Tope Folarin joins Kojo to talk about his debut novel, which follows a Nigerian American from boyhood to his young adult years as he navigates family, faith and identity. Plus, Folarin's path as a writer and D.C.'s literary scene.
What does it take to open a business in a neighborhood that some residents feel has traditionally lacked shops, restaurants and entertainment?
As development ramps up East of the River — a new sports and entertainment arena in Congress Heights, Busboys and Poets in Anacostia, along with smaller local businesses — are longtime business owners, new entrepreneurs, and job seekers able to take advantage of the new growth? What are the businesses that are setting up shop — and will they serve the community surrounding them? And what efforts are being made to help residents find and keep jobs that will allow them to navigate the rapidly changing employment market in the District?
Kojo heard from elected officials, residents, business owners and community leaders about what it takes to succeed as a small business in one of the city’s most underserved neighborhoods — a community that is also facing the highest unemployment rate in the city.
This show was recorded at our “Kojo in Your Community” live town hall event at the Anacostia Playhouse on July 30, 2019.
Produced by Margaret Barthel and Monna Kashfi
- Anika Hobbs Founder and Owner, Nubian Hueman; @NubianHueman
- Jess Randolph Community Coordinator, The Hive 2.0 and Founder, JessBe Creative; @JessBeCre
- Stan Voudrie Chairman of the Board, Anacostia Business Improvement District and Principal, Four Points of Development; @StanVoudrie
- Kristi Whitfield Director, D.C. Department of Small and Local Business Development; @SmallBizDC
- Connie Spinner Head of School, Community College Prep Academy; @ccprepacademy
- Duane Gautier CEO and President, ARCH Development; @archdevelopment
- Kim Ford President and CEO, Martha’s Table; @kimrford2
- Unique Morris-Hughes Director, D.C. Department of Employment Services; @DOES_DC
JOHN JOHNSONMy man DC was a young man, and he had these amazing quotes. He would say stuff like, "You have no idea what it's like to be black in white America." See, that's my man DC. He just turned 21. His nickname was Black Jack. He went to Anacostia, and he wasn't fond of pencil and backpack. He just got his GED and he hung out with his friends VA and PG. They met over the internet playing Call of Duty on plasma screen TV. You see, when DC was younger he knew what was going on. He listened to Marvin Gaye. Fast forward 2019, they legalize marijuana, now it's perfectly fine that Marvin's gay. DC used to sit there belly full of chocolate running down good hope, hanging around anger.
JOHN JOHNSONAnd he finally got a Busboys and Poets, a sit-down restaurant where he could eat some breakfast. But he noticed that the city serves more Vanna Whites and less Kiki Shepards. You see, DC had an older brother named Washington, who refused to be caught up by capitalism. He was a certified CPA. As a matter of fact he went to war and then got his MBA. He would say stuff like, "You know, I want to be an owner and not a player like the blacks in the NBA." As a matter of fact, he developed a business plan. He was like, okay. He analyzed the matriculation of Caucasians east of the river. And he had a plan. Where are the investors at? Where are the investors at? Raise your hand, Mr. Washington here.
JOHN JOHNSONI've analyzed the migration and my business plan is to open up a tanning salon right next to the big chair. We'll call it Big Chair Tanning. We could work on the title, but we'll have condiments, hummus and gluten free options. And to get new people we'll offer them free sandals and flip flops. So holler at me if you get the chance. So Washington and DC would have these conversations on a porch at Frederick Douglas's house. Washington would tell his younger brother, he would say, "Look, yeah, as I crunch the numbers and I aggregate --" and DC would say, "Hold up man. Hold up Washington. Man, do you know an 11 year old boy just shot. I guess that don't matter when the real estate is hot."
JOHN JOHNSONAnd Washington would say, "Well, people is getting shot before the real estate got hot. So your argument really isn't congruent." And so he's like, "Let me continue. As I aggregate," and DC would stop and say, "But hold up man. We're on the porch of Frederick Douglas. And I thought he taught us to agitate. I thought he told us to agitate." The end. (applause)
KOJO NNAMDIThat artists name in case you forget it is John Johnson. So, please, another round of applause for him. (applause) We're coming to you from the Anacostia Playhouse in Ward 8. Welcome. (applause) It's often said that local businesses are the life blood of a city. So what happens when these cornerstones of the community are faced with the challenges that come hand and hand with growth and change? And as entrepreneurs dream about opening their own shops and new businesses move east of the river are the needs of this community being taken into consideration? And what does all of this mean for jobs for people who live here? These are some of the things we're here to talk about tonight. It clearly is a hot topic. We have a number of local business owners, community leaders and policy makers in the room with us tonight to shed light on these issues.
KOJO NNAMDILater in the evening we'll talk about employment and the local workforce. But first we'll begin tonight talking about small businesses east of the river and the spirit of entrepreneurship that is bringing new store fronts and services to Wards 7 and 8. So let's jump right in. Joining me here in the front of the room is Stan Voudrie. He is the Chairman of the Board of the Anacostia Business Improvement District and the Principal at Four Points of Development. Stan Voudrie, thank you for joining us.
