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Blue Line Corridor Civic Leadership Group Engages Local Leaders and Looks to a Brighter Future for Capitol Heights

Nearly 50 people gathered at Gethsemane United Methodist Church in Capitol Heights on Saturday, March 2, daring to envision what their community could look like with dedication and action from government, community, and local leaders. In a panel moderated by Bryan Franklin, deputy director of LISC D.C., former government officials, nonprofit leaders, and innovators of space and place-making shared their thoughts on how to get engaged at every level. 

The event was hosted by Greater Capitol Heights Improvement Corporation and The Capital Market, as part of a multi-week community training seminar called the Blue Line Corridor Civic Leadership Institute.


The panel opened with a passionate message from former mayor of Hyattsville Candace Hollingsworth, who elaborated on the importance of economic growth and development by providing the group insight into the reason she chose to leave her hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, saying, “Memphis did not do the work to keep me there […] I selfishly want to be there and want to be with my family, but did not see the growth there.” Her impactful speech highlighted the opportunity present in the Blue Line corridor and set the stage for a further inquiry into what can be done to envision a thriving future for the community.


Ian Callender, founder of Suite Nation, a D.C.-based nonprofit, shared a vision for what he thought could be the initial stages of taking steps toward that growth, in D.C. and the Blue Line corridor. Highlighting the work that he did through Sandlot, a place-making initiative that takes under-utilized spaces and turns them into event venues, he shared, “When I think of civic engagement I think of the political professionals that are within that specific area who can kind of help [everyone] understand that there's a need. There's an issue in this specific neighborhood that we can collectively solve without the discourse you normally get when you have people that are pushing back on things that are needed for a spefic group of folks. I think that usually how the ball gets rolling, but it's important to be way ahead of the curve.”


Tonia Wellons, executive director of Greater Washington Community Foundation, expanded on that sentiment stating, “We often rely on the political establishment to do a thing […] We are the ones that we’ve been waiting on […] We’ve forgotten how powerful we are.”


But Hollingsworth reminded the crowd that though they have agency to start and implement these initiatives and community projects themselves, it is up to them to engage with government and hold them to a standard of community (?) service[JJ1] . “Civic engagement is the idea that if [the public] calls on you, you’re not going to waste their time.”


After energizing the crowd and giving them a thorough framework for how to move forward with engagement at various levels of community and government, the panel took questions from the audience. One member of the cohort inquired how the panel would advise actively engaged community members to encourage activity and participation from younger residents, especially high school and college-aged members. Wellons, who started as a coordinator and worked in local government, utilized her experience to give context for the question stating, “You have to get in and participate at the ground level. Roll your sleeves up and do the work.”


Glenarden Mayor Cashenna Cross, one of the cohort participants, emphasized the importance of focusing on the local community, finding the local treasures, and being the change that you want to see, saying, “Be present in place.”

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