Antwanye Ford, president and chief executive officer of Enlightened, Inc., speaks during the grand opening of MLK Gateway project Phase 1 as Bo Menkiti, president and chief executive officer of The Menkiti Group, listens. (Ja’Mon Jackson/The Washington Informer)
Antwanye Ford, president and chief executive officer of Enlightened, Inc., speaks during the grand opening of MLK Gateway project Phase 1 as Bo Menkiti, president and chief executive officer of The Menkiti Group, listens. (Ja’Mon Jackson/The Washington Informer)

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The completed Phase I of the MLK Gateway project located in the predominantly Black “Historic Anacostia” neighborhood has largely been a venture both initiated and nurtured by African-American businesses.

On Monday, Nov. 15, District leaders and 80 members of the public joined Bo Menkiti, president and CEO of The Menkiti Group, a Black-owned real estate service company, and Antwanye E. Ford, president and CEO of Enlightened, Inc., an African-American information technology and management consultant firm, in the finalization of Phase I and the launch of the building of Phase II.

Menkiti said the project will serve as a catalyst for positive change in Southeast.

“This project is an example of inclusion, diversity and prosperity,” he said. “We hope that prosperity takes root in Ward 8 and Anacostia.”

Details on MLK Gateway Phases I and II

The MLK Gateway’s Phase I consists of 14,000 square feet of ground-floor retail and 20,000 square feet of office space, developed by Menkiti’s firm. Phase I sits on the east side of Martin Luther King, Jr., Ave. and intersects with Good Hope Road in Southeast. Ford’s company serves as the anchor of Phase I with its 150 employees relocating from downtown D.C.

Other tenants include Capital One Café, a coffee/tea bar that also provides financial and banking services, Kitchen Savages, a sit-down restaurant and culinary school managed by The Gaston Group, a business venture led by former Ward 8 advisory neighborhood commissioner Darrell Gaston.

Phase II will consist of a new facility with street-level retail and office space above on the west side of Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave. The anchor for Phase II will be the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development which will move across the avenue to the new location. In addition, a Keller Williams Capital Properties (KWCP) office, owned by Menkiti, will move into Phase II becoming the first office of a national real estate chain located east of the Anacostia River. An outgrowth of KWCP will be the East of the River Real Estate Academy which will train future businesspersons in the field of real estate.

D.C. Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development John Falcicchio said a combination of finance tools such as the new market tax credit, an opportunity zone and the Neighborhood Prosperity Fund provided the funds for the MLK Gateway project.

MLK Gateway: a Black Business Proposition

Ford said the genesis of the MLK Gateway project began several years ago in Boston.

“Bo and I were having a drink and we started talking about business ideas,” he said. “I had a vision of doing something east of the river. Bo told me to put my money where my mouth was and I decided to do so.”

Ford said making the decision to relocate his business from Connecticut Avenue in downtown to Anacostia “was easy.”

“But some people didn’t understand,” he said. “Some people said to me ‘why are you moving over there’? And I said, ‘why not?’ I want to bring good jobs to Anacostia so people can be employed close to where they live. I also want to create entrepreneurial opportunities. I want to be part of taking this great city to the next level.”

Menkiti said during the building of the project, an issue arose surrounding residents in the immediate area becoming more involved. He tapped Charlie Whitaker, a Ward 8 native who serves as the CEO of Career Path DC, a Black-owned firm that offers employment opportunities for people enduring economic hardship, to help him recruit African-American workers.

“I was very honored to work with the Gateway project,” Whitaker said. “I am looking forward to working on Phase II also.”

Gaston worked with Menkiti and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration to become a partner in Phase I — a goal which he accomplished after securing a $145,000 grant from the Neighborhood Prosperity Fund.

“I am happy that a Black boy from Anacostia was able to get the support of a Black mayor and a Black developer to set up [shop] in the MLK Gateway,” he said. “Ward 8 will have another sit-down restaurant in an area that has few. This project will provide more opportunities for creative, Black business owners.”

D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) expressed his excitement about the MLK Gateway and shared what it means for his constituents.

“Today is a great day for Ward 8,” the council member said. “I wanted to make sure people of Ward 8 were working on these projects. We are talking about equity in our community. We also wanted something here that the community wanted. This is a new day for Ward 8.”

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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