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2005 State Of The District Address

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(Washington, DC) On Monday, March 21, Mayor Anthony A. Williams delivered his annual State of the District address. Mayor Williams gave the speech at The Lincoln Theatre on U Street, NW.


In his speech, entitled Lifting All Communities, Mayor Williams referred to the upcoming launch of the “New Communities” initiative which will transform the city’s most distressed neighborhoods, starting with the Sursum Corda neighborhood and three others. Mayor Williams also called for the Council to approve his budget which includes nearly $100 million in tax reductions—nearly half of which are progressive tax cuts and credits that benefit the city’s neediest residents. Additionally, Mayor Williams spoke of legislation he has introduced entitled the Way to Work Act of 2005 which will help the chronically unemployed get jobs and keep them.


Mayor Williams also called for a moment of silence in memory of Wanda R. Alston, the acting director of the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs, who died on Wednesday, March 16.


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Many of us in this room come here tonight with very heavy hearts. This morning we said good-bye to Wanda Alston. When we lost Wanda, we lost a family member, a colleague,a leader for our city, and a champion for gay rights and women’s rights everywhere. But most of all, we lost a friend. The Proverbs tell us: “A friend loveth at all times.” It is our most precious gift, transcending hard times, geography...even death. So, while she has left this earth, Wanda’s spirit and friendship will remain with us forever.


Before I begin the State of the District address, I’d like for us to have a moment of silence in honor of our friend and colleague, Wanda R. Alston. I know Wanda is here with us now, telling us to keep fighting for justice and dignity for all. And that is the reason we are here.


* * *


To the children and adults who filled this hall with beautiful voices, to the Reverend Lionel Edmonds who lifted our spirits, to our distinguished guests here and our citizens watching from home: thank you for joining us this evening.


I look around this hall, and I see so many leaders whom I am fortunate to call my colleagues:



No one does more for our city and citizens than the amazing Eleanor Holmes Norton. When we finally get a vote in the Congress, it will be because of all Eleanor does to fight for our rights every single day.


We are also fortunate to be joined by so many dedicated and talented members of the City Council:

Our Chair, Linda Cropp, who is such a strong and capable leader for the District


Our Chairman pro-tem, Jack Evans


Vincent Orange


Phil Mendelson


David Catania


Adrian Fenty


Jim Graham


and our three new members from east of the river: Kwame Brown, Vincent Gray, and my friend and former mayor, Marion Barry.

Let me thank you, and former Mayor Pratt, for your service to our city. And let’s give all of them a big hand.


Now, I know the press likes to report on my disagreements with the Council—and, sure, there have been a few—but most of the time we are working side-by-side to make life better for the citizens we represent.


And that partnership will always be far stronger than politics, even during an election year.


Of course, there are only three people in this room whom I’m sure aren’t running for Mayor: my wife, Diane; our daughter, Asantewa; and my mother, Virginia. And that’s because they already have a harder job. I wouldn’t be here tonight without their love and support; you are everything to me.


Recently, Diane and I were flying home from Los Angeles. As our plane took off, I almost started to cry. And, no, it wasn’t because of the LA smog. It's because I looked down on the tarmac and saw the spot my father used to take me to when I was a little boy. My father didn’t have much money, but he somehow scraped together enough to create great adventures for us. There were camping trips. There were road trips. And there were trips to the airport to watch the planes take off and land.


He’d point up to the sky, as if to tell me, "One day, you'll be on that plane, flying over the cities, skimming across the sky. He knew he’d never be on an airplane himself. But he had faith that his kids would fly one day, both literally and metaphorically. In many ways, that is our challenge tonight as well—not as parents, but as stewards. Because a city, too, is passed down from one generation to the next.


Look around us. We are living in this amazing capital of the free world because Pierre L’Enfant and Benjamin Banneker designed a new federal city more than 200 years ago. We are a community of stunning parks and other public spaces because the McMillan Commission created them a hundred years ago. We have an elected council and mayor with the power to lead because more than thirty years ago, our beloved Mayor Washington brought home rule to the District of Columbia. And we are so honored that his wife, Mary Burke Washington, is here with us tonight.


Now it is our turn. The citizens of the District are currently working on the next comprehensive plan for our city. And we are asking ourselves: what will we leave behind to the children living in Washington, DC, 30, 50, even 100 years from now?


Back in the 1990s, it was hard to plan for the future, so mired were we in the problems of the past. No one answered our phones, our roads went unpaved, our snow unplowed, our budgets unbalanced, our agencies were run by courts, our city led by a control board. Our government was badly broken and so too were our spirits.


