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Silver Spring’s transformation from “suburb” to “urban center” is a model for the rest of the nation. The newly revitalized downtown includes an open-air pedestrian mall and a new Civic Building, as well as shops and restaurants. But any major development project affects different groups in the community in different ways. “Kojo in Your Community” heads to downtown Silver Spring to explore how these public and private spaces fit into community life.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom the new Civic Building at Veterans Plaza in Silver Spring, Md., welcome to Kojo in Your Community. People say Silver Spring looks a lot like the future of the rest of the country. It's one of the most diverse communities in our region. And on any given evening, the pedestrian-friendly streets are filled with people from all backgrounds and all ages. Silver Spring is a suburb that's grown into an urban center. Proof that careful planning can transform a struggling downtown into a vibrant shopping and entertainment district. Forget Bethesda envy. Silver Spring's got restaurants, movie theaters and shops and it's still growing. Like many places, the challenge is how to make sure everyone is a part of the new Silver Spring.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us this evening to have this conversation is Richard Jaeggi, executive director of the Gandhi Brigade, which is a nonprofit group working with youth. Richard, thank you for joining us.
MR. RICHARD JAEGGIOh, a pleasure to be here.
NNAMDIThank you. Kathy Stevens is the president of the Citizens Advisory Board of Silver Spring. Kathy, thank you for joining us.
MS. KATHY STEVENSThank you. Great for you to be here in Silver Spring.
NNAMDIFrankie Blackburn is the executive director of IMPACT Silver Spring, a nonprofit that connects communities and services. Frankie, good to have you here.
MS. FRANKIE BLACKBURNThank you.
NNAMDIAnd Jewru Bandeh is the program manager for the Regional Services Center in Silver Spring and vice chairman of the Maryland Commission on African Affairs. Jewru, good to have you here.
MR. JEWRU BANDEHThank you.
NNAMDIAnd I have a question. I have a question for all of you in this room, a question that people in Silver Spring and around the world are still struggling to answer. And that question is, what is Silver Spring? It's not a city. It's not a town. It's not a county. Exactly what is Silver Spring? Do you know? Do you know? Do you know? Put your hand up if you know. I'll put the first question on that to Kathy Stevens. Kathy, what is Silver Spring?
STEVENSThank goodness I got an easy question to start. But that's the beauty of Silver Spring, I think. We have so much here that we can't answer that question. But it's such a beautiful mix of so many things. We're not a city. We're not an incorporated town. We are not a region unto itself. But we have so much here. We have an urban area. We have a suburban area. And to me, that's the beauty of bringing a lot of different people together. We have a lot of people from a lot of different countries. We have a lot of people from a lot of different regions of world. And we love that diversity here in Silver Spring, Kojo.
NNAMDIWhat is Silver Spring to you, sir?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1It's officially an unincorporated entity in Montgomery County. And that is the legal definition.
NNAMDIIt's an unincorporated entity in Montgomery County. What are its boundaries?
1That's a good question. (laugh)
NNAMDIDoes anyone have an idea what the boundaries of Silver Spring are? Yes, ma'am. Donna.
DONNAThis is somewhat fictitious. But any part of Montgomery County that hasn't had the foresight to name itself something else from the District line up to Howard County is Silver Spring. (laugh)
STEVENSThere we go.
NNAMDISo Silver Spring is whatever you say it is, basically? Let's hear what an individual over here has to say.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1I was gonna say that Silver Spring's pretty much like what the previous gentleman said, it's anything that's not incorporated. It's not Rockville. It's not -- they hold their little boundaries and we just keep winding around.
NNAMDIWait a minute. (laugh) What do you mean unless it's Bethesda? We know what Bethesda is.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2No, we don't, really. It's not incorporated, and the people in Bethesda were telling me, it's just like Silver Spring. Anything that's not Silver Spring could very well be Bethesda. (laugh)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 3That you could add Wheaton to that too.
NNAMDIWell, we're in Silver Spring, darn it. So we'll leave the others out for a second. Okay, if it's not incorporated, if it's not a city, if it's not a town, Kathy Stevens, who makes decisions for Silver Spring?
STEVENSWe all do. That's the way I choose to look at it. We -- I think one of the goals that we have, at least from a Citizens Advisory Board, is to make sure that we hear all the voices in Silver Spring. And certainly, some of my colleagues up here at the front table have been working really hard at that, whether it means incorporating voices from our immigrant community, from our rental community, from our youth communities. We all advise the county decision makers, whether it's our elected officials, whether it's our representatives on County Council or in the General Assembly. And we're not perfect at it, but we like to think that we have a pretty good model.
NNAMDISilver Spring is a diverse community with a large and growing immigrant population. Jewru, how have the changes in Silver Spring served these groups? How have the physical and economic changes in the downtown affect the way these communities interact with one another?
