DC Civil Leaders Testify in Support of Bill 25-55

Blogs, Letters & Testimonials

July 12, 2023

DC Council, Committee of the Whole Public Hearing:
Bill 25-55, “Pathways to Behavioral Health Degrees Act of 2023”

Minetre Martin
Organizing Manager
Education Reform Now DC

Chairperson Phil Mendelson and Committee of the Whole Members,

I am Minetre Martin, a Ward 4 resident, Organizing Manager for Education Reform Now DC (ERN DC), and a former classroom teacher. I hold a bachelor of science degree in psychology, but it is not my academic credentials that bring me here today. It’s the faces of the countless students I’ve seen over the years, their dreams and hopes for a better future. Their future, and the future of this city’s overall health, is what Bill 25-55 represents.

Earlier this year, I testified[1] in support of this bill and asked for there to be a hearing. Thank you for funding this legislation in the Fiscal Year 2024 Local Budget Act of 2023 and holding a hearing. In my previous testimony, I shared the alarming statistics pertaining to our youth’s mental health, the leading cause of death among them being suicide.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), in Washington, DC, suicide is among the leading causes of death for youth ages 10-24,[2] predominantly affecting Black youth.[3]

To put more detailed data into perspective, Let’s take a moment to imagine a classroom of 25 high school students in Washington, D.C. Among these students,

  1. About 13-14 of them, which is more than half of the classroom, would have experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness or seriously considered attempting suicide, according to a recent survey.[4]
  2. Approximately two students in this classroom would have witnessed or experienced violence, reflecting the 7.4% rate in DC, which is nearly double the national average of 3.8%.[5]
  3. If the students come from low-income households, the number of those who have witnessed or experienced violence would increase to around 3-4 students, reflecting the 14% rate, more than twice the national average of 6.8%.[6]
  4. Among LGBTQ+ students they would have twice the likelihood of  reported suicidal thoughts, compared to their peers, showing that LGBTQ+ youth are at a significantly higher risk.[7]

Alarmingly, one of those students could be your child, your child’s friend, your neighbor, or in my case, a former student.

It is no secret that research has shown that our students struggle with mental health issues or are experiencing numerous adverse experiences within their community.[8] However, this is not just about numbers; it’s about lives and futures that we can nurture or neglect. This is where this bill could have an impact. But for this program to serve its purpose, it must be dynamic, cutting-edge, and grounded in the realities of the District’s unique demographics and challenges. In light of DC’s wealth of resources, we propose the following recommendations:


  • Create alliances with renowned institutions and research centers here in DC, such as the National Institute of Mental Health, the American Psychological Association, and leading local hospitals, clinics, and organizations. These partnerships would facilitate research opportunities, hands-on experience, guest lectures, and real-world exposure for students. This would increase the program’s marketability and strengthen its commitment to serving the community.
  • Leverage DC’s vibrant nonprofit and philanthropic sector. We have organizations and foundations committed to supporting education and mental health, such as the Strengthening Families Through Behavioral Health Coalition. Engaging them in sponsorship, scholarship, or internship programs would be a mutually beneficial partnership.
  • Adopt a unique DC-centered curriculum that addresses our diverse communities’ specific behavioral health needs. This could be done through collaborations with local community health centers, schools, and the Department of Behavioral Health (DBH). Moreover, the use of advanced tech-based teaching tools and methodologies would ensure a comprehensive and effective education for our students.
  • Market this program to LEAs so counselors are aware and can work to intentionally build out career pathways in these fields.
  • Overcome any barriers to data sharing by providing information to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, Department of Employment Services, LEAs, and other relevant agencies on the number of individuals taking advantage of this career opportunity and their outcomes.

We have the opportunity to make history here, not just for the University of the District of Columbia but for our children, our community, and our future. Thank you for your time and consideration.  I am happy to answer any questions you may have.


[2]American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. (2021). District of Columbia: Suicide and mental health fact sheet.

[3]American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. (2022). AACAP Policy Statement: Increased suicide among Black youth in the United States.

[4]Office of the State Superintendent of Education. (2019). 2019 District of Columbia Youth Risk Behavior Survey: High School and Middle School Reports. Retrieved from https://osse.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/osse/publication/attachments/2019%20DC%20YRBS%20Report.pdf

[5]Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative. 2020-2021 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) data query. Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB). Retrieved January 8, 2023, from https://www.childhealthdata.org/browse/survey/results?q=9535&r=10


[7] Suicide risk among LGBTQIA students in Washington D.C.: Office of the State Superintendent of Education. (2019). LGBTQ Student Report. Retrieved from https://osse.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/osse/page_content/attachments/LGBTQ%20Student%20Report%20FINAL.pdf


Sherri Daniels
Civic Leader
Education Reform Now DC

Honorable Chairman Mendelson and members of the Committee of the Whole, greetings. My name is Sherri Daniels, I am a proud resident of Ward 8 with a master’s degree in psychology, a community caseworker, and a prominent civic leader for Education Reform Now DC. As someone who works at the forefront of providing mental health services to DC residents, I am here today to wholeheartedly support the establishment of a Master of Social Work degree program at the University of the District of Columbia. I was pleased to testify[1] in support of this legislation in April, and I’d like to expand upon the previous testimony of Minetre Martin and delve deeper into the specifics of implementing the solutions discussed.

