Community

Bridging the Gap in a Developing Anacostia Community

As Anacostia’s evolution continues, what greets the eye when emerging from the 11th Street Bridge suggests nothing short of an urban renaissance.

Along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, between Good Hope Road and the Anacostia Metro Station in Southeast, stands a Starbucks franchise, two banks and a string of Black-owned businesses.

Nearby, the Anacostia Arts Center has emerged as an epicenter of Black entrepreneurship and creativity.

At the intersection of Good Hope Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, construction crews hustle daily to complete MLK Gateway, a two-phased project that will soon bring mixed-use space and several hundred square feet of retail business to Anacostia.

However, a much different world exists just a few, short blocks away.

Along 16th Street, in the shadow of Frederick Douglass’ Cedar Hill home, drug sales remain commonplace while disputes between opposing parties often result in death within an unforgiving atmosphere of violence.

For years, “Presto,” a lifelong Anacostia resident and record producer, has seen firsthand the scourge of drugs and violence in his community.

“Young people don’t know which way to go,” Presto said. “They’re at a crossroads.”

Presto, 33, became a Building Blocks DC neighborhood engagement specialist earlier this year.

For more than a decade, he and others have coordinated events to bring together community members of all ages. Now, he spends much of his time attempting to establish an understanding between the new Anacostia paradigm which includes scores of business owners and public officials as well as other lifelong Anacostia residents who say they feel left out of opportunities.

“I try to reach [and encourage them] to go the work route [ because] this neighborhood won’t be here forever,” Presto said. “[The developers] are trying to chop this community down and divide it even more. I don’t want my people to get left out hanging dry.”

Challenges Persist Amid Efforts to Connect the Pieces 

On Sunday, Aug. 15, MPD reported a homicide on the 2200 block of 14th Street in Southeast — one of three murders that compelled D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) to demand an end to the violence via social media.

In Anacostia, the unemployment rate stands at 12 percent, compared to 7 percent recorded for the entire District in June.

Some public schools east of the Anacostia River have received low STAR ratings, while charter schools in the area have shuttered in recent years. These unflattering occurrences have, in part, been blamed for the constant reshuffling of students across the city.

Meanwhile, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) recently set in motion a large-scale development project on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Good Hope Road. Earlier this year, the second phase of construction for the MLK Gateway started.

Once completed, the large-scale building will not only serve as a retail space and tech hub but facilitate technologically-focused entrepreneurship and workforce development programming for Anacostia residents and those living in surrounding communities.

Antwanye Ford, whose IT firm Enlightened, Inc. will set up operations within MLK Gateway, described the project as part of a vision to move people beyond entry-level jobs and into wealth-building opportunities.

Throughout much of the year, Ford, a two-time George Washington University alumnus hailing from Condon Terrace in Northeast, has attempted to build a relationship with the Anacostia community.

As chair of the District’s Workforce Investment Council, Ford leverages his connections with the D.C. government, the private sector and community groups to coordinate holistic workforce development opportunities for the most marginalized of Washingtonians.

Ford said these partnerships not only create training programs but provide situations where aspiring professionals can receive wraparound services and connect with businesses and hiring agencies.

He said work will continue once MLK Gateway opens across the street from the DC Department of Housing and Community Development.

“We have to be consistent [because] that has not been people’s story [when people are helping them],” Ford said. “You have to build a pathway and consistency with people who are going to be here. You also have to get folks in Anacostia who are willing to support people and give them a break.”

Idle Time and Decaying Conditions 

On the corner of 16th and U streets in Southeast stands King Convenience Store, located several feet away from where a police officer repeatedly punched Kiman Johnson in the face on Aug. 8.

At King Convenience, Nazcia Ransford, an employee and longtime Anacostia resident with experience in the dry cleaning business, spends much of the day stocking shelves, cleaning the store and talking to customers.

He also witnesses what he described to The Informer as the ongoing decay of local youth.

To combat an ongoing trend, Ransford, 55, speaks to the young people about his life and warns them against wasting their wonder years.

Since the 2000s, when he became a father, Ransford has embraced several mentoring opportunities including coaching football at the FBR Recreation Center. He said elements of that kind of life have been missing in Anacostia and throughout the Southeast area of the District for several years.

“I never see the mayor in Anacostia,” Ransford said. “I hear she appears [but] I think she only cares about her community. Since the pandemic, there’s nothing for the kids to do. A lot of them were going into baseball and basketball.”

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