Blog For The City

Art as Therapy with WomenStrong DC: Part 3 of 3

“Art as Therapy” with WomenStrong DC (WSDC) documents the results of a five-week Self-Portrait Silhouette Workshop where the women of WSDC, under the guidance of teaching artists Lana Wong and Sabreena Jeru-Ahmed, used their creative talents to discuss powerful personal issues.

Here is part three of the series:

Renee's documentation of the memorable experiences in her life

Renee’s documentation of the memorable experiences in her life

Renee Sakinah Figgers

Bob Marley said: “Love the life you live and live the life you love”, and I do. I’ve been doing it for 66 years. I put it at the bottom of this piece and used it as the theme for this whole artwork.

I wouldn’t say this artwork is a documentation of my life, because I decided to concentrate only on the good experiences. I would say it’s documentation of all the memorable experiences in my life that I think deserve to be preserved. That includes, as you can see, no men; there are only women in this art piece.

I’ve been a teacher, a dancer and a big sister. I showed my interest in the arts with my pictures as a dancer. I started dancing professionally when I became a wedding dancer years ago. I also included a photo of my mother when she was 13. It’s a photo of her around a piano. She trained to be a concert pianist, but that all stopped when she got married and we came into the picture.

One of the experiences I chose to document was my once in a lifetime trip to Africa. I always wanted to go to Africa and, through a friend, I got the opportunity to visit Egypt, see the pyramids, and ride on a camel. I spent five days and six nights there and it was a beautiful experience.

I feel comfortable in open spaces, connecting with nature, especially when I’m in the middle of America and I see an expanse of stars. When I look at the sky I feel free and so I included that. I used blue as the color in the backdrop and put stars and clouds back there because those are some of my favorite things.

Shaquilla and her black and white piece

Shaquilla and her black and white piece

Shaquilla James

I used black and white for my silhouette because it stands out more. Previously, when I did art classes, I used to love black and white. Black and white allows me to bring out more and it’s more appealing to me. I don’t really call myself an artist but I like all kinds of art–drawing, photography, and I also write.

I didn’t want my silhouette to be one piece, I wanted it to have lots of different elements of art that I like come together to show a bit of who I am.

I put the scripture, ‘No weapon formed against me shall prosper’ because I like that scripture. I added one of my poems that I think best describes me; it’s called “The silence of a loud cry.” I also lost my child and so I wanted to carve out a space here for him underneath a rainbow with lightning and rain pouring. My baby’s name is Julius Sinclair Barclay James. He was supposed to be born on Valentine’s Day but I lost him on January 17, just a month before.

I like glasses, but I drew the glasses on my face like a superhero mask because I also like superheroes. I love butterflies because they are calming and peaceful so I used those too. I had my hair in a nice cut and I used to carry my pick around and you can see all of that there. I put wings on myself ‘cause I believe I don’t have any burdens on my shoulder anymore. Once I keep my wings flapping I’m fine.

*Bread for the City’s WomenStrong DC is a proud member of WomenStrong International (WSI), a consortium of non-profit organizations in five nations supporting women-led solutions to urban poverty.*

More than 11% of D.C. is a Food Desert

Below is an excerpt from an article posted at on Food Deserts in the District of Columbia. The article is based on a report released recently by the DC Policy Center. Read full article here.


A D.C. Policy Center report released Monday provides a current look at D.C.’s food deserts, taking into account more than just how many grocery stores are in a certain area. The report’s author, Randy Smith, points out that food access in the city is “deeply connected to both poverty and transportation.”

Smith found that about 11.3 percent of the city’s area is considered a food desert. While most studies only factor in proximity to grocery stores, he defines food deserts as places where residents have to walk more than 0.5 miles to get to a grocery store or supermarket, over 40 percent of households have no vehicle available, and the median household income is less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of four.

He collected data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and D.C. Open Data, among other sources.

The results are still similar to other experts who’ve said Washingtonians who live east of the Anacostia River hunger for more healthy food (and food delivery) options. According to Smith’s findings, more than three-quarters of food deserts in D.C. are located in Wards 7 and 8. By area, the majority (46 percent) of all food deserts are located in Ward 8.

