By James Wright, Special to the AFRO,

An organization dedicated to the empowerment of people of low and working income levels has re-located its headquarters to Ward 8.

Cooperation DC, a project of ONE DC Black Workers and Wellness Center, held a cookout for the community at its new home on 2500 Martin Luther King Jr., Ave., S.E. on Aug. 4. About 35 people came to the site to have a meal and learn about Cooperation DC and what a workers’ co-op that focuses on the needs of Ward 8 residents and African-American workers in general could mean for the community.

Raheem Anthon and Serita El Amin are both active with ONE DC. (Courtesy Photo)

“We want to talk to you about what a cooperative is,” Will Cochrane, who ran the event, said. “We want to let you know what it means to have a cooperative like this in Southeast. We have cooperatives across the city.”

ONE DC is a non-profit with its mission to preserve economic and racial equity in the Shaw neighborhood in Northwest. It has been vocal in trying to keep people in their homes despite escalating rents and fighting poverty and income inequality in the District.

ONE DC is non-partisan but is a progressive institution that promotes social entrepreneurship, openly questions capitalism and believes in the collective use of resources.

The location of Cooperation DC to Ward 8 is no accident. Even though the District is experiencing relatively low unemployment rates at this time, 5.6 percent, the unemployment level for Ward 8 is 11 percent, according to the D.C. Department of Employment Services. Cochrane and his colleague with Cooperation One, Raheem Anthon, explained to the gathering how worker cooperatives could lower the jobless numbers.

“We can be a resource for Black workers to come and raise their voices about their working conditions,” Anthon said. “We can be the resources where they can share their stories about what they face on the job.”

Cochrane explained that worker cooperatives are owned and managed by the workers. When the worker cooperative makes money, it is distributed among its member-workers where as in a private company, profits go to the owners and employees get their agreed upon salaries and benefits only. IF THE CO-OP DOESN’T MAKE MONEY DOES THAT MEAN NOBODY IS PAID?

“Worker cooperatives are an excellent example of workplace democracy,” Cochrane said.

Anthon said something must be done to get unemployed people in Ward 8 working.

“We are the alternative to D.C. government’s programs,” he said. “We have found those programs aren’t beneficial to the people. With member-led working cooperatives, the people are in charge.”

Anthon told the AFRO that cooperatives in general are nothing new to African Americans.

“People of African descent have worked together for centuries, they just didn’t call it cooperatives,” he said.

In a related issue, Cooperation DC bought the building from the United Black Fund that was co-founded by the late Calvin Rolark and his wife, Wilhelmina Rolark, who served on the D.C. Council representing Ward 8 for many years. When the purchase came through late last year, Calvin Rolark’s name was erased from the building and that has upset some residents. Cochrane said that ONE DC is still talking to Denise Rolark Barnes, the daughter of Rolark and publisher of the Washington Informer, about whether the name will stay on the building.