The Man of Anacostia


It was standing room only on Saturday, Jan. 28, at the Matthews Memorial Baptist Church for the screening of the documentary “Barry Farm: Community. Land & Justice.” It is an excellent film and should be widely viewed throughout the community. In the film it is noted that the name Barry Farm is that of a plantation and the African Americans in 1871 officially renamed that community Hillsdale. Although for decades there was an active Hillsdale Civic Association, the name Barry Farm is still today used by the government and the public.

Shortly before the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic the Hillsdale Civic Association (HCA) became defunct. This year the Anacostia Coordinating Council will embark on an effort to restore the HCA but its demise bespeaks a continuing problem east of the river. There are neighborhoods that have no functioning civic associations. Unfortunately, there is minimal effort to revitalize or restore civic associations east of the river. The east of the river councilmembers could be instrumental to such an effort but their offices are not engaged.

What makes the lack of a functioning Hillsdale Civic Association in Ward 8 more acute is that there is also a Single Member District in that neighborhood that has no Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner. Last year I sounded the alarm about the Single Member Districts throughout the city that had no candidates on the November general election ballot and urged write-ins. While there were write-ins that were sworn in commissioners, currently there are nine Single Member Districts east of the river that have no commissioners:


8B03,8B07,,8D028D04, 8E07

Having these vacancies means that there are approximately 18,000 east-of-the-river residents with no grassroots representation. I find it curiously ironic that when council candidates run for office, they can assemble teams of campaign workers to knock on more doors than Jehovah Witnesse, but when it comes to making sure that there are no ANC vacancies in their wards they will not employ the same methods or make any attempt to guarantee that there is full representation in their wards.

In Ward 8, the five vacant Single Member Districts are not the only disempowering situation. Ward 8 has only six civic associations and some of them are struggling to survive. There are schools that have no PTAs or any organizations that promote parental engagement. Most of the residents live in apartment buildings with no tenant associations. The Ward 8 AARP chapter has had no virtual meetings since the beginning of the pandemic and may be on the verge of collapse. The Seventh District Citizens Advisory Council, which should be the leading organization forging productive police/community relations has been reduced to only monthly virtual meetings that on the average attract only a few community participants and produce no activities. Most of the Ward 8 churches are not engaged in any collective effort to deal with community issues – particularly the ongoing violence. There are far too many streets blighted with trash.

Please do not get me wrong. Ward 8 is not all desolation and despair. There are community organizations that are doing herculean work in the community although they are mostly underfunded and understaffed. There are many untold stories of residents who make daily efforts and sacrifices to improve conditions in their neighborhoods, on their blocks or in their apartment buildings. But more needs to be done. Even though the government is not and should not be the answer to all problems, in some cases it can be a catalyst for meaningful and productive community action. Next year there will be elections and I hope that the voters will ask or rather demand that the candidates give concrete plans for addressing the conditions and situations that lead the continuing disempowerment of our community.

Long-time Ward 8 community activist Philip Pannell can be contacted at Pannell is the Executive Director of the Anacostia Coordinating Council. Help Make Wards 7 & 8 Great! Become a Member of the Anacostia Coordinating Council: Visit