Barry Farm activist spreads non-violent message
“They didn’t know we take vacations down here in Barry Farm?” local activist Gregory Baldwin scoffed. A crosstown listener might have assumed he was referring to some out of town jaunt, but in this forgotten locale it is a statement about the neighborhood’s reduced homicide rate.
According to Homicide Watch DC, a website that tracks every murder in the city, Barry Farm had not seen a murder this year until the third week of October. In one of the most historically dangerous neighborhoods of the District this is a palpable sign of progress.
Recent Deaths Mask Progress
In the early morning of October 17, 25-year-old Antonio Headspeth was found unconscious in the rear of the 1100 block of Stevens Road SE. He had been shot and was pronounced dead on the scene. Police have yet to charge anyone with Headspeth’s murder.
On the evening of October 20, Jodie Ward was found unconscious in a child’s bedroom in a home in the 1100 block of Eaton Road. The 30-year-old male had been stabbed and was pronounced dead on the scene. Police arrested 30-year-old Felicia Jones.
“It’s a struggling community that has tried hard to improve itself, and has had some successes. These two new slayings have shattered the peace,” says Lloyd Wolf, an intrepid photographer whose blog documents street memorials throughout the city. “I trust that proper resources will arise from within the neighborhood, and within the city, to properly honor the lives that have been lost,” he adds.
Before the two October murders, the last homicide in Barry Farm occurred in November 2010. Within recent memory annual neighborhood murder statistics tended towards the double digits.
The sweeping reduction in Barry Farm’s murder rate, in part, reflects citywide reductions over the past decade. In the last two years there have been less than 150 homicides recorded citywide.
Since 2004, when Mayor Williams identified Barry Farm as one of 14 “hot spots,” the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) has moved aggressively to police the neighborhood. In 2006, the neighborhood, first inhabited and built by freedmen in the 1860s, was chosen as one of four New Communities, meaning the eventual transformation of its 600 plus public housing units within Barry Farm and Park Chester into more than 1200 mixed-use units. [ED Note: This refers to a previous redevelopment plan. For latest visit here.]
In November 2007, under Mayor Fenty, Barry Farm became a “Focused Improvement Area” which sought to combine community policing with improved social service delivery. Barry Farm has now been designated a “focus area” by MPD according to Joel Maupin, Commander of the Seventh District, which includes Barry Farm.
“Our officers have really bonded with the community,” says Maupin citing a recent meeting in which the police received a standing ovation from residents. “We have a constant level of patrol, 24 hours a day,” Maupin confirms.
Regardless, Baldwin, a repeat survivor of gun violence, is not waiting around.
A Survivor Gives Back
Baldwin, a repeat survivor of gun violence, employs bold tactics to deliver a message of non-violence to the residents of Barry Farm. Speaking to local youth, Baldwin often lifts up his shirt to expose the colostomy bag that filters his excrement.
“There’s a shock value,” says Tendani Mpulubusi, a multi-discipline artist and activist in Barry Farm. “Even those that might be desensitized because of all they’ve seen. Greg’s story hits them. It’s a reality check.”
Through Helping Hands Inc., his own non-profit and with the supported of the United Black Fund, Baldwin backs his words with actions. At a recently organized back-to-school event, he distributed 100 backpacks to area youth. This month, he is preparing for his annual Thanksgiving-themed banquet held on the neighborhood’s basketball courts where talent from the region and National Basketball Association compete in the summer’s Goodman League.
“We need something we can put our hands on,” says Mike Taylor, Director of the Barry Farm Recreation Center on Sumner Road. With the pending re-development of Barry Farm there is “a lot of anxiety in the community,” Taylor points out.
To allay resident’s fears, community activists like Baldwin need to be given greater access to city officials to relay popular concerns. “He can get the people involved,” Taylor says.
Baldwin’s efforts have drawn the attention of city officials. Mayor Vince Gray recently filmed a Public Service Announcement with Baldwin, who walked him through the neighborhood making recommendations on how the city can improve services.
“The coffin [Baldwin] carries in his truck helps send a message that resonates,” Maupin says.