BANDEHI think I'll go and answer the first question. To me, Silver Spring is a global village, a community of things globally. In that, I mean how we celebrate diversity as individuals. How we celebrate diversity as neighborhoods and as communities. Our immigrant community in Silver Spring is very, very vibrant. It could speak very specific to the African communities. In Maryland, we constitute about 2 percent of the population and 4 percent of the population in Montgomery County. And looking at that particular population, which is about 62 percent literate with an aging population, we do contribute economically.
BANDEHHowever, in our partnerships, there's a number of programs that are designed to help our communities to really integrate them and give the opportunities. Where Africans, as a community, we can become part of a larger community that I just described, that global village we call Silver Spring.
BANDEHThere are challenges. (laugh) Just like any communities, we have challenges. There re barriers to education, employment, particularly retraining for a large population that basically is underemployed. Those African countries with the largest population come from English-speaking countries, so we have high literacy rate. There are challenges, however, to cultural barriers, as well as language barriers for those from (word?) countries. Along with that, we also, you know, are faced with a number of challenges others face housing, education, you know, employment and so forth.
NNAMDISilver Spring growing diplomats just like Washington next door to it. He says no complaints, just challenges. You, sir? (laugh) Your name is Chris, right?
MR. CHRIS SANTOSChris. Well, Silver Spring to us is a home. That's what it is for all skateboarders in Silver Spring. It has been...
MR. CHRIS SANTOSWe're here every day...
MR. CHRIS SANTOSWe're just doing what we believe is right. We're trying to stay out of trouble. For the last past years, I've been coming to Silver Spring when I live all the way in Olney -- it's an hour bus ride every single day -- but I come here every single day, when I can, because Silver Spring is my home.
NNAMDIThat's Chris Pacman Santos, who is clearly a skateboarder, who comes here from Olney, who says, for me, Silver Spring is home, and we're going to be discussing that. We've already discussed skateboarding, you may know, last week on the broadcast skateboarding in Silver Spring is likely to come up today. But, Frankie Blackburn, I like to address to you the same question I addressed to Jewru Bandeh, and that is how you deal with the increasing diversity of Silver Spring, and are there any complaints, challenges?
BANDEHWe have those challenges with you, obviously. I do think every community is faced with not only looking at those problems, but how those issues youth face how to compete against other challenges in the community at large. We do not have enough resources to address the issues and the challenges of every population groups in the county. That's a fact.
BANDEHAnd what we do is to partnerships, to evaluations of some of those policies, whether at the government level or the community level, looking at resources, looking at very strategic ways where we could balance priorities. And as far as I can see, some of the things I would consider now is really looking at youth as a priority because they constitute the future of this village community that I'm talking about here.
NNAMDIWell, that calls for you to say something, Richard, about youth in this community.
JAEGGIWhen we were planning Silver Spring, we talked about a lot of things, but I think the one thing we never really anticipated was how popular it would become with young people. And a lot of the adults talked for many, many, many long times about public space in Silver Spring, and we mainly talked, but when you go out here on Friday and Saturday night, young people actually use the public space.
NNAMDIWhen you say when we were planning Silver Spring, who is this we to whom you refer?
JAEGGIWell, planning may be too much to say. The pattern in Silver Spring because we are not incorporated, we have a lot of advisers, so I think everybody in Silver Spring has some advice to give to somebody. So, mainly, we advise what was going to happen in Silver Spring. Some of which happened, and some of it didn't, and some of it probably shouldn't happened.
NNAMDITo what extent was the planning to which Richard refers to what extent did that planning include considerations for youth and to what extent did it actually include youth? Frankie Blackburn, would you please address some of that.
BLACKBURNYeah, I really would like to because I like to confess publicly that I was on the redevelopment steering committee and was trying very hard to represent various folks in that committee. And I will confess that I don't remember us ever really talking about the youth in those conversations. And I've regretted that for many years. I think we're paying the price for not having done that. We're catching up, and we have long ways to go, but there were a lot of considerations that I think if we have had youth voice at the table and had more people thinking about the youth that we would have done better planning for our youth in this town. So I stand before my colleagues and share that responsibility today.
NNAMDIWell, I like to ask everybody here what resources do you think there should be for youth in Silver Spring? And as you ponder your answer, we have a comment right over here. You, sir, are next. Go ahead, please.
MR. CHRIS WILHELMChris Wilhelm, I work for IMPACT Silver Spring, and I just want to add to the question about how the economic redevelopment has impacted the various pockets of our diverse community. I think a lot of people are concerned -- I mean, I enjoy to read the benefits that we have from redevelopment all the time, but I think that sometimes we struggle and we overlook some of the silence suffering that's going on in other pockets of the community that aren't necessarily benefiting directly from the redevelopment.
