The National Urban League released the 2014 State of Black of America report, and Washington, D.C., was named as one of the four metro areas where the median household incomes for African American and white families topped the national average because of the large number of professionals employed by the federal government, universities and private industry.
But in a week in which the FBI and D.C. police spent endless hours searching for an 8-year-old who was abducted from a D.C. shelter filled with homeless women and children, the plight of Relisha Rudd and the poor was also on the mind of National Urban League President Marc Morial, as well as Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who hosted a “Clergy Summit” with local pastors and federal faith-based initiative officials Friday.
“The nation’s capital, like all of America, is a tale of two cities,” Morial said in an interview. “There is enormous success. You have high median income in the black and white community, but it should not mask the fact that there are people who are locked out and left out in the community, and people shouldn’t look at the comparison and claim utopia.”
According to the State of Black of America report, the median household income in the metropolitan Washington area and parts of West Virginia was $106,597 for whites, $63,779 for Hispanics and $62,726 for African Americans, while the African American unemployment rate was 12 percent compared to 4 percent for whites.
But on a sidewalk outside the fenced and yellow-police-taped Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, two teenage girls walking home looked at where police had been searching for Rudd and commented about the search being halted. “They stopped trying to dig up her body because they don’t care,” one said. “They are racist!”
D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier and other law enforcement officials vowed to keep looking for Rudd, but Morial said the problems facing the poor in many U.S. cities can’t just be address by the government.
In dealing with the issue of homelessness, Morial said, finding a solution is not simple. “Some have to do with severe economic stress that families face, sometimes it is mental illness, prison reentry, a great number of homeless people are veterans … these issues don’t operate in isolation to more challenging problems.”
The State of Black America report came the day before Cardin and officials from four federal agencies held a “Clergy Summit” at the ministry center of the First Baptist Church of Glenarden. Gathered in the room were officials from the Departments of Agriculture, Labor and Housing and Urban Development, as well as the Small Business Administration.
“The faith community is critically important in this county, and the separation of church and state doesn’t mean that we don’t work together to help people in our community,” Cardin said.
The Rev. Anthony G. Maclin, pastor of the Sanctuary at Kingdom Square and president of the Collective Empowerment Group, said his organization, which represents several hundred churches and community groups, is the conduit to connect resources with people in the community.
Marvin Turner, a regional HUD director said that one out of every 100 persons is homeless in the District of Columbia, and his agency is looking for people and organizations to partner with. Sarah Bard, head of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships with the U.S. Small Business Administration, said, “We are starting Business Sundays where we are looking at working with leaders like you.”
Norah Delohery, director for the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, said the USDA has a goal this summer of distributing 10 million meals, and they need the churches to make it happen. The Rev. Phil Tom, director of faith-based and community programs at the Department of Labor, said his agency has grant money for churches that confront issues collectively and have a “wide range of partners.”
The Rev. Jonathan Weaver, pastor of Greater Mount Nebo Church in Bowie, said it was very important for the churches to network because, “in all frankness, there is a chasm between the federal government and those of us who are reaching out into the community, not just on Sunday but every day of the week.”
As he headed back to New York on Friday, Morial said, “What distresses me the most is how we seemed to be in a cycle of losing ground on a number of fronts — voting, the fact that post-recession, the unemployment rate in black community remains high. But what enthuses me is that sense of responsibility that we have to push and to fight, knowing that what was done 50 years ago around Civil Rights made America stronger, made America better.”