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Ari Theresa, Esq. Sheds Light on D.C. Zoning Commission Corruption

Days before appearing on The AllEyesOnDC Show to explain how zoning laws spur gentrification, Ari Theresa, an attorney who advocates on behalf of D.C. residents facing displacement, filed a lawsuit against the Bowser Administration, its predecessors, and a bevy of D.C. government agencies, for what he described as the deliberate elimination of tight-knit D.C. communities to accommodate D.C.’s creative class: single, college-educated transients with deep pockets and little to no connection to the District of yesteryear.

This scheme, Theresa told the AllEyesOnDC audience on the night of April 20th, spans at least 12 years, starting around the time Major League Baseball came back to D.C. While the District’s bank account has exploded from the excess tax revenue brought by newcomers, significant demographic changes and rampant homelessness reflect an unprecedented housing crisis, spurred by the city’s rising cost of living in the midst of rapid development.

Mass gentrification took place throughout the Obama era, not only in D.C., but other major U.S. cities, many of which were once dubbed “Chocolate Cities.” During the show, Theresa credited transit-oriented development — the construction of lavish, one-bedroom apartments near modes of transportation for people seeking convenient commutes to and from work — as a means of destroying once culturally vibrant communities. As prices of those condos skyrocketed, working-class, Black Washingtonians, had to travel long distances for affordable accommodations, usually in the outskirts of the city that lacked commerce and a public transportation infrastructure.

With the D.C. Council deliberating on the D.C. Comprehensive Plan, a document that guides the development and placement of amenities within the District, for decades to come, Theresa predicts more trouble to come for D.C. residents. After a nearly 13-hour wait, Theresa testified before the D.C. Council in the early morning hours of March 31st. He asked D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D) why not hold the D.C. Zoning Commission accountable to following the Comprehensive Plan, an inquiry to which he said he received no suitable response.

Theresa told members of the AllEyesOnDC audience on Friday night that The D.C. Comprehensive Plan as it stands, would’ve been sufficient enough had the D.C. Zoning Commission, a body selected by the D.C. Mayor, not opt for exemptions that allow them to ignore rules that maintain the character of neighborhoods. If the D.C. Council, with the help of duplicitous ANC commissioners and other parties, have their way, the D.C. Comprehensive Plan could become more ambiguous, thus allowing for more manipulation of current laws and further breakdown of historic D.C. neighborhoods. That means that every D.C. neighborhood could experience changes like that seen in Shaw, the H Street corridor, and, to a certain degree, Petworth.

For the time being, one community — Barry Farm in Southeast — wouldn’t have to fend off developers. The week following Theresa’s appearance on The AllEyesOnDC Show, the highest court in D.C. halted plans to raze the apartment buildings that have housed low-income residents. This news culminates efforts made by Theresa and other on-the-ground actors to prevent displacement of people living in that area.

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COMING SOON: The AllEyesOnDC Show Discusses Zoning Laws & Gentrification

Once approved, D.C.’s Comprehensive Plan will determine how land in the District will be used, whether it’s for the benefit of longtime residents or major developers eager to expand their influence over a gentrified city.

The stakes are high, so much so that constituents of varying ideologies and interests recently converged on the Wilson Building earlier this month, testifying before the D.C. Council into the wee hours of the morning in the hopes that the final version of the Comprehensive Plan reflects their vision for D.C.

With discussion around the Comprehensive Plan for D.C. underway, it’s time that Africans in the District understand how zoning regulations, the laws that affect the allocation of land for residences, shopping districts, and the like, enable corporations to gentrify Our communities. Ari Theresa, Esq. of Stoop Law L.L.C. will grace The AllEyesOnDC Show on Friday, April 20th at Sankofa Video Books & Cafe (2714 Georgia Avenue NW) and educate us while reflecting on his experiences in this field. This is a show you cannot afford to miss. The show starts at 8pm. 

Before you come through to witness the magic of The AllEyesOnDC Show, watch this video of Ari Theresa speaking with Sam P.K. Collins last year during Howard Homecoming. Peace and blessings!

