How to Support the Black Community in DC Right Now
From nonprofits and community organizations to restaurants and bookstores.
In the wake of the tragic death of George Floyd and nationwide protests against police brutality, there are many ways to take action and support the Black community. In Washington DC, specifically, protesters are struggling to make their voices heard and it’s become more important than ever to safely support local organizations and businesses in your own backyard.
“We need to carry on our culture and having many Black-owned businesses and Black-owned restaurants is a way to hang onto the history of African Americans,” says Virginia Ali, who has run Ben’s Chili Bowl for more than 60 years -- including during the 1968 riots in DC after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. “We need to keep the culture alive for the next generation and the generation after that.”
Being the nation’s capital, DC has dozens of educational resources and nonprofit organizations committed to fighting for change, and the city’s Black-owned restaurants and shops are the lifeblood of this city. From places to donate and resources for becoming a better ally to shops where you can use your cash to support local businesses, here are some of the ways you can make a difference right now.
Donate to nonprofits and community efforts
One of the first ways to make a difference is to donate, and there are many charitable organizations you can give to in DC. The District’s branches of Black Lives Matter, the ACLU, and the NAACP all support the local efforts of these national organizations and are a good place to start when considering where to contribute funds.
As people take to the streets to protest police brutality, there are ways to support protesters even if you can’t be there yourself. Follow DC’s chapter of Black Lives Matter and FreedomFightersDC on Twitter to keep up with donation requests and information about where to drop off supplies like masks, medical supplies, and water.
DC eliminated cash bail about three years ago, but you can still donate to local bail funds for protesters like Maryland’s Baltimore Action Legal Team, Virginia’s Richmond Community Bail Fund, or the national Bail Project -- which seeks to combat mass incarceration by paying bail for low-income individuals and disrupting the bail system.
As the only museum in the country dedicated exclusively to chronicling the history of African Americans, it’s a great time to become a member of the National Museum of African American History & Culture or donate. While doors are currently closed, you can commit to education by checking out the museum’s newly released online portal Talking About Race, which has online exercises, podcasts, videos, and dozens of other resources for all ages to learn about topics like being anti-racist, providing self care, and the history of race.
Order takeout and delivery and support restaurant funds
While many of DC’s bars and restaurants remain closed due to COVID-19, some are now open for outdoor dining and many others are offering takeout and delivery -- including many Black-owned bars and restaurants.
You can still order half-smokes for takeout and delivery from Ben’s Chili Bowl, the more than 60-year-old institution that sits on what was formerly known as Black Broadway. Plus if you donate to the Ben’s Chili Bowl Foundation, you’ll be funding various community organizations like scholarship funds, employment support organizations, and more.
“The outpouring of love that we’ve gotten has been amazing,” Ali said. “It’s a hard time for small businesses in this country. Period. So it’s important to support all of them the best we can.”
Oohhs and Aahhs is a staple of soul food on U Street that has ramped up takeout and delivery from its two locations and DCity Smokehouse has some of the best BBQ in the District if you’re lacking a grill to cook up your favorites at home. Plus, Turning Natural juice bar and Nuvegan have some healthy options available to-go as well.
You can buy calming tea, aromatherapy, and other spices from Calabash Tea and Tonic through its online store. Or grab takeout cocktails from Service Bar DC and stock your wine rack with bottles from Cork Wine Bar.
These options barely scratch the surface of all the great eateries in DC, so don’t stop there. Here’s a list of more than 80 Black-owned bars and restaurants in the DMV area that are still open for business compiled by Anela Malik, who runs the food blog, Feed the Malik. If you want even more ways to commit to supporting Black-owned restaurants, download the Eat Okra app to get a map of all the spots in DC and check it the next time you want to order takeout. And when you do order, remember to tip generously so you can support employees, too.
Shop at local Black-owned businesses
Shoppe Black is a great resource for ensuring your everyday purchasing decisions are diverse no matter what city you’re in. But here are some bookstores, boutiques, and other shops right in your backyard where you can use your spending power to support the local community.
If you’re looking to add to your bookshelf, check out Mahogany Books. The store specializes in selling books for all age groups written by, for, or about people of the African Diaspora, and it stocks a great selection of anti-racist reads. You can still order books online to be shipped across the country or call the bookstore at 202-844-2062 to order books you can pick up at its Anacostia location. Sankofa has a similar mission, and you can still shop from its online store or watch videos from a lecture series it previously hosted in-store. You can also shop from the collection at Loyalty Bookstore, which normally has two locations open in Silver Spring and Petworth, through Bookshop.
Brown Beauty Co-Op offers hair care, skincare, and makeup all designed with people of color in mind, and the Dupont Circle store is currently open for pickup or online shopping. Lettie Gooch is a women’s boutique that sells a mix of emerging designers and more well-known clothing makers, while Nubian Hueman has an online store for men, women, and children featuring nearly 500 artists and designers from around the world. And if you want to translate your social activism into your wardrobe, check out District of Clothing for clothing emblazoned with messages like “common purpose” and “trust black women.”
Lee’s Flower Shop has been a staple of U Street for 75 years and remains open today, so you can order flower arrangements for pickup or delivery across the country online. And Frères Branchiaux Candle Co. is an artisanal, 100% vegan candle company that sells candles, snuffers, and room sprays through its online store. The company was started by three brothers all under the age of 14 so you’ll be supporting young Black entrepreneurs with every purchase, plus they donate 10% of their profits to area homeless shelters.
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