MR. CHRIS WILHELMAnd so I think it's important sometimes to acknowledge that while we're trying hard, it's really, really difficult, and you have to very intentional about making sure that the entire diverse community is involved in civic decision-making processes. And I think that's something we struggle with still.
NNAMDIThank you very much. You, sir?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 4I'd just like to make a comment that was has happened I think is that, like you said, there's a lot of things that people don't really pay attention to, and it's a really shame that youth like me weren't included in the process because what has happened is we become the silent majority. We are, at least in part, the backbone of the economy of this community, this unincorporated group, and we are treated like fugitives. We are on the street and people yell at us. We're in buildings and people yell at us. The only way people want us down here is paying for their development. And I think it's a real shame that we can't have a space and something for -- some place for us to express ourselves that we don't get punished for.
NNAMDIYou spend a lot of money in downtown Silver Spring?
4I do actually. I come down and I see movies, I buy food, I shop in the stores in City Place. I actually contribute to the community. I work with the Gandhi Brigade, who Richard is the chair of and we get -- they like us right up until the point where we want things from the community. When we want things back, people get mad at us. And when we are contributing, everyone is like oh, yeah, great, the youth are here. But then the moment we cross the line into, now we want you to pay up your side, I feel like we get ignored. And I feel like we are intentionally ignored because they don't to allow us to participate. And I think that's really depressing.
NNAMDIBen, have you got any money with you right now?
BENI think I have, like, 30 cents in my pocket.
NNAMDIThen you don't get much time on this broadcast. I am eminently bribable. It's "Kojo in Your Community" and we're coming to you from the new Civic Building at Veterans Plaza in Silver Spring, Md. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to the new Civic Building at Veterans Plaza in Silver Spring, Md. where "Kojo in Your Community" is talking with residents of Silver Spring about development and how it's affecting them and who's included in the planning and who's not. We have a gentleman in the rear. Your turn, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 5Hi. I just wanna piggyback off that last comment when -- the question before us was, what do youth need in this community? My strong feeling is that we need positive outlets for constructive energy for the youth besides shopping, and I think a recreation center of some sort would be very much appreciated, put to good use here in Silver Spring.
NNAMDIKathy Stevens, is this something that the Citizens Advisory Board of Silver Spring can do something about? Can make recommendations about, and to whom would you make those recommendations? Where's Ike Leggett anyway? But to who…
NNAMDIHe is the Montgomery County executive. Here is Kathy Stevens.
STEVENSKojo, I think there are a lot of partnerships that the advisory board can work with. Certainly, this building being new civic space in the downtown -- it's only been open for two months and we're looking forward to looking at ways that we can activate proactively the space. And that's gonna take partnerships with the youth, with organizations like the Silver Springs Town Center, Inc., with our governmental representatives, with folks in Rockville. And I think there are ways that we can look at using the space and talking to the youth about how do they want to use certain areas of this building to make it their own. What do they want to do? What would feel right for them? And there are a lot of, you know, we -- in Silver Spring and from the advisory board, we value all of our partnerships whether it's with the business community, whether it's with Montgomery College, whether it's with renters, whether it's with anyone. And certainly for the youth, we're gonna have to look to at lot of those places to collaboratively work with folks from the Gandhi Brigade and proactively program the space. And certainly we're looking at supporting that and have recently supported that position to the county executive.
NNAMDIHow about this space that we're sitting and standing in right now? Can anybody use this civic building?
STEVENSThat's been the subject of a lot of questions, and I'm sure a lot of people out here have more answers than I do for that. But yes, it is open to everyone.
NNAMDIWhat do you think this civic building should be used for, and how would you like to use it? But whatever you choose to talk about, it's your turn.
MS. JULIE STAUTLANDThank you. My name is Julie Stautland (sp?) and I've had – we got a family business here since 1974 and I've lived on -- off of Franklin Avenue and Branwell Park since 1999. And when I moved in 1999, there were eight children on our street, and I think a lot of it is we're a victim of our success. A lot of families have moved in now on that same two block. We just had a block party, and we had over 25 children from the age of 1 up to 14.
NNAMDIYou took go forth and multiply very seriously, didn't you?
STAUTLANDBut it's wonderful, but that wasn't what Silver Spring looked like years ago. So we've, in a lot of ways I believe, become a victim of our success, and I think we are trying to catch up a lot. We have built a skateboard park over in that area. They are talking about using this building. You can do community service hours by volunteering at this building if you're in high school for your community service. So there are some things that we're talking about in Silver Spring so I think that that gets ignored a little bit, that this is a collaborative community. The people up on the board are collaborative. The people in the neighborhoods are collaborative. It's just getting the right mix and the right dialogue and answers, I think.