Two Black Millennials Reveal the Keys to a Stable Life

Courtesy photo of Black family 

Black people’s collective economic condition in the United States, and more specifically D.C., warrants some concerns about how residents of African descent, whether they arrived yesterday or have been in the District for generations, will fare amid mass corporatization, skyrocketing college debt, increasing costs of living, and the lack of conventional employment opportunities, compared to what their parents and grandparents experienced in the years after the end of the Civil Rights movement.

In recent years, many Black Millennials, part of a generation scarred by the Great Recession and disillusioned by growing income inequality, have embraced unorthodox means of financial stability. Instead of relying solely on income generated from fulltime jobs, young people, in the spirit of entrepreneurship, are creating additional revenue streams through investments in properties and forays in the stock market. This has become part of a strategy to be self-determined and avoid the pitfalls that decimated Black wealth in less than a generation.

On the March edition of The AllEyesOnDC Show, Sade Chase-Marshall and Makiri Pugh, two Black millennial entrepreneurs from the D.C. metropolitan area, revealed the paths they are blazing on their path to socioeconomic self-determination. While their stories and tips for success in the capitalist market wooed some members of the audience, it sparked a much-needed discussion about the feasibility of similar results for those struggling to make it day by day. For better or worse, the conversation also compelled Baby Boomers and members of Generation X in the audience to examine how lack of communication between elders and the youth may have contributed to intergenerational financial setbacks within the Black family.

 

D.C. Council Missed the Mark with TOPA Single-Family Home Exemption

Earlier this week, the D.C. Council overwhelmingly voted in favor of a change to an essential law that, when implemented, will accelerate gentrification and displace tenants long dependent on the graces of homeowners with extra space in their residences.

In a 10-2 vote on Tuesday, the D.C. Council moved to abolish protections afforded to tenants of single-family homes under the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA). For nearly 40 years, TOPA has granted tenants of apartments and single-family homes the first-right-of-refusal when their landlord announces their intention to not renew their lease and sell the property. This means that tenants can intercept the transaction between the homeowner and third-party buyer, most likely a developer, and match the third-party buyer’s offer. After that, they would have an allotted time period to secure a home loan in that amount. The entire TOPA process takes 180 days, or nearly six months.

Tenants in apartments could use the law to purchase the property as a co-op. In some cases, they could lobby for ownership of their single unit, saving the owner some costs. The writer of this article, a native Washingtonian and one-time tenant in a single-family home, successfully navigated the TOPA process last year on the journey to homeownership, as had 19 other single-family home tenants since TOPA’s inception.

Unfortunately, D.C.’s realtor lobby, developers, and D.C. Council members anxious to serve their money hungry constituents, failed to consider the aforementioned facts of this case. Instead, they ignored nuance, bypassed the pleas of tenant association members, and heavily relied on the findings of an investigation that showed how TOPA lawyers helped secure payouts of up to $30,000 for tenants who had no intention to purchase property from their landlord. This information supported Council testimony from homeowners who revealed instances where TOPA abuse interrupted plans to finance children’s college education and moves to elder care facilities.

Proponents of the single-family home exemption argue that not doing so would discourage homeowners, wary of conniving tenants, from renting out their basements, a trend that could negatively affect D.C.’s housing market. That concern has legitimacy, which is why an amendment scrapping the TOPA payout portion of the law would have sufficed. As can be seen from the outside looking in, the powers that didn’t explore that option. Developments around the TOPA debate have also provided insight. Last year, a committee, led by D.C. Council chair Phil Mendelson (D), was tasked with exploring the case further and coming to a commonsensical solution. Instead, Mendelson dissolved the committee, telling his colleagues they had nothing more to discuss on this matter.

The financially conscious among D.C. residents would disagree. In the era of gentrification, spurred by the construction of Nationals Stadium and other projects, several Black and immigrant families living in the Shaw, Petworth, and Ivy City neighborhoods have been displaced by rapid development, finding themselves with little to no place to go. Between 2015 and 2016, the number of homeless families increased by 30 percent, according to a study conducted last year. D.C. currently has the highest rate of homelessness among all major American cities.

