Balm in Gilead: Black Organizer Series
September 9, 2015
This year, we are continuing to mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by looking forward. What do Black leaders have to say about where we stand today? In this series, these leaders talk with Program Director Kevin Ryan about how they developed as community organizers, and share their ideas for building a deeper, stronger Black organizing infrastructure.
A native of East Baltimore, Dominic Moulden has extensive experience in community organizing and affordable housing development. He has been the Resource Organizer for Organizing Neighborhood Equity – ONE DC (and its predecessor Manna Community Development Corporation) since 1997. Throughout his career, Moulden has led programs designed to encourage democratic social and economic development in the Shaw neighborhood of Northwest, DC. Moulden has strengthened relationships with other non-profits; brought neighborhood people into dialogue with one another and with those who represent diverse interests in the community, including developers, unions, employers, and politicians; and engaged for-profit developers to ensure their projects contain adequate community benefits. Moulden has served on the boards of a variety of nonprofits, including The ICA Group, the Enterprise Foundation Network Advisory Board, and the National Campaign for Human Development. He has spoken in higher education institutions and at conferences on a variety of economic and social justice topics, including housing, workplace democracy, community development and revitalization, faith and justice, and leading change.
Moulden participated in executive education through the Washington Urban League, Tufts University, Leadership Washington, and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He holds a BA in Philosophy from St. Alphonsus College, and an MA in Theological Studies from Washington Theological Union.
Kevin Ryan: How did you first get involved in organizing work?
Dominic Moulden: My first experience with grassroots organizing was as a teen in east Baltimore. My street corner friends and I were part of a youth group based in a Catholic Church three blocks from “Greystone College”, a nickname we gave for the city jail and state prison.
KR: What were the most important factors for building your interest and skill as an organizer?
DM: As a youth and even now as an experienced organizer, I questioned why so many of my friends and our families were in prison. Something was definitely wrong with the projects to prison pipeline. It did not matter whether you were in multi-family public housing or single-family public housing with a job or jobless, you ended up in “Greystone”, the gigantic gray building with the big steep that was not your community church. This remains a number one factor in my reflection and analysis of racial and economic inequity. How is it that Wall Street capital thieves get no time and get bailed out, while very poor and working Black people go to prison for any minor infractions? I guess with the Ferguson “uprisings” we know that these injustices are clearly systemic and not an individual moral character issue.
KR: Think about one of the successful organizing campaigns that you worked on. What were the key factors in building that campaign?
DM: Parcel 42 is a piece of public land around the corner from ONE DC. The mayor at the time, Adrian Fenty, reneged on his promise to fully fund the development of low-cost housing on this site. ONE DC’s members and staff response were to organize and take back the land. We liberated the land by cutting the lock and having a big parade, march, and cookout. We slept on the land and took it back for about two months with many members, neighbors, and allies supporting ONE DC. The three key factors that made this campaign significant and sustainable: members’ sweat equity and volunteers’ work to take over the land, members educating themselves in direct action, civil disobedience, and creating a culture of resistance. The fact that the land is still vacated is a big victory! Why? Because some shared leadership team members of ONE DC have it correct: as long as the land is vacated, we are winning, because they have not built housing we can’t afford. Maybe one day we will get the low-cost housing that meets the need of ONE DC members and longtime DC residents.
KR: Tell me about your work with ONE DC. How did the organization get started? What is your role?
DM: I am the resource organizer at ONE DC. The group got started when three long-time DC residents named the organization as part of a transition from Manna CDC. We started to support Black organizing in the tradition of Ella Jo Baker and SNCC, to nurture Black women’s leadership, and to create a culture of transformative organizing rather than transactional organizing in DC. The role of the resource organizer is to build the capacity of staff, members, and supporters. My job is to organize the resource development and fundraising committee by getting members involved in the grant writing, reporting, and fundraising strategy and planning.
KR: How does ONE DC build community leadership?
DM: ONE DC actively recruits long-time and low-income DC residents to build our base. We used community learning through political education and popular education to nurture and support members’ leadership development skills. We have an ethnically and culturally broad base of people who are encouraged to exercise leadership. ONE DC specifically builds leadership skills in the shared leadership team, staff, and members through Freedom Schools, Emancipation Day celebrations, campaign study groups, and annual retreats for organizational learning and capacity building.
KR: There have been a lot of demographic changes in DC. The Black population has declined significantly over the past decade. What are your thoughts about why this decline has occurred? Has this demographic shift changed how ONE DC does it work?
DM: The decline in the Black population is a direct result of mass displacement and extreme housing costs. Most affordable housing in DC is not low-cost housing. Another issue is the job section where service and hospitality jobs are abundant but are low-wage jobs. The DC government unwisely supported the development of five Walmarts in DC. Two are in Ward 8 with the highest poverty rate and highest unemployment rate. This is how structural inequity, racism, and poverty reveal themselves in the creation of bad low-paying work. The changing demographics provided an opportunity for ONE DC to focus on Wards 5,6,7, and 8, with strong Black communities and other communities in these wards experiencing economic disinvestment. The influx of many young whites has provided an opportunity to do more solidarity organizing and political education with the new residents.
KR: There has been a lot of direct action and organizing work that has taken place across the country since the grand jury verdicts in Ferguson and New York. How can Black communities effective address the continuing loss of lives at the hands of police?
DM: Many ONE DC members and staff are involved with the Stop Police Terror Project DC movement and the #BlackLivesMatters movement. ONE DC and other Black organizing nonprofits and allies demand more community control of public safety. We must effectively organize for the demilitarization of the DC police force. We have started by testifying at public hearings on police “jump-outs” in Southeast DC. Furthermore, we must also demand that police report to a citizen council and organize a campaign to remove weapons from the hands of all police officers. Finally, we need to do more popular and political education on how the police use public spaces to control Black lives in our communities.
KR: What can we do to increase and sustain Black-led organizing work in the future?
DM: ONE DC wants to resume its organizing school. The Combahee Drylongso School was initiated when Larry Kressley at Public Welfare Foundation made a special gift to ONE DC as part of our transition from Manna. Over the course of three years, the school trained 71 people of all cultures with a special emphasis on Black DC residents and ONE DC members. ONE DC also thinks that Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity needs significant financial support to do on a national level what ONE DC wants to do on a local level — build a sustainable and transformative organizing school to create organizers who do this work as a form of a healthy and happy life style.