So it’s no surprise that food deserts are concentrated in Anacostia, Barry Farms, and Mayfair, according to the report. But it also names Ward 5’s Ivy City as an area with a high concentration of food deserts, despite the rapidly developing neighborhood welcoming a MOM’s Organic Market more than two years ago.




A 2010 report by D.C. Hunger Solutions called “Grocery Gap” showed that the store-to-resident ratio in Wards 4, 5, 7, and 8 was lower than the District average. Ward 7 had four full-service grocery stores for 73,856 residents and Ward 8 had three full-service grocery stores for 69,047 residents. Meanwhile, Ward 3 boasted 11 grocery stores for its 80,775 residents.


Art as Therapy with WomenStrong DC: Part 2 of 3

“Art as Therapy” with WomenStrong DC (WSDC) documents the results of a five-week Self-Portrait Silhouette Workshop where the women of WSDC, under the guidance of teaching artists Lana Wong and Sabreena Jeru-Ahmed, used their creative talents to discuss powerful personal issues.

Here is part two of the series:

Cristy Gardner

Christie Gardner photographed sitting next to her artwork.

Christie Gardner

In my neighborhood there is a lot of violence, so I used the camouflage with the fatigues to symbolize that I have to be a soldier or warrior everyday to survive in my neighborhood. As per the Crime Victims Act, I’m supposed to be relocated from my current neighborhood. They shot up my apartment almost a year ago. They were after a neighbor and they misidentified my house as theirs. I have five bullet holes in my wall, it took forever for them to be fixed and everyday I look at them I think just one of them could have killed me. I’ve had to see a psychiatrist just to deal with some of the trauma from the experience. The image itself is of me with my blond braided hair. Then, I love earrings so I added that as style to kind of depict me – a younger version of me at least. I pray a lot so that’s why I have the prayer stance in the silhouette. I also take the kids in my neighborhood to church. One time I had like 17 kids and I’d try my best to teach them good principles.

Francis Lampkin

A smiling Francis poses next to her silhouette.

Francis Lampkin

When I look at this silhouette I think, ‘I must have been happy that day.’ I definitely know I wanted to capture my happiness in there. There is so much love I have in my heart that people don’t understand. I just want to be peaceful. Sometimes I feel like the devil just making me snap all the time. I get  mad and I do things and say things I don’t want to. Where is this anger coming from? I am just angry and I don’t know where it’s coming from.

I have appointments with a psychiatrist about this. Not with Bread [for the City], but up at the clinic in Anacostia. I feel I just want to be better and have more control and work on that. So I made the artwork to show what I feel inside, that a lot of times I don’t get to show.

I put clouds and butterflies and used the bright colors with the sun high in the sky to show how happy I am on the inside. Being outdoors makes me happy too, so I painted myself outside. I placed the names of my family members inside words I think best describes them. My son’s name is Cody and I put him in ‘Happy’. My other son, Raymond, I put him in ‘Peace’. Me and my friend, 89 is his nickname, I put us in ‘Love’ for the obvious reasons.

*Bread for the City’s WomenStrong DC is a proud member of WomenStrong International (WSI), a consortium of non-profit organizations in five nations supporting women-led solutions to urban poverty.*

Art as Therapy with WomenStrong DC: Part 1 of 3

To exercise their creative talents, the ladies of WomenStrong DC took part in a five-week Self-Portrait Silhouette Workshop taught by artists Lana Wong and Sabreena Jeru-Ahmed. The result was art as therapy: powerful, mixed-media self-portraits that provided avenues for the women to deal with personal issues ranging from death and illness to trauma and anger.

Here, they talk about the process of creating their pieces:

LaShawn stands next to the piece she created in homage to her son.

LaShawn Weathers

Anthony, my son, was killed in 2012 and so I made this piece as an homage to him. He was my first born son out of 8 kids and we were very close. If people saw me and didn’t see him they’d be like, “Where’s your other half?” (laughs).

The idea was to show him looking peaceful in the afterlife with me praying and trying to make peace with it here on earth. After years of feeling just sad and destroyed by his death, I now think of my son as my guardian angel. That’s why I put a wing and silver glitter over his picture. Butterflies are peaceful, so I think that was a nice touch. The mask I added because I like Mardi Gras. I think it’s fun so I put that one in there for me.  I also put ‘E4=Anthony’ at the end, which means ‘Everything for Anthony’ and I added his real obituary on there and the bookmark we gave out at his funeral service.