NNAMDIOptimism personified. Thank you very much. We have over here. Go ahead, ma'am.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2Hi. I just wanna say that Silver Spring -- to me -- we may call it an entertainment center, that's sort of the modern term we hear, it's an entertainment region. But Silver Spring to me is environmental, Silver Spring says environment. And I'm a head of a neighborhood civic association next door, and we have a solution for -- that we have recommended to our county council and we've spoken to others that the library, the old Silver Spring Library, should become that recreation center. It's less than a two minute walk from here, and it has a lot of land, and we've spoken to the people at the General Services Administration who manage that property, and it would make a terrific space for the youth to have a building.
NNAMDIYou said, you said you have -- you've spoken to a number of people, you haven't said what they spoke back to you.
2Oh, hmm. (laugh) Well, David Dise is the General Services Administration -- I believe he reports to Ike Leggett, and he said that that building will be properly disposed of according to the processes that are rolled out and that we would have to talk to our politicians and various people and that he had a lot of government offices that might like to use that space first.
NNAMDILooks clear to me. (laugh) Did that sound very clear to you? Clear bureaucratese is what you heard. Obviously that's a fight that's gonna go on. Dave?
DAVEHow you doing? I've lived here for 14 months now and I've lived in Manhattan and Connecticut, and I've never been so impressed as I have been today after 14 months. I feel like I finally have a home after meeting all of you, and hearing just how much is being done to address the diversity that is Silver Spring. So I'm not gonna even ask any of those questions you guys are on the ball and I thank you very much for that. Someone opened it up, the youth, and my question is this. I lived in Manhattan through 9/11, and I was actually in the building at discovery for what happened recently there too. So safety has become something on my heart, not by choice, and so opening it up to maybe another subject. My fiancée is a second year AB bio teacher in PG County, and she comes home with stories. And, you know, someone said about silent suffering. And I wanna thank this young gentleman over here for representing his youth so well.
DAVEPart of what we need to do for the youth, in my opinion, is the accountability. We're fighting, you know, 40 kids in a 20-desk class room. And the thing that -- going back to safety that I had heard, I don't know if this is true in our area, but in PG County, they're going to take police officers out of the high schools. Now, she would come home with stories of things that happened in school that I couldn't believe even when there were police officers. So in terms of safety in the community in the situation we all live where tempers can flare with the stupidest things because we really are kind of misguided about each other, and what we -- different cultures think some things are funny and some things that we think are funny are not funny to them. So with all of that potential for conflict, what are we gonna do about keeping everybody safe, and what's the plan?
NNAMDIPublic safety first for youth, Richard Jaeggi.
JAEGGIPublic safety for youth. Youth need a place to belong is probably the most important part, and so when young people are alienated from the place that they live in, they don't take care of it or they don't feel connected. When young people are engaged in their community, they own the community, they're part of it. So I think a lot of times adults get confused, and we think, what do youth need? Well, what youth mostly need is not to be a piece, they need to be a full part of the community, and that includes the decision making and sharing in the public space so that we become a community that includes all of its parts.
NNAMDIThere's a woman in the back. Yes, ma'am.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 3Yes, I've lived in Silver Spring for about 20 years now and I love it here, I absolutely love Silver Spring. But among the things I love about Silver Spring are also the things that bring challenges. It's diverse culturally, socioeconomically, age wise, almost every way you can think of -- urban, suburban, almost every way you can imagine. Silver Spring is diverse, but that brings a lot of challenges, too, because we do have competing interests. We have -- and so all I wanna say is just a plea for patience and tolerance with each other because we have so much here. It's such a rich, wonderful community, but there's an awful lot going on and we need to just take care of each other and be good citizens, be good neighbors. So...
NNAMDIObviously, the people in Silver Spring who have been living here either for 20 years or 14 months still love it here very much. Jon Lourie, are we safe in this building?
MR. JON LOURIEAbsolutely. (laugh) As the chair of Silver Spring Town Center Inc, we are really charged ourselves with making this building accessible to the community, to really fulfilling the mission that the community has placed on this building as our community living room. So -- and amongst that is really providing an active program of events and activities for the youth of Silver Spring and to give them a place to identify with and activities to participate in. We are also in co-sponsoring with IMPACT Silver Spring, a youth space shred, where we are looking at how to provide dedicated space for youth in Silver Spring. This building is a building to be shared by all. But what we are really looking for is dedicated space in Silver Spring, and many have mentioned the old -- well, the Silver Spring Library is soon to become the old Silver Spring Library as a great location for a dedicated youth activity center.
