DaSean Jones and Christine Miller: How conversations can lead to change

October 12, 2021

This blog piece includes two narratives, one of DaSean Jones (Advocacy Captain and Ward 8 PLE Board member) and one of Christine Miller (Advocacy Captain and Ward 1 PLE Board member). 

DaSean

There is no easier way to build a strong sense of community than by getting to know your neighbors. 

I had the chance to do this when I first met Christine during a PAVE DC Parent Voice and Choice Week meeting a few years ago. We learned more about one another, including our experiences living in our respective wards – my family in Ward 8 and hers in Ward 1.

I shared my life’s story – which I like to call “my life’s transition” – with her. Because of our growing friendship, I was more than happy to accept when she asked me and my daughter Kayla to join her for a Ward 1 ANC community meeting to discuss safe passage to school

It was a powerful conversation. I had a proud father moment as I watched Kayla talk about her hard, yet real, experiences commuting from Ward 8 to Ward 1 to attend school. It was empowering to share my own experiences as a Black father and native Washingtonian because I brought a narrative to the room that many hadn’t heard before. 

I appreciate Christine for providing a space for Kayla and me to speak that night. Those of us living East of the River (EoTR) have voices, stories, and experiences we want to share, but we’re often limited by time or not given an opportunity to share them. That’s why it’s important for those living West of the River to pay attention when we talk. You may have the privilege of not experiencing issues like gun violence, poverty, or drug addiction at the rates we do today, but there could come a time where the system no longer works on your behalf. 

So, the first step is to pay attention, but your next step is to accept how our stories are told. People call us “angry” and say that we need to “calm down” when those of us EoTR, especially Black people, voice our concerns. But imagine your family – your kids – constantly living the traumatic occurrences we do. I think you’d be pretty angry, too. 

Once your neighbor from a different ward does tell you their story, I ask that you be intentional about providing support. DC has plenty of resources to support every family, but when resources are given (if they ever are) not everyone knows how to use them. 

I come from a background in social work service. In my field, we talk about “reasonable efforts,” which is defined as determining what steps are needed to provide sustainable help. 

For example, when we do home visits with families and notice that kids are having a hard time reconnecting with their parents, we start by asking why. When we have an answer, we research and gather resources and provide direction and support to the families that will help their reconciliation. And finally, we determine if all the help we provided was enough – and if it isn’t we start the process again until the problem is resolved. If we come together, ward by ward, to practice using reasonable efforts to fix the systemic issues, I don’t think there’d be a problem we can’t fix. 

Some of these steps may take time to implement, so in the meantime try this: next time you’re outside, say hi to the person walking down the street. Start a conversation just by asking them about their day. Just make them feel human because that’s what we all are. And when we all recognize that, the easier it will be to come together and truly be one DC community. 

By DaSean Jones, Advocacy Captain and Ward 8 PLE Board member

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Christine  

I had goosebumps when I met and heard DaSean speak for the first time.

It was my first PAVE meeting during DC Parent Voice and Choice Week. His power as he spoke about the tragic, real stories of his past captivated everyone in the room – including the DC leader who sat across the table. I was fortunate that DaSean and I were able to connect more in the weeks and months that followed so I could both hear more about his family and share my own family’s story with him. I was privileged to have the opportunity to invite him and his daughter, Kayla, to come speak with my community during my Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) meeting about safe passage to school a few years back. 

From that meeting, it was a hard, yet important, moment of reality to understand that the inequities that DaSean faced as a child are the same inequities that his children, and many of our children in the District, are still facing today. 

That’s why it’s so important we come together. Ward 1 with Ward 8, Ward 5 with Ward 4, Ward 7 with Ward 2 and so on. We can start by having a dialogue. We need to hear from and listen to our neighbors. The consistent themes of so many families’ stories prove that the realities DaSean’s family face daily are symptoms of greater, systemic issues impacting families DC-wide. 

Once we have that dialogue, then it’s time to get uncomfortable. As a white woman, I benefit from the privilege I was born with and it is my duty to not settle comfortably in this privilege – and apply my privilege to amplify the voices and experiences of others. Serving as an ANC Commissioner for 7 years, I’ve learned the hard statistics and seen the harsh realities that prove our systems must be changed. It’s not easy work, but it’s critical work. 

Once we’ve talked, listened, and gotten as uncomfortable as we can, then it’s time to get passionate. When I hear the experiences of other other PAVE parent leaders, they speak with passion for their children, their family, and their community – passion which calls us to all work together to change the ongoing, yet seemingly ignored, cycles that reinforce long standing inequities.

DaSean is right. There are systemic issues disproportionately impacting families in Wards 7 and 8 – and we all need to care. Because many of the same systemic issues also show up in Wards 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

I’m fortunate to be a PAVE parent leader because when we come together, we’re stronger for it. The issues we fight to fix aren’t ward-based, they’re citywide. I continue to fight alongside parent leaders like DaSean because I want to provide my kids, and every child in the District, with the supports they need to be successful. Our kids can cure cancer, solve world hunger, and have a better life than we did – but only if we make sure they have the tools they need to succeed and accomplish all of their dreams.

We have a small window of opportunity to get it right. We need to move the needle of change even further than it is right now. Because if we don’t, our kids – our babies – will lose. And that will be a monumental failure for all of us.

By Christine Miller, Advocacy Captain and Ward 1 PLE Board member