He was a role model, very hardworking and well-known. He had his own detailing shop. He was very loved and got lots of write ups after his death. Even today I still can’t understand why they killed my baby. It was Halloween and that day we took my granddaughter (his niece) trick or treating. He said I’ll see you later and I gave him a kiss and a hug, but the next time I saw him he was lying in the streets. I just think maybe God needed another soldier and that’s how I made peace with this. I say to myself, “Don’t let the trauma make you question life. Just keep on pushing.

Sylvia and her self-portrait

Sylvia and her self-portrait

Sylvia Ford-Scott

My silhouette is about myself and all the positive things inside me that I want to spread into the world. The finished thing kind of reminds me of the peacock and how colorful and proud it is with the feathers. I love the color purple, the brightness and boldness of it, and so that’s where I started. Then I added the jewelry to symbolize that I’m always wearing my Sunday best.

The symbol in the middle is ‘namaste’ and means ‘the God in me greets the God in you’. I wrote it in black as my way of saying ‘by fighting through your struggles, you can come into the light’. I thought that was an important point to make because a short while ago I was diagnosed with cancer. Thank God, now I’m cancer free, but that was a hard time in my life.

Ever since then, I have a whole new look on life. You can be funny, you can be grateful, you can be sociable, or whatever. Our hard times don’t define us. It took me two sessions to make it and it kind of came to me naturally. I’m very proud of it.


*Bread for the City’s WomenStrong DC is a proud member of WomenStrong International (WSI), a consortium of non-profit organizations in five nations supporting women-led solutions to urban poverty.*


Bread for the City is starting a new blog serieswritten by clientsabout what it is like to live in poverty in the 5th most expensive city in the nation. “DC SPEAKS!” will lift up the voices of resilient clients who are fighting back to ensure that they can remain in the city they have long called home. Stay tuned for monthly posts!

How do I escape poverty when I can’t get a job?

A recent report from the Council for Court Excellence (CCE) revealed that: “The struggles that result from a criminal record are experienced almost entirely by D.C.’s black community.”

Marian Meekins, who has been a Bread for the City medical client since 1999, is one such resident who has experienced the struggle of being a returning citizen of DC. Here is Marian’s story in her own words:

Many years ago, I was charged with possession and intent to distribute [drugs] and I also have two assault charges for conflicts that got out of hand. It doesn’t matter how long ago, I’m still held to it. Even 15 or 20 years later and you’re trapped. I don’t want to lie on the job application and 10 years later they fire me because I lied, but how long do I have to pay for it? I understand you carry your number for the rest of your life but do you have to keep carrying the title?

We all come from different walks of life and that determines the amount and the quality of opportunities that are open to you. I might get a quarter of the opportunities that you got. I didn’t get to go to school because my mother shot dope. She was a lady of the streets and she didn’t let me go to school.

Our generation is inflicting damage on the next generation [because] the generation before inflicted damage on us. It keeps going down in generations, the same pain. They are addressing what they are seeing right now but also forgetting it came from somewhere.

Marian Meekins

Ms. Meekins recently joined Bread’s Medical Director for a presentation to George Washington University medical students

I have six children. Four of them are mine and then two I raised after my sister died of Lupus. I’m the mother and the father, and I’ve done a good job.

I didn’t shelter them from the street but I always pushed them to their education. Now, my daughter is an office manager and part-time school teacher, one of my sons is a school teacher, and another is doing construction. Right now, one of them is incarcerated and this is what I’m talking about when I say we’re inflicting damage. It’s a pattern; I did time, now my son’s doing time. A pattern that we need to break.

I’ve got five certificates from different job programs and they haven’t done anything to help me, even though they all promised to help me find jobs. They get your labor for 90 days and then they don’t hire you on after that. I won’t lie, some of the experiences were good, but most of them were bad because they didn’t do anything to help me. I was sexually harassed on one of the job trainings and robbed on another one. Both times, no one addressed the situation so I just quit. That’s a feeling I’ve dealt with all my life so…I’m numb to it.

We aren’t that fortunate over here in Wards seven and eight. It’s almost impossible for us to find affordable housing and there are hardly any resources for us. Trump keeps threatening to repeal Obamacare and I’m worried about that because how am I supposed to access health care for my family?

