Making Noise

Ward 7 Resident Seeks Solutions for His Community

On any given day, Kevin Ellerbe can be seen pruning his yard while having an early morning or late afternoon chat with neighbors. In the early evening, he may even attend a neighborhood meeting.

Ellerbe is sweet potato brown with a slim build. He is the cool, hold-no-cut cards neighbor who is quick to speak up on behalf of his community, while still pretty much keeping to himself. It’s not that he meddles or pries. It’s simple. If something is wrong or lagging in his community, he doesn’t hesitate to make the appropriate contacts and make a fuss. To call Ellerbe, 47, an unofficial “mayor” of his block, located in the Benning Ridge area of Ward 7, is something he’ll softly and perhaps shyly denounce. He just does what he feels is right, seeking solutions for some of the ills that plague his neighborhood. Such is the time when he noticed the rugged sidewalks with blacktop curbs along his block. Once Ellerbe found the right office, he called faithfully at 6 a.m. everyday, leaving messages stressing the urgent need for decent sidewalks. “I did that for eight days straight,” Ellerbe recalled. “When I first called, no one wanted to listen. I left a message saying that I would call everyday with the same complaint until someone came to fix it.” It worked. In a matter of days, a construction crew was on site repairing the sidewalks, doing away with the blacktop “curbs” and replacing them with real concrete ones. Another instance occurred in recent months, when sewage backed up in his home. After his plumber inspected the problem various times, it turned out to be a city issue. A back and forth confrontation with the Water and Sewage Authority (WASA) ensued until, finally, WASA offered to replace pipes on his property for free. Needless to say, his neighbors followed suit in having WASA replace city pipes in their yards. Outside Ellerbe’s neighborhood, his persistent calls might seem extreme. However, Ellerbe believes that on this side of town, East of the Anacostia River, residents have to make that kind of noise in order to be heard and given the same treatment as those across town. “When I worked for the Department of Recreation, one of the things that I noticed was that anytime someone from Northwest would call and need something, they got it right away,” Ellerbe recalled. “Response time for areas like Ward 7 was much slower.” Ellerbe grew up in Ward 7 along B Street Southeast. Sometime later his family moved uptown to Northwest. His first act of community involvement occurred during Walter Fauntroy’s run for Congress when he handed out campaign literature. Nearly 15 years ago, Ellerbe moved back into Ward 7. He immediately noticed that nothing much had changed, as far as resources to the community. “I saw more blight and began to realize that recreation centers didn’t have anything for the youth.” Engaging the youth is something that Ellerbe is passionate about. Yet, his passion is often met with less enthusiasm from other adults. Just a few blocks down from Ellerbe, Benning Heights and Benning Terrace are home to a number of youth. It’s not uncommon for the quiet streets surrounding this area to be plagued by idle youth hands, especially when drivers as young as 8 years old crash stolen cars. Ellerbe’s philosophy is to get the youth involved in community activities to help calm and even silence the disturbances. A couple of years ago he proposed to teach a cooking class to some of the boys living in the Benning Heights area. “I wanted to teach the boys how to bake their own cookies and sell them,” explained Ellerbe, a talented cook. “I wanted to get them thinking about starting their own business.” Though his idea wasn’t shot down, Ellerbe couldn’t get the full cooperation of other adults, particularly the management of the facility he was hoping to use. “What gets me sometimes are the folks at the ANC meetings. They say the want the youth involvement in the community, but what have they done to reach out?” Despite hitting some road blocks in moving forward with his ideas for the youth, Ellerbe has taken a 20-year-old mentee under his wing. “He’ll call me up when he has a problem going on, and we’ll talk. I let him clean the yard to help him earn a few bucks.” Aside from his concern about the youth, Ellerbe also is a bit uncertain about the development taking place in his ward. Though he feels it is for the better, he is worried that residents aren’t consulted enough on what should come and is needed in the community.

However, he is surprised to find that a lot of what he had been asking for or “making noise” about has been placed on a developer’s blueprint and that ground has been broken. This includes the development of downtown Ward 7 along the Minnesota Avenue corridor, which will have a library, shopping and entertainment facilities. Maybe Ellerbe’s “noise” was one factor that helped bring some resources into Ward 7. His phone calls have been known to offend city officials. If officials are being lackadaisical about sending help to Ellerbe’s community, he isn’t afraid to call them out. “I never hold back. I say what’s on my mind, but it’s always the truth.”