Minetre’s testimony accurately drew attention to the urgent mental health needs of our DC youth, especially in marginalized communities, and I am intimately familiar with this issue through my daily work as a community caseworker. The establishment of a Master of Social Work degree program at the University of the District of Columbia, as proposed in this bill, offers a direct response to these needs. However, the successful implementation and impact of this program will depend heavily on the strategic decisions we make now. To expand on the essential aspects Minetre touched upon I offer the following specific recommendations:

Collaborate with entities such as the National Institute of Mental Health and the American Psychological Association

Minetre suggested the importance of aligning with distinguished institutions such as the National Institute of Mental Health as well as local hospitals and organizations. To amplify the program’s reputation and facilitate enriched learning experiences, the program could develop a “Learning Partners” initiative where each semester, a group of students is paired with a partner organization for research projects or practicum experience. This model not only provides students with unique learning opportunities but also helps institutions gain fresh perspectives from the upcoming generation of social workers.

Partner with philanthropic organizations and foundations in DC to establish scholarships, sponsorships, or internships.

Through the scholarship program, UDC could support practical training opportunities. Internships or fieldwork experiences are essential components in the education of social workers, and financial support for these experiences would significantly aid students. Additionally, UDC could leverage technology and innovation in its teaching methodologies. In this digital age, there are myriad tech-based tools that can revolutionize the teaching of social work. For instance, incorporating simulation software and AI programs can offer students the opportunity to practice skills in a risk-free environment before working with actual clients and could make the program more future-ready.

Implement a DC-centered curriculum to address the unique challenges.

The program should engage with local community health centers, schools, and the Department of Behavioral Health to develop a comprehensive understanding of our community’s unique needs. By introducing courses or specializations that focus on DC’s specific demographic needs, we can ensure our graduates are well-equipped to serve their community effectively.

Develop and execute a comprehensive public awareness campaign

To ensure potential beneficiaries are informed about this program. Develop and execute a comprehensive public awareness campaign to market this program to Local Educational Agencies LEAs, so counselors are aware and can work to intentionally build out career pathways in these fields.

This Master of Social Work degree program is more than a course of study; it is a commitment to the future well-being of the District of Columbia. By investing in the program and its graduates, we’re investing in our community and shared future.

Thank you for your time, and I hope you will give due consideration to our proposals and the potential they have to enrich our District’s education landscape and uplift our community.


Rabiatu E Barrie, PhD
Civic Leader
Education Reform Now DC

Chairperson Phil Mendelson and Committee of the Whole Members,

I am Dr. Rabiatu Barrie, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland, and a civic leader for Education Reform Now DC. Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today. While I am a Maryland resident, I do have the privilege of training and collaborating with numerous students and professionals who serve DC residents. I see the impacts of policies in DC extend beyond its boundaries, significantly affecting the broader region, including Maryland. In March, I testified[1] in support of this legislation and urged the Committee of the Whole to hold a hearing on the bill. Thank you for listening. Today, I will present actionable steps to enhance mental health services in DC public schools, supporting the overall well-being and success of our students.

Building on the testimonies of my fellow education reform champions, Minetre Martin and Sherri Daniels, I would like to propose that UDC consider the following enhancements when implementing this program:

Consider broadening the eligibility requirements of the program.

While the current criteria aim to ensure the program benefits the District, we must not forget about individuals who might not have attended a DC public school but have strong ties to the District or clear intent to serve our community in the future. For example, people who may have relocated to the District after their high school education but have been contributing to the community for a significant time or anyone who has completed relevant associate degree programs or earned certificates in the District and intend to pursue a career in behavioral health in the District could also be strong candidates for this program.

Provide mental health services for program participants.

The emotionally demanding nature of behavioral health work makes this proactive measure crucial for ensuring the well-being of our future professionals. As a current professional in this field, I can attest to the importance of this service.

Establish a clear framework for oversight and program effectiveness

To ensure the efficacy and accountability of these measures, I recommend that UDC establish a clear evaluation framework for these initiatives. Regular monitoring, tracking of graduates’ career progression, quality of education, and participant feedback will ensure the program meets its intended goals.

Key performance indicators could include clinician retention rates, student graduation rates, and post-graduation employment in the District’s behavioral health services.

In conclusion, by implementing these measures, UDC will send a strong message about its commitment to its long-term strategy of preparing our own local students for the careers that our community most needs.

The proposed solutions, backed by the DC Council’s unwavering commitment, can lead to profound and lasting positive impacts on the lives of countless children and adolescents in the District of Columbia. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to the opportunity to answer any questions you may have and to further discuss this legislation.