People can’t understand our lives because they don’t see when our kids go to bed hungry and then wake up hungry; or when the bills go up and you can’t pay them. You can’t understand what that does to people and no matter how many books you read you can’t understand unless you’ve experienced it.

Immigrant domestic violence survivor detained while seeking legal assistance

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that an undocumented woman was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at a courthouse in El Paso while she was seeking a protective order against a boyfriend she accused of domestic violence. This action, like the Executive Order that supports it, undermines public safety, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and the tireless efforts of organizations like Bread for the City to make our country safe for all people.

While the facts of the case are alarming enough, what is even more troubling is that the ICE agents are believed to have received the tip on her hearing from the women’s abuser. Abusers often use a victim’s undocumented status, and the threat of deportation, as a way to control them and force them to endure additional violence. The actions of the ICE agents reinforced the power dynamic between abuser and victim, and may deter future victims of intimate partner violence from coming forward and seeking safety.

This action is in direct violation of VAWA which provides important protections to undocumented survivors so that they may seek safety and escape their perpetrators. VAWA includes provisions “to protect the confidentiality of immigrant victims and prevent ICE from engaging in enforcement actions in sensitive locations”, as they did at the courthouse in El Paso.

At Bread for the City, we recognize that for those seeking to escape an abuser, legal recourse can often be the only way out. Too often, though, legal assistance is unavailable to those who need it the most. Through our Domestic Violence Community Legal Services Project  our attorneys serve very low-income DC residents, 99% of whom are women, who have very few other options for addressing dangerous situations.

We believe that all survivors, regardless of immigration status, are entitled to the protections provided by the law. We are more committed than ever to standing with survivors and advocating for their safety, respect, and dignity. Please join us by supporting this important work.

Bread for the City’s Domestic Violence Community Legal Services Project is funded in part by the DC Bar Foundation.

Beyond Second Chances: Returning Citizens’ Re-entry Struggles and Successes in the District of Columbia

Below is an excerpt from the “Beyond Second Chances” report, originally posted by Council for Court Excellence here.

Beyond Second ChancesD.C. citizens returning to their communities from prison face an “incredibly complex” path to re-entry, according to a new report from the Council for Court Excellence (CCE).

Through a review of previously unreleased data and a series of in-depth interviews with returning citizens and service providers, this report, Beyond Second Chances: Returning Citizens’ Re-entry Struggles and Successes in the District of Columbia, provides the most complete picture to date of the challenges that returning citizens face in D.C. and offers recommendations to help them succeed when reintegrating into their communities.

“In a city where 1 in 22 adults is under some form of correctional control on any given day, easing the path home will benefit thousands of D.C. residents, their families, and the entire city by helping returning citizens move beyond second chances to fulfill their potential,” said June Kress, CCE executive director.

According to the report, D.C.’s returning citizens face a variety of challenges, including:

  • Different standards and procedures among various D.C. and federal criminal justice agencies.
  • Isolation from necessary local support systems due to being held in federal prisons around the country, sometimes as far away as the West Coast.
  • Lack of access to stable and affordable housing, health care, and child care.
  • Unemployment and lack of training or education for jobs in D.C.
  • Poorly managed halfway houses for returning citizens.
  • Few services designed for specific populations, including women, youth, and LGBTQ people.

Click here to read the Executive Summary.

Click here to read the full report.

A letter to Mayor Bowser: We are proud to be a Sanctuary City

Below is a letter penned by DC Fair Budget Coalition (signed by Bread for the City) and sent to Mayor Bowser and the Council of The District of Columbia asking them to keep DC a safe sanctuary city.

Fair Budget logoIn the wake of the 2016 presidential election, the residents of the District of Columbia—who overwhelmingly opposed the presidency of Donald Trump—are shaken and deeply concerned about the future of this country and of this city. Multiple communities, including Black people, Latinx, and other people of color, immigrants, Muslims, and the LGBTQ community have already seen a significant increase in assaults, hate crimes, and a general sentiment of hatred and bias.