STAN VOUDRIEThank you. (applause)
NNAMDIJess Randolph is the Community Coordinator at The Hive 2.0, a local business incubator. She's also the Founder of her own digital media strategy firm. Jess Randolph, thank you for joining us. (applause) Anika Hobbs is the Founder and Owner of Nubian Hueman, a boutique featuring African diaspora inspired clothing and home décor. Anika Hobbs, thank you for joining us. (applause) And Kristi Whitfield is the Director of the D.C. Department of Small and Local Business Development. She formerly ran her own food truck Curbside Cupcakes. Kristi Whitfield, thank you for joining us. (applause) Anika, I'll start with you. You're a local small business owner. Tell us the story about how you got started, what were the big hurdles you had to clear in order to open.
ANIKA HOBBSWe actually opened doors in 2013 inside the Anacostia Art Center, but before that basically we were an online business. One of the managers at Busboys and Poets, Brian Evans, saw me with a pair of earrings that I'd made and he asked me would I sell them at their Zora Neale Hurston Festival. And from there we just were able to gain customers, gain traffic, get people to know who we are, hit the road running very hard. You know, if you got outside of a club anything at night I was there passing you flyers, picking them up off the ground many times. But then like I said, in 2013 we were able to open inside the Anacostia Art Center.
NNAMDIIt's been six years since then. What are the challenges that you still nevertheless face and what do you expect to face in the future?
HOBBSOne of the biggest challenges I would say is capital. Capital is really really hard especially we're east of the river and we're also inside of another building, which you might see as a barrier to entry. So that has really been a big challenge as far as getting a good traffic flow. No matter how much marketing you do, no matter how many online ads you have, there's still that challenge of getting people to you. And, of course, if people aren't getting to you then capital, money is not flowing into your business. I would also say hiring has been really hard, getting staff. You want the best for your business and, of course, that comes with a price tag, and so because you're not able to get that money, you end doing everything yourself. So I'm the marketer. I'm the sales associate. I'm the one that buys the toilet paper. You know, so it's just -- it's been really hard as far as hiring and then getting access to capital.
NNAMDIStan Voudrie, is Anika's experience a fairly universal one for small businesses in Anacostia? What are some other common challenges or concerns you hear about from the business community here?
VOUDRIEWell, that's I think -- it's definitely a story that we hear over and over again from retailers in Anacostia where we're located, but around the city it's a small business challenge for retailers. Property taxes are the kind of thing that we think about as homeowners, but we don't often think of that in association with retail. But when you start a retail store in a neighborhood like Anacostia you sort of think that some things like, you know, you look at your rent. You think that's something you can budget for. It's very hard to then budget for property taxes. And those sorts of expenses that just fluctuate based upon the values of real estate in the neighborhood.
NNAMDIJust a couple of questions that members of our audience might want to think about: Are you a small business owner? What challenges have you faced creating and maintaining your business? What kinds of businesses would you like to see setup in Anacostia or greater Ward 8? Feel free to raise your hand if you have questions about that. But, Jess Randolph, we're not just talking about retail establishments. What kinds of big entrepreneurial ideas are you incubating at The Hive these days?
JESS RANDOLPHQuite a few. So The Hive 2.0 has over 80 members right now. I'm pretty sure everyone here is familiar with what a co-working spacing is and what its functions are. So at The Hive 2.0 we have lawyers. We have several different kinds of non-profits, and folks who are just pursuing their dreams. What The Hive 2.0 does is it gives people a space to try, to dream, and to just get really invested in what they want to accomplish.
NNAMDIWhat kinds of support do you provide for business owners or for perspective business owners at The Hive? What skills do people need to pick up to run a successful business?
RANDOLPHYeah, so one of the many things that we do is we provide a variety of different workshops for people. So what myself and Jeff, the managing director who is actually here, what we work on together is making sure that we have business registration workshops. We make sure that there are accounting workshops. And different things for entrepreneurs to just make sure that they have a handle in in a stress free environment.
NNAMDIWell, sir. I know who you are, but you need to stand up and tell the people who are here who you are.
DOYLE MITCHELDoyle Mitchel, President CEO of Industrial Bank.
NNAMDIActually that's Doyle Mitchel --
MITCHELI wonder why you picked me.
NNAMDIThat's actually that's Doyle Mitchell, Jr. stepping above your grade here. We've been hearing Doyle that entrepreneurs often struggle with financing their ventures. Industrial Bank does offer some small business loans that someone on the other side of the access to capital equation. What do you look for in evaluating an application for a business loan?
MITCHELWell, first of all, you know, running a business is tough as everybody here who's ran one knows. It's really difficult. So we're looking for businesses that are profitable. Businesses that have a balanced networth to debt ratio meaning you've got some invested in the company and you're not fully leveraged with different types of debt.
NNAMDIKristi Whitfield, there's a lot of new development here. And it's clear that more is coming, but there are concerns that it's driving up retail rents and property taxes and this is just the beginning. What can the city do to help mitigate the effects, these effects, on small businesses?
