Tag Archives: Washington DC

D.C. Mayor Gray Hosts Historic Ramadan Iftar Dinner

By Talib I. Karim, Health & Tech Writer

For version published in the Afro American: http://www.afro.com/sections/news/Washington/story.htm?storyid=75938

D.C. Mayor Gray welcomed scores of Muslim and non-Muslims to the Wilson Building, which he called “the people’s house,” for a Ramadan Iftar (Courtesy Photo/Lateef Magnum)

On Aug. 17,  2012, the last Friday of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) hosted an Iftar dinner at the Wilson Building.  Joining the Mayor in presenting this event was the D.C. Muslim Democratic Caucus along with a distinguished list of co-hosts including the Council on American Islamic Relations, the Red Toque Café, and Real Halal, LLC.

Iftar is an Arabic word, that literally means “breakfast.” Traditionally it’s known as the meal Muslims enjoy at sunset following a day of fasting. During Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, Muslims are obligated to avoid eating, drinking, and sexual relations from the early morning, when the sun begins to rise, until it sets. The fasting requirement is relaxed for those who are traveling, sick, and, for women, during menstruation.

Since the Islamic calendar is lunar based, the months rotate throughout the official calendar year. This year, Ramadan was observed during the summer, from late July to Aug. 18. As the first late-summer occurrence of Ramadan in forty years, Muslims were required to fast for upwards of 15 hours per day. Thus, the Iftar meal can be a big deal and is often celebrated along with family, neighbors, and friends.

With an estimated 10 percent to 20 percent of District residents having at least one Muslim family member, literally thousands of Iftar feasts were held in D.C. this Ramadan. These gatherings took place in homes, businesses, embassies, and even in government buildings like the White House. At the Iftar hosted by President Obama, he spoke about importance of religious freedom both here and globally, the strength of Muslim women, and the gains for Muslims over the past year since the Arab Spring.

A week after the president’s remarks at the White House, Gray at the Wilson Building Iftar observed, “Regardless of your race, culture or religious beliefs, the principles of fasting, reflection and discipline — which are upheld by the Muslim community year-round and especially in this season of Ramadan — are practices from which everyone can benefit.”

“We could all use a little more discipline,” Gray said, possibly referring to some who’ve called on the veteran politician to leave office early in light of the investigation into his successful 2010 campaign.

The mayor left his guests with a prayer. “I pray that this time of celebration will remind us that we can only advance as a city and as a nation together when each of us values the contributions of the other and respects their beliefs and their practices…[M]ay we all draw upon the strength of our diversity so that we can be closer, more effective and more powerful than any of the things that would otherwise tear us apart.”

The event drew over 100 Muslim business, religious, and political leaders along with distinguished non-Muslims like Franklin Garcia, chairman of the D.C. Latino Democratic Caucus. “I was pleased to see that the Muslim community was not only so well organized but they are a growing minority in the [District],” said Garcia. “You had a sense in the room that everyone was there for… a purpose that was very serious and meaningful. “The Latino community can learn from the Muslim community about the way they organized themselves,” Garcia added.

Garcia also had some words of wisdom for his Muslim hosts, who earlier in the Iftar program, observed that of the over 150 judges in D.C., not a single one is Muslim, while Maryland has at least two Muslims sitting as judges. “What you do is organize, organize,” to change this fact urged Garcia.

Several members of the Mayor’s cabinet attended his Iftar including DCRA Director Nick Majett; Interim Health Director Dr. Saul Levin and Ron Linton, chairman of the D.C. Taxicab Commission.

While not the first such Iftar hosted by a D.C. mayor, event organizers described the event as the first to be both widely publicized and attended.

Imam Talib Shareef, who leads one of the largest Muslim congregations in the District of Columbia, saluted the Mayor on hosting one of the best Iftars he’d attended throughout the month of fasting. “This Iftar was mainly for the common people,” said Imam Shareef.  Concerning the Mayor’s political troubles, Imam Shareef said, “We support good works, the Mayor has done some good works and that’s what we see…like a ground breaking we attended for senior housing….We don’t pay as much attention to things we don’t see.”   Imam Shareef’s advice for the Mayor was “[J]ust keep doing good works and… this [the Iftar] was an example of good works for the people.”


