DCentric » Marion Barry http://dcentric.wamu.org Race, Class, The District. Wed, 16 May 2012 20:20:35 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.2.1 Copyright © WAMU Art Driving Gentrification? http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/04/art-driving-gentrification/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/04/art-driving-gentrification/#comments Tue, 17 Apr 2012 18:09:47 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=15458 Continue reading ]]>

hellomarkers! / Flickr

This sculpture is on top of an Anacostia warehouse

The District is funding a series of art events housed in vacant spaces in downtown Anacostia. The idea behind Lumen8Anacostia: to make use of under-used spaces, and also spark some much-needed economic growth in Anacostia. The Ward 8 neighborhood has already seen some professionals moving in, but nowhere near to the same degree as neighborhoods west of the river.

On Tuesday, local blog Greater Greater Washington tweeted that the Lumen8Anacostia could signal “a new dawn for Anacostia” and Washington City Paper pondered whether Anacostia could be the next Williamsburg. That sparked a conversation between locals, including Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry, about gentrification, displacement, race and the arts.

We’ve rounded up the conversation here.

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Asian Shopkeepers And The Economics Of Improving Corner Stores http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/04/asian-shopkeepers-and-the-economics-of-improving-corner-stores/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/04/asian-shopkeepers-and-the-economics-of-improving-corner-stores/#comments Tue, 10 Apr 2012 16:53:41 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=15271 Continue reading ]]>

A D.C. shopkeeper poses by his "Healthy Corners" stand. D.C. Central Kitchen's program delivers fresh produce to corner stores.

The fallout continues over comments Councilman Marion Barry made about Asian-owned stores in Ward 8, calling them “dirty shops.” Barry has since issued an apology, but a coalition of local and national Asian American groups have called for more meaningful engagement.

Part of Barry’s follow-up comments focused on the unhealthy foods such stores sell, and he called for the owners to sell healthier foods and fix up their stores.

Gary Cha, owner of Yes! Organic Market and former president of the Korean American Grocers Association, appeared on Monday’s The Kojo Nnamdi Show to discuss Barry’s comments and relations between black and Asian communities in D.C.

Cha spoke with DCentric after the show and reiterated that a common perception of store owners among customers is that whatever goes into the register is profit. But many take home only 6 to 7 percent of sales, Cha said. If a store makes $1 million a year, the owners take away about $60,000 for their families.

“These are people who are barely getting by. I know several of them that to make ends meet, they don’t even have health insurance,” Cha said. “So when we ask them to renovate and do this and that, they probably don’t have the financial ability to do that.”

Stocking up with healthier foods, particularly fresh produce, does require investment by store owners.  Refrigeration units are needed, which can be costly and difficult to accommodate in small stores. Also, small stores may not qualify for wholesale produce prices.

Nonprofit D.C. Central Kitchen runs a program that addresses these problems. The Healthy Corners program uses a $300,000 grant from the city to regularly deliver fresh produce to corner stores throughout D.C.’s food deserts. Nine of the participating stores are in Ward 8.

But rather than just focus on the lack of health foods in such stores, Barry singled out Asian-owned stores. By bringing highlighting race as an issue, Barry took the discussion beyond pure economics. So did a number of callers to The Kojo Nnamdi Show who complained that Asian retailers are rude or treat customers poorly.

Cha said that not all Asian storeowners have bad relationships with the community, such Martin Luther King Grocery’s Peter Cho (whom, coincidentally, Barry referred to as “a good Asian” over the weekend). Cho runs a regular back-to-school event in Ward 8, giving away backpacks to neighborhood kids. He also participates in Healthy Corners.

Communication issues aren’t a problem just for “Asian retailers, but pretty much all immigrants in the community,” Cha said. “The immigrants have the same issue where there’s a language barrier, and also the cultural differences they haven’t quite grasped. It’s just a process they go through. I don’t know how to close that gap real quickly.”

One thing Cha does suggest: if you want to see a different kind of product in your store, such as multigrain bread, try asking the store owner to carry it.

“Any time there’s a dialogue going back and forth, it helps,” Cha said.