KRISTI WHITFIELDWell, I think the risk is real. I think we see the risk every day. I think that it's important to understand first and foremost that the innovation and the business acumen that people are now discovering east of the river is not new. You know, there has always been an entrepreneurial spirit east of the river. You know, when I ran Curbside Cupcakes, I was the first person to bring my truck east of the river. And people said, hey, wait, why are you going to Big Chair? I was like, because there is money -- because there is money at the Big Chair. Right. There's always been people here that were willing to buy things and people here they were trying to sell things.
KRISTI WHITFIELDDSLBD is here to help people grow their businesses plain and simple. Depending on where you are, we want to help you sort of move from where you are to the next level. You know, the dream grants is a program that was started last year and we'll help next year. Dream grants were grants for small entrepreneurs east of the river to help grow their business. There's $200,000 in our budget for fy20. We want people that are here to be able to stay here.
NNAMDIAllow me to go to this gentleman here. Sir, could you please stand up and identify yourself.
STAN JACKSONStan Jackson with the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation.
NNAMDITo what extent have speculators already bought up a lot of real estate in Ward 8 in anticipation of even bigger changes ahead?
JACKSONWell, that's been done a long time ago. This is not a new issue. I think speculators have been looking at the city and looking at merging markets for the last 10 plus years. I think what is happening now is that Anacostia is arriving as well as the east end of our city Ward 7 and 8. People have recognized that there are amazing attributes and assets that are so underutilized and underprivileged in terms of its impact on not only quality of life, but also in the economic transformation of our city. We've got people here with amazing skill sets. You know, we've been fortunate because we run a small business development center as well, and we've seen a lot of our community, neighbors, explode.
JACKSONThe challenge that we have now is because a lot of speculators bought up land some time ago when values were a little different. Now having access to these resources, these parcels are getting more challenging for small businesses.
NNAMDIAnd if in fact all of this promise exists in Ward 7 and Ward 8, we have seen to some extent these promises realized in, oh, Ward 2 in the Shaw neighborhood that I used to live in. But it has resulted in a lot of my former neighbors in Shaw no longer able to afford to live there anymore. Following up on that Stan Voudrie in 2010 you said in a TV interview that longtime residents of Anacostia should not worry about being displaced as the neighborhood is developed. And that the change that is coming east of the river will only benefit residents. Do you still stand by that statement?
VOUDRIEI stand by the spirit of the statement as my namesake Mr. Jackson was saying a minute ago. I think that Anacostia Ward 8 as a larger community has a lot of vacant land that is completely undeveloped or underdeveloped. There's not a lot of surface parking lots around the city. There are a number of large surface parking lots and vacant land in Ward 8 where we can do things like build multistory affordable housing buildings where no units existed. So I think that the opportunity is here. Some of the lessons learned in other neighborhoods around the city need to be implemented here.
VOUDRIEDirector Whitfield can talk about, you know, ideas with making sure that property taxes are -- for small businesses are kept low and those sorts of things. But I don't think there is a need for displacement if we develop it smart if we develop it right. And if we learn those lessons from the last 30 years from Mr. Jackson we can do this without displacing business or residents.
NNAMDIKristi Whitfield, he said you can talk about some of those ideas. Go.
WHITFIELDWell, all right. Before this job I was a real estate developer. And in real estate you would never develop anything without bands of affordability. And as we think about bands of affordability it is important for us to contemplate our small businesses and what we're doing to maintain the affordability of resident owned retail. And I think that is not something that we have been able to weave in as well as we need to. I think that we have lessons that we have seen in residential that need to be translated into commercial. So that we say, you know, if we have TOPA for, you know, residents where is the TOPA for commercial. And where are the things that we can say, you know, our small businesses are the superheroes of our neighborhoods. They are building the fabrics of our neighborhoods.
WHITFIELDAnd what are we doing to show them that we appreciate what they are doing for our communities and candidly for our property values and for the livable, walkable communities that they make. But I'm less comfortable about what can happen because there really is no neighborhood that is safe to me. And I hate to be like that person. But I think that market forces are strong and a lot of land has already been purchased and we do not understand opportunity zones in their entirety. And I think that unless we get very smart and very prescriptive then, you know, the look of the soul of the city will change.
NNAMDIWell, that brings me to my next question for you, because succeeding as an entrepreneur wherever is a quintessential part of the American dream. You talked about your fears about what could happen here. How does that narrative influence how small business owners advocate and should advocate for themselves?
WHITFIELDWell, I am very glad you asked that. Now that I no longer run a small business I am here to spill all the T. You know, when you run your own small business, you know, you have to be perfect. You have to be perfect. And you have to say everything is fine. Everything is great. How is everything? It is great. Because if it's not great, then your business is not great. And it makes it very difficult to help a small business person, because they can't tell you the truth. They can't say, I'm so glad that you made this order, because now I can make payroll. They can't say, I'm exhausted. They can't say, My family is working themselves to a nub, because I can't trust the people that I hire to come in on time.