NNAMDIThank you very much. We have someone back here also. Yes, ma'am, go ahead please.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 4Hi. I -- the question was originally, you know, what resources do we need? I'd like to focus more on the undervalued resource that's free the -- don't need a cup of coffee as your ticket to get into, and that's the library. The new -- we have a 24 percent cut in the library budget. The old library is falling down and it's probably going take two years before we get the new library, part of which was -- the land for which was replaced by the Purple Line. Then the present library is really stressed right now with all the reductions in staffing and materials. The -- but the library is a place -- if you come to a library, people are lined up outside of it, waiting to come in to use the computers for – this is as resource for our community where people often have to make job applications online. Students come in, this is a quiet, safe place to do their homework, all kinds -- ESL classes. We...
NNAMDIWhat do you think should be done?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 5Fund it right and get enough staff, and make it a priority. I know safety is important. I know education is important. But the library is the backup to all these. It provides materials for the schools in another place.
NNAMDIBut Kathy, we are in a time of a major budget crunch in Montgomery County in general, so trying to expand funding for things like the aforementioned library would be a teeny-weeny bit of a problem, right?
STEVENSIt's so hard to talk about all the budget challenges, especially when I know that there are people in our community, those of us who've been active with organizations like IMPACT Silver Spring and have gone door knocking. We know that we have -- I believe it's over 60 percent of our people in our community who are renters. And many of those folks are just trying to get food on their table, get jobs, get health care. And so when we're talking about budget problems, there are so many priorities. I don't disagree that education, the library, safety are priorities, but we really need -- I think it's important to take a broader view and to hear from a lot of different people on that, on what they really need and what priorities are in their day-to-day life. We can all sit here and say that something is our priority, but it may not be a priority for a more silent majority in our community that we don't know about.
NNAMDII'll take that as an instruction, speak to a lot of different people. Here is Eric Robbins.
MR. ERIC ROBBINSKojo, if you haven't been able to tell, Silver Spring, to some extent, suffers from an identity crisis, I think. It's a great town that people for years have wanted to come to, but we're growing quickly. It's become a major transit hub. People are trying built density within the central business district, but at the same time, we don't wanna lose the character that brought everybody here in the first place. And I think that's one of the challenges that all these groups are continuing to face.
NNAMDIThat Silver Spring is growing so rapidly, that the difficulty in Silver Spring may be maintaining the character of Silver Spring. Yes, sir?
MR. MATT LOSAKKojo, thank you for coming to Silver Spring. My name is Matt Losak. I was the chair of the Montgomery County Renters Workgroup under County Executive Ike Leggett. We came together a couple of years ago because we had heard repeatedly from renters in Silver Spring and throughout Montgomery County that living in this county was far outpacing their ability to keep up. Rents were going up double, triple, sometimes 10 times the county guidelines. We've seen rents go up upwards of 40 percent in a single year. Senior citizens who make up the majority of renters in this county are not receiving the kind of pay increases or social security increases to keep pace with that kind of increase. We're seeing redevelopment, which we all like, and that's profiting a small group of people.
MR. MATT LOSAKBut the kind of redevelopment planning does not include the kind of public policy that stabilizes rents in a way that people can count on living here after they've retired as they work, as they raise families, year in and year out, with the kind of security that their neighbors do, who own houses, even though we've seen some housing. People who own houses also do not have that kind of security. Right now in Montgomery County, in fact throughout the state of Maryland, a person who's been living in their building for 10 years, has been a good renter, paid their rent, obeyed the law and has done nothing wrong can still be evicted at the end of their tenancy simply because the landlord does not want them to live there anymore. These are basic laws that must be changed and require a community to come together and to see that upwards of 30 percent of the county, the majority of whom are renters who live in -- Silver Spring are secure in their neighborhoods and can participate in the social and political life of this county.
NNAMDII don't (applause) -- what do you think, is Silver Spring renter friendly, renter unfriendly, somewhere in between? And what do you think needs to be done about that? Yes, ma'am?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 6Hi, Kojo. I just wanna go back to something that Richard said about involving the youth on decisions and planning. And I know that, you know, a woman over there had mentioned the skate park and I just wanna kind of talk about how, you know, how many skaters and youth were really involved in that decision. And is it really the safest type of park that could have been, you know, built for this community? And I just think, you know, we really need -- if we're gonna do these types of things for our youth, we need to make them feel part of the conversation as well as, you know, my husband was born and raised here in Silver Spring for, you know, 40 years and he's still a skateboarder, he is, you know, getting our kids involved and he's a big part of the community and helping getting some of the parks build here in Montgomery County. And I just think, you know, not only involving the youth but involving the skaters and the entire community. And not just for skate parks, for any type of building or facility that the community wants to bring to Silver Spring.
ROBBINSI think one of the youth had something to say about this. What were you saying? Do you think Gray (sp?) is really old enough to participate in this planning discussion yet? Do you think -- how old is Gray?
6Gray is two and a half and he is an avid skateboarder already, so...
