Ward 8 Community Economic Development: Residents Recharting the Future of Their Neighborhoods

COMMUNITY PLANNING EFFORTS that leave out or minimally involve the community can result in deficit-based thinking and inequitable processes and outcomes. Too few efforts have tried to flip the script and take a resident-led approach. A passionate Ward 8 resident has been working for the past 10 years to change that and create momentum both in his community and beyond.

Mustafa Abdul-Salaam is the Founder and Facilitator of the Ward 8 Community Economic Development (W8CED) planning process. W8CED is working to engage local residents in order to create a comprehensive economic development plan for Ward 8.

Ward 8 residents engaged with W8CED were trained to map the area’s social, cultural and economic assets and to collect data on the community’s challenges. The residents, convened by the W8CED steering committee (a broad-based group of residents, community leaders, business owners and nonprofit leaders), will then articulate goals aimed at building wealth and health, promoting equity, and creating social and economic assets Ward 8 residents can benefit from and own. With those goals established, residents will develop a long-term master plan encompassing health, housing, education, job creation, transportation, public safety and other factors contributing to economic vitality and community well-being. The residents will be compensated for all their contributions.

“Ward 8 looks like what it does because the systems are broken,” says Abdul-Salaam. “We need a comprehensive plan that speaks to poverty and to building community wealth. We need to tear down the silos and address the critical connections that exist between issues like health, jobs, transportation and housing. We need access to capital, ownership and control over the resources. And ultimately, we need to give the community the opportunity to paint the picture and shape its own future.”

“Ward 8 is the last frontier of the African American community, and we’re losing a history and population so important to D.C. We really have an opportunity here – not only to improve our community but also to create a model for a national movement in this direction.”

Mustafa Abdul-Salaam

Founder and Facilitator, Ward 8 Community Economic Development

The plan, expected to be finalized by mid-2022, will coordinate investments to leverage Ward 8 assets, align and maximize the impact of public and private sector investments, and generate economic activity.

The foundation was first introduced to Abdul-Salaam in 2020, when David Bowers from Enterprise Community Partners drew a connection between this community-led effort and our commitment to equity and the co-creation of solutions. The partnership was made official in early 2021, just before the project launched.

“We were excited to come alongside and support the power and resources in the community as well as the invaluable lived experience and vision that the residents possess,” says David Daniels, CEO and President of the Bainum Family Foundation. The foundation originally entered into the partnership planning to provide funding and then get out of the way.

“We soon realized that that in itself was an assumption — a hypothesis about the role we thought they wanted us to play,” says Daniels. “In talking with the W8CED group, we learned that they wanted our voice in some of their conversations — and they wanted us to help promote their efforts and bring in other funders. They weren’t looking for us to be quiet; they were looking for real partners. So not only did this lead us to shifting our role, but it also challenged us to question our implicit biases and assumptions across our work.”