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Originally published here

Approximately 12 million Africans were shipped as slaves to the Americas as part of the Transatlantic Slave Trade . With its major access to water, particularly the James River and Manchester Docks, the city of Richmond, Virginia was a major beneficiary of this four-century revenue stream. In fact, for thirty years during the 1800’s these water resources made Richmond the largest source of enslaved Africans on the East Coast. The institution known as slavery became the very definition of life for a person of color in Richmond.

On November 11, 2013 Mayor Dwight C. Jones announced a revitalization plan for one of Richmond’s key downtown areas. This neighborhood borders the same water region that brought so much revenue to the city just two centuries ago. The two-year plan would construct a state-of-the-art minor league ballpark, 750 new apartments, a hotel, and a full-service Kroger grocery store. More importantly, it will bring 1,400 jobs with 400 of them being permanent. The latter point is important because Richmond has a 26% poverty rate. Even when excluding a robust student population the city’s poverty rate is still 7 percentage points higher than the national level. So permanently reducing this rate is a major goal for city leadership. Half of the city’s 205,000 residents are African-American. Unfortunately, so are one-third of the impoverished citizens, according to the 2010 American Community Survey. The impoverished are still slaves to dire circumstances. The city is still linked to its past.

In 2011, Mayor Jones developed an anti-poverty commission that was tasked with creating a long-term poverty reduction plan. Within two years there was a concrete plan with tangible, and sustainable, initiatives with the ability to show real improvements to poverty in the city. The phrases education and workforce development, job creation, transportation, and healthy communities embrace new meaning as focus areas positioned to dissolve poverty. As a Fuse Corps Fellow with the City of Richmond I am assigned to create and install initiatives that will immediately begin the process without moving away from the committee’s long-term goals. I am focusing on five key projects:

•Aunt Bertha
•EatFresh Richmond
•Local Car-Sharing
•Social Entrepreneurship Partnerships
•Superman (an internal colloquialism only)

Although each project restructures the way citizens interact with life-altering resources my favorite two projects by far are Aunt Bertha and Superman.

Aunt Bertha is a web application that consolidates all Central-Virginia human services organizations that provide free, or reduced-fee, services directly to the community. Richmond will lead the application’s first regional delivery approach. By partnering with ConnectVA, Hanover County, and the City of Petersburg we have developed a platform to exponentially provide more resources to our citizens without increasing expenses to our local departments of Social Services. These resources will help equalize the quality of life in Richmond neighborhoods by exposing citizens to help in areas where they were unaware of available resources. Although our custom site is still in demo phase it currently can be viewed here.

Superman tackles poverty by using STEM-H to partner low-income youth with those from economically advantaged schools while teaching them how to develop apps that solve their community issues. They will then be taught entrepreneurship by selling the apps. As a dual-enrollment course this local university partnership will also give these students exposure to college life. Ultimately, these first generation students will remove themselves from poverty by gaining the main conduit in the cycle…education.

Slavery ended in 1865. The educational and economical issues that followed still exist in Richmond. The current anti-poverty plan will correct this generational setback over the next 20 plus years. With the Fuse Corps projects I am leading I look to help the citizens transition towards a better life in one year. Now, that’s breaking the poverty cycle.