One of the District’s once-heralded community development organizations ardently in need of an infusion of energy and direction, has called on a native Washingtonian to reinvigorate their efforts to improve the lives of residents of Ward 7 to a level of innovation and success absent for many years.
Last year, the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization (MHCDO) board of directors hired Babatunde Oloyede, a native Washingtonian and graduate of Northwestern and the University of Rochester (MBA), to take over as president and CEO.
Oloyede shared his optimism about the future for the community-based group.
“I want Marshall Heights to become the Google for Ward 7 – whenever residents or business owners need information, I want them to come to us,” he said. “We want to be involved in every aspect of the lives of the people of Ward 7, whether it is a desire to start or expand a business, set up a marketing plan or try to locate or purchase a home.”
Lloyd Smith, a respected D.C. government planner now deceased, helped found MHCDO in 1979, enhancing their effectiveness in real estate and economic development by facilitating, building and managing housing in Ward 7. Their reputation, under Smith’s direction, became solidified in 1985 when the East River Park Shopping Center opened at the intersection of Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road NE, anchored by one of the District’s newest Safeway supermarkets.
Oloyede wants to renew that spirit of activity.
“I want to take Marshall Heights back to the level achieved by Lloyd Smith when he was in charge,” he said.
Oloyede has worked for Accenture (a global management consulting firm) in Chicago, Austin, Texas and St. Petersburg during which he gained experience in real estate development and management with particular skill in handling distressed properties. In addition, he has his own business, Custom Cut Clothier.
He wants MHCDO to achieve distinction in the following areas: workforce and real estate development, small business technical assistance, health initiatives and housing counseling. Since his hiring, he’s utilized the organization’s “First Fridays” program to bring together business owners, residents and community leaders each month in order to hear experts from city government or the private sector discuss topics like maneuvering the government process, setting up a business or achieving easier access to capital.
“Too many times, I hear people say they didn’t know about a program and ask why someone didn’t tell them,” he said. “Too many of the businesses in Ward 7 work in silos instead of working together. We need to work together so we can build a sense of community and be part of the economic cycle and fuel the economic engine of the city. That’s what ‘First Fridays’ does.”
And while he’s an unabashed champion for Ward 7, he lives in another part of the District – something that has been an obstacle for some and one which he aims to eliminate soon by moving into the ward.
The MHCDO headquarters on Benning Road would be enlarged with four or five additional levels so as to include spaces for incubators and mixed-use housing and retail, if Oloyede has his way. He also wants to informally assemble leaders from other community development organizations or corporations in the District to collaborate on common concerns and to remain engaged in Ward 7’s civic associations and advisory neighborhood commissions.
Oloyede realizes he has ambitions plans but he’s already been given the full support of the board’s chairman, David Retland.
“The appointment of ‘Baba’ as our CEO is a clear reflection of MHCDO’s critical mission,” Retland said. “He possesses the business acumen, prowess and commitment that are contagious and motivates people to action. A native of the District, he also has a passion for community activism, ‘Barack’ like.”