With gentrification and urban renewal near completion, the preservation of the District’s authentic flavor depends heavily on the unification of native Washingtonians and Black transients, two groups that seldom occupy the same spaces, in part because of geographic and socioeconomic barriers that create a “Tale of Two Cities.”
In the months leading up to the fourth annual Broccoli City Festival (BCFest), more than 1,000 Black Millennials, many of whom hail from various parts of the country and world, have engaged members of the D.C. community while completing a bevy of service projects as part of what has been touted as the Power of One campaign.
For their service, participants earn a general admission ticket to the April 30th event to take place at Gateway DC, located on the grounds of St. Elizabeths East campus in Congress Heights. In the process, they forge genuine relationships with longtime residents and challenge misconceptions about volunteerism in the District. Months after the campaign’s February launch, many longtime Washingtonians have attested to this fact.
“I was so impressed when I drove up and saw a large number of young Black people at the site,” Pastor Cheryl Mitchell Gaines of the Regeneration House of Praise, also known as the Church in the Field, in Southeast, told WI Bridge when recounting her time spent with Power of One members.
In March, more than 100 young people converged on a large plot of land Gaines, along with a group of at-risk youth, has tended to since 2012 as part of the Project EDEN (Everyone Deserves to Eat Naturally). For several hours on a Saturday morning, the squad of eager volunteers rebuilt garden beds, painted the buildings on site, moved compost bins, and cut grass.
To Gaines’ pleasant surprise, these Millennials, most of whom were Black, represented a host of career fields and industries.
“Many of them were credentialed and trained as accountants, attorneys, and other wonderful careers,” Gaines said. “It’s always good for the young people to see young African Americans doing positive things in the community, especially if they come from a similar background. This was the first time we had gotten volunteers in such large numbers. Some of them teared up and cried when they recognized the value of what we were doing.”
This service project, called “Community Garden Refresh” counted among nine opportunities under the Power of One campaign. Other endeavors included a meal prep, community clean-up projects at Gateway DC and Anacostia Park in Southeast, the distribution of the 1,500 meals to nearly 90 homeless shelters, transitional homes, and nonprofit organizations; mural paintings, tree plantings, and the expansion of a garden at a local community center.
During these ventures, volunteers literally got down and dirty, becoming more acclimated with the Earth as well as communities east of the Anacostia River.
The Power of One campaign builds upon previous efforts to the push young professionals into service and promotes ideas of healthy eating and sustainable living, both of which have caught traction in recent years. Since 2009, the Broccoli City Lifestyle Group, the entity that hosts BCFest, has developed programs that promote healthy living. Past collaborators include DC Sustainable Energy Utility, a government entity committed to reducing energy use in the District.
On the day of BCFest, revelers on the grounds of Gateway DC will learn about environmental issues and connect with local and national organizations leading on-the-ground efforts to beautify communities and tackle food insecurity. Those groups include Cultivate the City, Serve DC, the National Fair Housing Alliance, and the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation.
BCFest has also taken the sounds up a notch. Performances scheduled for that day include Future, Jhene Aiko, and the Internet. The Rock Creek Social Club and Rodney Rikai will host the festivities. While BCFest is guaranteed to attract legions of young people and organize them around important issues, Darryl Perkins, a lead organizer of BCFest and D.C. resident of 12 years, said the work won’t stop on the night of the annual event.
During an interview with WI Bridge, Perkins revealed plans to focus on five District communities and conduct ongoing service projects long after the tents close on the night of April 30th. With BCFest predicted to attract nearly 12,000 people, Perkins said the opportunity proved ripe to put the values of sustainability and health into action. Touching on Power of One’s catchy name, he also alluded to the Millennial idea of a service-oriented egalitarian society, where everyone contributes in their own way.
“This festival has become much bigger than Broccoli City but building thriving communities has always been at the core of what we do,” Perkins said. “We get people out to engage the community. People are becoming more aware and there’s a culture shift. We want people to feel like squares if they don’t care about their community. This is something fun where people get to discuss real issues with likeminded folk.”
Candace Glover, Power of One’s volunteer coordinator, echoed Perkins’ sentiments, noting that participants have found that they have a lot more in common with their neighbors than they thought before taking part in the campaign.
“When people first heard about us volunteering, they thought we were privileged but we’re regular people just like them,” said Glover, 26, a yoga instructor. She participated in a service project at Miner Elementary School in Northeast where her group, with the help of Casey Trees, planted trees and cleaned up the campus.
“Folks asked us why we were doing this service and we told them that we’re part of the community as well. It should inspire them to let them know that they could do something. There’s nothing special about what we’re doing. We’re just keeping our neighborhoods beautiful,” said Glover, a lifelong Washingtonian who currently lives in Prince George’s County, Maryland.
The Power of One campaign has also been effective in bringing longtime community gardening advocates into the fold.
For example, Xavier Brown, a native Washingtonian and expert horticulturalist, connected young Black transients with residents through the service project he coordinated at Project Eden with Pastor Gaines. He told WI Bridge that those experiences would change forever change their lives, especially since it happened in areas that young professionals rarely frequent.
“The volunteers had good attitudes and were excited about three to four hours of work,” Brown said. “For anyone who’s not from this city, Power of One gives them a broader view of the District. If you just watch the news, you don’t see the good work being done. Everyone I talked to [during the service project] wanted to become more involved. It’s up to me and other native Washingtonians to make sure that they’re involved and going to places other than downtown and U Street,” said Brown, a Southeast resident.