But, even in those dark days, we dared to imagine a different city—and now we have created it. We no longer have to leave town just to go shopping. We have a Best Buy and a Container Store in Tenleytown. Target is coming to Columbia Heights. Costco to Fort Lincoln. A Giant is coming to Camp Simms in Ward 8.


If the Council acts on my bill, the old Convention Center site will become a new city center, a place where people from every ward will come to work, play, eat, and, yes, read in a state-of-the-art central library. And I look forward to working with Linda Cropp and Sharon Ambrose to make this promise a reality.


We are safer today.The number of police officers in DC has grown to 3,800 and violent crime has gone down by 34% in our toughest neighborhoods.


We are healthier—24,000 citizens who were once just an illness away from bankruptcy, now have the security of health insurance.


We are going to college in record numbers. Our college attendance jumped 30 percent—the biggest increase in the United States.


That’s in part because more than 5,000 DC residents are now getting help with their tuition. Half of them are the first in their families to attend college. And two of them are here with us tonight. Let’s congratulate Natasha McKeiver and Stephanie Petzing, who just graduated from college!


President Bush has fully funded tuition assistance for the District in his budget. Now Congress must do the same.


We are becoming the place to live—Black Enterprise magazine rated Washington, DC the second best city for African Americans in the entire country.


We are back in the game—in just 24 days (not that I’m counting), all of Washington will have something to cheer about on baseball’s opening day!


We are more prosperous.


I think back to when I first started as the CFO and found bags of old tax returns lying around the basement. We had junk bond status, $500 million in deficits and red ink as far as the eye could see.


Well, that was then. This is now:


We have a double A grade investment rating from Wall Street for the first time in 15 years, a $1.2 billion financial reserve, and only better fiscal news on the horizon. Ladies and Gentleman: We should all be proud of the District of Columbia. We are strong. We are only getting better.


But we are not done.

And, no, I am not done.


That is why, just a few hours ago, I sent to the Council a budget that is both bold and responsible, both targeted to the disadvantaged and fair to all.


We’re like a family that, after years of financial ruin and sacrifice, is finally out of debt. The credit cards are all under control. And now we must address the long-term investments—to our home, our children's education, our retirement fund—that we have put off for too long.


My budget for next year includes the basic services that our city has come to expect, while adhering to the fiscal constraints that we set during more difficult times.


But we are fortunate this year to be able to look beyond these bare essentials and make critical investments in our city’s future, especially for those communities left behind.


Let’s face it. There are people all over our city who have not fully reaped the progress of the last six years. They are still going to crumbling schools, still left with more month than money, still surrounded by the twin tragedies of poverty and violence, still without a place to live or work.


Our city is only as strong as our neediest communities and citizens. We know that a rising tide of economic strength does not, by itself, lift all boats. Some boats may have holes in them. Some don’t have anyone who can paddle. Some may be broken down from years of neglect.


But we also know that the methods of the past won’t work either. We can't just tinker at the margins or throw money at our problems. Our beloved city is at a crossroads. We can and must seize this opportunity to help lift all communities in our city for generations to come.


So, tonight I propose three priorities for the coming year: Reviving our most neglected neighborhoods. Rebuilding the infrastructure of our city. And reducing taxes for all DC residents, especially the most vulnerable among us.


* * *


First, we must revive our neediest neighborhoods. When I mentioned baseball a minute ago, there was a lot of applause (and certainly some boos). I know my decision is not popular with everyone right now. But leadership isn’t always about doing the popular thing at the moment. It’s about doing the right thing for the future. I believe, with all my heart, that we are bringing a ‘major league’ producer of jobs, opportunity and revitalization to our city. I believe that this new team will restore the glory of a forgotten river and a distressed community: bringing new housing, new businesses, new restaurants, new parks, a new spectacular Riverwalk, and a new chapter for our citizens east of the river. And in 20 years, I believe that the bandwagon of folks saying they always supported baseball will be very full indeed.


Now, during our baseball discussions, there was a false debate in our city between the economic promise of the stadium on one hand, and money for schools, the homeless, and other critical issues on the other. If we learned anything over the past 10 years, it is this: we cannot afford to choose between economic development and social services, between providing affordable housing and attracting new residents, between fixing our schools and fixing our streets. To revitalize our most troubled neighborhoods, we need to do it all. And we will.