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Marion Barry: Breaking Down Race, Plexiglass And ‘Dirty Shops’ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/04/marion-barry-breaking-down-race-plexiglass-and-dirty-shops/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/04/marion-barry-breaking-down-race-plexiglass-and-dirty-shops/#comments Fri, 06 Apr 2012 17:52:44 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=15228 Continue reading ]]>

dbking / Flickr

Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry

Councilman Marion Barry’s criticisms of Asian-owned stores in Ward 8 set off a whirlwind of criticism and debate Thursday. Here’s the rundown: Barry made some offhanded remarks after he won the contested Ward 8 council seat race, captured by NBC4 Washington: “We’ve got to do something about these Asians coming in, opening up businesses, those dirty shops. They ought to go, I’ll just say that right now, you know. But we need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”

On Thursday, Barry’s Twitter account clarified his criticism, aiming it at carry-out joints that sell greasy food and put up plexiglass barriers between customers and employees. And many of such restaurants, he said, are owned by Asians. Barry faced criticism throughout Thursday, including denunciations from Councilman Tommy Wells (Ward 6), Council Chair Kwame Brown and Mayor Vincent Gray. Barry eventually apologized for offending the Asian American community. Barry said he intended to criticize some, not all, Asian-owned businesses, but he remained staunch in his view that Ward 8 deserves better food options and less plexiglass.

Part of Barry’s scourge centers on the feeling that predominately black Ward 8 is often disrespected, and that feeling is at the heart of many issues east of the Anacostia River. By bringing race into the mix, Barry touched upon a history of animosity. In many cities, some view Asian grocers and liquor store owners in predominately black communities as profiting off of customers while not treating them with respect.

In light of Barry’s comments, The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis spoke with Gary Cha, owner of Yes! Organic and past president of Korean-American Grocers Association. Cha, who owns a Ward 8 grocery store, told DeBonis that Barry “shouldn’t have said Asians.” But, Cha added:

Any of those people running a dirty store that have an adverse impact on the community should go. And sometimes I am ashamed some of the Asian business owners don’t spend the time to keep the stores in a respectful manner.

… I do go around and say, look, if you clean your store, your business will probably go up by 65 percent, no-brainer. I’ve probably said that a thousand times to people, but it doesn’t work. … In that sense I am with [Barry], but just like saying things about African-Americans — not all African-Americans do certain things.

Ward 7 faces a similar problem with the lack of sit-down eateries and proliferation of plexiglass, which can make customers feel like they’re being suspected as criminals. Thai Orchid’s Kitchen was originally supposed to open in Ward 7 as a carryout joint, plexiglass and all (co-owner Ramaesh Bhagirat of Guyana has lived in Ward 7 for 20 years). But neighbors reached out to the owners, and D.C officials enforced zoning rules. The restaurant opened sans glass, with chairs.

But what happens when such pioneers get robbed? In the case of Thai Orchid’s Kitchen, neighbors rallied around the owners after an armed robbery, spawning regular, large dinners and convinced Bhagirat to stay put.

The psychology of the plexiglass (informally called “bulletproof glass”) is potent, and black proprietors can feel the need to use it, as well. The glass barrier is partially a relic of post-1968 riots D.C., and having plexiglass can make business owners and employees feel safer (despite studies showing that plexiglass is not that much of a crime deterrent). For some proprietors, the decision to balance personal safety with making a show of respect is a painful one to make. Take Olivia’s Cupcakes; when the shop opened in Ward 7, owner Cindy Bullock said, “It broke my heart to do that, but it’s a deterrent.”

As far as Barry’s complaint of unhealthy options and few sit-down eateries: some are trying to change that, too. Earlier this year, District officials led business owners and investors on tours of Ward 8, encouraging them to open up shop and increase culinary choices.

At the end of the day, there a number of factors that contribute to improving Ward 8′s food options. And getting nicer restaurants and stores will take more than telling proprietors to take down plexiglass, whether they’re Asian or not.

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Does D.C. Need Gentrification Commmissions? http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/09/does-d-c-need-gentrification-commmissions/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/09/does-d-c-need-gentrification-commmissions/#comments Thu, 29 Sep 2011 17:00:50 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=11076 Continue reading ]]>

Tom Bridge / Flickr

Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry wants to convene a gentrification commission.

