Nearly two hundred Black residents from D.C., Maryland, and Virginia gathered in Northwest D.C. to discuss the Black Diaspora Sept. 19. The discussion, in celebration of the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum’s 1994 landmark exhibition, “Black Mosaic: Community, Race and Ethnicity among Black Immigrants in Washington, DC,” was part of a daylong “Revisiting Our Black Mosaic” symposium. The event was sponsored by both the museum located in Southeast and the Woodrow Wilson Center in Northwest.
“I like to challenge people that being Black isn’t one thing – people are hungry to be able to share their multiples Black identities.” said Dr. Arvenita Washington Cherry, principal of Phoenix Cultural Resources LLC, during the “Unpacking Multiple Black Identities” session.
Panelists (L-R) Patricia Foxen, deputy director of research, National Council of La Raza; Heran Sereke-Brhan, deputy director, Office on African Affairs; Kristian Ramos, public relations officer, Office on Latino Affairs, executive office of Mayor Vincent C. Gray, District of Columbia and Mwiza Munthali, public outreach director, TransAfrica.
Black Mosaic was the first exhibition at the museum to examine the perceptions and realities of race, nationality, and ethnicity of Black urban immigrants. It presented personal stories of Black immigrants from Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean, who made their homes in the D.C. metro area and challenged conventional notions about African Americans.
Managing diversity is an aspect of The Woodrow Wilson Center’s mission and is excited to provide resources within its own backyard, Blair A. Ruble, vice president for programs at the Woodrow Wilson Center, said. “In Washington, we don’t have a lot of national organizations that connect locally,” he said.
The event included six sessions and 26 scholars and experts who dissected facts and data and shared personal and historical stories to narrate the complexities of the Black experience in the District. Sessions explored the subjects of African American and Latino studies, urban planning and sustainability, immigration, coalition building, racial justice, labor, gentrification, art, and education.
“There are oasis and there are deserts,” said Dr. Diana Baird N’Diaye, folklife curator and cultural specialist at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.
Audrey Singer, senior fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution in Norwest shared statistics of the dynamics of Black immigrants in D.C. during her keynote address. “As the Black population has grown, it’s diversified tremendously,” said Singer. “It’s been nothing less than profound in the less few decades.”
The rise of immigrants, however, is also an indicator of undesirable change among D.C. natives. “There are a couple of leading indicators of neighborhood change and gentrification – one of them is immigrants,” said Singer.
In addition to an influx of immigrants, the city saw the entrance of 50,000 transients, mostly young white professionals, said Dr. Derek Hyra, associate professor at American University. As this “back to the city” movement continues, he said, District residents can expect to see more wine bars and dog parks and fewer Black churches and gogo clubs.