Kids who have to deal with violence in their communities may not always feel safe getting to and from school, but about two dozen businesses and organizations in D.C. now are offering to serve as safe havens for children if needed.
The Safe Spots for Students campaign is one of the new initiatives announced by the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education on Friday to complement the city’s Safe Passage program, which works to support kids and families getting to and from schools.
“We’re proud to announce that we have over 24 partners that have come together with us to identify safe places for our students here in locations like Congress Heights, and also in the Anacostia neighborhoods,” D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee said Friday at the MLK Deli, on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Southeast, one of the Safe Spots locations.
“If I’m [a kid] in fear someone is going to bring harm to me, I can walk into a place like Martin Luther King Deli,” said Officer LaTonya Elliott, of the D.C. police’s youth intervention and prevention program. “And they’d be able to call the police, call mom or dad, until they feel safe.”
Deli owner Tyrone White and his lifelong friend Lynwood McMurray, another local business owner, welcomed the new opportunity to help local kids. They often partner on different community initiatives, such as donating sneakers and other athletic gear to area children.
“You see all kinds of violence in the Ward 8 and Ward 7 community,” White said. “The locations in the areas that they placed and they picked are perfect.”
The deli has a new sign on the door designating it as an official safe spot, but White said the business and its employees have been doing that kind of work for a long time.
“We try to defuse a lot of fights and stuff. We have already defused a lot of fights and broke up a lot of things that could have gone the wrong way,” White said. “We are very well known in the community, so we have a lot of influence.”
White and his business partner have been friends since childhood, grew up in the area and feel it’s important to invest in kids.
“I think it’s definitely a plus,” McMurray said of the program. “Kids having the support [from] someone who grew up in the area, who thinks like-minded about everything they’re going through, trials and tribulations, is always good.”
White’s message for kids: “If you’re in danger and you’re in this area, or you don’t have anyone to run to, we’re going to be here for you. We got your back 100% and we support you — MLK backup.”
The broader Safe Passage effort includes more initiatives, including two smartphone apps.
The Live Safe app allows students to alert police, their families or their school if they feel unsafe. The Carpool to School app will be in use in 10 public and charter schools to help organize carpooling, walking, biking and use of Metro to help kids get to and from school and after-school activities.
Additional money will also go to the District Department of Transportation to examine ways to improve student travel along targeted routes to and from schools.
Any business interested in becoming a Safe Spot can email Courtney Allen, in the office of the deputy mayor for education, at email@example.com.