WHITFIELDNo, we hold them up as heroes and we expect them to be perfect, but we also expect them to have, you know, $1,000 in the bank to put money down. And none of us have that, right? And so we need to be able to change what are the rules and the narratives so that we can support them in ways that are realistic. (applause)
NNAMDIOkay. Sir, can you stand up? This is Ron Motten. A lot of people in this city know you as an activist. A lot of the people outside of Ward 8 may not know you as a business owner. So, please, identify yourself and tell us about your business.
RON MOTTENSo my name is Ron Motten. I'm a partner at Check It Enterprises, which I founded with former gay gang members in Washington D.C.
NNAMDIAs a small business owner, what kinds of support, Ron, would you like to see from the city as this development unfolds?
MOTTENI think the city needs to be intentional in investing in small businesses just like they invest in developers. I think that developers need investment, but businesses need investment. I'm just going to be frank with you. Like this sister right here, she's been having a business for five years. There's no reason why the city can't invest in people like her. Not to help her with a space to own a space. So with all these vacant lots that Stan is talking about the city needs to be intentional in taking business owners like her and others who have proven that they can be successful and investing in them, (applause) investing in us like for six years with Check It we worked night and day without a dime from the government. And we counted on our community. And we raised $70,000 and remodeled a building.
NNAMDIWhat do your property taxes look like?
MOTTENWell, that's a good question. Our property taxes went from 4100 one year to 6200 in one year. So the same process that starting in Shaw is starting in Anacostia already. So one of the things that we've been talking about with Don't Mute D.C. Kymone Freeman and other people is displacement free zones. We have to do what other cities have done. There no reason why property tax on these businesses should go up more than 60 percent in one year. (applause)
NNAMDIThank you very much. But who is this Kymone Freeman of whom you speak? Oh, there he is right here. Kymone, you and Ron have been organizing regular community meetings to discuss strategies for preserving local businesses and culture in the face of new development. What are the challenges and what strategies have you come up with?
KYMONE FREEMANI just want to say Mo has been doing the heavy lifting in terms of the biweekly meetings. I just show up and cover it and broadcast it and add my two cents. But, you know, we just need to have our own retention plan for longtime residents, small businesses. We cannot depend on the city to do anything for us. We have to break this paternal relationship where they know what's best for us and they tell us what we can do. We have to tell them what we want. We have to create our own retention plan. We have to look at models like St. Crawford Bookstore has been successful in getting a tax abatement. That should be replicated citywide. There should be a tax cap, there should be a property tax cap. We should not be punished, because of the success of the city.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much. (applause) Yes, ma'am.
GRETAThank you. My name is Greta Fuller. I am the former ASC Commissioner. I am the President of Historic Anacostia Preservation Society and I'm a resident of Historic Anacostia. I don't have a grocery store. I don't have a hardware store. I don't have a real pharmacy. I'm not talking about a pharmacy that pushes pills. I'm talking a pharmacy where I can go and buy a balloon or a sled or just something to hang a picture on a wall. I'm asking for viable businesses in our neighborhood. I go to Nubian Hueman. I've been to Ron's store, Check It. I go to Busboys. I go to everything in our neighborhood, but I'm very limited and I'm trying to understand what is the balance between me walking down my street to a store on Martin Luther King and people not coming, because they think gentrification or it's going to change.
NNAMDIKristi Whitfield, what would you say to that young woman?
WHITFIELDWow. I mean, that's tough. You know, I know we have some incentives where we're trying to move some grocery stores coming over here. I know that Good Food Market is working to come over here. You know, I think that one of the biggest problems is the perception, because as I said earlier people first have to think that there is market, which commonsense tells us that there is. But you're kind of fighting it in two directions, right? I think that the businesses that are here know that they're making money. The most important thing that I think we need to say is I hear from the businesses that are here that they continue to struggle is that we are not necessarily supporting the businesses that are opening here. You know, we're giving them like thumbs up on Instagram, right? But we're not like shopping with our money there.
NNAMDIBut allow me to interrupt. What can those business do? The existing local businesses, what can they do to prepare themselves for the changes that are underway in this neighborhood and even take advantages of the opportunities they could bring?
WHITFIELDWell, I think that, you know, some of the existing businesses do have opportunities to sort of modernize, right? So I think that, you know, Grubhub and some of those things where people are using social and using modern, you know, using the technology that is out there to get your stuff out -- you know, to get your products out there, online ordering and those sorts of things.
NNAMDISir, can you stand, please. Please, tell us your name and the nature of the business you're involved in.
BILL FADELBill Fadel, I'm the President and Owner of Grubs Pharmacy Southeast down the street.
NNAMDIWhich has been in Anacostia since 2012, and it's my understanding that much of your work is driven by a desire to really serve this community rather than simply to increase your profit margins. Why have you decided to take that approach and is that a sustainable way of doing business?
FADELI want to say that if you want to go into business and go after the money to make money, if that's your first thought I'm not sure it's going to work out. You have to the passion to really be with the people, help the people, serve the people, find out what their needs are. But we need to be sensitive to the fact that if they're not able to pay the co-pay one dollar we need to be able to figure something out to help that person become and stay healthy for a longer time.
