 20011 at 12 noon.  Michael Ballard was a kind and compassionate person who will be missed.  What follows is an article I wrote about him in 2015.

Kids can be mean. Few know this better than 36-year-old DC native and Potomac Gardens resident Michael Ballard. Michael Ballard was heavy all of his life. The kids called him Fat Mike. His mother suffered from weight problems also so she understood what it was like to be teased and humiliated at school. It was only natural that they would become extremely close.

Michael continued to put on weight throughout school. By the time he graduated high school he weighed 300 pounds. Many people assume that anyone that weighs that much can’t do anything. Michael proved them wrong by going to work right out of high school. From 2000 to 2005 he worked for Goodwill Industries in housekeeping, a job he enjoyed. In 2005 Goodwill lost their contract with the Armed Forces Retirement Home and Michael went to work for Melwood, a nonprofit that creates jobs and opportunities for people with disabilities, in their housekeeping department.

Big Mike's Line Dance ClassAt Melwood, Michael faced discrimination. His co-workers claimed that he had body odor; that he took up too much space; that he moved too slowly and was unable to complete his tasks because he couldn’t fit into the bathroom. It was high school all over again. Within just a few months Michael had left Melwood and returned to Goodwill Industries. But the stress at Melwood had caused Michael to put on more weight.  He had a different project manager at Goodwill, one who didn’t know him well and he faced discrimination at Goodwill as well.

He was accused of sitting on and breaking Goodwill’s second-hand chairs. To address the problem, the Government Service Administration brought a bench to his job site exclusively for Michael to use. Unfortunately, his project manager, unwilling to find ways to accommodate an employee of Michael’s size, threw the bench into the trash.

Besides the stress of the hostile work environment, Michael developed an upper respiratory infection from working in Goodwill’s Garage. Despite all this, Michael continued to work at Goodwill from 2006 until 2013, when he was let go.

After losing his job, Michael’s health deteriorated. Due to his extreme weight, Michael had for years suffered from lymphedma— a condition that causes swelling in the arms or legs as a result of a blockage in the lymphatic system that prevents lymph fluid from draining well—on the bottom of both his legs. Michael also developed cellulites—a noncontagious bacterial skin infection—which spread from the bottom of both of his legs to his pelvis. This condition landed him in Washington Hospital for a ten-day stretch in March of 2013. From there he was transferred to Saint Thomas Moore Rehabilitation Center where he was bed bound for two months.

Two months of having to eat in the bed, having the bed made while lying in it, having his body turned and cleaned in the bed was more humiliating than years of being teased. Michael’s weight had made him a target for mockery but now it was risking his life. Michael knew that the only way to escape the derision and to save his life was to control his weight.

In May 2013, he went from being bed bound to being wheel chair ridden. Once in the chair, he was able to begin participating in physical therapy. Soon he was able to move around with a rollator. In December of 2013, Michael was well enough to move back home to Potomac Gardens but not without the use of two portable oxygen tanks.

By this time, his mother was in trouble. Being overweight herself, she had a hernia that had grown to the size of a soccer ball. In 2014, Michael’s mother had surgery at Georgetown Hospital. Terrified that he might lose his best friend, Michael’s stress levels soared along with his eating. While his mother was recovering, Michael’s weight ballooned. At 700 pounds, hospitalization was inevitable.

This time, Michael was offered the option of a sleeve gastrectomy, a procedure that removes all but twenty-five percent of the stomach and greatly limits the patient’s food intake. The operation was performed by Dr. Paul Lin at George Washington University Hospital in March of 2015. Seven months later, Michael had lost 301 pounds.

How did he do it? In addition to the gastrectomy, Michael started exercising with regularity and intensity. For three hours, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays he does water aerobics. His real passion is line dancing, which he does from 6:00 – 8:30 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Turkey Thicket Recreation Center. In fact, Michael has been line dancing for five years, but this December 1st will be his one-year anniversary line dancing at Turkey Thicket with a group that calls themselves The Line Dance Addicts. Michael no longer needs to use the portable oxygen to get around, although he still uses it at home. He is well on his way to full recovery from a lifetime of weight-related issues.

He is grateful for his second chance and is working to spread what he’s learned to the community around him. He has begun teaching line dancing to Potomac Gardens’ and Hopkins Apartments’ residents. Classes cost only $2 and it’s already proven popular with those of all ages and all sizes. Line Dancing with Big Mike teaches you more than the Nae Nae and the electric slide; line dancing with Big Mike teaches you that overcoming even extremely large obstacles is possible and easier when your community has your back.

The community that has Michael’s back as he continues to lose weight includes but is not limited to: Cheryl Thompson Walker, Kembal Bonds, Russell, Jordan, Miss Rita and Rita from Turkey Thicket, as well as Miss Paula Allen, Miss Reshida Young and the entire Line Dance Addicts family; Dee, Reggie, Adrienne Jenkins and Dr. Cristina Schreiber from George Washington University Hospital; Sisters With A Purpose and the entire Master’s Child Church Family under the leadership of Bishop Melvin Robinson junior and his wife and church co-founder Erma Robinson-Fitzgerald; and last but not least the Lord, his mom and grandparents.

Many Languages One Voice Community Day

On September 24, 2017, Many Languages One Voice (MLOV) held an Emergency Planning & Community Defense Day (Día de Planificación de Emergencia y Defensa Comunitaria).

The event was designed to bring the community together to learn about our rights as immigrants in DC, prepare together, and celebrate our communities’ strength and resilience!
¡Nos reunimos para aprender nuestros derechos como inmigrantes en DC, prepararnos juntos, y celebrar la fuerza y la resiliencia de nuestras comunidades!

