Since the beginning of the school year, stray bullets have struck the walls and shattered the windows of Rocketship Rise Academy in Southeast on three occasions. Over time, school officials reported seeing nearly a dozen shell cases inside the school building.
Though each incident took place at nighttime, with no students, faculty and staff in sight, community members are becoming increasingly concerned about — and frustrated with — a situation that many fear could turn deadly.
That’s why dozens of Rocketship Rise Academy teachers, parents, and staff members, along with government officials, recently took to the streets as a show of solidarity with the nearby Woodland Terrace Public Housing community.
They didn’t do so, however, without hearing from three young people growing up amid the gun violence.
Chasity Thurston, River Jones and Armani Green stood in front of Rocketship Rise Academy on Raynolds Place on Tuesday afternoon and read monologues they prepared under the tutelage of Britney Ayala, their arts and drama teacher. Each monologue touched on themes of violence and how young people use their voices to compel change.
Chasity, a fourth grader at Rocketship Rise Academy, said it was necessary for her and her peers to speak up to ensure they can travel safely throughout their community.
“Innocent people dying makes me disappointed and angry,” Chasity said. “People in my age group feel the same way, especially when it’s their friends and relatives who died. Safety makes us feel comfortable in our community to not think about danger. I want to stand up for our community and tell adults when I see something. If we don’t stand up, people will die.”
An All-Hands-on-Deck Effort
The community walk, which took place amid preparations for student dismissal on Tuesday, happened less than two weeks after Rocketship Rise Academy’s most recent incident. It also followed Ward 8 D.C. Councilmember Trayon White’s (D) visit to the school and dialogue with administrators.
On the day of the walk, officers from the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) converged on Raynolds Place.
They along with White, Ward 8 representatives of the Mayor’s Office of Community Relations and Services and school personnel slowly walked along Raynolds Place and around Woodland Terrace Public Housing, located on Ainger Place.
In his remarks before the walk, White called violence prevention an all-hands-on-deck effort. Though he spoke about efforts to address the underlying causes of gun violence, such as violence interruption programs and recreation centers, White touted the need for punitive measures for those who continue to endanger school communities.
“We have a duty and responsibility to make sure our kids are safe,” White said. “This is an overflow from what happens in the community every day. It’s about us believing in our young people and giving them an opportunity. We have to keep chipping away at it, but it’s also about accountability. We don’t know what [the trauma young people feel] will do in 10, 15 years.”
Students Embrace Their Responsibility
For years, Woodland Terrace, a community with a significant youth population, has garnered a reputation for violence and open-air drug markets.
In 2016, the D.C. Housing Authority installed rooftop lights around the complex after people continuously broke street lights. Soon after, Rocketship Rise Academy opened its doors amid criticism from community members about violence in the surrounding community. Of particular concern was the school’s proximity to Hope Village, which was then a halfway house for men returning from the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
As of Nov. 15, Police Service Area 702, which includes Woodland Terrace, suffered 287 incidents of violent crime this year, according to data compiled by MPD. That includes eight homicides, four incidents of sexual abuse, 38 assaults with a deadly weapon, and 47 robberies.
In speaking about local violence, River, a third grader at Rocketship Rise Academy, said young people desire an environment that will help them grow well into old age. In February, she and her peers will participate in an arts showcase.
“We want to live beautiful lives over a long time, try new things, and grow up to have beautiful families,” she told The Informer. “Young people should get to share their thoughts and their voices so people can hear what we have to say. I do my part to let people know how we don’t like the violence.”
Armani, standing next to his mother on Tuesday, spoke passionately about his responsibility as a young person. He emphasized what he described as the importance of using his voice to change people’s actions.
“I get to influence people and help them stand up,” said Armani, a fourth grader whose monologue vividly conveyed a person’s thoughts at the scene of a shooting.
“Gun violence will continue and the population will decrease if we don’t do something. I feel safe at school when I have my amazing teachers, principal and security that ensures my safety.”