On the summer evening of July 31, 2015, Derrick Black was shot and killed in the Park View neighborhood. He was 23. The Georgia Ave and Lamont Street Public Safety Task Force formed shortly after to focus on public safety as a response to the murder.
The citizens and business owners who live and work in the area wanted to work together to figure out the best ways to address public safety and quality of life concerns in the neighborhood. Once the group was able to begin to address the issues in the neighborhood, they began to ask broader questions and think through the kind of community they wanted. What did they value? What did they want to accomplish?
According to Matt McFarland, “We boiled it down to wanting to build an inclusive, connected and vibrant community for neighbors, business, and visitors of lower Georgia Avenue.”
"When people encounter hardships, good things can come out of it."
As it stood, the Georgia Ave and Lamont Street Public Safety Task Force did jibe with their new mission. The group wanted a name that spoke to their mission. From the tragic murder and the efforts after it, Georgia Ave Thrive was born.
Matt McFarland has been involved since the beginning, working with the group doing clean ups and beautification efforts like painting murals, planting flowers, and painting fireboxes.
Matt felt like the group should be doing monthly clean ups, “Picking up trash seemed like the easiest and quickest way to get involved,” he said, and to get others involved in the community. It also provided an easily accessible way too give back and to make a difference. The first clean up happened in March of 2016.
Matt remembers standing at the corner of Lamont and Warder at that first clean up, “I didn’t have a clue of what would happen or how this would go,” he said. But 30 people showed up for the first clean up. He was “over the moon” at how many people showed up, but was even more impressed by how folks socialized and worked together to improve their neighborhood.
Now clean ups happen the first Saturday of every month and the starting point rotates throughout the Park View neighborhood.
For the last seven months, Georgia Ave Thrive has secured lower Georgia Ave business sponsorships to help not only boost participation, but deepen the connection between business and community. One of their first business sponsors was Yoga Heights and Lamont Street Market. Yoga Heights donated a free yoga class to all of the volunteers and Lamont Street Market offered to receive the delivery of supplies that had been donated from public works.
“Connection, partnership and making the community better are the keys to making the work of Georgia Ave Thrive impactful,” Matt said. He believes, based on his own research, that people that live in connected communities are happier. “Life is just better when you know a lot of your neighbors.”
“Most people don’t know their neighbors, but magic happens when communities come together and that’s what make’s life really great,” he said. “People miss that.”
Georgia Ave Thrive has tapped into the magic of this community spirit, connecting of neighbors and working toward a common goal. “There are times when we are a middle of a clean up and people just join in. It’s infectious. It’s really cool when someone sees you and it becomes contagious.”
Matt said he has been able to meet neighbors and glean the history of the Park View neighborhood through his work with Georgia Ave Thrive, and has been able to make great connections to make the work of the organization all the more meaningful. “Its about getting people out of their homes and to get them together – to being in the community together – and to find more people that want to grow their missions of creating an inclusive and vibrant community.”
What’s next for Georgia Ave Thrive? Matt sees it as a platform for extending and connecting and engaging the community is many different ways. “The clean ups are about so much more that picking up trash.”
The group continues to think about what success looks like. How do they make Park View a model neighborhood? How do they deal with change in the neighborhood? How do they respect the past without forgetting it?
By simply bringing people together, they believe they have a chance for the community to control something bigger than themselves, that can effect change on a broader scale. “Especially in those times when we all may feel like things are largely out of our control.”
The monthly clean ups are family-friendly. “We want families and everyone to be able to partake. You would be surprised at how much fun it is to walk around your neighborhood and pick up trash with your neighbors,” he said. “I challenge everyone to come out to a clean up.” Georgia Ave Thrive is working to get local sororities, churches and schools involved in their efforts as well.
The July clean up will happen on July 8th, meeting at the corner of Georgia and Princeton at 10am. Volunteers are encouraged to hang out at DC Reynolds after and enjoy a free mimosa or Bloody Mary (DC Reynolds is sponsoring the clean up).
Can’t make it to the next clean up? Matt also encourages neighbors to get involved by volunteering for committee work and sharing your passion project. “If it connects and engages and makes our neighborhood more vibrant, we’re all for it!”
Georgia Ave Thrives’ next community event, the Youth Employment Support & Job Readiness Event takes place on Wednesday, June 21st at the Midlands.
Come learn about and sign-up for programs that support youth employment in our neighborhood! All youth (15-24 year olds) are welcome!
* Job search strategies
* Resume writing
* Internship, apprenticeships and training opportunities
* Start your own business
* Workplace clothing giveaway
* And keeping that job once you've got it!
Free Hotdogs & Lemonade generously provided by The Midlands.
Some of the organizations that will be there:
* DC Dept of Employment Services (DOES)
* DC Career Connections
* Mayor's Office of Returning Citizens
* The Care Organization
* Howard University
* Mayors Office of Community Relations & Services
* Office of the State Superintendent of Education
* Thrive DC
* Collaborative Solutions for Communities (CSC)
* Housing Opportunities Unlimited
* DC Prevention Center Wards 1 & 2 (LAYC)
* University of the District of Columbia