When 14 residents from Historic Anacostia, Hillsdale, Congress Heights, Hillcrest, Washington Highlands, Barry Farm and Fort Davis—representing Washington, D.C.’s wards 7 and 8 communities—convened on a chilly Sunday afternoon at a home in Anacostia in 2009, no one knew what to expect. Although the goal was quite simple: discuss ideas on how to improve the community, they’ve been there; done that already. But something amazing happened that day—an authentic and honest discussion about the ills that for far too long have plagued both wards. Although many of the participants didn’t know each other, by the end of the first meeting, all shared a common bond and a belief that the most effective way to build up the community was to develop the next generation of leaders from it.
Long before resting on the name of the organization, the group, now calling itself a steering committee, committed to hosting a series of Sunday afternoon meetings at a committee member's home to discuss issues affecting local neighborhoods. They discussed crime, lack of youth involvement, economic development, gentrification, and most importantly, the need for the next generation to step up and lead the community.
Soon the committee turned its sights to developing the name of the organization. They explored many combinations of the word “Emerging Leaders” as a starting point, but none excited the group until one member suggested “River East”. The group immediately took to the phrase because it had a different ring to it. Over the course of many Sunday afternoon meetings, the need to improve the image and perception of “East of the Anacostia River” came up. Many committee members recalled conversations with friends or news stories characterizing “East of the River” as dirty, dangerous, crime-ridden and poor. The new name could inspire a sense of pride. After combining River East and Emerging Leaders, River East Emerging Leaders (r.e.e.l.) was born.
Having a name help define the organization’s mission. The group wanted to "empower” the community to take stock of the issues affecting it, including schools, activities for children and economic development. Next, the committee believed the organization must “engage” each other and area residents to become stakeholders in the decisions that affect them. Then all agreed it was importan to talk through tough issues and encouraging learning and sharing beneficial information with one another. From this exercise, the mission statement became …A Progressive Network Created to Engage, and Empower our East of the River community.
The color orange was chosen because it represents enthusiasm, creativity, vitality and endurance. These words equally captures the new energy building throughout area neighborhoods—big and small—that everyone will come to know through r.e.e.l.