President Trump not only promulgated racist, misogynist, and xenophobic rhetoric throughout his campaign, but he has now appointed individuals to serve in his cabinet with long, proven track records of openly oppressing marginalized people. On January 25th, 2017, he signed an Executive Order that threatens to strip the District of federal funding because of its status as a Sanctuary City. Additional, there is a very real possibility that federal policy and budget decisions will threaten to destroy our already inadequate social safety net for generations to come, including the repeal of The Affordable Care Act. We, as a city and as a society, all depend on this safety net in various ways throughout our day-to-day lives; however low-income people, seniors, and a disproportionate share of people of color are particularly vulnerable and would experience the most dire consequences.

We, the DC Fair Budget Coalition and all signatories of this letter, are prepared to resist these threats. We are proud of being a Sanctuary City, and we appreciate your reinforcement of that commitment. The District of Columbia should be a safe place for all people to live and work, particularly people of color who have been historically disenfranchised and targeted by discriminatory policies. We strongly urge you to affirm your willingness to fight to protect DC residents—and all who dwell, work, and visit here—against the threats that will likely soon come.

Our city has a long and proud legacy of being a national leader on civil rights, workers’ rights, immigrant rights, women’s reproductive health, and LGBTQ rights. As the nation’s capital, DC needs to maintain this standard and never waver in our steadfastness to protect our safety net, or in our determination to fight for our residents, particularly those who face the greatest threats under this administration. This includes fighting for the District’s right to create and enforce our own laws, as well as manage our own budget without undue federal influence. We trust that you are prepared to lead this fight.

Now is the time to invest in policies that will ensure that all people and families have the social, physical, and financial security that they need to navigate the immediate and long-term impacts of a Trump Presidency. As a first step, we ask that you, our elected leadership, pledge to replace any federal dollars—taken from public housing or other affordable housing, homeless services, healthcare, public benefits, transportation, education, workforce development, women’s healthcare, or any other of the vital services our residents depend upon—with local funds.

That may ultimately require a significant output of local dollars, however we believe you could raise additional revenues by taking some of the following measures:

  • Increase corporate tax rates for multi-national and multi-state corporations operating in the District;
  • Withdraw all subsidies and abatements from developers and corporations doing business in the District who are not complying with local hiring and affordable housing requirements or wage and other labor laws;
  • Eliminate District subsidies for housing providers and property owners who operate housing units with substandard or unlawful living conditions;
  • Increase taxes on developers building luxury and high-end condominiums;
  • Revisit the tax cut triggers that automatically spend any increased revenue over 3% on tax cuts;
  • Reconsider subsidized development projects that do not meet basic resident needs like the streetcar, soccer stadium, and Wizard’s practice facility;
  • Consider using money from the fund balance and reserve;
  • Raise taxes on wealthy individuals and families, particularly those whose federal income tax rates may be lowered in the next federal budget;

We strongly oppose any local dollars being spent towards the opening or operation of Muslim registration centers. We expect you to ensure that our local police do not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement that may break up families or that targets racial/ethnic groups or religious communities and that you will support efforts to protect these communities against dangerous immigration raids.

The Fair Budget Coalition will release our Budget Report in February 2017. In this report, we will outline a list of investments DC can make that are critical to protecting low-income residents and people of color within the District. Now, more than ever, we must double down on our commitment to addressing the fundamental racial, economic, and social inequity in our city and ensuring that everyone who lives and works in DC has access to basic necessities and can feel safe throughout the city.

Amidst the echoes of the chant to “Drain the Swamp,” we have an opportunity to show the country and the world the true character of our great city. We urge you to demonstrate your leadership and fight for DC and all of its residents.

Bread for the City Stands with Immigrants and Refugees

20170129_140322On Friday, President Trump signed an executive order banning all refugees from entering the country for 120 days — or even indefinitely, in the case of Syria — while barring citizens of a select group of predominantly Muslim nations from traveling to the U.S. for 90 days.

As a nonprofit employer of 110+ people in Washington, DC, and neighbor of our newest resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Bread for the City is called to respond to this attack on human dignity. This xenophobic ban, which is having excruciating consequences for Muslim immigrants and refugees, goes against Bread for the City’s values of dignity, respect, service, and justice. 

