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The history of D.C.’s African American community is long and storied. African Americans have been around since the city became the nation’s capital, and most were free by 1830. In recent decades, D.C.’s black community has grown in ethnic diversity due to an influx of immigrants; about 18,000 District immigrants identify as black, with many coming from African and Caribbean nations. The District is also home to one of the largest expatriate Ethiopian communities in the world.
Courtesy of St. Augustine Catholic School
Students singing at St. Augustine, a school founded by free blacks and former slaves in 1858, and continues to thrive to this day.
Relations between the African American community and recent African arrivals have been tense at times. That was on display during a 2005 debate over whether to officially rename a corridor in Shaw, a historically black neighborhood, into “Little Ethiopia.”
But the history of African Americans’ struggles and triumphs also resonate with some of D.C.’s black immigrants. In a WAMU Metro Connection story about St. Augustine Catholic School, which was founded by African Americans before the Civil War ended, reporter Jessica Gould speaks with current student body president Lello Negera: “I’m from Ethiopia. I came here in 2003,” Negera tells Gould. “When I learned the history of the school, it made me realize how special this school is and how hard the people fought for us to go to school.”
About 200 children attend the school. The school is predominately black but a number of students hail from other countries.
Friday’s entire Metro Connection show was devoted to how race and ethnicity affects the D.C. region. You can find all of the stories here.
Brenda Gottsabend / Flickr
The unemployment rate in D.C. is higher than the national average, but as Metro Connection’s Sabri Ben-Achour reports, the pain isn’t being felt evenly along racial and class lines. He recently spoke with economist Benjamin Orr of the Brookings Institution about the imbalance and ways to fix it:
“Ward 7 is, based on some calculations I’ve done, at 22 percent unemployment rate, which is actually now higher than the unemployment rate in Ward 8, which is at about 20 percent,” Orr says. “This is practically depression era levels of unemployment.”
In Ward 3, Orr says, unemployment is 4 percent.
“That’s a significant divide,” Orr says. “That’s a completely different reality for those two wards.”
Wards 7 and 8 are majority black with high numbers of low-income residents; Ward 3 is mostly white and wealthy. Orr goes on to say long term solutions to the employment divide include improving education, access to transportation and job training programs. You can listen to the entire segment here.
Last week’s Metro Connection featured a mobile market that will drive to D.C.’s food deserts and sell produce at reduced rates.
Arcadia Foods [is] a small organization that works to bring fresh produce from fields of local farms to the dinner plates of D.C. residents. The founder, Mike Babin, now has his sights set on the food deserts of D.C. by putting farmers’ markets like this one on wheels.
“We’ve got a bus and we’re calling it a mobile market that is going to be outfitted as a farmer’s market. It’s going to roll into these communities and set up shop for one day a week to just provide that food to those communities,” [Mike Babin says].
Flickr: Lisa Williams
Finding fresh and affordable produce can be a challenge in some D.C. neighborhoods.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food deserts as areas with poor access to large grocery stories — and D.C. has plenty of neighborhoods that qualify. The food desert definition doesn’t take into account whether neighborhoods without chain grocers have corner stores selling produce or farmers markets.
Some LeDroit Park residents have pointed out on the neighborhood’s Listserv that although the area lacks a big grocery store, there are a couple of neighborhood options, including Common Good City Farm and farmers markets and corner stores. Some alternatives to chain grocers may not be as affordable, but that’s not always the case.
Babin’s plans may provide a temporary fix to food deserts, but as reporter Marc Adams points out, getting people to actually buy the produce takes more than just bringing the food into neighborhoods. LeDroit Park resident Jana Baldwin, who uses food stamps, tells Adams that “many communities may feel that [the mobile vendor's produce] is only for a specific population and so it would have to definitely be marketed in a way that was inclusive to all communities.”
The Mount Pleasant riots began on May 5, 1991 after a police officer shot a Salvadoran immigrant. Last week’s Metro Connection took a look at what happened during those two tumultuous days, and today’s Kojo Nnamdi show featured a discussion around the legacy of the riots for D.C.’s Latino community.
The riots, which also spilled over into Columbia Heights, left a lasting mark a neighborhood that has changed dramatically in the past 20 years. We take a look at Mount Pleasant today:
Walter Martinez has been living in Mount Pleasant for more than 35 years. He’s seen the neighborhood change from predominately black to being mostly Latino in the 1990s. He said the Metro station and Columbia Heights development helped spur an influx of white residents. “That’s how this got to be a more expensive place to live. Before, our apartment, a 2-bedroom, was $300 [a month]. Now, it’s $1,300.”