When neighborhoods get gentrified, the most vulnerable are often caught off guard. Community activism doesn’t typically gain steam until the prospect of being displaced is eminent.

So Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry’s idea to convene a gentrification commission is interesting, particularly since Ward 8 isn’t really being gentrified. Sure, some wealthier residents have moved in, but residents are rarely being displaced as a result. There is some development in the pipeline, but it’s uncertain what kind of effect it’ll have on the area

“My problem with gentrification is that those persons come into our community and displace longtime residents,” Barry said during Wednesday’s gentrification panel discussion. “Shaw is a classic example. We saw it coming and we did virtually nothing.”

Ward 8 is ripe for gentrification, Barry said, particularly given the high number of renters. Panel speakers referred to gentrification as a looming, unstoppable force. Yes, there were some mentions of dogs and bikes, and Barry remarking that “we have a lot of gentrifiers who are blogging, who are twittering.” Most of the discussion didn’t focus on race, but rather on protecting residents from being displaced through addressing the root causes of poverty: education, jobs and whether residents have become dependent on government assistance.

Some concrete suggestions did come out of the panel, such as making D.C.’s first source law applicable to all jobs, not just new hires, and supporting longtime businesses. Anwar Saleem of H Street Great Main Street said his neighborhood’s tale is an example of what can happen if such protections aren’t already in place: longtime businesses lost customers during streetcar construction, but at the same time, owners had to pay higher property taxes.

“Why not protect the old time businesses? Why not have a homestead [tax credit] for businesses?” he asked.

ANC Commissioner Olivia Henderson pointed to one of the touchier subjects of gentrification: why is it only when white and wealth move into a neighborhood, that a neighborhood gets better?

“It’s for us, the people, to stand up and fix what we already have… Let’s try to remove some of the blight, some of the crime, some of the drugs,” she said. “Are we going to allow the white people to clean it up, when we had all the opportunity to do it?”

The success of such a commission may very well depend on involving the most vulnerable residents. But they were largely absent during the Wednesday night discussion, resident Robert Cannon noted.

“It’s on us to create a platform for those who are struggling, to bring those most affected by gentrification into this room,” he said.

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Black Home Ownership and ‘the American Dream’ in Ward 8 http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/07/black-home-ownership-and-the-american-dream-in-ward-8/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/07/black-home-ownership-and-the-american-dream-in-ward-8/#comments Tue, 12 Jul 2011 20:28:59 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=8684 Continue reading ]]> D.C. Councilman Marion Barry wants to encourage home ownership in majority black Ward 8, where only 24 percent of residents are homeowners. How? By banning construction of new apartment buildings. He tells Washington City Paper‘s Lydia DePillis:

“The American dream is to own a home. And black people have not gotten the American dream as much as they need to,” Barry says. “Somebody can rent for 20 years, and has no equity in their unit at all.”

Scott Olson / Getty Images

Renters are the most vulnerable to forces of redevelopment and gentrification, since they can’t really profit from leaving a neighborhood with exploding housing prices the way a homeowner can. But owning a home, and having equity tied to it, doesn’t necessarily buffer one from poverty, either. As noted yesterday, one of the contributing factors to the decline of the black middle class is the fact that African Americans generally had more of their wealth tied up in housing than white people did at the start of the recession — 63 percent versus 38.5 percent. Declining housing prices and foreclosures meant the loss of a lot of black wealth — between 2004 and 2009, the median net worth for black households dropped by 83 percent. For white households, it dropped by 24 percent.

On the other hand, the value of homes in D.C. as a whole hasn’t dropped at drastic levels since the peak of the bubble. Only a few portions of Ward 8 saw home values decline at higher rates than the national metro area average.

Even still, there are plenty of questions as to whether banning new apartment construction would even be effective in increasing home ownership. Matthew Yglesias of ThinkProgress writes:

There’s just no way that zoning policy in Ward 8 of Washington, DC could possibly influence black people’s ability to own homes. Banning apartment buildings will reduce the supply of affordable housing and reduce construction jobs. That’s it.

