Written by William Bryant Rozier
Less than a month before the midterm elections on November 6(!), and it’s ground work time for Democratic candidate Denita Washington’s campaign, which means her comment about staying up to 2 a.m. every night, reading or highlighting the next day’s schedule, is a certainty. Washington is running for the part-time position of the Adams Township Trustee, 6th District, covering the areas south of McKinnie Street all the way to the Walmart at Southtown Crossing and all of New Haven, Indiana. (She is opposed by Republican Brian Yoh.)
When everyone wants a new candidate to attend their events, schedules get adjusted and sleep gets deprived. Washington just wrapped a stretch where she met her constituents at a fish fry, an event at the Black Chamber of Commerce, a fireside meet-and-greet, and another private event at the home of Michele Chambers and Benny Fair.
That list doesn’t include all the smaller events that just pop up, like events from other townships wanting to meet the rookie or requests for Sunday Service attendance. “I haven’t been to my own church in a month and a half,” Washington said. It’s all good; she’s building relationships, so why not attend? “Why not bring who you are into the room?” Washington asked.
The first-time candidate is tired but has no complaints. “Things are going well,” she said. On October 2, her campaign, situated in an all-purpose room at the Phoenix Manor Apartments on Bowser Avenue, phone-called citizens of Adams Township, those who are registered but have lapsed with their voting. The phone calls provide an open door for Washington’s campaign to talk about her platform, which is built upon her personal experience and volunteering.
Washington’s deep background is education. The Snider High School graduate received her undergraduate degree (General Studies with a focus on Education) from IPFW and her master’s online from Concordia University in Educational Leadership. So naturally, she works with the Fort Wayne Community Schools system through a private contract and is a substitute teacher all over the city.
But “most of the jobs that I’ve had, that people know me by, are the ones that weren’t even paid,” she said, including PTA’s she started for the East Allen Community Schools and her nonprofit, Girlz Rock…both have seen the candidate connect people in need to better services. Washington will bring some of her Girlz Rock young ladies along for the ride with her; they were some of her volunteers making phone calls. Another teaching moment.
One of her platforms for Adams Township is to bring education services to the office, to partner with Ivy Tech and WorkOne, using a similar model of partnership and level-jumping adopted by Wayne Township office. Jobs don’t pay enough by themselves, necessitating multiple jobs taken, the candidate said. “That’s where the academics come in.” Education and training can lead to promotions and better wages.
“Generations use social services, and I think that can be broken if they had some academics behind them,” Washington said. “I’ve always been in education, but I always did work rooting or politic-ing for the underdog without the title.”
For the other half of Washington’s platform, she wants to attack poverty. If elected, part of her job would be overseeing the fire department in New Haven, burial and poverty assistance, but she wants to bring more programs, again, like at the Wayne Township office, where a person in need can work jobs as a form of trade for assistance.
“Poverty doesn’t mean you have to feel poor,” Washington said. “I would like for them to feel like they have a hand up.” And “situational poverty is different” from those who’ve endured a lifetime of poverty.
Situationally, Washington found herself in need of services when, in 2005, a house fire destroyed everything she had. Naturally, she sought help at those social service agencies that provide relief, like the Adams Township office. But she was made to feel less than. “I didn’t understand that,” she said. “I was appalled how I was treated.” Washington didn’t feel comfortable referring someone else to those services as well. She’s running to amend those deficiencies.
Glynn Hines met with Washington when he heard she was considering a run. They discussed the “raw truth,” she said, about the position and how transformative the job is. “He said, I’ve seen what you’ve done on many levels for children and families, and I think [the position] will be a perfect fit’,” she recalled.
Hines presented Washington with her first service award years ago, when he was the Stop the Madness director; he’s been her coach and checks in every two weeks for a progress report. He’ll ask her about her health and wellness; she’s staying up on her workouts and healthy eating.
Sharon Tucker and Quinton Dixie also provide advice for the rookie, who discovered, among other things, the value of an expensive (for her) yard sign. Hines told her the real work starts after she wins, Washington said, “when the cheerleaders are gone. Then it’s you.”