By Nkechi Feaster
I became an advocate, not because of my idealistic heart and character; but because I saw how the low income community was highly discriminated against in DC. Stereotyped, held back, dismissed, and diminished further than just being black, or single parents, or low-income. It was tragic. Speaking out against the wrongs against my community was easy for me. I have learned how to channel the voice my mother always said I used too much growing up to speak against these wrongs, so advocacy came easy for me.
Organizing, I found, was a different breed of the same fight, however. I had to learn to quiet my own voice and help others either find theirs, learn how to use theirs, or give them the proper avenue to use it. I had to learn to build my political analysis, learn the lingo of the field, and learn how to fight the good fight. And I am still learning.
I started learning with ONE DC as an organizer. ONE DC, in my opinion, gains much respect from me for not only fighting the good fight, but HOW they fight it! They put the needs of the community above all else, to the point that it’s not until they go out to hear the voices in the community that they even design their campaigns and fights. A community-based organization that is actually about the community!
So when ONE DC asked me if I was interested in going to Chicago to attend the Ella Baker Institute’s Training, I jumped at the opportunity. I was always interested in visiting Chicago, but only during one of the few warm months of the year, so even the timing was perfect and it ended up being the best trip I have taken thus far!
I, along with a staff member of ONE DC and the president and vice president of the Heritage at Shaw Station Tenant Association that is supported by ONE DC, landed on a Thursday afternoon. Since training didn’t start until the next day, we got the opportunity to see a little bit of the city. We were able to attend the Taste of Chicago, sample some of the city’s delicacies and even see Janelle Monae perform! As a lover of music and a fan, I wasn’t able to stop dancing the whole time! It was the perfect opening to the next 5 days.
The very first day of training, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I came in simply ready to learn. I ended up being deeply inspired by Climbing PoeTree; a social justice poetry group that was selected to open the training. As a writer and poet, this touched me in more than one way. Climbing Poetree not only put beautiful words to the fight that we all were fighting, but also served as a muse to everyone in the room to keep on fighting.
The next 5 days were filled with speakers on many social justice issues; from racism to feminism; from colonialism to reparations. We even had the honor of hearing from two women from Palestine speak on the tragedies that have been going on in their homeland. There was so much information to cover that even two weeks after the trip, I am still neck deep in research and reading. I wasn’t expecting to get answers on how to end the fight for justice, but I did not expect to get so much information on those who have already been fighting.
I was also able to see a lot of the culture of the city. We were able to go on a mural tour of the Pilsen neighborhood and even meet one of the artists. We were able to visit a phenomenal open mic, which again, as a writer touched the creative side of me. We were able to go to the top of the former Sears Tower and get a view of the beauty of the city as a whole.
The entire trip was beautiful and spoke to many different sides of me. The nerd in me was filled with information. The creative talent in me was inspired by murals, paintings and poetry. The organizer I am becoming was given inspiration to keep going and do it better. I am so happy to have been given an opportunity such as this!
Join OUR DC and Good Jobs Nation at a rally and press conference tomorrow to highlight the plight of low-wage federal contract workers who are calling on the President to do more than the minimum, and issue a Good Jobs Executive Order (read about it in the Washington Post).
TUESDAY, JULY 29 at 9am, UNION STATION
Hundreds of Good Jobs Nation workers will gather to declare that the President’s $10.10 Executive Order is a great first step, but it's not enough to lift them out of poverty. These workers need more than the minimum – they need a Good Jobs Executive Order that makes sure federal contractors respect collective bargaining rights, pay living wages and benefits, stop wage theft, and don’t pay CEOs excessive salaries.
WHAT: Press Conference for Low-Wage Contract Workers
WHO: Low-wage federal contract workers, Sr. Simone Campbell, Members of Congress
WHEN: 9am on Tuesday, July 29th
WHERE: Columbus Circle, in front of Union Station
Written by GREGORY D. SQUIRES, DOMINIC T. MOULDEN AND KALFANI N. TURE
"Angela Glover Blackwell set the tone in her keynote address when she called for a new national narrative on community development; one based on current demographic and economic realities, not just morality. [...] Recognizing the continuing racial and class segregation of cities she focused a laser on the significance of place in shaping the nation’s opportunity structure. She reminded the group how neighborhood determines [...] virtually all aspects of the quality of life, including life expectancy itself."
For the full article, click here.
The second annual Equitable Development Symposium will take place March 26, 2015.
Check out the blog of a movement trying to save Museum Square, a building whose demolition would displace low-income Chinese residents in China town.
From the blog:
"In early June of this year, tenants of Museum Square, a 302-unit Section 8 affordable apartment building in Chinatown, received a notice which revealed the owner’s plans to demolish the building. Tenants were told that they can only save their homes if they can raise $250 million to buy the building. [...] That price works out to just over $827,800 per unit; a completely unrealistic price for this building which is 7 times higher than the $36 million assessed value of the property. [...]
Museum Square represents one of two buildings still home to low-income tenants in this area of the city, and 302 rental units that are at risk of being permanently lost from DC’s stock of affordable housing. And ironically this future development seeks to demolish a building that currently houses the majority of the Chinese residents left in that neighborhood, ultimately so that disproportionately white and higher income people can live in Chinatown. Tenants are working tirelessly to fight for the preservation of their homes and the affordability of this building by any means available."