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Why so many black residents left D.C. and Marion Barry on diversity http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/03/why-so-many-black-residents-left-d-c-and-marion-barry-on-diversity/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/03/why-so-many-black-residents-left-d-c-and-marion-barry-on-diversity/#comments Wed, 30 Mar 2011 20:38:34 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=5190 Continue reading ]]> D.C. Councilman Marion Barry (Ward 8 ) spoke with Michel Martin on NPR’s Tell Me More program today about D.C.’s dropping black population. Martin tried to get Barry to explain his call to stop gentrification as quoted in a Washington Post article from last week.

Flickr: Tom Bridge

The exchange itself is worth a listen, but here are some choice moments:

“What gentrification does is that it displaces longtime residents, longtime people who have been here 10, 20, 25 years and have been renters,” Barry said.

Barry also mentioned that “the Hispanic population grew by 9 percent and we welcome that kind of growth, but this city and other cities have to deal with gentrification.” He goes on to say that “white people… are displacing African American renters, gentrifying the city. I’m not afraid to speak up and say that’s something we have got to deal with.”

Later, Martin tells Barry “what’s interesting about your perspective here is that you were elected initially as part of a multicultural campaign. With your initial campaign you had strong support from a number of multiracial communities, including the gay community which often has been on the leading edge of revitalizing neighborhoods that have previously been in disrepair. So for some people, it’s why all of a sudden now you’re critical of the very people who supported you initially.”

Barry: “Well, I’m critical about the process… We have to stop it.”

Martin: “Yes, but why do we have to stop it?”

Barry: “Because it displaces long-term residents and therefore it changes things.”

We’re not sure if that does much to satisfy your desire for further clarification or not, but Martin raised a point — “why do we have to stop it?” — that is similar to the questions raised by Ta-Nehisi Coates last week: “In all these stories about Washington’s shifting dynamics, I’ve yet to see anyone, in any rigorous way, demonstrate why this shift is–in and of itself–bad for African-Americans,” Coates writes. “There’s this implicit assumption that most black people who departed the District would have stayed if not for the hipster influx. But how do we know this? How do we know they aren’t, say, fleeing the District’s much maligned school system?”

Yesterday we spoke with demographer Roderick J. Harrison, a senior fellow at the Joint Center and a Howard University associate professor, to get a better understanding of the city’s shifting demographics. He framed D.C.’s loss of 39,000 black residents in this light: gentrification wasn’t the major driving force in Wards 7 and 8, where population losses were the greatest. Rather, it was by-and-large classic suburbanization in which people left the city’s poorest wards “that are often considered the worst neighborhoods,” Harrison said.

“The force behind it probably is seen as a positive force. These are people who are some way or another, they are upwardly mobile, they are improving their housing and neighborhood conditions, they are making personal decisions that they see, on the whole, as an improvement,” he said.

Harrison, who used to work for the Census Bureau, said that the 2000 data showed that most of the black people who left Wards 7 and 8 then left for Prince George’s County, Md., which Barry called “Ward 9″ in the Washington Post story.

But Harrison continued: “You always have the problem that those who are more able to move do so, and it’s often leaving behind a population that has fewer resources, lower income, higher poverty.”

Of course, the story is different in more rapidly-gentrifying neighborhoods where many whites have settled, but Harrison pointed out that longtime homeowners tend to win out in those scenarios because their home equity improves. Longtime renters, though, are being priced out, and it’s those individuals that is seems Barry is speaking about.

Now D.C.’s black residents can voluntarily move to the suburbs for better housing, economic and educational opportunities, whereas before fair housing laws, many African Americans didn’t have much of a choice over which neighborhoods they could live in, regardless of class. The fact that so many have been able to leave speaks to a freedom to move, one that didn’t always exist for African Americans. But how much freedom is there really when the conditions in your neighborhood are so bad that you have to move from your city entirely in order to have a better life?

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“The Nine Lives of Marion Berry” is on Hulu http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/01/the-nine-lives-of-marion-berry-is-on-hulu/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/01/the-nine-lives-of-marion-berry-is-on-hulu/#comments Fri, 14 Jan 2011 19:44:24 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=3431 Continue reading ]]>

A still from the film.

