Photo by Barbara.K on Flickr.

In Part 2 of this series we discussed what happens to the people without boats when the rising tide of economic development comes.  Some commenters offered education and job training as the only solution.  If people are educated or have training in a skill then they will have access to living wage jobs that will allow them to benefit from the economic tide.

My group at the East of the River Community Forum on Sustainability discussed job training and education at length.  However, one of the elders of the group stated that that East of the River is at a critical juncture and job training and education is not enough.  Spoken as a person who has seen it all, she expressed that as a community we need to get out of the ghetto victim mentality and raise the standard for what we expect of ourselves.

There is a perception that newcomers enter a community and things get better because the newcomers come with a list of demands.  Our group elder asked, why do we have to wait for newcomers for things to get better? Why aren’t some of the residents east of the river motivated to want a better living environment?

This took our group down another discussion path that is too complex to begin to try to summarize.  We concluded that the root of all the problems facing the poorer areas East of the River is a dysfunctional family structure.  Heads immediately started nodding and each resident from East of the River gave a personal testimony of situations they witnessed.  The family structure is the building blocks of the community, so we need an “all hands on deck” movement.

I ended part 2 with a statement that as a community we have an obligation to address the toxic environments so residents can have an opportunity to earn a living wage and continue to live East of the River.  It seems like an overwhelming statement, but if everyone addresses a piece of the problem, we can begin to make change.  There are plenty of organizations and social services to address the big issues.  We focused on manageable actions for young professionals, retirees, and religious organizations.

Young professionals and retirees:  In some neighborhoods these groups have been in conflict.  Our group stated that if we don’t work together, we will fail together.  Young professionals, who are mostly childless, and retirees, whose children are out of the home, need to engage in the lives of the children East of the River through mentor programs, the Parent Teacher Association, adopting neighborhood schools, after school tutoring programs, and sports programs.  On a smaller scale, adults should emphasize the important of education by wishing kids they may encounter on the street a great day in school.

Religious institutions:  There was a point in history where black churches were the anchor for the community.  We discussed the disconnect between the black churches and the community.  A large part of the problem is many of the attendees live in Maryland.  They come back to the church of their childhood for worship, then drive back across the border.  The consensus of the group was black churches and other religious institutions need to do more to rebuild the family structure, instill a value system in the community, and restore their place as the anchor of the community.

These solutions will take time for their effects to be seen. However, “do nothing” is not a feasible alternative.  Our group hypothesized that we have a little extra time, because East of the River will not change at the rapid pace as other neighborhoods in DC given the location of Metro stations in proximity to areas slated for redevelopment and the availability of infill development in other parts of the City. Maybe we won’t be able to save all of the current residents from displacement, but perhaps our efforts could save and uplift as many as we can.

We concluded our group session with the statement that we need to learn how to live together as a community so we can work together to save and uplift the community.