The organization Groundwork Anacostia River DC is hoping that as residents clean up the river, they also restore the cultural and historical significance that the river holds to the community. With a better appreciation for their place in the environmental movement and their local heritage, argues writer Pamela Boyce Simms, these residents will be more equipped to face gentrification and address past and present issues of inequality.

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As the youth of DC’s Wards seven and eight restore the Anacostia River they also “re-story” its reputation, reminding residents of how vital the waterway is to the life of the community. They demonstrate that African American involvement in long-term, in-the-trenches environmental movements can happen when the doorways in are culturally relevant, and people of color are calling the shots. Their history-centered environmental work may also represent a way for Anacostia to sustain a flickering pilot light of African American culture as  gentrification sweeps through their neighborhoods.

Mentored for nearly a decade by elder Dennis Chestnut, Groundwork Anacostia River DC (Groundwork) Founder and Executive Director, young people have cultivated a  sense of place that is anchored in their cultural history and the natural world. Environmentally conscious and  grounded in a deep appreciation of their local heritage, young adults of color, raised in Anacostia,  are better equipped than most to mitigate the inevitable gentrification on the horizon for Southeast DC.

White progressive environmental movements find it difficult to attract and retain significant numbers of African Americans for the long haul type of community resilience-building work. Yet, organizations such as Groundwork, founded and guided by African American community members in 2008, have mastered a pathway to deep engagement. Groundwork has implemented a strategy that “makes a way out of no way” and may safeguard the remnants of local heritage when confronted by billionaire developers whose game plans are firmly in place.

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