On April 25, over 100 people from the local community gathered downtown to listen as DC LISC Director Oramenta Newsome moderated a debate between four scholars on gentrification.
These were not the usual local experts- rather these were four middle school student “scholars” who had proven that they could take a complicated topic and defend a point of view.
The “scholars”, as they are referred to, are part of the Higher Achievement Program (HAP), a non-profit organization that takes academically motivated but unchallenged middle school students and provides rigorous academic and behavioral instruction through their afterschool programs and summer academy. The scholars featured at the debate were selected through a competitive process that included more than 100 participants.
LISC has worked with HAP over the past few years, providing loan and grant funds to help facilitate a move into their own facility in the Capital Hill Neighborhood and to help expand recruitment and outreach of students.
Arguing that gentrification helps clean up the neighborhood, Tamika Sanders, 11 years old, cited the benefits that new investment can bring to distressed areas, such as rehabilitated housing and more diversity.
On the other side of the fence was Maria Galarce Crain, 12, who noted that new investment increases the cost of housing and rent and can force long time residents to move out of the City.
Both sides of the debate were skillfully presented as the four scholars stated and defended their positions. When given the opportunity to ask questions, the audience took advantage and shot some tough challenges to the scholars who responded with confidence and well-informed opinions.
In the end, both sides conceded to the complicated nature of the issue and amiably agreed to disagree.