The YMCA of Metropolitan Washington announced plans yesterday to relocate programs from the now-closed Anthony Bowen YMCA in Shaw to a nearby 13th Street office building, and to move youth basketball temporarily to the downtown YMCA, which previously did not allow youngsters on weekdays.
Those moves were announced hours after a new Ad Hoc Committee to Save Bowen was formed at an angry meeting of 50 Shaw-area community activists, who accused the YMCA of shortchanging the black community.
YMCA President Thomas B. Hargrave said the YMCA's operations committee approved on Tuesday the plan to transport Bowen youngsters to the $5.3 million downtown facility at 17th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW, where the partitioned gymnasium can be used both for youth basketball and adult members.
He said the Bowen operation, which now has two vans for transporting children, will purchase a third, and also will hire a sixth full-time staff member and several part-timers.
The community activists who met yesterday said they will seek a meeting with the YMCA board of directors to get the board to rescind the Feb. 23 closing of the 73-year-old building at 1816 12th St. NW, which is named for the freed slave who in 1853 founded the first black YMCA in the country.
The new Committee to Save Bowen, after considering options ranging from occupying the building to erecting a fence around it, said it would also seek meetings with United Way officials to argue that the YMCA was not properly spending money earmarked for inner-city programs.
Several committee members denounced the YMCA for allowing Bowen to deteriorate to the point where few programs remained in the building, which had numerous fire and safety hazards. The YMCA cited those hazards as the main reason for closing it.
"There is racism involved. That is the bottom line," said Ron Clark, executive director of RAP Inc., a city antidrug-abuse program. Clark and Nia Kuumba of the 14th Street Project Area Committee said they believed the mostly white YMCA board failed to see and appreciate the importance of "black landmarks" and institutions like Bowen.
Hargrave, who is black, has angrily denied such charges. Yesterday he declined to comment on the neighborhood meeting. However, he has told the YMCA board he expected a strong emotional reaction from the community.
Nonetheless, he maintained that the Bowen building had to be closed because of fire and safety hazards and because the aging building is too expensive to maintain while the YMCA pursues plans to build a new Bowen branch.
Barnett Anderson, chairman of the board of the Shaw Project Area Committee, which hosted the neighborhood meeting in its Seventh Street office, criticized the YMCA for failing to spend more money fixing Bowen while expending millions of dollars to build the downtown facility. "They're like the guy who can't give 50 cents in church, but when he passes the liquor store, he can get a fifth," he said.
In the face of mounting criticism, Hargrave has maintained that the YMCA will be able to expand programs because it no longer will pour money into a building he described as a "rathole." Yesterday he said Bowen's youth drop-in center, clubs, classrooms, and senior citizens' program would be shifted to the new rented site. He said he could not name the building or the opening date until arrangements are completed in the next few days.