Just heard about this– a film I’ve wanted to see is now available online, via Hulu. If you haven’t seen “The Nine Lives of Marion Berry” yet, go here and stream for yourself, if you have the capacity to do so. Here’s the blurb from Hulu:

The Nine Lives of Marion Barry tells the saga of this despised, beloved and resilient politician. It’s the story of race, power, sex and drugs, and a man who is the star of one of the most fascinating and bizarre chapters of American politics.

WaPo said this about the HBO documentary:

But what “Nine Lives” has that the great print profiles lack is a delicious collection of archival footage from the 1960s and ’70s. Here’s a young, slim, goateed, dashiki-clad man the newspapers called “Marion S. Barry, Negro militant” at community meetings, asking angry young Washingtonians to rise up with him against police brutality, “dig it.” As Jesse Jackson says in the movie, Barry was “a marching, picketing, protesting, Freedom Riding young man who had that fire.”

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Marion Barry, reality show star http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/12/marion-barry-reality-show-star/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/12/marion-barry-reality-show-star/#comments Sat, 11 Dec 2010 00:10:28 +0000 Matt Thompson http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=2627 Continue reading ]]> We’ll have more on this soon, but I figured this was probably the right way to leave you to your weekend, enjoying DC’s latest reality-show celeb:

(Update 12/13: The YouTube video was made private since this post was published.)




With that, enjoy your weekend, and don’t do anything Marion wouldn’t do.

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Tax Yoga, Help the Poor? http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/12/tax-yoga-help-the-poor/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/12/tax-yoga-help-the-poor/#comments Tue, 07 Dec 2010 17:48:33 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=2505 Continue reading ]]>


Double-taxes for this well-groomed, flexible Frenchie!

No one enjoys higher or additional taxes, but judging from some of the pleas for support I’ve received from various groups that are worried about how budget cuts will affect the poorest, youngest, most vulnerable residents of our city, I wonder if taxing yoga and sweet-smelling dogs is preferable (or more ethical). Via the City Paper:

Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry wants to extend D.C.’s sales tax to include: pet grooming, health clubs, armored car services, private investigations and admission to live performances.

You’ll recall that similar measures were considered last budget go round, but the all-powerful Yoga lobby put a squash to them.

Anyway, Barry also wants to raise the tax rate on parking from 12 percent to 16 percent, and raise the minimum franchise tax from $100 to $1,000. All together, Barry says his proposed tax increases would raise $41.1 million and allow the council to restore cuts to social services proposed in Still Mayor Adrian Fenty‘s budget, specifically the cuts to welfare recipients that Barry initially proposed.

The “all-powerful” Yoga lobby? Sounds ominous.

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Barry: “right now, 55 percent of the new hires are not D.C. residents.” http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/11/barry-right-now-55-percent-of-the-new-hires-are-not-d-c-residents-%e2%80%9d/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/11/barry-right-now-55-percent-of-the-new-hires-are-not-d-c-residents-%e2%80%9d/#comments Fri, 19 Nov 2010 15:56:47 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=2184 Continue reading ]]> Over at the Afro, Dorothy Rowley writes “District’s Black Residents Remain Hard Pressed to Find Jobs“:

The D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute reported in October that while joblessness surged in part last year for the District’s African-American residents, employment remained relatively steady for its White residents and those with a college degree

“The city’s high unemployment rate is obviously not going to turn around simply because the overall economy recovers, DCFPI Executive Director Ed Lazere, told the AFRO. “Our leaders have to make this a priority and have to make concerted efforts to address it,” he continued, “and given that the unemployment rates are highest for residents in isolated wards who often have limited jobs skills, it seems pretty logical that concerted efforts would help residents get access to skills – whether it’s through high school, a community college or other means.”

Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry, agreed. But he said the key to fighting joblessness – particularly in his district – is contingent upon attracting the ears of the private sector and federal government. “The city’s initiative has to be to become more involved with the private sector and the federal government,” Barry said. “There are 700,000 jobs in the District of Columbia and 340,000 of them are with the federal government. The rest are in the private sector, so we have to get the District government to start hiring more city residents because right now, 55 percent of the new hires are not D.C. residents.”

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