With D.C. home prices at the highest they’ve been in 10 years, few options exist for tenants who want to transition to homeownership in the D.C. neighborhood of their choice. By exempting single-family homes from TOPA protections, the D.C. Council has opened the gates for a developer buying frenzy, in which developers will buy these homes at below market-rate prices, furnish and add amenities to them, before selling it for a much higher price. The losers in this deal are the tenants who could’ve matched that low offer and gotten a chance to own the place they’d helped their landlord pay off for some time, especially with the help of the Home Purchase Assistance Program. Ultimately, the losers will also be indigenous Washingtons, on both sides of this issue, who will see the very fabric of their community torn apart by colonizers, more than it already has been since at least 2007.

A second reading and vote on the single-family home exemption for TOPA has been scheduled for April. It’s incumbent upon the D.C. Council as a unit to think long and hard about the implications of this move. There’s no way to ensure that eliminating TOPA rights for this class of tenant will encourage homeowners to rent out their homes, but if history is a teacher — and it is — majority-indigenous D.C. communities, such as Deanwood in Northeast, could go to the wayside much sooner than later.

 

A Conversation with kweliTV’s DeShuna Spencer

Media has long shaped our perception of the world, often to the detriment of people of African descent. With the explosion of projects by independent filmmakers in recent years and new ways to circumvent mainstream avenues of distribution, finding holistic and educational African-centered programming has become less of a challenge.

Since its 2014 inception, kweliTV has counted among the pioneers in this space, providing a platform for creators of positive, holistic independent African-centered media to showcase their work. The name of this media program derives from the Swahili word Kweli (Kwah – lee), which means “truth.”

Upon securing a $20,000 grant, journalist DeShuna Spencer launched kweliTV from her suburban D.C. home. More than a year later, subscribers can glean through hundreds of quality black-produced documentaries, films, and web-based shows, including the Hidden Colors series, a gem in the worldwide conscious community. Contrary to popular belief, not every movie submitted to Spencer makes it on the site. Indeed, she spends hours on end watching each entry in its entirety to see if it fits specific criterion, including the presence of a complex plot.

In this AllEyesOnDC video, Spencer and AllEyesOnDC host Sam P.K. Collins chat about kweliTV’s humble beginnings and projects in the works before exploring why it’s important that people of African descent create and support films that accurately portray the complexity of their lives and heritage. SPOILER ALERT: This clip speaks to the need for Africans worldwide to African-centered institutions and shift away from asking others for their approval.

Healing Mama Liberia, One Shipment at a Time

Personal and professional success didn’t always come easy for Nallie Brumskine Moore, who endured abject poverty and widespread violence in Liberia before starting a new life in the United States. More than 15 years later, she’s a licensed practical nurse at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, wife, and proud mother of two.

Even with this change in fortune, Moore still finds time to help her fellow Liberians and advocate for the creation of sustainable medical institutions in her home country.

Since launching her nonprofit Delivering Good Community Health Services International in 2012, Moore has collected and shipped hundreds of pounds of medical supplies to Liberia. Her services proved especially critical at the high point of the 2014 Ebola outbreak when she provided protective gear for personnel on the ground tending to the sick. During an interview with AllEyesOnDC, Moore said she aimed to fulfill her country people’s medical and spiritual needs during those tumultuous times.

That unfortunate experience served as a reminder of the harsh reality of life in a country with a nearly nonexistent medical infrastructure. More than 90 percent of medical services in Liberia come from outside non-governmental organizations. Though the infant mortality rate has significantly improved since the end of Liberia’s civil war, it still counts among the highest in the world. Additionally, only 50 doctors are available to serve a population of more than 4 million. Since the Ebola epidemic, improving the quality of such services has been quite the undertaking.

In this AllEyesOnDC clip, Moore speaks with AllEyesOnDC founder and host Sam P.K. Collins about her journey, the nature of her business, and what’s next in her effort to ensure Liberians can access quality medical supplies easily and perpetually.

Nomad Yard Collectiv “Pops Up” on 14th Street

When the soon-to-be shuttered Eatonville reopens as Mulebone in mid-February, visitors can look forward to an experience that breaks the monotony of the 14th Street corridor in Northwest, courtesy of locally renowned vintage boutique Nomad Yard Collectiv.