When I spoke here last year, our city was still in shock over the killings of our children, including Princess Hanson. At a candlelight vigil for Princess in Sursum Corda where she lived and died, I heard from residents about how drug dealers had taken over their streets. So, we decided to turn Sursum Corda and 13 other crime-ridden neighborhoods into “Hot Spots.” That meant we arrested the biggest criminals and put more cops on the street. It meant we towed abandoned cars, repaired traffic lights, removed trash and graffiti. And it meant we expanded services, including a playground for the kids that the community built with its own hands.


Do you know what? In the last year, violent crime in Sursum Corda went down 43 percent. And there hasn’t been a single murder there since.


But we can and must do more. There are pockets of despair throughout our city, areas with high-concentrations of crime, poverty, drop-out rates, and unemployment. Unless we act, our neediest citizens will be pushed down by the ills surrounding them and pushed out by the forces of gentrification.


This year, we will launch our New Communities initiative to transform our most distressed neighborhoods, starting with Sursum Corda and three others. And I want to thank my City Administrator, Robert Bobb, my deputy mayors, and my entire cabinet for their vision and hard work in making this happen.


We’re not talking about a few more dollars here or there. We’re not just talking about bricks and mortar. We’re talking about an innovative and holistic approach to creating healthy neighborhoods.


So, why do we call them new communities, even though the character of the community and its residents will remain the same? What’s new is the partnership with the residents, which will create a blueprint for change in the neighborhood. What’s new are improved schools, libraries, job training, recreation, homeless, and health centers, if the neighborhood needs them. What’s new are the government teams working directly in the community to bring critical services, person by person. What’s new are the housing options for all income levels: a healthy mix of low-income, affordable, and market housing. Every public housing unit that goes will be replaced by a new subsidized unit. And let me be absolutely clear: this is about diversity in housing, not displacement. Because, if we do nothing, the gentrification bulldozer will roll over our neighborhoods. So we must act now. We are pledging $50 million this year to revitalize our most needy communities. But this type of monumental change requires more money than our regular budgets can sustain. The booming real estate market in the District has meant significant resources for our Housing Production Trust Fund.


I have sent legislation to the Council allowing us to borrow against some of the Fund’s income tomorrow so we can invest in our neighborhoods today. But it’s not just in our New Communities. We are expanding affordable housing—more than 17,000 units—for families struggling throughout the District. We created a star-studded housing task force, which, in just 60 days, will help us create a visionary plan to increase affordable housing for years to come. And we are reaching out to the ignored, avoided, and forgotten who live on our streets. I truly believe we can end homelessness in our city during the next decade.


And that is why I have a 10-year plan, Homeless No More. In this year alone, I am investing $20 million in new funds to provide shelter for those who need it, subsidized housing, and preventative services—from substance abuse to mental health treatment.


* * *


If we are going to revitalize our most troubled neighborhoods, then we must do a better job of protecting our children from violence. Yes, overall crime went down in 2004 by 12%, but we lost 24 young people last year—twice the number in 2003. Nothing else matters unless we can stop the killings that are robbing our young people of their lives, and our city of its future.


I think of the fifth grader, Victoria, whom I met last year. In an essay about her Georgia Avenue neighborhood, she wrote:


“As a 10-year-old living in a bad neighborhood, I have seen people smoke, kill, and do other bad things. I want to change my neighborhood to a safe and peaceful place that a good person like me could live in. My older cousin taught me a new word—it is called a statistic. Now that I know what it means…I don’t want to be a statistic.”


Last year, I promised to fight for a bill that would crack down on youth violence, and I signed it into law in December. Now, I will send to the Council an Omnibus Crime Bill that will increase penalties for crimes committed against children, punish those who recruit kids for illegal gang activity, and crack down on young people who don’t show up for their delinquency hearings. But we need to nurture young people long before they are in harm's way. And that starts with supporting their parents and guardians, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet.


If you are a father not living with your kids, but paying child support, you will now get tax reductions through the Earned Income Tax Credit. If you are a grandparent responsible for raising your grandchildren, you will get more than $10,000 per year to help ease your financial burden. And I want to thank Council Chair Linda Cropp for bringing the plight of our city's working grandparents to our attention. And if you are moving from welfare to work, you will get $50 every month to help pay for child care.


Right now, more than 1,400 low-income parents in our city are waiting for help with child care and facing the terrible choice between going to work and putting their children in danger. Over the next two years, I will dedicate $9 million so that all mothers who qualify for child care subsidies get them. And I am releasing $2 million today so that these parents don't have to wait one day longer.