NNAMDIObviously quite opinionated. We do have somebody on the other side of the room. Here -- go ahead, please. It's your turn.
ALICIA(speaks foreign language)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 6My question is around -- wondering if we get help from the county for classes for English...
ALICIA(speaks foreign language)
ALICIA(speaks foreign language)
6...especially free classes, because right now, the community -- we don't have jobs, so we can't even pay for these classes.
NNAMDIAnd whether or not those classes can be made available at all, care to address that, Frankie Blackburn?
BLACKBURNYes. In fact, we are active in about five different buildings in Silver Spring right now, helping folks like Alicia back there, one of the most amazing leaders in building and Long Branch Community, organized self -- organized ESL classes where volunteers can come with us into the buildings not only help people learn English, but also learn Spanish because if we're gonna live in this multicultural community, we're gonna have to all learn different languages and different ways of being -- different ways of connecting, and that's really the point, Kojo. And I think the woman back there said it. We are really challenged.
BLACKBURNIt's a wonderful thing to live in an extremely diverse community. But we have so much learning to do to be able to make it work well. And let's look at us tonight. We do not represent Silver Spring fully in this audience.
BLACKBURNWe do not. I have to say this. And, and I think we have to acknowledge that even in a wonderful moment like this, you coming here in this room, we are not representing our community fully here tonight.
BLACKBURNAnd we have to figure that out.
BLACKBURNA huge lot of people of color, first of all. We are majority, minority, if you wanna say it that way. A huge number of people who were born outside of our country but have committed to this country and have lived here for a long time. I mean, we do have some diversity in the room, but this does not represent the extreme diversity of Silver Spring, which is a beautiful thing. But we have to work so hard to make it work. And we can just talk about it being beautiful. We have to talk about the challenges, honestly, and get out there and do it, you know? And I think there are a lot of people who wanna do that out here. I hope you hear from them. There are some other great folks out here that wanna talk.
NNAMDIThe room Frankie Blackburn is referring to is the new Civic Building at Veterans Plaza in Silver Spring where "Kojo in Your Community" is coming to you. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're back in the new Civic Building in Silver Spring, Md., talking with residents here about development and how it's affecting their lives. And you, ma'am, didn't you -- weren't you, like, hanging out with me, like, a week ago?
MIRIAMI was. (laugh) Hi. I'm Miriam (ph). I'm skater mom. I wanna talk about two topics. Frankie, I don't know if you remember in 1999, you asked me to come to a meeting at the regional center to talk about this building, and the main reason you wanted me to come was to talk about the need for computer training center in this building. And my memory is that that was agreed to that we are supposed to have a computer training center in this building. I don't know what happened to that.
MIRIAMWith regard to youth, I think -- I'm very aware, as Frankie said, that the issues of youth were not talked about during the planning of downtown. Okay. So that's the past. I get it. But now, the problem now is that officialdom in Silver Spring is -- let's just say they're struggling with building a relationship with youth. There's -- it seems as if people don't know how to relate to youth. These skateboarders, they've been coming to meetings now for a long time. A lot of them will shop up to meetings, and still we get left out. Things happen with no one talking to us. We're not included. We're asked to come and support projects when our support is needed, and then no one talks to us about what's happening with those projects.
MIRIAMSo it's a matter of building relationships with these kids and seeing them as an integral part of this community, not just, you know, a bunch of kids. And you can't just talk about, okay, you, you know, if something is for youth, that's for all youth. These are -- the skateboarders are kids who absolutely know what they want. They know what they're passionate about, and they know what's keeping them out of trouble and on the straight and narrow. And I think it's -- you know, it's not too much to ask for them to be able to skate.
NNAMDIBut isn't it also that working with these young people, with these skateboarders, you are teaching them one of the more important civic lessons in life, and that is if you want what you need to be in your community, then you've got to become more activist and work for it because it's simply not going to come to you?
MIRIAMAbsolutely, but it's very frustrating. I'm so hesitant and conflicted every time I ask them to come to a meeting. They've come to many meetings at this point and still they get left out. There was a meeting in this building about public space that was very much gonna be about skateboarders. Kathy Stevens and another -- a local photographer, Chip Py, had to go outside of this building and bring them in here because no one had invited them, and this is when we had already been in communication with the director of this building and this -- the regional center and yet you have a meeting that would directly impact us but you don't invite us. You know what I mean? So we need to do better with building relationships and building trust with these young people so that they're not alienated, because right now, they very much feel alienated.
NNAMDISpeaking of building trust, you told me last week on the broadcast that you started skateboarding because your daughter is a skateboarder. Is this your daughter, sitting...
MIRIAMYes. This is my daughter. It's Eliatha. (sp?) We call her Yaya.