While the majority of our clients are longtime Washingtonians, we serve a small but growing number of immigrants and refugees, and our staff and Board of Directors include immigrants and refugees.  We worry about our community, having already seen evidence of the impact of this order across the country. From the Clemson University graduate who was prevented from boarding a plane from Dubai to Washington after 7 years of legal residence in South Carolina, to the Syrian woman with a valid tourist visa who was detained in Chicago as she attempted to visit her mother who just undergone surgery for cancer, there has already been a cost paid in human suffering for this inexplicable and cruel act.

20170129_142412Bread for the City supports Washington, DC’s status as a sanctuary city. We stand with the community groups and individuals who have fought to maintain this status, as well as with Mayor Bowser, Councilmembers White and Grosso, and the rest of the DC City Council, in affirming that all of our neighbors should feel safe in the District. Attacks on sanctuary cities are attacks on us all: our clients, our staff, our neighbors, our friends, and our families.

While the events of the past week are profoundly disappointing for anyone who cares about human rights, we know we are stronger together, and we are heartened by the protests we witnessed across our city and the world.

Bread for the City rejects in the strongest of terms, policies that divide us. We affirm the fundamental dignity and worth of all human beings.

Stay tuned later this week as we discuss what comes next in the fight for justice and dignity, and how you can help.

To Achieve True Public Safety, Bread for the City Demands DC Council Prioritize Investments in Affordable Housing over Policing

This post was written by Erin Shields. Erin is a Community Organizer with Bread for the City’s Community Lawyering Project.

In the midst of a housing, homelessness and displacement crisis, the DC government is spending about three times as much on jails and policing as it is spending on housing. Bread for the City organizers and community members demand the council prioritize funding for affordable housing in the city.

On Tuesday, Councilmember Vincent Gray along with co-introducers Jack Evans (Ward 2), Trayon White (Ward 8), Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5), Anita Bonds (At-large), and co-sponsor Mary Cheh (Ward 3), filed emergency legislation to increase funding to DC’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) by nearly $63 million. Submitted as emergency legislation, the bill would double select police officers’ salaries in efforts to keep them on the force.

In response to more than $60 million proposed by Councilmember Vincent Gray for increased Metropolitan Police Department salaries, Bread for the City amplifies community members’ demand that the DC Council rethink what true public safety means in the District.

Recent studies show that access to immediate, permanent, low-barrier supportive housing is associated with decreased time in jail, as well as reduced use of emergency medical services. Numerous studies show that homelessness increases the likelihood of recidivism. When people have access to basic needs such as housing and jobs, crime rates fall and our city becomes safer.

Out of a $13 billion FY17 budget, DC is spending $235 million of local funds on affordable housing, compared to approximately $700 million on jailing and police programs, infrastructure and staff. Though Mayor Bowser’s commitment of $235 million is more than her predecessors have spent on housing, it still is not nearly enough to stem the housing crisis for tens of thousands of DC residents in communities of color, and certainly not enough to make good on Bowser’s promise to end chronic homelessness.

Ultimately, we must begin to consider the government’s investments not on the basis of what has been done in the past, but rather, we must demand investments that move us closer to meeting the actual need–a number closer to $5 billion. Homelessness is killing people. The People for Fairness Coalition has held vigil for nearly 100 homeless individuals who have died on the street. It is not enough for this Council to simply invest more than previous administrations. A billion dollar crisis will require annual investments of hundreds of millions of dollars. The District government needs a plan that will get it to the point of making the necessary investments in deeply affordable housing, and spending $63 million on incarceration and policing does not move the city any closer to its goal of housing all of its residents.

Last Fall, residents facing homelessness or housing instability and their supporters, rallied to demand greater support from Mayor Muriel Bowser’s FY2018 DC budget. The residents spoke out about their negative experiences with incarceration and housing struggles, and decried a city budget that puts three times more money into jails and police than affordable housing. They called on the mayor to put more money into housing – vouchers, construction and preservation – than she puts into jails and police. How the government spends our money is a good way to tell what their priorities are – what does DC’s budget tell us? They aren’t invested in our futures; they’re invested in our incarceration.

Bread for the City amplifies community members’ demand that the DC’s Council rethink what true public safety means in the District. Safety is dignified housing, access to preventative healthcare, jobs with living wages, and access to healthy food. Bread for the City community leaders call on the DC Council to treat affordable housing with an urgency matching the intensity of the housing crisis in people’s everyday lives.