But what about the young people without supportive families, or those who are attracted to trouble, despite their parents' love? Some are involved in our juvenile justice system, and we must give them meaningful alternatives to detention, enrichment programs while they are in our care, safe and clean facilities, and a smooth re-entry back home. Some young people are being lured into gangs, and we must show them another way by building on the progress we've made east of the river and in Columbia Heights. Some need a role model, and we will provide young people at risk with 1,000 paid mentors from their own communities.


And what about the influence of our schools? I worked with my colleagues to hire the very best superintendent to lead our schools. I have put my trust 100 percent in Superintendent Clifford Janey. He is here with us tonight. Let's give him a big hand.


I am putting $26 million into a fund to address his biggest priorities in our public schools. But I have a message for our public school leaders: changes cannot be quick enough or bold enough for our children. Of course, the most effective youth initiative is still the oldest one around: a job. For older youth who are out of school, we will provide year-round work experience. For teens, I am dedicating $2 million to revive the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Institute. Does it work? Well, we have an impressive example in this room tonight: Councilmember Kwame Brown, who graduated from the program 18 years ago. I am also dedicating $6.3 million to provide 10,000 young people with summer jobs.


But this is a two-way street. Kids can’t expect a summer job unless they show up, behave themselves, and stay in school. They shouldn't believe a summer job will save them, if they’ve dropped out, or can’t read and write. Because it won’t. If we give some kids incentive to work, we better give others incentives to finish their education. A good education is still by far the best job-training around.


And that brings me to another step we must take to revitalize our most troubled neighborhoods: putting residents to work. The good news is, as our country lost jobs over the past six years, our city created them. The bad news is, as unemployment decreased nationwide, it rose in the District from 7 to 8 percent. But that is only an average. In some neighborhoods, as many as 30 percent of residents are unemployed. We have the jobs—700,000 of them—but more than two-thirds are taken by Virginia and Maryland residents.


Part of the problem is that the largest numbers of jobs we are creating require a good deal of training and education. In fact, I bet you can guess the second fastest growing occupation in our city. That’s right—lawyers. And next in line? The paralegals and legal assistants who work for the lawyers.


One of the reasons I wanted to bring baseball to Washington was to create critical entry-level jobs, not dead-end jobs. It was amazing last month to see 3,000 residents line up around the block to apply for 1,000 baseball jobs. And do you know what? Many will start work in a few weeks. But, it's not enough to create jobs if our neediest citizens aren't prepared to work. In the neighborhoods we are trying to reach, many residents face serious barriers to employment. Some haven’t finished high school. Others have never worked before. Some have substance abuse problems. Others can’t properly read or write. I say: If you live in the District, you should be able to work in the District. That's why, today I sent the Council a bill, the Way to Work Act of 2005, which will help the chronically unemployed get jobs, and keep them. And I am looking forward to working with Committee Chair Vincent Orange, to make it happen.


In the first year, we will target 1,800 people in our most troubled neighborhoods who, with help, are capable of entering the workforce. It starts with training. If we give businesses incentives to set up shop in the District, then they must give back to our workers. For every dollar they get from us, they must deposit one half of one percent into a job opportunity bank. And we will use that bank to create jobs for the unemployed and improve the skills of low-income workers.


But talk to anyone who needs training, and they'll tell you: "Sure, I'd love to go back to school, but how will I pay the bills?" And talk to anyone who has been in jail, and they'll ask you: "Who is going to hire me?" We must answer these questions with action. It's time for us to provide real transitional employment for those who need it most—a powerful combination of training and hands-on experience in a government-funded job.


The best training still takes place at school, especially at a strong state university. My budget includes an additional $8 million to help our beloved University of the District of Columbia prepare residents for the fastest-growing jobs—including teachers, nurses, social workers, and hospital workers.


But it's difficult to get any job if you aren't literate—and so, this year, I am dedicating $3 million to help adults across our city learn to read and write.


Of course, even a job doesn't always guarantee financial security. Last year, we raised the minimum wage for the first time in more than a decade. This year, let's give our residents a living wage. Businesses that receive help from the DC government must pay their workers a living wage—that's $9.50 an hour with health benefits and $10.50 without. If you work hard every day in Washington, DC, you shouldn’t have to raise your family in poverty.


* * *


We cannot revitalize our poorest neighborhoods, unless all citizens have quality health care. In some places, nearly half the residents have diabetes, asthma, or hypertension, and they die of these diseases at higher than average rates. A few years ago, we pledged to end the two-tier health care system and focus on primary care for those who need it most. So we created the Health Care Alliance, the only program in the country that offers insurance to people making up to 200 percent of poverty. And the results? The number of uninsured adults in the District has dropped to 9 percent, less than half the national average. Emergency room visits are down by 29 percent and primary care visits are up by 38 percent.