DC Finds “Cure” for Ending Mother-Child HIV Transmissions, No HIV Births Since ’09

By Talib I. Karim, Health & Tech Writer
For version published in theGrio.com: http://thegrio.com/2012/07/26/no-children-born-with-hiv-in-d-c-since-09/

The District of Columbia has cut mother-baby HIV transmission from 36 per year in 1989 to zero from 2009-2011 (photo courtesy/communityoperationsmile.org).









Of the more than 600,000 residents of the District of Columbia, 2.7 percent are living with HIV, according to a new D.C. government report. This rate is double the amount needed for a disease to be called an “epidemic” by the World Health Organization.

Despite that fact, no children have been born with HIV since 2009.

The D.C. government’s success in eliminating HIV births, down from a high of more than three per month, is an “awesome” achievement, says Dr. Marta Gwen of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the CDC, mother-to-child HIV transmission can occur anytime during pregnancy, labor, delivery or breastfeeding.

Between 1988 and 1990, when AIDS cases were at their highest levels, Dr. Gwen led a team that tested thousands of delivering moms in D.C. over a given 12-month period. It was discovered that, of those tested, 121 mothers and an estimated 36 newborn babies were HIV-positive.

HIV infections of African-American mothers continue to rise

While D.C. celebrates no new HIV births, children remain at risk due to the increasing infection rates among women, particularly African-American women. In D.C., the rates of HIV infection among all women have doubled in the past four years to 12.1 percent — that’s more than one in every ten women.

Nationally, African-American women are among the highest group of newly infected persons. In 2009, of all women newly diagnosed with HIV, 57 percent were African-American — 15 times that of Caucasian women, and over three times the rate among Hispanic and Latina women.

Unlike years past, when intravenous drug use was the primary cause of HIV infection among women of color, most acquire HIV through heterosexual sex. Yet, fear remains a hindrance for some African-American women.

“There is still a large amount of stigma surrounding HIV in women of color,” says Chip Lewis, spokesperson with D.C.’s Whitman-Walker AIDS clinic. That makes it much less likely that large amounts of women of color will get tested or treated for HIV, he adds.

Winning formula, good investment

Eradicating mother-to-child HIV transmission hasn’t been easy, says Dr. Gregory Pappas, director of D.C.’s HIV/AIDS administration.

“Physicians have worked to provide HIV tests to all new moms in the District. Those found to be positive are immediately put on medication,” explains Pappas, who credits D.C. Mayor Vince Gray for ensuring that mothers and anyone else who tests positive can receive antiretroviral medication for free. These new medicines have allowed mothers to reduce their HIV viral loads so low that it is highly unlikely for them to transmit HIV to their infants.

Babies of infected mothers are also being delivered by C-section, which “eliminates much of the blood that causes mother-infant transmission,” states Pappas. And, after birth, HIV-positive mothers in D.C. are often instructed to feed their infants baby formula rather than breast milk.

Finding a solution for perinatal HIV transmission hasn’t been cheap. A lifetime pack of antiretroviral drugs costs the D.C. government $400,000 per person, notes Dr. Pappas.

But, the investment by the District makes sense according to Larry Warren, CEO of Howard University Hospital, who regularly delivered babies with HIV in the 1980s and 1990s. In terms of D.C.’s unique HIV prevention strategy, Warren asserts “I don’t believe the District of Columbia has a peer [that rivals us] in this country.”

Talib I. Karim manages a Washington, D.C.-based law firm that assists clients in resolving health, family, and construction-related legal issues.  In addition to writing for his blog, talibkarim.com, Talib hosts a weekly talk show in Washington, D.C.

Business Leaders Focused on DC Development, Not Scandals

By Talib I. Karim, Tech & Health Writer

Business leaders see economic, real estate development as focus for District, not minor scandals involving Mayor, Council Chair (Photo/courtesy brightestyoungthings.com)










Recent revelations from a federal probe into the successful 2010 campaign of DC Mayor Vincent M. Gray (D), has dogged the veteran community organizer-turned-politician.  An investigation is also scrutinizing Kwame Brown (D) for leasing two costly SUVs in the days before he became Chairman of the DC Council.

While these stories may dominate the attention of mainstream media outlets, District business leaders have another focus, development.

