Though D.C. lost its “Chocolate City” moniker several years ago, city leaders say they’re working to ensure African-American residents can not only live in the city, but prosper. On Feb. 24 at noon, Mayor Muriel Bowser and multiple city agencies, including the Mayor’s Office on African-American Affairs, are hosting an event focused on the advancement of Black D.C. residents.
The gathering at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center will delve into the city’s new resource guide called “A Fair Shot—A Toolkit for African American Prosperity.”
Mayor Bowser announced the toolkit on Feb. 1, as she kicked off Black History Month at the Howard Theatre. Paying homage to the nearby U Street corridor—the city’s former “Black Broadway”—both longtime business owners and beneficiaries of new D.C. programs gathered in the historic venue.
In 1970, D.C.’s Black population peaked at 71 percent, and the city remained predominantly Black for decades. In 2011, the District’s African-American population dropped below 50 percent. Rapid economic development has caused the faces of residents and facades of the corridors to change. Today, Black residents makeup 47.7 percent of the total population in the city. The average median income for Black households as of 2016 was $37,891.
“We as a government haven’t adapted as quickly as we need to, and many of our families haven’t adapted as quickly as would be necessary to survive in this changing economy,” Mayor Bowser said, noting the importance of the toolkit.
“We know there is more work to do to ensure African Americans in every corner of the District have a fair shot,” the mayor said. “With this toolkit, we are ensuring that the hardworking residents who benefit most from the many resources and programs we have available actually know about them. You have been here for D.C., and we are going to continue to be here for you.”
Part of the city’s revitalization has included investments under the Bowser administration. Since 2015, D.C. has invested more than $324 million in the Housing Production Trust Fund and $40 million in innovative workforce programs, according to the guide. From 2015 to 2017, the city has increased government spending in small businesses by $267 million. The city has also recently poured $40 million to help seniors age in place.
While resources abound, many residents don’t know how to access them. The guide gives an overview of vital government agencies and puts multiple resources in one place. Its target audiences are residents, senior citizens, families and business owners. Each section gives an overview of services available such as affordable housing programs, education and employment opportunities, healthcare benefits and financial and entrepreneurship workshops.
While it’s not an exhaustive list of resources, Bowser said it’s “a start to a great conversation” that the city’s Commission on African-American Affairs plans to continue with residents at meetings throughout the city.
“D.C. is a place that residents often mention feeling locked out of opportunities that support their drive and passion to the middle class, and we hear you,” said Rahman Branch, executive director of the Office on African American Affairs. “African Americans in D.C. have created a rich history that cannot be overlooked. Our community built much of the city, its culture, and its character.”
At the event on Feb. 24, residents can interact with representatives from more than 30 government agencies, meet local Black business owners and pick up a toolkit. “It’s not just a collection of programs, it’s a roadmap to be successful in the city, to prosper in our city,” said Courtney Snowden, deputy mayor for Greater Economic Development, at the launch event.