Workshops included:

– Know Your Rights in DC / Tus Derechos en DC
– Emergency Preparedness Plan Against ICE / Planes de Emergencia en Contra de ICE
– Legal Advice / Consejos Legales
– Community Defense / Defensa Comunitaria

Video byBen Parisi  with subtitles byJuan Carlos Vega.

According to MLOV Executive Director Sapna Pandya, “It was an incredible day, grounded in Puerto Rican and Mexican resilience & music, with opportunities for dance, joy, and important discussions of the threats to our communities & how we will combat them together organizing towards #ExpandedSanctuary in DC. We built a beautiful community altar, answered questions about immigration and employment abuse, and got folks connected to needed services.”

MLOV’s next community event, Dance in the Round: Circle As Sanctuary, is scheduled for Sunday, October 8, starting at 2:30 pm at the Columbia Heights Civic Plaza.

Many Languages One Voice Defends DACA and Beyond

Written by Ray Jose
MLOV Youth Justice Organizer

marchOn Tuesday morning at 11 AM, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that Trump and his administration has decided to end DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).  This means that the Department of Homeland Security will stop accepting new DACA applications (i.e. from people who are eligible but do not already have DACA).  Individuals who already have DACA and whose work permits will expire between now and March 5, 2018 will be able to apply for a two-year renewal if they apply by October 5, 2017.

This news has obviously been devastating as we remain concerned about the pending uptick in immigration enforcement & raids that this announcement foretells. We also must remain vigilant that any calls for policy change (i.e. DREAM Act, etc.) do not use undocumented youth as pawns for a white supremacist agenda that calls for border militarization or walls, military service requirements, furthering the Muslim ban or expanded cooperation between police and ICE.
In fact, we are already feeling the immediate impact of this announcement – just hours ago, workers from Matchbox came in to MLOV’s offices to say that 40 of their colleagues had been forced to resign yesterday due to their immigration status. 
Following the announcement from Jeff Sessions came DC Mayor Muriel Bowser’s statement, “[calling] on Congress to quickly pass the Dream Act so that DREAMers across our country can continue to build a safer, stronger, and more prosperous country for all…Washington, DC will continue to stand with our nearly 800 DREAMers and the thousands of immigrants who live in the District. We are proud of our DREAMers and our support will be unwavering.”
While Mayor Bowser says she “stands unequivocally with DREAMers,” in the same breath she is complicit for not holding Trump accountable for terminating DACA. At the same time that Mayor Bowser says she and DC are “standing with the DREAMers,” the District continues to tolerate dangerous loopholes in policies that have led to our immigrant residents being deported, police violence on Black and Brown communities, abusive employers who continue to engage in wage theft, displacement of long-term residents, and an education system that is failing our youth of color.
In this moment, words are not enough.  We need a real #SanctuaryDC that keeps all DC residents safe, and MLOV will hold all politicians accountable for their actions or lack thereof.
 

LOOKING FOR WAYS TO SUPPORT DACA YOUTH AND OTHER UNDOCUMENTED YOUNG PEOPLE IN DC?

HERE ARE A FEW THINGS YOU CAN DO TODAY:
1. Donate to support three of MLOV’s undocumented immigrant youth organizers by clicking here. These youth participated in the Summer Youth Employment Program but didn’t receive stipends because they are undocumented. When we reach our donation goal, extra funds will go to DC youth needing help paying for DACA renewal (cost is $495) and related costs. 
2. Encourage DACA youth and their families seek mental health support through local agencies:
  • Mary’s Center
    202-846-8053
  • Latin American Youth Center
    (202) 319-2229
  • La Clinica del Pueblo
    (202) 462.4788
3. Join upcoming trainings provided by SanctuaryDMV to be trained in providing Rapid Response to ICE raids and ICE surveillance, which we are fearful may increase in DC and the metro area. .
Click on this link to register for an upcoming Rapid Response training by SanctuaryDMV!
4. Follow Many Languages One Voice on Facebook and Twitter to stay updated on how you can support our members’ demands for Sanctuary in Schools.
This summer, MLOV trained 15 mostly undocumented immigrant youth to  be community organizers – preparing them to protect themselves, their peers, and their families.  As a result of holding local politicians like Mayor Bower accountable, funding for these youth participants’ stipends has been in jeopardy.  You can support our immigrant youth organizers by clicking here to donate.  Despite this threat, our youth have developed five critical steps that educators and administrators in the DC school system can take to keep them safe and support their education.

 LEGAL SERVICES FOR DC IMMIGRANTS

As a result of organizing by MLOV in November 2016, Mayor Bowser released funds enabling local community organizations to provide pro bono legal services for DC immigrants. Refer individuals needing to renew their DACA or with other questions about their immigration status to the following MLOV partners:

  • AYUDA
    202-387-4848
  • Catholic Charities
    202-772-4352
  • DC Immigrant Rights Project (collaboration of Ethiopian Community Center & Lutheran Social Services)
    (202) 844-5430
  • Whitman Walker Health Legal Services
    (202) 745-7000
  • CARECEN
    (202) 328-9799
  • CAIR Coalition
    (202) 331-3320
To my undocumented family, to other DACA recipients, and to any community under attack by this White supremacist administration: we have been here before and we will continue to protect our community and resist.  Trump and politicians on both sides are deflecting the responsibility onto Congress to create a legislative solution, but we know that protecting only some immigrant youth is not enough.
This moment is meant to divide immigrant communities into who is “deserving and undeserving,” it is meant to put the blame on parents of undocumented youth, it is meant to uphold the criminalization of Black and Brown immigrants who are disproportionately targeted by police, ICE and the criminal justice system.  This moment is meant to break us, but we are resilient people and we will fight for a liberation that goes beyond documentation or any legislation.

The Interrupters Screening and Discussion

Interrupters Flyer