Columbia Heights is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the District. It is also one of the most rapidly changing. An African American neighborhood for most of the last half of the last century that welcomed Latinx immigrants escaping the Wars in Central American in the 1980’s and 1990’s, has rapidly gentrified. New development is replacing existing residents with wealthy, largely white individuals.
In the middle of this community is Columbia Heights Education Campus (CHEC), one of the schools served by our Parent Empowerment Program (PEP). The school’s student population is comprised of Latinx and African American students, 100% of whom come from working class and low-income families. PEP organized CHEC parents and Columbia Heights community members to support high quality education for their children and support parents in using their voices to create meaningful change.
PEP takes a grassroots approach to address the inequity in education arising from the racial wealth gap. With PEP’s help, CHEC parents developed a list of resources and opportunities they wanted for their children, emphasizing their concern that their students needed better technology skills to be prepared for college and careers. Parents also raised concerns about housing and immigration. They shared with each other stories of discrimination by race, language, country of origin, age and disability. In response to their concerns, PEP leveraged Committee resources to facilitate know your rights sessions on housing rights. We also brought together community organizations such as Ayuda and the Mayor’s Office for Latino Affairs to provide simultaneous interpretation for both English and Spanish speaking parents.
On the capacity building side, parents learned how to solicit funds and write letters to small businesses. CHEC parents ran a first of its kind flea market fundraiser for the school, raising almost $1,000 in under two hours. The Committee provide a matching grant from our Parent Empowerment Fund.
The story of Columbia Heights will continue to unfold. Parents at CHEC are committed to ensure their names remain on the pages of an evolving narrative of a neighborhood filled with diverse parents dedicated to a quality education and affordable housing for all. A parent stated, “You all have changed the way we think. You sparked a fire, and now we can’t stop.”