NNAMDIYaya, your mom told me last week that she is one terrific skateboarder, that she does all kinds of tricks, jumping off of buildings. Is this true?
NNAMDISee? This is where the trust ends.
YAYAShe's -- I'm proud of her, but she's working on it. She's the -- like the oldest person I know that skates and owns a skateboard and actually uses it.
NNAMDIAnd your mother, as far as I'm concerned, is a very young woman. So please, watch how you're calling people old here. You, sir, are not old. This is...
TURKI'm Turk. (sp?)
TURKYeah. All right. Well, along with everything that Miriam was saying, as far as us not really speaking out, or like us going to meetings and everything like that, honestly we never got involved with any of this. We have been fighting for it, and, like, we honestly never said anything until the day she came along and just helped us go through it all. And ever since then, everybody's been speaking out and speaking out over and over and over again and nothing has come to us.
NNAMDIAnd what do you feel should happen at this point, Turk?
TURKI mean, if anything, I just feel like people should listen, like nobody knows what we go through, nobody understands the troubles that all skaters go through. Every day, like somebody will, like, harass us or some -- or anything will go on. Like we'll be skating in one park, like in a random part of Silver Spring, like the security guard will come out of nowhere and, like, try to take our boards and, like, attack us for no obvious reason. All they say is leave or go on. And ever since then, like pretty much since the park has been opened, that's all -- that's the only place we've been at, and even there we've been having a lot of problems.
NNAMDIWell, to be honest, what the quote, unquote "authorities" say is that sometimes skateboard -- using skateboards do significant damage to the surface of some of these areas where skateboarding takes place. We heard last week that the space that has been made available is not appropriate because it is too small. Would you prefer to see a larger place for skateboarders, or is it your view that skateboarders should simply be allowed to use any public space that they want to?
TURKWell, it's not necessarily ever -- like all the public spaces that we see are like fine skateable. Like if anything, if a big mega park or, like, at least a park bigger than the one we have, you know, if that was given us, everything would pretty much be almost close to perfect.
NNAMDIEverything would be pretty much almost close to perfect. (laugh) Thank you very much, Turk. We have someone over here. Go ahead, please.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 7Hi. I've lived in Silver Spring for three years. I lived in Dupont Circle for 14 years. And I'm really enjoying Silver Spring. I'm having a little trouble convincing my downtown friends that Silver Spring isn't Mars, but I'm working on it. And there's some great attractions here for, you know, people from other areas of D.C. to come visit. You know, there's amazing restaurants, great locally owned ethnic restaurants. And no one yet has talked about the AFI Theatre, the American Film Institute, which is fantastic, and I think it's one of the best things about our region. I just love, love, love it. Yea. AFI. There -- you know, there are a few things that make Silver Spring, I think, a little less of an attraction for folks to come and visit us. One is the Metro construction, which really is a nightmare and seems to be moving at the speed of molasses, and it does make it tougher to come in and out of here, especially if you're coming by bus or by car. And to be honest, there's, you know, the non-locally owned restaurants, the chain restaurants, and then there's City Place Mall. Kojo, have you had the good fortune to visit City Place Mall? I don't know if you've been there.
NNAMDI(laugh) Oh, yes. Quite a lot.
7Yeah. I mean, maybe there's someone here from City Place Mall. I don't know. It makes me a little sad, City Place Mall. So I don't know if anyone in our panel has any updates on any of the things I just mentioned or, you know, any reactions to that.
NNAMDIKathy Stevens, do you have a reaction?
STEVENSYou know, I think you hear questions and you hear concerns like were just mentioned about so many of our retail establishments. And to that, I say there are so many opportunities to get involved. I do know people who've been working with City Place for years. And those of us on the Advisory Board, it's been a subject of our meetings for years. There are many other people in the community, whether they're from the business communities or Chamber of Commerce. All of us are concerned. Downtown Silver Spring has been working on these issues, too.
STEVENSSo I think there are plenty of places to have that conversation. I can't speak directly, of course, for the owners of the building and anyone who runs a retail establishment. That's not what I do. But I do know there are ways to connect people with those folks who know more about that than I do. And that's why I encourage anyone in this room to get involved in one of our board meetings or so many of the other organizations and opportunities that exist here in Silver Spring.
NNAMDIWe have a prominent Silver Spring resident here who has had his hand raised for quite a while. Yes, sir, what is your name?
MR. YASA VENASAI have two things. By the way, my name is Yasa Venasa. (sp?) I have two things to say. One, Kojo Nnamdi, do you know what Silver Spring is?
NNAMDIYes, I do know what Silver Spring is. Silver Spring is an undefined area that is whatever you or any other Silver Spring resident says it is. It's not a town. It's not a city. It's not a county, but it is yours. What, sir, is your second question?
VENASAI think we should have improvements to Silver Spring.