According to the Gray administration, there is currently more than $60 billion in the District’s development pipeline for residential, commercial, retail and institutional projects.  This development is on pace with the trend over the past decade to ensure that development dollars are spread beyond the District’s downtown commercial hub into all sectors of culturally diverse DC, in line with the Gray “One City” theme.

The results have been astounding.

In just a decade, scores of new developments have cropped up around town, from the blocks of new businesses near the New York Avenue Metro Station (the North of Massachusetts Avenue (NOMA) district) to 14th Street/Columbia Heights project, and even the National’s Ballpark/Riverfront community.  With this development has come an infusion of over 50,000 new District residents, taxpayers.

Keeping up the pace of local development is what’s on the mind of Andy Shallal, a popular political activist, developer and owner of the popular Busboys and Poets restaurant chain.  Shallal, a Ward 1 resident, believes that scandals of politicians “are a mere distraction to issues that face Washingtonians; good schools, jobs, development…issues that pertain to improving the quality of life for all district residents.”

Shallal doesn’t completely dismiss the alleged missteps of local officials and understands that “such publicity cannot be good for the city.” Nonetheless, the noted restaurateur believes that extended media preoccupation of local scandal news amounts to “silly sensationalism” and could “set back any kind of further autonomy” that he and other activists and business leaders alike realize is essential for the District to truly prosper.

Darrin Davis, a young real estate professional and broker-owner of Anacostia River Realty, based “east of the river” views claims surrounding Gray and Brown as, at worst, “minor errors in judgment and shouldn’t be distracting from the city’s goals.”

For Davis, the real news is what’s in store for the District’s east of the Anacostia River neighborhoods, places he describes as “hidden jewels.”  Davis has recently seen new interest, particularly in Ward 7, by entrepreneurs and investors seeking to get ahead of the curve.  The fact that Ward 7 is home to three of the District’s top political leaders, Mayor Gray, Council Chair Brown, and incumbent Councilmember Yvette Alexander (D) is only a plus contends Davis.

The chance to spur development recently bought a delegation of District leaders to the International Council of Shopping Center (ICSC) convention in Las Vegas, considered by many as the world’s largest annual development industry networking and deal-making event.  Each year, the retail conference brings together more than 30,000 government officials, retailers, developers and other professionals from around the world.

At the ICSC conference, DC Council Chairman Brown, outside the microscope of DC mainstream news outlets, met with a variety of “retailers and developers to discuss various projects” in all of the District’s eight wards, said the first-term Council Chairman.  Now that he’s back, Brown hopes to take advantage of contacts that he and other local leaders made at ICSC to lure “retailers and developers who seriously intend to invest in the District.”

Brown is particularly bullish about development in his home Ward, noting several economic development priorities in Ward 7, such as the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor, the 4800 Nannie Helen Burroughs project, and the long-anticipated redevelopment of the Penn-BranchShopping Center.

According to Brown, Ward 7 and other underserved neighborhoods are perfect opportunities for developers.  Ward 7, in particular, Brown notes, includes more than 75,000 residents who all require basic services and amenities that currently are not offered, including grocery stores, restaurants, and entertainment options.  “In my view, smart investors will realize these gaps in the market and deliver these services to Ward 7 residents,” stated Brown.

There is a balancing act in promoting new business in the District, while making sure that development does not come as a detriment to local, home-grown enterprises.

To achieve this balance, Victor Hoskins, the Gray administration’s Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development leads a staff charged with ensuring a level playing field.  Hoskins and his team are supported by District laws that require at least 51% of jobs created by new development projects to be given to DC residents.

Hoskins’ team has also built a webportal for developers that “allows anyone interested in doing business in the District to determine what incentives they would be eligible for depending on their location within the District.”

In sum, the word on DC’s main street is development, not scandal.


To contact the writer, email him at tkarim@teclawgroup.com.

Ending Food Deserts, Cure to DC Region’s Obesity Epedimic Say Experts

By Talib I. Karim, Esq.
Health Writer

Health advocates such as Dr. Maya Rockeymoore, PhD. suggest that understanding the connections between food deserts, what families eat at home, and obesity can reveal solutions to chronic illnesses. (courtesy/NOW)

In this season of festivities, the Washington region is awash in receptions, dinners, and other gatherings prominently featuring pork and other fatty meats, high cholesterol starches and alcohol of all varieties.

