By Delonte Harrod, Special to the AFRO
The nation’s capital is among several American cities where rapid re-development has borne ills such as the destabilization of long-standing communities of color, and increased poverty.
Scholars, activists, non-profit leaders and local journalists came together on Nov. 2 to discuss the phenomenon, and especially its impact on Washington, D.C.
“‘Chocolate City,’ D.C., since about 2011, is no longer home to a majority African-American population,” said Samir Meghelli, senior curator at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum. “In that context we wanted to explore more deeply how our neighborhoods have changed and transformed.”
“A Right To The City: The Past And Future of Urban Equity Symposium” was held at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum in Southeast Washington, east of the Anacostia River. The event had three panel discussions, which included nine professors from various universities, and four representatives from non-profits, and a keynote conversation between Scott Kurashige, professor at the University of Washington Bothell, and Meghelli about Detroit and Black resistance.
Scholars from institutions, such as the University of Maryland College Park, New York University, University of District of Columbia, Rutger University and Georgetown University discussed many topics about the impact of gentrification on communities of color and what activists have done to resist displacement.
Rosemary Nbubuizu, assistant professor of African-American studies at Georgetown University, spoke passionately about the history of Black women activists, who advocated for tenant and rental rights.
Howard Gillette, professor of history emeritus at Rutgers University, spoke about local policy and the role of the federal government in the District and also about the history redevelopment in Southwest, D.C.
“Southwest, Washington, D.C., was originally seen as a blot on the landscape. Just beneath the Capitol dome you could see the black alleys that had been home to so many low-income people. Many times, various people in government wanted to get rid of those alleys,” explained Gillette.
Nancy Mirabal, associate professor of American studies and director of U.S. Latina/o studies at the University of Maryland, talked about Latino displacement in San Francisco, and challenged the audience and other scholars to rethink the use of the word gentrification.
“We really need to begin to think about gentrification in different ways,” said Mirabal. “I think gentrification, when it gets coined in 1964 by Ruth Glass, the British sociologist, is really focusing on class. And so if we use that as a theoretical model we are not really understanding how that impacts communities of color.”
The event was held in conjunction with the museum’s “A Right to the City” exhibition, which details the rapid change and displacement of communities and commemorates the closing of the museum’s 50th anniversary. It will be active until 2020.
Lisa Sasaki, acting director at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, said they are looking forward to having 50 more years of conversations around equity.
“We are committed to help to build a path forward,” said Sasaki.