By John Duda, The Democracy Collaborative
Jessica Gordon Nembhard, a member of ONE-DC’s shared leadership team, offered two area talks to mark the release of her long-awaited book Collective Courage: African-American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice. Dr. Nembhard, who is also an Associate Professor of Community Justice and Social Economic Development in the Department of Africana Studies at CUNY’s John Jay College, and a member of the Grassroots Economic Organizing Collective, was the featured speaker in an evening program exploring the intersections of economic and racial justice at the new Impact Hub DC space on June 3rd, and spoke in Baltimore the next night at Red Emma’s, a worker cooperative bookstore and coffeehouse.
At the event on the 3rd, which was sponsored by The Democracy Collaborative, Impact Hub DC, and ONE-DC, Dr. Nembhard was joined by local cooperative development advocate and fellow GEO collective member Ajowa Ifateyo for a conversation on the history of African-American cooperatives uncovered in the long years of research that went into the book, as well as the way this history informs attempts to organize cooperative economic institutions in communities of color today. According to Nembhard, our understanding of cooperatives as primarily something that get created in relatively privileged white communities is by and large a total mistake.
In part, this mistaken impression is due to the consequences of the need to keep cooperative organizing in African-American communities clandestine due to fear of racist retaliation—because co-ops were kept quiet, they also were kept out of the historical record. Despite facing this challenge along with many others, an extensive and vital tradition of African American cooperative activity nevertheless provided a key economic base of support and an indispensible site of leadership training during the long civil rights movement. The hope expressed in the conversation was that this important and formerly unknown history can help guide and inspire today’s movements working to use cooperatives to empower marginalized communities.
Indeed, as the updates the audience in DC heard—on ONE DC's Black Worker's Center, Impact Hub DC's new worker cooperative incubator, Community Farming Alliance's DC-based farm cooperative for people of color and women, and on Black Belt Justice Center's efforts to expand African American community ownership of land—amply demonstrated, the struggle for economic self-determination so wonderfully chronicled in Dr. Nembhard’s Collective Courage is very much alive and well today.
By Ka Flewellen
The first Kelsey Garden tenants are excited and planning to move back to their Shaw neighborhood in the fall of 2014. It has been eight years of struggle and adjustment for Kelsey Garden tenants who were displaced from their 54 unit garden style apartment complex at 7th & Q Streets NW in the Shaw neighborhood. Their roomy garden style apartments with balconies have been replaced by a new development, Jefferson Marketplace, an eight story, 281 unit apartment building. The Kelsey Garden Tenant Association scored a major victory when they challenged the sale of their building and the tactics owners used to force residents from their homes.
In the 2006 Settlement Agreement, the Kelsey Garden Tenant Association won the right to return to 54 units constructed in the same mix of one, two, three and four bedroom units in the new development for 50 years. With ONE DC as their tenant representative, we have worked to challenge excessive fees, maintain the sense of community among the tenants, and ensure the tenants have legal representation.
- January 2014 we reviewed floor plans for the new development and discussed the move back schedule
- February 2014 we held a leadership training session for the officers of the tenants association to build their skills.
- March 2014 we ensured the KG Tenants Association had legal representation. The Jefferson Apartment Group provided a list of fees and charges facing tenants as they prepared to move back.
- April 2014 our legal team sent a letter to the Jefferson Apartment Group challenging some of the fees and costs KG tenants would be charged to return to the new development.
- April 2014 we met with the DC Housing Authority to get agreement on a special process for Kelsey Garden tenants to lease their new apartments lessening some of the bureaucratic hassles.
- April 2014 Kelsey Garden Tenant Association Officers tour the 1st and 2nd Floors of the building in the construction process
- May 2014 our legal team met with tenant association members to discuss the legal strategy. In a meeting with the Jefferson Apartment Group we were successful in getting over $250 in fees eliminated.
Over the summer months, final preparations will be made to ensure tenants are able to celebrate and move into the new building in the fall of 2014.
By Rob Wohl
For the past three months, ONE DC has been organizing a series of community learning forums called “From the Streets to the Rooftops” to bring together long-time residents as well as newcomers to DC to develop a shared analysis of the processes of gentrification and displacement that are affecting our neighborhoods.
In the first session, we learned about the structural forces driving displacement, focusing on how systematic disinvestment in low income communities of color intensifies poverty while creating opportunities for developers, banks, and other real estate interests to make big profits by buying up cheap land, building expensive housing, and marketing it to wealthier residents. Next, we studied the mythology that drives and justifies the displacement of long-time residents of DC and other cities. We discussed how politicians and academics have masked the problem of poverty, discrimination, and disinvestment in communities of color by pathologizing “concentrated poverty.” When the public is convinced that the city’s main problems result from too many poor people living together, displacing those people and bringing in new, affluent, whiter residents can be treated as the solution.
In our most recent session, we began to study the ways that communities have come together to resist displacement. We brought together a panel of organizers of six community leaders and organizers from DC and Baltimore to draw lessons from fights to preserve public housing, ensure that long-time residents have the right to return when their homes are redeveloped, hold landlords accountable to their tenants, and ensure that our city’s “redevelopment” and “revitalization” plans remain inclusive.
And we’re not done yet. Join ONE DC, community artists, organizers, new and longtime residents on Saturday, July 26th as we explore the cultural diversity of DC through music, poetry, art, and interactive activities. Join in the group meditation and reflection, and participate in discussions around topics of local concern which include the economic cycle of gentrification, the myths of poverty and entitlement, and the successes and challenges of past movements. As we celebrate our shared human experiences and our cultural diversity simultaneously, we will explore the next steps to fight gentrification and the displacement of communities.
We’ll come together from 1-5 PM at Impact Hub DC, 419 7th St NW, and we hope to see you there.