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Honoring the Legacy: Pioneers of Progress in Wards 7 & 8

In the vibrant heart of Wards 7 and 8 in Washington, D.C., a narrative of resilience and empowerment echoes through the streets, shaped by the profound contributions of visionary women who refused to wait for a savior. Their relentless dedication to improving the social determinants of health (SDOH*) has left an indelible mark on these communities, setting the stage for transformative change.

These pioneering women understood that true progress begins from within the community. They didn’t wait for assistance; instead, they rolled up their sleeves and took action to address the pressing needs of their neighbors. By focusing on essential elements like education and housing, they laid the foundation for a brighter future for all.

In education, Black women educators like Mary Jane Patterson and Nannie Helen Burroughs blazed trails that continue to inspire generations. Patterson was the first Black woman to graduate from an American university in 1862. She led Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, the first Black public school in America. Her leadership paved the way for countless students to receive a quality education, breaking down barriers to success. As a pioneering educator, Patterson led by example and dedicated her life to providing quality education to Black students, even in the face of adversity.

Similarly, Burroughs devoted her life to educating Black women by establishing her own training school for women in 1909. The Nannie Helen Burroughs School, formerly known as the National Training School for Women and Girls, based East of the River, what is now Ward 7, operated with a mission to empower Black women with the skills and knowledge needed to thrive in a society stacked against them.

These women’s legacies embody the spirit of courage and determination that defines Wards 7 and 8. They not only advocated principles but also embodied them in action by implementing tangible solutions that directly impacted the lives of those around them. Another notable figure in the fight for equity is  Dorothy Height, whose advocacy for housing rights paved the way for improved living conditions, ensuring that families had a safe and stable place to call home.

Ella Baker, a pivotal figure in the civil rights movement, believed in the power of ordinary people to effect social change. She played a key role in coordinating the 1960 student sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina, sparking a wave of protests across the South. 

Today, organizations like ours are building upon the groundwork laid by these extraordinary women. Inspired by their resilience and commitment to community empowerment, JBRF and our partners, such as Black Women Thriving East of the River (BWTEoTR), are dedicated to furthering their legacy by addressing historical and contemporary challenges with the same spirit of innovation and determination. Under the visionary leadership of Executive Director Nakeisha Neal Jones, who is a native Washingtonian who grew up East of the River and now resides in Ward 7, BWTEoTR is at the forefront of moving the health equity work forward for Black women residing in Wards 7 and 8, East of the Anacostia River.  

Through trust-based philanthropy, we aim to work closely with diverse individuals and organizations like BWTEotR, who are actively working to reduce racial, health, and economic disparities in these geographic areas. 

In essence, the story of Wards 7 and 8 is a testament to the power of women’s leadership and the enduring impact of grassroots activism. By celebrating the achievements of those who came before us and carrying their torch forward, we can create a future where every individual has the opportunity to succeed.


*Social determinants of health (SDOH) are the non-medical factors that influence health outcomes. They are the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life. Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

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