In response to the mass expulsion of Black people from revitalized U.S. urban centers, a bevy of grassroots organizers, elected officials and businesspeople converged on Newark, New Jersey, this month for the National Emergency Summit on Gentrification, organized by the Institute of the Black World 21st Century (IBW).
A delegation of more than a dozen District-based leaders — including ANC Commissioner Salim Adofo, attorney Nkechi Taifa and the Rev. Willie Wilson — counted among the participants in this meeting. They listened as panelists framed gentrification as a “Negro removal program” and later brainstormed strategies to counter systems that have allowed outside forces to maintain their leverage over majority-Black communities.
“One of the things that I learned was that as an elected official I have to prepare residents to be able to have ownership in their community,” said Adofo, one of 15 people who took the nearly four-hour drive to Newark for the event, held April 4-6.
Adofo, whose constituents live in Congress Heights in Southeast, revealed plans to collaborate with community organizations in creating youth financial literacy classes, launching an investment group, and building an infrastructure that would allow residents to compete for bids and government proposals.
He said an issue of concern involved raising the political consciousness of the people he represents so they could self-advocate, not out of emotion, but with the knowledge they have at their disposal.
“I have to get residents in the room when decisions are being made and show them how they can have equity in the development as opposed to just being a consumer,” said Adofo, commissioner of single-member District 8C07. “I have to help residents establish businesses and build capital, so when the opportunity presents itself, they can take advantage of it.”
Colonization by Any Other Name
Adofo said his constituents, and other residents living in what’s often referred to as the “last frontier of gentrification,” often express both excitement and anxiety about the impending $1 billion of development money expected to flow into communities east of the Anacostia River within the next decade.
A recent study from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition found that the District had the highest percentage of neighborhoods that experienced gentrification between 2000 and 2013.
Within that time period, the proportion of Black residents dropped by more than 30 percentage points. Majority-Black neighborhoods west of Rock Creek Park went by the wayside as a diverse, single, highly educated workforce move into the District and developers pumped millions of dollars into projects that increased the property value — and rent burden — of native Washingtonians living in those communities.
The conversation about gentrification in affected areas intensified earlier this month when the go-go community rallied around the locally renowned MetroPCS store on 7th Street and Florida Avenue in Northwest as part of the #DontMuteDC movement. This week, Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick announced that people could no longer walk their pets on the campus’ main yard after students stood up against transients who would let dogs defecate on the school grounds.
As the discussion about displacement pivots to long-term solutions, D.C.-based businesspeople who attended the emergency gentrification summit said they not only want to preserve the city’s culture, but do so in a manner that puts Black residents in control of their destiny.
Nataki Kambon, a member of the emergency summit planning committee, explained an economic model she said gives elected officials and other power brokers no choice but to listen to Black people.
“Gentrification is the symptom of economic subjugation,” said Kambon, a business and management consultant, as she explained a strategy placing Black people at every level of production in a cooperatively ran company. “My model deals with economic subjugation by creating community-minded accelerated business enterprises.
“These are vertically integrated enterprises that create jobs that allow people to afford quality housing,’ she said. “These enterprises allow for the aggregation of wealth and resources to be able to affect political decisions and civic matters and allow for communities to control their destiny. When we approached gentrification from this angle, it shifts the discussion from begging for jobs or subsidizing housing [and] allows for cities to empower their residents and for cities to the right the wrongs of displacement.”
IBW Moves Forward
IBW, an organization born out of the 2001 State of the Black World Conference in Atlanta, convened the emergency gentrification summit under the leadership of Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and IBW President Ron Daniels. The gathering resulted in the creation of a national resource center that would connect consultants to grassroots organizations and government agencies to tackle gentrification via opportunity zones, legal assistance, cooperatives, and other means.
The national resource center will also include a mapping feature to track gentrification across the country and on-the-ground responses to it. Organizers of the emergency gentrification summit announced the release of a Priority Action Agenda within the next month.
“This was an amazing gathering of some of the brightest, best and most committed leaders in Black America,” Daniels said. “Sisters and brothers with the experience, expertise, skill and will to forge an agenda to combat this monster called gentrification which is devouring Black communities.”