Health experts are concerned that this ritualistic feeding frenzy is a contributing factor to the increasing rates of obesity and diabetes, particularly amongst youth, African Americans, and Latinos in the nation’s capitol.

While the District’s adult obesity rate is just 21.7 percent (the country’s second lowest), when the overweight rate is combined with the rate of obesity, according to a report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 54.8 percent of District residents fall within this pool.  This data also suggests that over a third of the District’s adults who are either African American or low income (earning less than $15,000 per year) are obese. Moreover, the report indicates that 1 in 5 children and adolescents in the District are obese, more than quadruple the rate two generations ago.

While the quantity of food consumed and physical exercise are major contributors to the rise of obesity in the nation’s capitol, some point to the absence of healthy food sources as a critical factor in the District’s poor health stats.

Experts such as Dr. Maya Rockeymoore, who directs Leadership for Healthy Communities, refers to the scarcity of quality foods, particularly in African American and Latino neighborhoods as “healthy food deserts.”  While a desert usually conjures up images of sand, blowing shrubs, and plains with no water, Rockeymoore and other health advocates correctly describe “food deserts” as places where fresh food (produce and meats) is difficult to obtain. However, in these same neighborhoods,fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s, Chinese carry-outs, and small convenience stores are abundant.  Rockeymoore contends these calorie-rich, but vitamin-deficient food sources in low income neighborhoods are particular contributors to the disproportionate health issues faced by residents of these communities.

A study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that more than 23 million Americans, including 6.5 million children, live in low-income urban and rural neighborhoods where the closest supermarket is more than one mile from their homes.

What causes food desertification?

While it would be nice to have healthy food options like Whole Foods, Wegmans, and Trader Joe’s in every neighborhood in the District, the fact of the matter is that “certain stores tend not to locate in area where they don’t believe there is adequate demand by their target customers to support them,” says Rockeymoore.

Perhaps not by coincidence, Rockeymoore’s husband, Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) last year co-sponsored H.R. 4971, Greening Food Deserts Act, to encourage local agricultural production and increase the availability of fresh food in urban areas.

Such efforts by federal and local stakeholders to change the healthy food landscape can make a difference asserts Rockeymoore.

On the federal level, Rockeymoore points to the Healthy Food Financing Initiative a cornerstone of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! project.  In partnership with three key Departments: Treasury, USDA, and Health and Human Services, the initiative seeks to leverage public funds to support private efforts to bring healthy foods to underserved communities.  Thus far, at least one local non-profit, the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation, was awarded $800,000 to build a 20,000 square foot full-service grocery store in DC’s Ward 8.

Rockeymoore also highlights the work of the Healthy Corner Stores Network, a private coalition  dedicated to increasing the availability and sales of healthy, affordable foods through small-scale stores in underserved communities.  According to Rockeymoore, through this initiative, some DC area convenience stores have received funding to purchase refrigerators that allow them to carry and sale fresh fruits and vegetables to otherwise underserved.

The arts community also has a role to play according to Philadelphia-based  natural foods culinary consultant turned filmmaker, Joni Bishop.  Recently, Bishop produced “The Corner Store Kids,” a short documentary that reveals the connection between deplorable school lunches in inner cities and the relationship between students and the corner store.  Bishop’s next project called Get Schooled, is an initiative that seeks to inspire hip-hip artists to take charge of promoting healthy and clean eating, losing weight.

This is the type of effort that advocates like Rockeymoore believe is essential to address the healthy food deserts that permeate neighborhoods in the District, Maryland, and Virginia alike.

Rockeymoore predicts that even after the area’s new planned Walmart stores are constructed, there are still going to be a dearth of full-scale supermarkets.  Thus, she suggests innovative strategies for bringing fresh and healthy foods into food deserts such as community gardens, farmers’ markets, and mobile healthy food trucks and carts.

Perhaps this holistic approach to replacing food deserts with healthy food valleys, and making healthy eating fresh and cool, will be the right formula for ending obesity and other chronic diseases that plague African Americans and low income residents of the Washington region in the new year and beyond.