a photo of a sentence "Things can change""
Flickr/ Marie-Chantale Turgeon

By the time you read this article, the results of the Nov. 4 election will be in. But the serious issues of racism, gentrification and displacement that served as recurring themes in an Oct. 27 debate sponsored by Empower DC and We Act Radio will continue to have relevance, no matter what the outcome.

The forum was held at Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast Washington.  And as pastor Willie Wilson, the event moderator observed, a complicated history of race relations lies right beneath our feet in this city. In fact, he noted that the ground where the church stands was once a plantation, worked by slaves.

With that in mind, at-large council candidates Eric Jones(I) , Eugene Puryear (Statehood Green), Elissa Silverman (I), Kalid Pitts (I), Michael D. Brown (I), Courtney Snowden (I), Robert White(I) , Graylan Hagler (I) and Calvin Gurley (I) were asked to delve into difficult questions that seldom get enough attention.

Haglar, himself a minister and community advocate contended that racism continues to shape the city.

“If it is only about class then take me to the white slum in DC,” he said.

Silverman, a former journalist, said she  feels that the cards are stacked against those who are born in poverty. “Our job is to level the playing field,” she said. Jones, a government affairs professional and community organizer said he believes that elected officials and leaders have failed the city’s people by setting the bar too low.  “What we need to do is stop training people to be just barbers and home health aids.”

Puryear, a writer and peace activist, said he feels that the United States has an economic model that leaves everyone but the wealthy behind.

“We have to change our economic model,” he said. “Housing is a human right and not a commodity.”   He said the city needs to establish a department of human rights.

Gurley, an accountant and auditor, who prides himself for growing up in the city during the Civil Rights movement expressed  concern about longtime residents losing the ability to afford to live in their homes.

“We need to strengthen our rent control,” he said. He also said there is a need for more public housing. “Public housing is not a bad word.”

Lesbian activist and public affairs specialist Snowden said she is running because every child in the city deserves a quality education. Adults need help too, she added. “We need job programs that actually work.”

White, a lawyer and former counsel to DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said the city needs to do a better job of prioritizing its goals.

“We need to focus on what is in front of us,” he said.

Brown, who founded and directs a nonprofit said he would like to see more money spent to create jobs. He also discussed the roots of discrimination, saying he believes the persistence of racism lies in ignorance.

That Oct. 27 debate is history now but the issues the candidates tackled should continue to be discussed. Hopefully the city will improve and move forward with the right leaders in place.