Local elected leaders, business advocates, scholars and nonprofits participated in a panel discussion Tuesday on better ways to reach racial equity in D.C.
John Falcicchio, the deputy mayor of planning and economic development (DMPED), hosted the session as part of his weekly update on recovery during the pandemic.
And all panelists agreed that there’s more work ahead.
“There are many pressing economic and equity issues that must be addressed in our city,” said Ward 5 council member Kenyan McDuffie.
He pointed out some key accomplishments thus far, such as passing the Racial Equity Achieves Results Act; several investments; and providing new resources like the Equity Impact Fund, so minorities and women-owned businesses have better access to capital.
In one presentation, Brookings Institution senior fellow Andre Perry went through data showing racial disparities in the business community and what could happen with change when it comes to things like higher job creation and increased revenue.
Perry believes that funding for the Black business community shouldn’t be too broad-based and should not ignore sectors like utilities and technology.
“We need to target it to businesses that will employ more people, that will serve government and private industry and also crack the ceiling of these high-growth, revenue-generating fields,” Perry said.
Others pointed out that systemic racism remains at the core of racial inequity.
“Six of the top 10 highest-earning incomes are in this area,” said Rosie Allen-Herring, president and CEO of the National Capital Area United Way. “Certainly, there are high-paying jobs that are here, but for those who can’t access those services, the gap is phenomenal.”
And there were even more startling facts that further illustrated the equity problem.
“Eight out of 10 Black businesses fail within about 18 months,” said Corey Griffin, board member for the Greater Washington Black Chamber of Commerce. “Can you imagine that COVID has actually exacerbated that?”
Panelists also attempted to dispel myths about assisting Black communities and businesses on a whole.
“There’s this notion that if we invest in Black people that we’re somehow taking away from white folks. No,” said Perry. “Our study underappreciated assets — meaning if you just add water it will grow.”
Tim White, the DMPED’s director of equitable development, also pointed out that racial equity is based in food access and other forms of development. He noted that D.C. is on track to open three new grocery stories in Wards 7 and 8 by the summer of 2022.
White also said that Mayor Muriel Bowser’s EquityRFP program led to studies and redevelopment plans for the Langston Slater Schools in Northwest, with three additional proposals to come for other schools like Malcolm X School, Reeves Center and Hill East.