Kenyan R. McDuffie, a Democrat, represents Ward 5 on the D.C. Council.

Within hours of taking the oath of office, President Biden signed an executive order to advance racial equity within the federal government, citing “the unbearable human costs of systemic racism” and pointing out the additional $5 trillion in gross domestic product that closing the racial wealth gap would generate over the next five years. According to the National Equity Atlas, the income of Black residents in D.C. would have to increase by 175 percent to achieve racial equity; the result would be a 55 percent gain in GDP in D.C., the highest of any state in the nation.

In fact, decades of structural and institutional racism in D.C., and across the United States, have created pervasive and widespread racial inequities across all indicators for success, including in health, education, employment, housing, transportation, business and policing and the criminal justice system. In recent years, local policies have not corrected course but instead left Black and Brown residents further behind.

My wife and I are raising our two daughters in the house that my grandparents bought back in 1952. Over the years, D.C. has seen significant demographic and economic changes. Despite the growing prosperity, many of the people I grew up with in Stronghold can no longer afford to live here.

Racial inequities are reflected in the demographic shifts as well as in incomes and wealth. Between 2000 and 2013, D.C. had the highest percentage of gentrifying neighborhoods in the country, with more than 20,000 Black residents displaced from low-income neighborhoods. In 2016, the median household income for Black residents was less than one-third the median household income for White residents: $38,000 and $126,000, respectively. The median net worth of a White family in D.C. is 81 times greater than the median net worth of a Black family.

Far too often, a resident’s race predicts his or her ability to succeed, live a healthy life and support a family. For every D.C. resident to truly have the same opportunities to reach their full potential, we must intentionally design equitable laws that take into account the centuries of slavery, segregation and government-sanctioned discrimination against Black people.

D.C. must implement a racial equity agenda now. The D.C. Council has already laid the foundation for D.C.'s racial equity agenda. I introduced the Racial Equity Achieves Results Act (Reach Act) in January 2019 and spent nearly two years working with residents, advocates and colleagues to shape it. In December, the D.C. Council unanimously passed the Reach Act, and on Jan. 18, we launched the Council Office of Racial Equity, which will ensure that council legislation is evaluated for its impact on racial equity before passage, just as bills are evaluated for legality and fiscal impact. The Reach Act also requires the mayor to establish an office of racial equity that will use performance metrics to hold agencies accountable for eliminating racial disparities among residents. I was pleased that D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced her search for a chief equity officer.

In addition to fully implementing the Reach Act, a racial equity agenda requires targeted investments intended to close D.C.'s racial wealth gap.

When we expand these opportunities to people who historically have been denied access, the circle of prosperity will grow. D.C. residents need Bowser to support this racial equity agenda. She must be intentional and identify opportunities to promote equity in the fiscal year 2022 budget that she submits to the council. Her budget must include substantial targeted economic investments that support Black residents, strengthen Black businesses and empower Black communities. As Brookings scholar Andre Perry recently noted, “accounting for historical discrimination doesn’t throttle white people’s economic mobility. By becoming more inclusive, we can increase the size of the proverbial pie.” One’s race and Zip code should not predict their future success.

Our government has an obligation to provide D.C. residents with the resources they need to achieve their full potential. Achieving racial equity would improve the quality of life for every D.C. resident and finally give the least among us a real fair shot.

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