NNAMDIThank you very much. (applause) You, sir, may have the last word.
DARONSo my name is Daron Coates. I've been an entrepreneur for 45 years coming up in March. I run a sustainable infrastructure company. We've also launched the Sustainable Communities Project in partnership with the D.C. Housing Authority in GW University. We're looking to find, train and fund entrepreneurs. So, my question to you guys, how do I find, train and fund entrepreneurs from underserved communities? Thank you.
JACKSONI think to your point it's just a consistency problem. We have a narrative here that's been sort of fostered on our community that's not real. There are a lot of talented people. We just got to get them to believe in the possibility that things can happen. You just got to be willing to be consistent. You got to be willing not to be afraid to fail.
NNAMDIThank you very much.
WHITFIELDWell, Kojo, can I just say quickly that I think that sometimes people are looking for a very traditional skillset, and that we need to be a little bit more broad in our entrepreneurial approach. You know, when you're looking for an entrepreneur, you can't look for the traditional. Look for the somebody who is smart and scrappy and entrepreneurial, and that is the way that you're going to find somebody that's going to answer those questions. (applause)
NNAMDIWe've got to take a short break. Thank you for introducing our next segment on workforce development. We'll be right back.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're here at the Anacostia Playhouse, talking about business, economic development and jobs east of the river. Let's shift gears a bit and focus on the employment side of the business equation. Joining me here at the front of the room is Connie Spinner, the head of school at Community College Prep Academy. Connie Spinner, thank you for joining us.
CONNIE SPINNERMy pleasure. (applause)
NNAMDIKim Ford is president and CEO of Martha's Table, and has previously held leadership roles in workforce development and adult education at the U.S. Department of Education and UDC's community college. Kim Ford, thank you for joining us. (applause) Duane Gautier is the CEO and president of the ARCH Development corporation. Duane Gautier, thank you for joining us.
DUANE GAUTIERThank you. (applause)
NNAMDIAnd Dr. Unique Morris-Hughes is the director of the D.C. Department of Employment Services. Unique Morris-Hughes, thank you for joining us. (applause) Duane, you've been involved in workforce development in the District and specifically here in Ward 8 for decades. How has the landscape evolved over time, both in terms of job opportunities, and in terms of the types of training programs available?
GAUTIERUnfortunately, it has deteriorated. And I think the critical thing was there was a change in the federal government regulations that went from long-term job training programs to short-term job training programs. When we ran the ARCH training center, we had a program where an adult or youth could stay two years. We had three GED programs. One was introductory, one was a middle, and one was a high level, and we trained in about 12 different areas of training. And we also had social services.
GAUTIERThe average reading and math level was between 6.0 and 8.0, which basically means they were not job-ready. So, you needed a long time to bring them up. Basically, a tenth grade reading and math level is where you really basically need, from almost all jobs. I haven't used geometry in years. And so, a youth or an adult could stay in the job training program, have social services that were paid a stipend, or they were paid minimum wage, at that point. And they could progress at their own level.
GAUTIERThat changed when the federal government changed and said they wanted short-term job training programs. We had training programs after that where we bargained, basically, with the Department of Labor, said give us a chance. And they went back to us, and through 2009, we had long-term job training programs. And that's critical.
GAUTIERThe second thing that's critical is, there's no jobs. You need jobs. You need jobs for people. We were going to spend what, 25, $40 million to bring Amazon here, so the average job was $125,000. And hardly anybody in Ward 8 was going to be qualified for them. Why can't we create businesses that we can then train Ward 8 residents who don't have a college diploma, who might not graduate from community college, but still can make a living wage of 18 to $20? It starts with jobs, and then you train to the jobs. Not the other way around.
NNAMDIUnique Morris-Hughes, you're head of D.C.'s Department of Employment Services. Duane is highlighting what he says are missed opportunities. Would you like to respond to that?
UNIQUE MORRIS-HUGHESYeah, so there was a shift conceptually in training programs when the federal government, and at that time the federal administration, passed the WIOA, the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act. There was an expectation to cover more ground quickly, really with less money. And so what that means is that these longer term job training programs really became shorter periods of time.
UNIQUE MORRIS-HUGHESNow, let me say this. I think that there is a sense of urgency around getting people to work that we should embrace. I expect my staff and the organizations that we fund to work with a sense of urgency to get people employed. It is imperative that one of the performance metrics that we hold ourselves to is employment. We need people to get back to work, so they can provide for their families and themselves, and contribute to the community. That is very important.
UNIQUE MORRIS-HUGHESI'll also say that as we recognize that there is a need to support individuals that don't have the literacy and numeracy skills, we're beginning to come up with more innovative ways to infuse education and occupational skills training. We do it in a few different ways, now. We do continue to fund GED programs. Ms. Spinner has been one of our best partners in making sure that we refer adults and young people that are not engaged in traditional secondary education or post-secondary education to Ms. Spinner, who is located just right up the street.
UNIQUE MORRIS-HUGHESWe also make sure that we offer what we call, like, level-up courses, or opportunities for young people and adults to have some emphasis on literacy and numeracy so they can be job-ready. So, we recognize that. We've recently tried to put some interventions in place, but Duane is absolutely correct. There is a shift, conceptually, in job-training programs.
