“Goody bag,” the crowd echoed in return as Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White (D) presented Philip Pannell with a bottle of liquor, a book with marijuana among the pages, and one-hundred-dollar bills for “all his troubles,” serving communities east of the river.
Pannell is a “friend and a fighter,” said White on stage at Sycamore & Oak in Congress Heights. He has given a lot of people hope while serving on “the battlefield of justice in Ward 8.”
Throughout the evening, friends, neighbors and colleagues subjected Pannell to a roast and toast honoring his 30 years of service with the Anacostia Coordinating Council (ACC). The event occurred in October, soon after Pannell celebrated his 73rd birthday and days before ACC’s 30th annual luncheon cruise launched from the Wharf Marina.
He is a “voice for the voiceless” and “Ward 8’s secret weapon,” said Kim Ford, a member of ACC’s board of directors. “We all love him, respect him,” she said, but also laughed while recalling the spirited phone calls she used to receive from him in the middle of the night. These late-night advocacy calls were a regular occurrence shared by many in the room.
Pannell, who has served as ACC’s executive director for the past 28 years, was touched by the celebration.
“I really don’t think that much about the stuff I’ve done in the past,” said Pannell. “I am more concerned about the future.” As ACC turns 40 this year, vice chair Lamont Mitchell helped coordinate the event to honor Pannell’s contributions. “He’s been totally committed … for the past 30 years, to ACC’s missions and goals, and has been the driving force in so many ways,” said Mitchell.
ACC Turns 40
Forty years ago a group of businesses and residents came together to help inform the construction of the Anacostia Metro Station. As the construction wrapped up, the group recognized the need to continue advocating on behalf of Anacostia, and ACC was formalized as a nonprofit in 1993.
Arrington Dixon, the chairman at the time, persuaded Pannell to consider the role of executive director. “This never would have been a job I would have applied for,” said Pannell. “And finally, I decided, sure, you’re right, this is something … I really liked doing, so why not?”.
Since the initial group came together, ACC has “been involved with practically every community issue from A to Z, aids to zoning,” said Pannell. “You name it, ACC is involved with it in terms of bringing people together, helping to discuss community issues.”
The Anacostia Coordinating Council’s monthly meetings are a core part of its mission, bringing together hundreds of organizations and leaders to share information, network, advocate and organize to lift the quality of life for communities east of the river. The meetings have consistently taken place over the past 30 years and remain one of the best places to see a number of organizations represented, share information and stay up-to-date on what’s happening in the community.
“I know that sounds very basic, but that’s our mission,” said Pannell. “To quote the Old Testament prophet, Hosea, ‘my people perish for lack of knowledge.’”
Over the past nine years, ACC has hosted monthly breakfast meetings with clergy and faith leaders east of the river. With around 200 churches in the community, many run by faith leaders working other full-time jobs, ACC recognized the need to create an opportunity for them to meet with colleagues, talk about the issues happening in the community, and support them through compensation and communications.
Pannell has helped institutionalize a few signature events that the community looks forward to every year. This past October, the council held its highly anticipated 30th annual boat ride. The cruise is their largest fundraiser and an accomplishment Pannell is most proud of. “That might sound superficial … but it’s very important in terms of bringing people together,” said Pannell. “There are people who live in the city who … never get a chance to be in a social type of event with the mayor, right?” The opportunity for “fellowship” is essential.
Coming up on Nov. 30, the council is putting together its 11th annual Multicultural Holiday Celebration in partnership with Building Bridges Across the River (BBAR). The event celebrates Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa while collecting toy donations for the seventh district police department’s annual party for children. ACC is proud to be the largest single organizational donor.
Pannell believes that residents east of the river should consider themselves “river people” and has placed ACC at the forefront of many local environmental issues.
ACC is one of the founders of Anacostia Parks Community and Collaborative (APACC), a membership-based coalition launched in 2015 dedicated to maximizing the value of public spaces along the Anacostia River for Ward 7 and 8 residents. The nonprofit Ward 8 Woods Conservancy is another outgrowth of ACC, working to rejuvenate and enhance the forest in Ward 8.
An avid promoter of local arts and cultural events, the council has hosted, supported and sponsored many events, from theater parties at Anacostia Playhouse and Anacostia Arts Center to hosting symposiums discussing media relations with community organizations and residents.
ACC has been at the forefront of dispersing information about COVID-19 vaccines, testing and distributing PPE supplies. The council continues to act as the “vanguard” of the opioid epidemic, and remains one of the most proactive Narcan distributors.
In the 90s, ACC was involved in the “Do the Right Thing” campaign, preventing illegal drug paraphernalia from being sold in businesses. More recently, ACC revived the “Thou Shall Not Kill” anti-violence campaign, a program launched at the height of D.C.’s crack epidemic.
In 2004, ACC became the fiscal sponsor for Ballou’s High School Marching Band after James Richardson, a 17-year-old student, was shot and killed by another student. ACC also helped revitalize the school’s parent-teacher-student association (PTSA). More recently, ACC raised money for Anacostia High School’s senior trip, and will help launch a steelband in Ward 8 to complement the East of the River Steelband.
“We try to help our young people when we can,” said Pannell. It is a balance between helping at-risk kids while working with the young people who are doing the right things. “We don’t want to have them feel neglected.”
Looking to the Future
The council is in the process of developing a strategic plan to help guide their work in the coming years. “ACC is going to change,” said Pannell.
“Our goal is to leave ACC better off than we found it,” noted Mitchell, while “positioning it for a future of many, many more years of work in the community.”
Pannell and Mitchell are proud of ACC’s positive reputation in the community. Alluding to the possibility of retirement, Pannell says he looks forward to reading other things besides text messages, emails, and reports in the future. But for now, “community … is what keeps me going.”