DC USA opened in 2008 in nearby Columbia Heights. National retailers filled the mall, including Target, Best Buy and Marshalls.
Mount Pleasant Street now has a mix of new and older businesses.
Alex Kramer opened Dos Gringos on Mount Pleasant Street 10 years ago. She named her restaurant as a nod to the fact that she and her then-business partner were opening up in a predominately Latino neighborhood “I didn’t want to come into a neighborhood and change it," she says. Kramer works with fellow business owners and helps organize a language exchange in the neighborhood. “The customers, it’s definitely a mix. On Saturdays and Sundays, it’s more of the newer people in the neighborhood. But during the workweek, we sell $1 cups of coffee outside” which attracts a variety of customers, she says.
A woman sells tropical fruits at this produce stand that’s been in Mount Pleasant since 1994. Owner Ignacio Nunez (not pictured) says back then “there was a lot of disorder. When we would get here in the morning, they’d say, ‘last night someone was shot on that corner.’ Not anymore.”
Ignacio Nunez (right) talks with Walter Martinez (left) about the changes the neighborhood has seen in the past couple of decades. Nunez says there are still a lot of Latinos in the neighborhood. “But before, nobody wanted to live here, the only ones who lived here had to. Now, everyone in the world wants to live here.”
The Shaw neighborhood gave birth to Black Broadway said Rebecca Sheir in her exploration of Shaw’s past as a hub of black culture and history on Metro Connection. Sheir spoke with Alex Padro, an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, who said:
The neighborhood from its earliest days was very strongly African-American, as a result of a number of Union army camps that were located here to accommodate what were called “contraband,” or escaped slaves, or former slaves that had managed to make their way to the District of Columbia.
… We had schools, churches, hospitals, a university, all established and constructed in close proximity to be able to serve that large African-American population.
Courtesy of: Rebecca Sheir
This historic building in Shaw is among many that are being renovated and reconstructed in the neighborhood.
Listen to the entire segment, as Padro and others explain what happened to Shaw after housing laws changed, the 1968 riots and the new convention center was built where parking lots and dilapidated buildings once sat. In the latest Census, the U Street corridor reported no longer having a majority black population, and Shaw now has a number of luxury housing options.
Now add this to the mix: a major development at 9th and O Streets, NW just cleared a major hurdle. The Department of Housing and Urban Development recently approved a $117 million loan for CityMarket at O, a major retail and housing project featuring a Giant, luxury and market rate housing and a Wolfgang Puck restaurant.
How much more will Shaw change?
Rebecca Sheir/Metro Connection
While WAMU is nationally-known for The Diane Rehm Show, and locally-beloved for The Kojo Nnamdi Show, as of last week, I’ve found myself falling for WAMU’s other exclusive program: Metro Connection. I mention last week because last Friday, I listened to one of the stories from MC twice– and that was before I blogged about it. This week, I’m having driveway moments all over again, and just in case you missed it, I thought I’d spotlight two stories that DCentric readers may find interesting. First up:
A Legacy Of Education
Rebecca Sheir introduces us to Lynn C. French, whose African-American family has deep roots in the D.C. area… and a rich history/legacy of education. Her forebears include Emma Brown, who founded one of the first schools for African-Americans in D.C., and several of the early trustees of Howard University.
Courtesy of: Quander Historical Society. Inc.
A photograph of Dr. John Thomas Quander from Metro Connection's slide show.
Last Friday’s Metro Connection had a wonderful story that would’ve inspired me to sit in my driveway vs. miss a moment of it, had I been in a car– it was about a local African-American family that defies the long-accepted stereotype that D.C. is a city for transients:
Rebecca Sheir introduces us to the Quanders: the oldest African-American family in D.C., and, possibly, the United States. Records show the family has been in the region since the late 1600s. These days, the family runs the Quander Historical Society, and keeps records at Howard University and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library.
The Quander’s family site has this very American story about their surname (and there’s even more about this in Rebecca’s piece):
The Quander Family is believed to have originated from an ancestor with the last name of “Amkwandoh” from Ghana, West Africa and “Quando” as the name appeared in the 1800s.
From learning about Quanders who worked at Mount Vernon to hearing about their epic, three-day reunion at Howard University in 1984 (which celebrated 300 years of documented presence with over 1,000 family members), the entire piece deserves a listen.