Hello Ward 5! Thank you so much.
Let me begin by saying thanks to all who’ve traveled here tonight, those watching online, and those who are standing with me as I embark on this journey to be the next Ward 5 Councilmember. Special thanks to the many Team Zachary members present today and the original Team Zachary member, my mom. Give her a round of applause. I love and appreciate you so much, Mom.
Thank you to the Ward 5 community leaders present tonight. Please wave your hand if you are or have ever been an ANC, civic association leader, appointed board member, or community organization leader. Thank you to my State Board of Education colleagues present here tonight.
It is humbling to see you all here tonight, but I know you didn't just come here for me. You came here because of what you believe Ward 5 and this city can be. Amid looming evictions and perpetual displacement, you believe there can be housing as a right for all of us. In the face of politics as usual, that tells you only certain grasstop leaders’ or the corporate class’ perspective counts, you believe that we can build a stronger, healthier Ward 5 where all of our needs are met and where we are all seen as valuable members of this community we call home.
But who is Zachary Parker? Where did he come from? What is he all about?
I am Cecil and Pamela’s son. I am Deon’s and Cecil Jr.’s brother. I am a former 7th grade math teacher and know that education — real education — is much more than circumscribed tests and hallowed out curriculum. I grew up on the South Side of Chicago and DC is my forever home. In fact, my family has called DC home for decades, and it is the honor of my life to represent Ward 5 on the State Board of Education. I am a follower of Christ and an avid reader. I am a proud member of Alpha Phi Alpha and a believer that not only does democracy die in darkness but also with corruption, too few checks and balances, and when the people lose faith in their government.
I am a graduate of Northwestern university and Columbia University Teachers’ College and an alum of Teach For America. I am the grandson of a 38 year teacher and principal as well as a hotel doorman. I am also the grandson of a carpet cleaning business owner and a union factory worker.
I support personal success but believe billionaires are a policy failure. I believe homelessness just like poverty and failing schools are policy choices we’ve been conditioned to accept. I believe we are all one, that we have more in common than different, but know that there is greatness in our diversity. I am a black man and know all too well the feeling of discomfort — that nagging sense of uncertainty — during interactions with law enforcement.
I am who I am, doing what I came to do.
In 2018, I launched my campaign for the State Board of Education, because more was and is needed to improve our schools. I now serve as the president of the State Board after being unanimously selected by my colleagues in January of this year. But, when I ran, I was told I didn’t stand a chance, because the powers to be in the city and in this Ward didn’t handpick me. But with God’s grace and the support of tried and true supporters like Theodora Brown and Ms. Hattie Pierce and many others, we prevailed. I ran a people-powered campaign, focused on the issues, and we did the work. And on November 6th 2018, Ward 5 entrusted me to represent this great community. I am forever grateful.
And since, we’ve done the work.
I made the promise of reestablishing Ward 5’s Council on Education, which unfortunately had not been operational for some time when I was elected. I’m proud to share that in less than four months of being sworn in and with the support of parents and educators and trailblazers like Liz Davis and Raenelle Zapatta, we established the Ward 5 Education Equity Committee, Ward 5’s voice on all things education. The Education Equity Committee has joined me to testify before Council, distribute resources to students, and guarantee facility updates for our schools.
And since, we’ve done the work.
I made the commitment to partner with my State Board predecessor Mark Jones for the good of the Ward after a tough campaign. I’m proud to share that with the support of community leaders and education advocates, together, we launched the Ward 5 Education Collaborative earlier this year which will partner with area businesses to raise supplemental funding for our Ward 5 communities.
And since, we’ve done the work.
Through advocacy and the tireless work of our community, McKinley Tech now has a fully funded BioTech department, the old Spingarn High School Building will be fully renovated, and the old Crummell building just received $20 million to be renovated so it can serve as the community hub it was always meant to be. Thanks to you, community-based mental health funding has been restored, and we’ve expanded funding for more violence interrupters and more community recreational programming.