But insurance isn't worth much if it doesn’t guarantee good care. We are putting community health centers in our underserved neighborhoods. This year, school nurses and aides will serve in every school that needs one. All members of the Alliance will have doctors who see them regularly, and can detect diseases before they become tragedies. We must give our doctors incentives to practice in underserved areas. And, yes, that does include making the entire District a better place to practice medicine. I have a balanced approach to address the high medical malpractice rates that are driving too many doctors from the jobs and cities they love. It combines both insurance reform and tort reform. And I will send the Council legislation to meet this challenge.


Our health care safety net must include good hospitals across our city. As I’ve already announced, we are working with Howard University to build a new hospital on Reservation 13. Now, some have suggested this should be a “poor person’s hospital.” Well, it depends on what you mean by that. Yes, it should serve the people of Wards 5, 6, 7, and 8, some of whom are poor. But it shouldn’t be a second-class hospital or a hospital of last resort. It should be a private, world-class hospital that attracts and serves residents from all over our city.


* * *


It’s not enough to revitalize our most troubled neighborhoods. To lift up all communities, we must also make long-term investments in our infrastructure. After decades of neglect, we finally have the ability to make historic improvements that will define our city long after we are all gone. We will see a major change to the 11th Street Bridge that will reduce traffic for residents in Wards 7 and 8, and connect communities on both sides of the Anacostia. Here, in the U Street district, we’ll see a revived Howard Theater. We’ll see renovated libraries across the city, including a full-service library and recreation center at Deanwood in Ward 7. And, yes, every library in the city will be open not 30 hours a week, not 40 hours a week, but a full 52 hours a week. We’ll see new or renovated recreation centers at Bald Eagle, Mount Pleasant, and the Wilson pool. Because of an extra $4 million we are dedicating to the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, we'll see more music, dance, and other forms of artistic expression across our city. We’ll see new Senior Wellness Centers in Wards 4 and 6. We’ll have better places for the homeless to seek help, including the renovated Gales School and the new La Casa at 14th and Irving.


And, in the next few years, we will see our major corridors literally transformed. It isn’t right that one half of Massachusetts Avenue is a showcase, and the other half is falling apart. It isn’t right that one half of Pennsylvania Avenue is an example of what can happen when we restore a corridor and the other half an example of what can happen when we neglect it. Georgia and Alabama Avenues should be just as inviting as Connecticut and New Hampshire Avenues. Our corridors are the arteries of the District. When we clean them up, we attract businesses, we create jobs, improve neighborhoods, decrease crime, and showcase the beauty and diversity of our city. We’ve already seen what can be accomplished on Barracks Row Main Street. Its executive director, Bill McLeod, says that the two most important changes happened first: streetlights and sidewalks. They inspired residents and business owners to take more pride in the neighborhood where they worked and lived. A few years ago, there was only one outdoor café in Barracks Row. Today, there are nine.


Tonight, I hope that you will join me in a decade-long campaign to transform corridors across our city. This year, we’ll start with H Street in NE; Pennsylvania Avenue east of the Anacostia; and Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue in SE. Then, we’ll move over to Benning Road in NE, Georgia Avenue and 7th Street in NW, South Capitol Street, east of the Anacostia, and Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue in NE.


* * *


If we want to lift all communities, we must give all residents tax relief. That is our third priority. And I want to thank Councilmember Jack Evans for his leadership and partnership on this critical issue. I don’t have to tell any of you about the tax burden in our city, especially as we approach April 15. The bottom line? We cut your income taxes last year, and we are cutting them again. My budget provides almost $100 million in tax reductions, much of which will benefit our neediest residents. To help low-income workers and big families, we will increase the personal exemption and standard exemption. To help more working families avoid paying any DC taxes, we want to double our Earned Income Tax Credit. Let’s be clear: if we make this change, our city will be one of the nation’s true leaders in tax relief for the working poor.


What about property taxes? While our rates are lower than our neighbors, our bills are rising because of soaring real estate prices. I’ve talked to many residents who have a bad case of sticker shock after seeing their new assessments. And the shock is especially painful for those who fear having to sell the homes they loved for decades. We cannot allow that to happen. I am proposing an increase in the Homestead deduction that will reduce taxes for every homeowner by more than $200. But we must also freeze taxes for all people making under $50,000, and cut taxes in half for those who are disabled.