NNAMDIKymone Freeman of We Act Radio is at the microphone.
FREEMANDuane Gautier owns my building, so it's very uncomfortable for me to actually agree with him right now. (laugh) But he's right. We definitely need the jobs that people are prepared for. And when we mentioned that 11-year-old that was killed not too long ago, we failed to mention that they was fighting over the right to sell water and Gatorade on their block. There's a crime of poverty and desperation, and that we should provide jobs for these young people. We can create our own jobs, but we have to be creative.
FREEMANWe have community land trusts that's not being used. We have all kinds of opportunities that we're not doing. We have to create businesses for these young people, where they are, right now.
NNAMDIDuane, what are the biggest challenges to creating more job opportunities and training here in Ward 8?
GAUTIERI think that it's a dollar issue. And also there needs to be an emphasis. We've put millions and millions and millions of dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars downtown. Why do we want Amazon at 125,000 when we could have call centers, when we could change our tax code to encourage businesses that hire people who we can provide the jobs to from Ward 8 that pay a living wage? One of the reasons that the call centers are in places like South Dakota, North Dakota and Tennessee...
NNAMDINot to mention the Philippines.
GAUTIERBut you've got to remember, they're all coming back. A lot of them are coming back now -- India is now high-cost -- is because of the way they tax the businesses. And they only tax the money or the processing that takes place within the jurisdiction. Also, we have one of the greatest assets on the border of Anacostia, is St. Elizabeth's. All we're talking about is high-tech jobs is ridiculous. We don't need more high-tech. Most of them live outside of the District that are going to work there. We need to create businesses at St. E's that hire Ward 8 and Ward 7 people.
MORRIS-HUGHESCan I just push a little bit there?
NNAMDII was about to ask, what do you see as your role in Ward 8, moving forward?
MORRIS-HUGHESSo, I want to answer that, but I want to push a little bit here, in that we have to have an honest conversation about jobs of the future. Technology is part of jobs for the future. We cannot run from it. We should embrace it. Now, there are different roles, there are different types of jobs, there are different entry points. But, in every single job, you have to utilize technology.
MORRIS-HUGHESAnd what I mean by that is, I spend a lot of time in the community talking to people about we need job readiness programs that teach people how to dress appropriately. No, we need job readiness programs that teach people how to be successful and navigate difficult situations at work. How to be resilient. How to look at a single mom of three kids on TANF as somebody who is scrappy and resilient and can navigate and can multitask. That's what we need to prepare people to. And so I think until we have a real conversation about what job readiness looks like and what a competitive candidate really looks like, we won't really be able to move the needle forward.
NNAMDIConnie Spinner, you run a public charter school for adults on workforce training. A big part of your job is looking at the job opportunities available now and the ones that will be coming, and planning your curriculum accordingly. Give us a sense. What kinds of jobs are plentiful these days and what jobs do you expect will be coming in the future?
SPINNERHere's our reality. There are over 630,000 jobs in this region that require Microsoft capability. If you're not Microsoft capable, you cannot get a job in federal government, in district government, in banks, in hospitals, in any number of professions. So, this year, over 300 people got Microsoft-certified out of our school, (applause) 12 hours a day, taking Microsoft training.
SPINNERThe fact of the matter is over 320,000 jobs in this region require CompTIA A+ Certification at the helpdesk level. That is not genius. That is not being able to have a college degree. That's being able to be a tech, a really good, resourceful, come-to-work-every-day tech. We train those people to do that. Amazon is coming. We can either sit back and let all of the young professionals graduate from GW and AU and Howard, get those jobs, or we can begin to train the people we have to be competitive. Because the reality is there is, no requirement of a Bachelor's Degree. You have to go in and write a program that solves a problem. And our people can do that, too.
SPINNERSo, now we're partnering with LaunchCode, a national programming training program, and the Department of Employment Services to figure out how we do that. And Duane is exactly correct when he says it takes a little bit longer. And so, we do something called blended funding. I'm a public school. I can get you ready to go into training. The reality is, that if you're not reading at an 11th grade level, you can't get a job in this city. You can't even get a job doing the real work in Andy Shallal's business, because you've got to be able to use a handheld. If you're not computer literate -- and I don't mean texts or Tweets -- (laugh) I mean, get on and do something, then you're not ready.
SPINNERTwenty years ago, the U.S. Department of Labor put something together called SCANS, the Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills. They told us then, if you cannot read at an 11th grade level, if you cannot use the internet as a tool for learning, you cannot get and keep a job in this society. Our society has changed. Washington is not the same. I’m a fourth generation Washingtonian. I grew up here. The reality is when I was a kid, we were only 35 percent African American then.
SPINNERAnd now we're talking about somebody taking over Chocolate City. It never really was. It's a city of diverse people and diverse neighborhoods, and we have to be able to live with each other and understand each other. So, we do customer service for everybody, because Washington is at the bottom of the destination cities. We're not nice, (laugh)
NNAMDIYou mentioned Andy Shallal, the owner of Busboys and Poets, who is here. Andy Shallal, do new businesses coming into Anacostia, businesses like Busboys and Poets have a responsibility to hire local?
