The Building Blocks DC organization, charged with offering social services to those caught up in a life of crime and their victims, co-sponsors a job fair on Nov. 19 at the Entertainment Sports Arena in Ward 8. (Courtesy of WJLA-TV)
The Building Blocks DC organization, charged with offering social services to those caught up in a life of crime and their victims, co-sponsors a job fair on Nov. 19 at the Entertainment Sports Arena in Ward 8. (Courtesy of WJLA-TV)

Hundreds of District residents converged in Ward 8 to attend the “Jobs Not Guns” East of the River Recruitment Fair at the Entertainment & Sports Arena on Nov. 19 which offered employment and educational opportunities as an alternative to a life of crime.

The DC Business Gun Violence Prevention Coalition, made up of Inner Thoughts, Inc., the National Association of Minority Contractors — Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area and the DC Concerned Black Business Owners, served as the primary sponsors of the fair.

The coalition sought to support the Bowser administration’s Building Blocks DC, Gun Violence Prevention Emergency Operations Center’s efforts to thwart shooting and homicides in the city through the job fair. The Nov. 19 job fair comes after the first “Jobs Not Guns” event at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Northwest on July 21.

The fair occurred as DC Health Matters demographic data reveals that while the District’s unemployment rate hovers at 7.28%, in predominantly Black Wards 7 and 8, the figures stand at 16.07% and 18.4%, respectively. In comparison, in predominantly white Ward 3, the unemployment rate stands at 4.12%, according to DC Health Matters.

Residents Urged to Engage at Job Fair

At the opening ceremony, speakers including D.C. Councilmember Trayon White (D-Ward 8) and D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III encouraged the participants to explore what the District government, the private sector and nonprofits have to offer regarding social services and employment.

Linda K. Harllee Harper, the director of Building Blocks DC, said the job fair comes at a time “when many people feel helpless.”

“This event can create a pathway to the middle class,” Harper said. “It offers job opportunities to people no matter what skill level they possess. D.C. is resource-rich but many people feel that the services offered are not for them.”

Kerry Haley, the director of admissions for the Central Technical Institute in Northwest, said his school’s leadership prioritizes participation in the event.

“Our school has the mission to train people for jobs,” Haley said. “When people are employed, they are less likely to get involved in crime. People with steady jobs also become role models in the community.”

Virginia Heminsley, senior human resources manager at the Anchor Construction Company in Northeast, came to the event looking for workers.

“We have positions available for people who can work in construction and underground utilities,” she said. “We need a lot of people to join us. With the new infrastructure bill approved, we will need good workers for our projects.”

Eric Weaver, the founder and chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Returning Citizens, said the job fair served as a good resource for his constituents.

“These employers understand the unique problems returning citizens have with gaining employment,” Weaver said. “They know a background check is often a challenge for a returning citizen. This is a returning-citizen-friendly event and I fully support it.”

James Wright Jr.

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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