Job creation, economic development, public-private partnerships and empowering underserved communities were among top issues discussed at the first Anacostia Economic Summit at the Town Hall Education Arts and Recreation Center on Mississippi Avenue in Southeast. Organized by Operation HOPE, a nonprofit that provides home loans and teaches financial literacy to low-income residents, the summit focused on “Silver Rights,” which sought to integrate the dollar and economic empowerment into their lives.

Operation HOPE founder John Hope Bryant said the May 3 summit—which attracted more than 500 attendants at breakout sessions on silver rights, wealth,  government or financial literary—made its point.

“The summit was more than a success, it is fair to say it was historic too,” said Bryant after the summit. “For the first time in U.S. history, a Federal Reserve chairman and a World Bank president came to an American inner-city, low-wealth community, and gave a policy speech, talking about the economic future of these communities, from a positive perspective. It is doubly important that it happened in Anacostia. Little to nothing happens in life without a relationship so I am very proud to see that everyone ‘showed up.’ Getting these players to show up was half the value in and of itself.” Besides World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz and Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke, the summit also attracted Commissioner Paul Atkins of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Ambassador Andrew Young, and several other federal officials. Many District government officials attended as well, including Mayor Anthony Williams.

Anacostia is on the threshold of a major economic revival, according to speakers, with an influx of people from the suburbs, the prospective development of the riverfront, and the new baseball stadium.

California-based Operation HOPE is finding ways of opening access to economic resources, technology and opportunity to underserved communities through partnerships with government, community and the private sector, according to the nonprofit. This effort is to improve education and bring jobs, retail and homeownership to east of the river communities.

But not everyone agrees with the way the organization has not fully engaged the southeast community in its efforts. Longtime Hillcrest resident and activist Paul Savage said he was not surprised that more Wards 7 and 8 residents were not more involved in organizing the summit.

“I am certainly in philosophical agreement with bringing attention to East Washington, DC, neighborhoods, including lifting citizens from the depths of poverty,” Savage said in an e-mail. “My problem with our city leadership is this: if you can’t accomplish small things within your power to do, why would I expect some external force to wave a magic wand and get it done. Someone said all politics are local; I would add that solutions to our problems in East Washington are also local in that there must be involvement from the grassroots for good things to happen.”

Bryant disagreed, saying that Ward 7 Councilmember Vincent Gray and Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry were both his co-chairs.

“There was a local summit host committee of many leaders from the community, and residents,” Bryant said. “We had several prominent speakers from Anacostia on the program, and my staff did extensive outreach to leaders in weeks leading to the summit, and I personally sent out 300 letters to a range of community leaders. I am comfortable with our effort to be inclusive in every way.”

However, Savage vents his frustration with the lack of substantial progress in the communities east of the river, despite the residents living in certain neighborhoods, who work harder and smarter, and are more connected than most. 

“The bottom line in this is that making promises are what these people do well, but delivering on those promises is another thing entirely,” Savage pointed out. “The sum and substance is that we need more elected officials like Vince Gray and Kwame Brown (At Large councilmember and Ward 7 resident) who will roll up their sleeves and work with citizens to make things happen.”

Bryant insisted, “I invite the entire community, post summit, to join me and the Operation HOPE and silver rights family as part of the Anacostia Economic Summit committee, which will work to truly solve problems and create solutions in the community going forward. Anyone sincere about making a change will find that we are the easiest folks in the world to understand and work with.” There is an Operation HOPE center on Good Hope Road, which has given about $1.25 million in mortgages to DC residents since opening almost two years ago. The center is a one-stop model for empowerment, providing personalized service and attention to improve the economic quality of life.

Bryant said he chose to highlight Anacostia because it was a shame, and even a sin, to have an area with this history of neglect less than 10 minutes from the Capitol and the White House.

“I wanted to dramatize the ridiculous nature of poverty in America today; the richest country in the world,” he said. “I also wanted to shock individuals with positive examples of change in this area—examples from Operation HOPE and HOPE Center as well as countless other local nonprofit organizations.”

For more information on the HOPE Center, 2509 Good Hope Rd., SE, call 202.582.2212 or email: washingtondc@operationhope.org. Visit the Web site at www.operationhope.org. Hours of Operation: Monday through Friday – 9a.m. to 7p.m; Saturday –  10a.m. – 2p.m.; Sunday – Closed

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