NNAMDIYou think we should have improvements to Silver Spring? Is there any improvement in particular you'd like to see? Do you go to school in Silver Spring?
NNAMDIWell, that would be one of the improvements, wouldn't it?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 8Right.
NNAMDIA school in Silver Spring that you can go to.
NNAMDIHow old are you?
NNAMDIYou're nine years old? Thank you very much for joining us here this evening. And you, Jacquette.
MS JACQUETTE FRASIERYes. I'm Jacquette Frasier (sp?), and I've been in the Takoma Park area for over 14 years. I raised my daughter here. And the area has a lot to offer. But I'd like to give a lot of thanks to IMPACT because IMPACT came in our community and started knocking on doors. And I got involved, and I started knocking on doors. And we started doing things and started doing a self-help. Whatever the city is not doing, we have tried to pull together and help ourselves. We've been collaborating. We have had a taste of Maple Avenue. And it was so interesting that we had candidates come out that night and eat and break bread with us. We are now teaching each other that we can share our talents, our wants and our needs, and just step out there and pull together as a community and as an -- as we grow in numbers. People are watching. We have English-speaking classes in our building now twice a week for people who cannot speak English so that we can try to communicate with one another. And I just would like to invite anyone who would like to look on -- look go in the Internet. We have a group that's coming out Saturday and Sunday in the Sligo Creek Park. We're doing some cleaning up. So I like everyone to come out and try to make our town look better.
NNAMDIJacquette, thank you very much. And you are?
APOVITCHMy name is Apovitch. (sp?) I live in Silver Spring like 14 years. I love Silver Spring.
NNAMDIDo you have a 9-year-old son here?
APOVITCHYes. (laugh) Yes, he's born here. And I bought -- my question for about home closure. I bought my home like 10 years. We paid for like -- smoothly like more than eight years, like every two weeks automatically. But now, because of economy, I'm struggled to pay for mortgage. I use to have it for modification program like 10 months, but still I didn't get a solution. Second, I love to thank you for IMPACT say a lot -- say help a lot of pupil for prettification and for community, for neighborhood.
NNAMDISo Frankie Blackburn is here from IMPACT. Frankie, I don't know if you'd care to comment.
BLACKBURNSo Apovitch just been organizing in the neighborhoods and trying to help people understand that we have a foreclosure issue in our community. But I think what happens is that those voices are very hard to hear or to see and we don't come together around a very significant issue. And she has gone down so many paths to help herself and to help others. And she's really asking the question, how do we come together and recognize the foreclosure issue, the housing issue as significant as skateboarding, as public libraries, as public safety? We in the community here have to embrace the issues that Apovitch is facing, because she is contributing fully. And that's what I -- I mean, I ask of us tonight.
MS. ANA LOPEZGood evening. My name is Ana Lopez, and I'm the executive director of an organization called Community Bridges. And I came into this community about five years ago representing, probably, a larger population than some of our skateboarders here in our community, which is girls, diverse girls in our community here in Silver Spring. And I thank you, Frankie, for mentioning the communities that are missing. And I think there's a lot of low-income youth of color who are not here present tonight to speak to some of the efforts that have taken place, at least over the last five years. I know, Frankie, you said that youth weren't involved at the table 10 years ago, but I can attest to the fact that people like Frankie, Kathy Stevens, Laura Steinberg, Jennifer Nettles from Downtown Silver Spring have sat down at the table with me and with other youth-serving nonprofits who wanna prevent issues that impact our youth from issues of violence, issues of teen pregnancy, issues of academic disengagement, and have been committed to finding ways to address these issues in our community here in Downtown Silver Spring.
MS. ANA LOPEZAnd I certainly want to recognize those effort and that commitment that all of these individuals and many others who I have not mentioned have made. We have certainly a longer way to go because of the complexity of these challenges. But I do want people to recognize and maybe hear for the first time that there are groups like mine working with you, wanting to make a difference. I work with 250 girls in Silver Spring every week, 250 girls. And I can tell you the challenges are real. And we need people to not just respond or react when something happens wrong with our young people, but also to support the organizations like mine who want to make a difference.
NNAMDIAnd now, sir, it is your turn. What is your name?
NICOLASMy name is Nicolas, and I'm a great fan of your show. I just wanna say that I've lived here -- well, I've moved here a few months ago, but I've lived here when I was younger and I have seen some changes with Downtown Silver Spring. And also, I'm a student at Crest Haven Elementary. And it's a new eco-friendly building. And -- but I don't like that we only have PE once a week.
NICOLASAnd I think there needs to be more physical things to education and the schools.
NNAMDIThe voice of the people, ladies and gentlemen, coming to you from the new Civic Building at Veterans Plaza in Silver Spring, Md. It's "Kojo in Your Community." I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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