Under a deal between Andy Shallal, restaurateur and owner of Mulebone and Desiree Venn Frederic, Nomad Yard’s founder and curator, eight vendors of vintage goods will set up shop in the newly renovated restaurant. There, a bevy of customers, many of whom represent D.C.’s professional class, will be able to purchase custom-made clothes and jewelry while connecting with members of D.C.’s burgeoning creative community.

“This is a new experience for us because it allows us to have a presence on the 14th Street corridor so there’s more of an accessibility of vintage goods. We want people to see that Nomad Yard represents the best of D.C.,” Venn Frederic, 25, told AllEyesOnDC.

“We have women and people of color who have a hard time entering the marketplace with their brands because they’re limited to e-commerce. With this collaboration, Mulebone won’t be one of those homogenous spaces. It will accelerate the effect of what Andy Shallal built and make people feel welcome to engage in dialogue and collaborate more often,” she added.

On Halloween of 2014, Venn Frederic, a native Sierra Leonean inspired by a seven-year fight for proper immigration status and a six-month stint in a detention center, opened Nomad Yard in a warehouse on New York Avenue in Northeast. Since its launch, offerings have grown to include the vintage material of more than 30 vendors, a couple of whom went on to open their own brick-and-mortar shops.

Nomad Yard also serves as a space for meetings and special events, even attracting the Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Center which visited during a citywide tour of cultural centers. Multinational retailer Urban Outfitters also took notice, letting Nomad Yard host a pop-up shop at its Georgetown location as part of the #urbannomaddc movement.

Shallal, who met Venn Frederic through a mutual friend, said he became enamored with the aesthetics of the Nomad Yard immediately upon his visit in early 2015.

“The crossover appeal interested me. Nomad Yard is unique in that it transcends ethnicity and race to represent the world,” Shallal said, telling AllEyesOnDC that the duo had been in talks shortly after he met Venn Frederic.

“I think we’ll feed off of each other’s aesthetic and customer base, introducing people on both sides to concepts. Those who will come to Nomad Yard at Mulebone will see that 14th Street isn’t a cultural wasteland. Those who go to Mulebone will see that Nomad Yard is part of their culture as well,” he added.

Applications for vendors recently opened, attracting a slew of entrepreneurs and collectors of vintage material from across the D.C. metropolitan area, including those who have worked with Nomad Yard since its inception.

For Uesa Robinson, Nomad Yard’s expansion to Mulebone represents an opportunity to meet new clientele and increase her presence locally. Under her UesaGoods Vintage brand, she has collected and sold vintage clothing throughout the D.C. metropolitan area for more than decade, including in Eastern Market, pop-up shops, private shopping parties, and a stint at Nomad Yard.

Robinson, whose work has been featured in The Downtowner, The Georgetowner, and Washington Life Magazine, told AllEyesOnDC that she hopes to count among the vendors on site when Mulebone opens next month.

“What Desiree does will fit perfectly with Mulebone. She turned her vision to reality because of the variety of the material she brought to Nomad Yard and the pop up shops at Urban Outfitters,” Robinson, a Southeast resident, said. “We’re kindred spirits in the sense that we focus more on color and texture than the era of clothing. Desiree loves my pieces and ‘shop[s] at UesaGoods religiously.’ She appreciates my collection and what I bring to the table. This collaboration will help all of our brands.”

The stakes are a bit higher for younger Nomad Yard vendors, some of whom have invested much of their time and capital to make their endeavor a reality. Thus was the case for Darius Stanton and Salasie Kallon, founders of The Rough, a men’s clothing line that speaks to one’s individuality “with a twist.”

Shortly after launching The Rough at the Broccoli City Festival in April, Stanton and Kallon set up shop at the Nomad Yard, exposing audiences to clothing they say people wouldn’t usually give attention otherwise. While it has yet to be determined if the duo will have a space in Mulebone next month, Stanton says their story aligns with that of the restaurant, making it more of a perfect fit.

“I like the 1940s theme of Mulebone that centers on just making it on your own. As two young black male college students jumping into a risky venture, it works perfectly for us,” Stanton, a 23-year-old graduate student at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University in Durham, N.C., told AllEyesOnDC.

“With so much traffic around the New York Avenue location, people just don’t walk by as much as we would have hoped. Having the store on 14th Street opens us up to a new market. It ultimately helps the brand. Through our work, we can show people the resilience of the today’s youth,” he added.