ANDY SHALLALWell, I don't know about other businesses, but we certainly did. I mean, we decided when we came in here that we're going to hire everyone. We had set a 90 percent goal, and we are actually 100 percent people from Ward 8 and Ward 7, (applause) and we're very proud of that.
NNAMDIWell, you did that by building training into your Anacostia location. What has been your experience so far, and what challenges have you had?
SHALLALWell, you know, a lot of people that come to us, it's oftentimes one of their first jobs. And it really requires a lot of deep-tissue training. I mean, it's not just, uh, the usual training we do, where we spend about a week or so to train somebody. This requires two or three weeks. And remember, we're a business so we're not the government. We don't get grants to be able to do this.
SHALLALWhat I think we could do better as a city is to have a better partnership with businesses. I would love to see the Department of Employment Services get more connected with businesses, so that they can provide some funding for the training that businesses naturally do, and know that they're going to be hiring people. Look, if I'm a business, somebody walks into my space and has a certificate from the Department of Employment Services that they got trained, I'm going to be a little suspicious about it, to be honest with you. I'm going to look for somebody who has experience. And that experience comes from, in a real business, not just in a classroom.
SHALLALAnd so we wanted to start a whole different program, where we're training people so that when they come in and they get trained, they walk away with a certificate that comes from a business, a real business, Busboys and Poets that has actually done the training. And this way that certificate is transferable to any other business that does hospitality, being that the hospitality industry now in the city is one of the fastest-growing.
SHALLALWe get people -- and this is right off the press, here -- we get people that get hired at $15 an hour as a starting salary. And within a year, they could advance into management, and the starting salary for a manager is $60,000 a year. So, this is someone that doesn't need a high school education, does not need a college education. All they need is just the grit, that scrappiness, that entrepreneurial spirit to be able to make it. And we're very proud of that. Almost every manager we have started out with us as either a line cook, a dishwasher, a busser, a waiter, and they became managers. And we have lots of them, now. (applause)
NNAMDIAre you satisfied with the experience you have had so far in Ward 8?
SHALLALI'd love to get more help from the city, to be honest with you. I'd love to see the city do more than thumbs up. You know, the thumbs up is wonderful, and I'm very respectful and I'm very appreciative of that. We have issues with parking. We have issues with safety. We have issues with, you know, staffing needs, more staffing needs, more trained staff that we have to spend a lot of money on. Spending three times the amount of money on training is obviously a burden on a business. And I would love to see more of a partnership.
NNAMDIKim Ford, there's a distinction between getting a job and developing a career. Is there a good pathway for people who have jobs to transition into stable careers?
KIM FORDWe've got to start changing the narratives. You know, I love that I have been in workforce development forever, but I have never understood the difference between workforce development and education, okay? We need to change that narrative. Education is workforce development. The only reason we teach three-year-olds to read is because it is a basic skill in competency so that you can actually obtain a career, so that you can have a family-sustaining wage.
KIM FORDSo, what does that really mean? What are these codes and these euphemisms? What does it mean when we're talking about Ward 7, Ward 8 and they need workforce development, but all these other people, right, they need education? Explain to me how you can educate a surgeon, but train a phlebotomist? At the end of the day those are two people who want to work with their hands, and you best believe that you want the best, the best, the best educated, wrap-all-around education, academic skills, technical skills, employability skills, because we do that in four years. We do that in degree programs.
KIM FORDWe need to stop bucketing everybody. Oh, well, we need to do something for the opportunity youth. We need to do something for this group and this group and this group. But what we need to do is treat people like people and put everybody on a path to success. And that path to success, Kojo, to answer your question, (laugh) is, how do you go from working to living, okay?
KIM FORDSo, you know, we can talk about what a career pathway looks like. We can talk about stackable credentials. We can talk about a whole bunch of things. But one of the themes that has come out today is the fact that we need to focus on earn-and-learn programs. We need to change from or -- meaning I either go to school or work -- and bring that together. It needs to be an and because that way we can hold you long enough to get to a family-sustaining wage.
KIM FORDSo, we can get people jobs all day. We have more jobs than people in this region but that's where the spin is. We need to be able to hold you in an education program long enough so that you can move up. And guess what we need to do? We need to compensate you as you learn. We need to compensate you more as you move up. Most people know this as apprenticeship. That is not the only earn-and-learn program out there, by the way, practicums, coops, internships, school-based enterprises, all kinds of things. We need to hold you long enough so you can get in and get up. That's the only way you're going to-- (applause)
NNAMDIExcuse me, are you finished? (laugh)
FORDHey, look, you put me in front of a mic, I might not be. No, seriously.
NNAMDIRon, I don't think you'll find many people who are actively opposed to trying to help people get jobs, but we're hearing that there are some serious gaps in workforce development opportunities here in this community. To what extent is this a problem of political will or popular advocacy or people simply not stepping up?