I know these are a lot of numbers. But let me show you what they will mean for real people in our city. This year, a single mother with three children making $24,000 would pay $480 in DC taxes. Next year, she’ll pay nothing. Next year, a retired couple making $38,000 and living in their own home would pay $350 less in taxes. Next year, single people renting an apartment and making $75,000 a year, would see their District tax bills drop by almost $300. If we want these changes to take place next year, we must pass tax relief now.


We cannot lift up all boats unless we can steer the ship ourselves. We have already proven to Congress that we are a reliable partner—now we must be treated as one. People often ask me why I wanted to be president of the National League of Cities. And the answer is simple: I wanted a platform to rally the country on behalf of our democratic rights. Because, this is not a District issue. It's not a Red or Blue state issue. It’s an American issue.


It's an American issue when Congress still decides how we spend the DC taxes paid by our hard-working citizens. The Senate has already passed budget autonomy for DC. Now it is time for the House of Representatives to do the same.


It’s an American issue when the federal government still refuses to pay the more than $800 million a year that its presence costs the citizens of the District. It's time for them to pay their bills, and I will be asking the President to do so in his next budget.


Now, I was at the President’s State of the Union. Like so many, I was extremely moved by the embrace between that Iraqi woman who had voted for the first time and the heart-broken mother of one of our fallen soldiers. It's hard to believe that, in that same solemn chamber, our Congresswoman still can't vote. If our city's children are going to fight and die for voting rights abroad, then surely they should have voting rights at home.


* * *


My friends: we have come so far, so fast. But, if we want to finish the journey, we simply can’t afford to paddle in opposite directions. Now, I know that paddling together doesn’t always come easy, especially in a rough election year. No doubt, some of those running for Mayor will be tempted to divide and conquer, to grandstand and score political points. But let's all promise to rise above that. Because, if we don’t, we will wake up in November of 2006 with one winner for Mayor and an entire city that has lost.


The fact is, if we are going to finish this historic journey, we will need seasoned leadership and judgment from the Mayor, the Council, and other city officials. Now, I have certainly made more than my share of mistakes. And, God knows, I am not the best politician in the world, or even our city. But charm and ambition did not bring us to where we are today—and charm and ambition will not take us to where we need to go tomorrow.


Not long ago, my family rented a canoe on the Potomac River in West Virginia. We wanted to paddle from Shepherdstown to Harper’s Ferry. The folks at the boat rental place told us it was only a few miles. Well, it ended up being about 12 miles—a long 12 miles on a river with very little current. We tried every combination of paddlers, and nothing worked. Diane and Asantewa in the back had us turning to the right. Our friend, Lisa, in the back had us lurching to the left. By the time we found a combination that would keep us straight, we had used up so much energy that the younger generation bailed out. That left Diane and me to forge ahead alone for the final 10 miles. The problem was, Diane was also exhausted from going in so many circles, and she conked out just a few miles later. So then there was one. I paddled as fast and hard as I could. But one person, alone, never moves as quickly as two, or 100, or even 600,000 paddling together.


There are people all over our city who are paddling as fast and hard as they can. I think of hearing the amazing version of the Battle Hymn of the Republic played by members of the Ballou Senior High School marching band, who had just come in second in a national championship. They had lost so much in the last year, but not their skill or pride or love of school and community. I think of the PEACEOHOLICS, Ronald Moten and Jahar Abraham, who not only talk the talk, but walk the walk, dedicating every minute of their lives to saving the young people of our city. I think of the Engine Four firefighters I met who had rescued two small boys from a house engulfed by fire. I think of the women I’ve met who are getting off welfare or moving into their own homes for the first time. And the ex-offenders, who have literally turned their lives around. And, of course, I think of Wanda, who gave everything to the people she loved, the justice she sought, and the city and citizens who will never ever forget her.


As Dr. King used to say, “We may have come in different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” And so it is with us. Our skin colors may not be the same. Our language and culture and sexual orientations may not be the same. Our experiences and viewpoints may not be the same. But we are in the same boat now. And even though we may be tired, if we paddle together, we can withstand the rough water, the storms, even the long journey. If we paddle together, we can rise above the most dangerous current of all—complacency. If we paddle together, we can seize this amazing moment.


And when we do, we will lift up all communities, and leave to our children a legacy, and a city, that we can all be proud of.


Thank you. God bless you. God bless America. And God bless the District of Columbia.

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