Meet the Brothers and Sisters Who Bought Black before It Was Cool

People of African descent across the United States refused to participate in mass consumerism last weekend, choosing instead to spend Black Friday with family and on the front lines of protests against major corporations they say fuel a system bent on ending black lives. .

Their efforts weren’t in vain.

For the second consecutive Black Friday weekend, sales fell by double-digit percentages with stores accruing $1.6 billion less in sales than the year prior – though experts pointed to a surge in online shopping for the slump instead of activists’ cry for change. While some question black people’s ability to sustain the mass boycott during and beyond the holiday shopping season, those who have long heeded to the call to keep their dollars in the community say it’s about time.

“If we’re going to spend dollars of Black Friday, we should spend it with black-owned businesses,” Alyssa Jerome, a social worker who lives in Landover, Maryland said, telling AllEyesOnDC that her study of slavery’s long-term psychological effects on people of African descent compelled her to change her shopping habits more than two years ago.

These days, Jerome shops at Black Owned 19XX and gleans the black business directory on AfricanUnification.com. During previous holidays, she doled out gifts from black businesses to family members, encouraging them to follow her in patronizing black vendors. Though Jerome has received some pushback, she says making the conscious decision to buy black has instilled a sense of pride in the work of up-and-coming black-owned ventures she encounters.

“We should start caring for each other more and shop among each other as soon as we get those paychecks,” said Jerome, 25. “The major companies don’t care too much about our communities. Once we start supporting our own, they should return the support to the community. That’s what truly constitutes as a black-owned business.”

A bevy of public figures, young and old have struck a similar note in their rhetoric as black people reel from the state-sanctioned deaths of Ferguson, Missouri teenager Mike Brown, Tamir Rice of Cleveland, Sandra Bland of Illinois, and countless others for which no one has been held accountable. With the character assassination of each victim and subsequent non-indictment, protestors have grown wearier, acknowledging it will take more than hashtags, hand-made signs, and chants to affect institutional change.

Such a mindset urged Rahiel Tesfamariam, social activist and founder/editor of the Urban Cusp, to launch the #NotOneDime movement last year, shortly after a jury didn’t convict former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in Brown’s death. In the months leading up the “Justice or Else” march on the National Mall in October, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan too explained the need for an economic boycott, telling TVOne’s Roland Martin that black people have to “redistribute the pain” before the state hears their concerns.

Determined brothers and sisters in the D.C. metropolitan area did just that on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving, gathering at the Columbia Heights shopping area and Walmart on Georgia Avenue, both in Northwest. Their actions bore some similarity to that of people in Chicago who converged on the city’s highly esteemed Magnificent Mile, days after a dashcam video showed a police officer shooting 16-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times at point-blank range.

While the few shoppers who chose to brave the lines at these stores suffered the scorn of protestors, those who ventured into local, black-owned businesses, like Nubian Hueman, an ethnic-centered boutique in the Anacostia Arts Center, had a different, more pleasant experience.

“They said they wanted to make sure they passed through. They were there to make a difference,” Anika Hobbs, owner of Nubian Hueman, told AllEyesOnDC.

Since its 2013 inception, Nubian Hueman has gone beyond selling custom clothes and wares, making its mark in the Anacostia community by partnering with Calvary Women’s Services, Orr Elementary School, and other organizations. Residents far and near returned the favor on Friday and Saturday. Hobbs said she saw more than 30 customers on those days — including Courtney Snowden, D.C. deputy mayor for planning and economic development — an increase of 75 percent from a regular weekend.

“For me, that’s a great thing,” Hobbs added. “We’re learning about the importance of supporting each other and the weight of where we spend our money. I hope this goes beyond the holiday season. Ninety-seven percent of our buyers are black so we’re maintained by the black community. This is not just good move for black business but black lives. That’s how we flourish as a people.”

Seeing black support of black business come to reality, however, would require much sacrifice, some people contend. A significant number of up-and-coming black entrepreneurs go into clothing; toiletries, fragrances, and restaurant management, leaving other industries remain without substantial representation. For the average consumer of African descent, the lack of affordable alternatives makes the idea of a mass boycott less appealing.