AUDIENCE MEMBERI think it's a lot of things. I think, for instance, you come to Anacostia where we've been neglected or (unintelligible) Ward 7, where you talk about the education system that failed our children, and you expect people just to be ready who have mental health issues, who are traumatized. And none of these things have been fixed. I think it's insanity to think people are to be ready without dealing with those things.
AUDIENCE MEMBERI will commend DOES, because some of the programs that have been put in place deal with a holistic approach to dealing with the mental health and issues that traumatize youth that I've worked with and I've seen. And how do you expect them to work, and they're walking across where their child, where their brother was killed the day before? And they haven't been moved from that location, and they come to the workforce development program traumatized. You see what I'm saying?
AUDIENCE MEMBERMost people don't hear those stories. They don't know our reality. So, these are the realities of people who've been in the trenches doing the work, and these are the people that we work with. And a lot of these people that we work with, we've gotten through college. We've gotten to the next place. But the problem is when programs like ours came about, we were attacked for political reasons.
AUDIENCE MEMBERAnd the last thing I want to say, $35 million went to Living Social, and it flopped, and nobody in this city said anything. If it was a (unintelligible) I would've been in jail. So, what I want to say is, I challenge this city to take the chances and invest in people who've been in the trenches, putting in the work, with no money, and been getting results. That's what this city needs to do, because we've been bitten by the snake, and we got the anecdote. (applause)
NNAMDIYou're next. Go ahead.
MEMBERMy name is Berta. I own a business called Made in the DMV. I think we should train our kids while they're in high school. And by the time they graduate out of high school, they should be certified in something. I went to a school called (unintelligible) Charter School, where I took graphic design. I took graphic design for four years. If I take graphic design every day for an hour, in four years, I get 100 hours, at least a year. By the time I graduated, I got 400 hours. I am more than certified.
MEMBERNowadays, you don't necessarily have to go to college to get a job. Our kids needs to be certified in something by the time that they graduate from high school. You guys are waiting too late.
FORDSo, we are piloting a new program with SYEP. It starts on Monday, where we're offering 8th graders an opportunity to work and earn some money for the summer. But here's what I'll tell you. We need everyone who has an opinion to come out and speak to their councilmembers, advocate, go to hearings. Because, I'll tell you, it gets lonely on the frontline, fighting the good fight. Right? We fought a tremendous fight for returning citizens. We couldn't get folks to come out for a hearing to advocate -- except for Mr. Moton and a few others -- to advocate for why we need to invest in returning citizens, why we need to continue to invest in workforce development programs.
FORDSo, we need people to make their voices heard and let your councilmembers understand that education is workforce development, and it's equally important.
NNAMDISir, tell me your name, and what you do.
TROY PRESSWOODI'm Troy Presswood. I'm ANC commissioner and chairman here at the commission, right here in Anacostia. I've heard a lot of things today through both panels, but none of this matters if we're not willing to put skin in the game. All of us have to be willing to go down and march on the District building, you know, talk to all of our councilmembers, talk with the mayor, talk with agency heads that's here today, and tell them and demand what we need.
TROY PRESSWOODBecause we know that Anacostia and Ward 8 and Ward 7 east of the river has a lot of needs, but none of it is going to be listened to unless we are willing to go down there and tell them, you must pay attention to what we have going on over here in Ward 8 and in Anacostia.
NNAMDINikki Peer, you get the last word.
NIKKI PEERI just wanted to say that this has been a pleasure to get together. We might be under resourced, but we're not undervalued. And I think that is the important thing about what we saw, everyone in this room, at the front. I've had the pleasure of working with, I feel like, the majority of people in here are working hard. They're doing a lot for you. They're doing it with almost no money, and it's taking everything that they have.
NIKKI PEERSo, I'm going to challenge you, all of us, myself included, help them help us. We are all in this. We can't do this alone, and all these people up here, I know them. They go to bed with this. They wake up with this. They do this because they believe. They will meet you where you are, but they will not put a cap on where you go. And to close this out, please give everybody here a round of applause. The process is not easy (applause) for you, either.
NNAMDIAnd I thought I would have to do that. Thank you very much, Nikki. We've heard a lot tonight. Thank you all for showing up and participating. We hope you'll continue to engage with us and with one another on this topic. Before we go this evening, we'd like to say a heartfelt thank-you to the Anacostia Playhouse for hosting tonight's program. (applause)
NNAMDIThanks to our wonderful engineers, our superstar volunteers, the Kojo Show team, marketing and events, and the rest of our colleagues at WAMU for helping us bring this show in to this community. (applause) And, once again, thanks to everyone for coming out tonight. Please give yourselves a final round of applause. (applause)
Most Recent Shows
As federal immigration enforcement heats up, how are local immigrants and their allies ensuring routine immigration check-ins and hearings don't result in detention and deportation?
When they return to classes in the coming weeks, students in some area public schools will be able to identify as gender nonconforming on official forms, use the bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity, and more.
Arlington County Board Member Katie Cristol joins us to talk education, transportation, Amazon and flood relief, plus we check in on healthcare, violence, and development with D.C. Council Member Vince Gray.