Oramenta Newsome, a community development leader who for 23 years worked to revive some of Washington’s most neglected neighborhoods, died Feb. 1 at a hospital in Columbia, Md. She was 62 and lived in Jessup, Md.
When Mrs. Newsome joined LISC in 1995, Washington was trying to emerge from a crime and drug epidemic and faced one of the bleakest economic situations of any city in the country. The District was beset by abandoned buildings, blight and unemployment.
Under her watch, LISC began investing in projects such as birthing clinics and senior citizen centers that would benefit poor residents as well as attract new investments and businesses to neighborhoods they otherwise avoided.
Mrs. Newsome laid the groundwork for local arts institutions to rise in neighborhoods around the District, many of which remain community cornerstones for residents of all incomes. Under Mrs. Newsome, LISC was an early investor in the GALA Hispanic Theatre in Columbia Heights, the Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street NE and the Howard Theatre in Shaw, as well as Dance Place, the Dance Institute of Washington and Step Afrika. The projects became a model of LISC arts investment nationally.
In recent years, as the region’s economy rapidly expanded, Mrs. Newsome began focusing on preserving housing that could allow low-income residents to avoid being pushed out. In 2016, she announced a $50 million initiative to foster fair and inclusive development in the neighborhoods surrounding the planned 11th Street Bridge Park traversing the Anacostia River.
Mrs. Newsome lent “catalytic support for the development of affordable housing and community facilities,” D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said in a statement. “But her true legacy will be to the people she made it her mission to serve: the vulnerable — homeless, elderly, poor — and long-time residents of DC who made it their home.”
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Oramenta Fleming was born in Tuskegee, Ala., on March 21, 1955, and grew up in Union Springs, Ala. She graduated from Auburn University in Alabama in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in public administration.
She received a master’s degree in community development and planning from Georgia State University in 1984, then spent seven years as a city planner and homeless-services coordinator for the city of Fort Worth. She moved to the Washington area in 1992 to work as a program director for the Enterprise Foundation, a nonprofit housing and community development organization in Columbia.
Survivors include her husband of 22 years, Wallace H. Newsome of Jessup; her mother, Mabel Cobb of Montgomery, Ala.; two sisters; and two brothers.
Mrs. Newsome reflected on her work in the introduction to “Becoming What We Can Be,” a book LISC published in 2012.
“It would be hard to look back on the neighborhoods of Washington, D.C., in the early 1980s without a sense of wonder at how much has changed — the overwhelming majority of it for the better, and some of it magnificently better,” she wrote.
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