“We’re the entitlement generation so that’s the biggest challenge,” Yuri Norrell, regional manager of a black-owned mental health agency in Virginia, told AllEyesOnDC. Norrell, who said he boycotted major corporations in his holiday shopping more than two years ago, said he too found it difficult to convince family and friends to forego amenities from Wal-Mart and other retailers.

“Getting a mass group of people behind this movement will take a cognitive exercise in seeing the larger picture,” Norrell, 33, added. “The Montgomery Bus Boycott took a year. It would probably take five years of boycotting for [the state] to be ready to make a change. By the time they’re ready to do that, we shouldn’t even want to go back. We would have our ducks in a row and tell them ‘naw we’re good,’” said the Richmond, Virginia resident.

African Unification Hosts Workshop about Personal Finance

Even with the political and social gains made in recent decades, many black families across the country remain mired in debt and generational poverty.  Experts and common folk alike agree that a substantial change in the status quo will require a shift in the way African Americans collectively think about money.

Dozens of men and women recently took that step during a two-day personal finance workshop at Francis Gregory Library in Southeast. The D.C. metropolitan region chapter of African Unification (AU), a national organization dedicated to bettering the situation of black people in the U.S. and abroad, hosted the event.

“Much of the black community doesn’t understand how money work and we know little about investment strategies beyond 401k’s,” Ameer Baker, president of the D.C. metropolitan area chapter of AU, told AllEyesOnDC.

On Saturday, Baker and his colleagues opened up the workshop with a short discussion before showing “7AM,” a documentary featuring black economist and author Dr. Claude Anderson that explores the missteps African-Americans made in starting businesses and gaining wealth in the decades since the end of chattel slavery.  On Sunday, finance expert Rob Boyd talked about credit and AU members raffled off three finance books.

“We have issues with money management and that’s why we end up in debt. People don’t understand generational wealth,” Baker added. “This event will help people become more comfortable in understanding how money works so they can be more financially well off. They should be investing in their goals and knowing how a strong financial foundation looks.”

The poverty rate in black America currently stands at nearly 27 percent, a level higher than that of war-torn Iraq, according to data compiled in the U.S. Census. Despite $1.3 trillion of buying power, African-Americans own less than 1 percent of the nation’s wealth. A report released by the Urban Institute earlier this year said black families attained nearly $11,000 in assets, a dozen times less than their white counterparts.

Though some reasons for the wealth gap include loss of property and lack of retirement accounts, Claude points to a myopic mindset among black business owners and a lack of support for black-owned businesses in “7AM.” Some people who watched the documentary on Saturday shared his sentiments.

“It’s about self-love and self-respect.  Our money has to circulate in our community,” Doc Kahres, budding entrepreneurship and chess instructor, told AllEyesOnDC. Kahres’ business venture focuses on holistic health, particularly spiritual and emotional well-being. “We’re in an uphill battle with skates on. At this point, I’ve been so focused on helping people that I haven’t thought about profit. I have to be more profit-focused so I can put that capital back in the community. That scenario adds another aspect of the discussion for me,” added Kahres, 24.

Pamela Dobbins said the messages of the weekend resonated with her. She told AllEyesOnDC that laying a foundation for her young ones often weighs on her mind, noting that she has been able to do so by living a low-key lifestyle and spending as little money as possible.

“My main concern is providing for my children’s education,” Dobbins, a professional elementary school counselor of 20 years, said. “I didn’t come out of college in debt because my father paid in full. I live a humble life and I buy my cars outright. It’s all about passing on an understanding that we have to live within our means and invest in something that we can pass on to our children,” added Dobbins, 44, a resident of Richmond, Virginia.

Erica Jones agreed with Dobbins, praising AU’s efforts and expressing her hope that the organization hosts more information-packed gatherings throughout the D.C. metropolitan area. Jones, a program assistant for a Rockville, Maryland-based organization that assists adults with developmental disabilities, attended a forum about police brutality AU recently hosted.

“People don’t understand that making money isn’t just about starting a business. Financial stability is hard,” Jones told AllEyesOnDC. “We need to make more connections and spread this information through word of mouth. AU is a very humble group, especially for people who are conscious. They’re getting more organized and getting the word out.”

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