And since, we’ve done the work.
As evident by the masks we’re all wearing tonight, we are still in a pandemic. Many fail to realize but Ward 5 had the highest number of COVID-19 infections in the District of Columbia. That is what prompted me to organize volunteers to drop off care packages to our seniors and go door to door to help neighbors make a plan to get vaccinated. Together, we knocked on over 3,000 doors helping hundreds of families make a plan to get vaccinated earlier this year.
I recognize that there is a certain presumptuousness in this, a certain boldness, to my candidacy. I know I haven’t spent a lot of time learning the ways of the DC Government. But I’ve been there long enough to know that the ways of our government must change.
We all know the challenges we face: a pandemic that has changed the way of life for many of us, incessant crime that leaves many fearful to go about their daily routines and streets that are so unsafe that it leaves many fearful to travel from point A to point B. Families are barely making ends meet despite working as hard as they can and countless others face eviction and displacement from this city we all love. We know the challenges. We’ve heard them. We’ve talked about them for years.
What’s stopped us from meeting these challenges is the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics — often petty, vindictive, vitriolic — and the lack of concern for whom Marrion Berry called the last, the lost, and the least. We must understand that all of us have value — but the bureaucracy that is supposed to produce equity so often stands in the way of folks having their needs met. So much so, getting help becomes a job itself.
I am running for DC Council because I want to live in a Ward 5 where all of my neighbors have what they need to thrive, where there is safety, and quality housing, livable wages, parks, and grocery stores, good schools, and recreational programming. I want to live in a Ward 5 where neighbors say hello again and we work together to solve complex problems.
Together, we can build healthy communities for every Ward 5 neighbor where everyone has their needs met. This will require those with more paying their fair share and us governing with a people-first agenda. That’s why I support building on the Council’s work this year to end homelessness for some 2000 neighbors and pay Black and brown women childcare workers a fair wage. Together, we can establish a basic income for care workers and mothers, and redesign our street infrastructure that prioritizes people over metal – even right here on 8th Street.
We can treat our seniors as the backbone of our community that they are by ensuring they — just like expecting mothers — have access to affordable, quality care. We can fight climate change by reducing carbon emissions and fighting the over industrialization of communities like Brentwood. And we can be better stewards of the District’s resources by cutting wasteful spending and reducing bloated agency budgets.
Together, we can stop the pattern of corruption, violence, and displacement. This will require leaders in the Wilson Building to exhaust every opportunity to keep folk in their homes in this city and treat housing as a right. It means we target the root causes of crime, being mindful of what is working and not, rather than simply relying on a broken system that has always failed us. This means electing a Councilmember that will bring out the best in us and lead us honorably and ethically, one who is forward looking and thinking, not one who seems desperate to cleave to power or harken back to the good ol days.
Together we can make it easier to access government programs. This will require stronger constituent services in our Ward. When you call the Wilson Building or make a request, you deserve to be heard and your needs met. Period. This will also mean we as a city must close the knowing-and-doing gap. We often know what to do but fail to do it. It means bringing services to the community, streamlining sign-ups, and improving the managerial and operational expertise of our government agencies.
Together we can bridge generations and rebuild a sense of community in Ward 5. This will require a Councilmember who does not see this act of service as another stepping stone but one who is willing to work with and for the community. This will require an ever-present leader in our communities, during and out of the election season.
I know there are those who don’t believe we can do all these things. I get the skepticism. After all, every election cycle, candidates come in making promises, and I expect this year will be no different. People are tired of politics as usual, and we cannot stand for yet another placeholder for the status quo, no matter how it’s dressed up or trouted out.
I don’t know any better than the people of Ward 5. All I know is that the solution to all our problems is us. All of us. And I want to build a Ward 5 that centers and empowers our shared lived experience to build a rich culture of trust and mutual aid — where wealth stays in the community. And where multi-generational Washingtonians can afford to stay here, learn here, and raise the next generation here.