Data for Black Lives is a movement of activists, organizers, and mathematicians committed to the mission of using data science to create concrete and measurable change in the lives of Black people. Our blog aims to provide insights into our work by highlighting our research, organizing, and policy updates across all programs of our organization.

Our Hub program is one of the key ways we put our mission into praxis. In this blog, we highlight our DMV Hub.

We spoke with Data for Black Lives’ DMV (D4BL DMV) project lead, Kevin Lubin and Meron Wondwosen with Law for Black Lives DC (L4BLDC) about the creation of their new Legal Directory for DC area residents.

Meron, an attorney and community organizer, was born in Ethiopia and raised in the Washington DC area. She has been working on social justice issues impacting her community since her late teens. When asked what brought her to this work, she said, “Like many Black women, I am drawn to this community of work because we owe it to ourselves and our children to bring forth our vision of a more just, more free, happier, and equitable world.”

Kevin, a data science consultant, grew up in Philly and has lived in DC for the last four years. Kevin was attracted to Data for Black Lives because the mission of the organization is directly related to the work that Kevin does on a daily basis. He was particularly interested in being part of an organization that works towards ensuring that artificial intelligence and machine learning do not continue marginalizing Black communities. Kevin wants to contribute to seeing those tools provide benefits instead.

Kevin described the opportunity presented by L4BLDC to co-design the database, as a way to “harness the DMV Hub’s technical skills to build and host the directory online so that the community can easily access it.”

Meron was clear about her hopes for the database. “Our community faces many barriers, and access to legal services . . . While this directory isn't a panacea, we hope it will serve as yet another step towards providing another necessary resource for our community.” The directory outlines various legal services available in Washington, D.C.

Meron and Kevin also addressed challenges that were amplified during the pandemic.

Kevin spoke about the challenges of organizing a Hub during the pandemic.

“The pandemic has been particularly challenging for our hub because it started as we were beginning to define the structure of the hub and build relationships with hub members. We were forced to adapt to find ways to continue building community with members.” The DMV Hub organized virtual watch parties, trivia nights and a COVID panel to respond to the crises they were facing.

Meron spoke of some of the ways L4BLDC and the DMV Hub worked to overcome those challenges out of necessity.

“The pandemic has exposed what was always present (albeit in the background for many not in our communities)— the structural racism which has made access to services including legal and healthcare nearly impossible for Black residents in DC, especially our communities east of the Anacostia River.

The pandemic also highlighted that help from outside our community isn’t coming! It is up to all of us in our community to work to ensure that all of us, especially those who are most vulnerable, have access to these services. Throughout the years we have seen that there are too many gaps in the services, whether healthcare or legal assistance, provided in our communities or that these services are not available. One way that Law For Black Lives DC and Data for Black Lives DMV thought to close this gap is through this directory.

In many ways the fact that this project was conceived and brought to fruition during a pandemic speaks to both our organization’s commitment to improving the lives of Black people.

Many of us who worked on this project have never met in person. We were introduced on Zoom, conceived this project online and diligently worked through email, Slack, Zoom and phone texts to develop this database.”

The DMV Hub and L4BLDC database was conceived with an audience in mind. They are hoping that the database offers resources for a diverse audience of Black community members in the DC area. This includes people of African descent across the spectrum, those indigenous to Washington D.C, those who identify as African American, as well as immigrants from countries in the Caribbean as well African countries.

They are also hoping that the database fulfills a need these communities may have for access to free, trusted, and vetted legal services across a variety of disciplines.

Beyond providing much needed resources, the DMV Hub and L4BLDC take very seriously the root causes that lead to these needs in the Black community. Meron addressed the ways that the database engages with Black life.

“Black communities have a disproportionate amount of contact with the police and the courts. Oftentimes lack of information regarding the availability of free or reduced legal services exacerbates the contact by leaving community members more vulnerable to abuse by a system which is hostile to their needs.

It is our hope that the database will serve as a resource and highlights legal services which are available in Washington DC.

We also hope the database will encourage community members to further engage with L4BLDC and D4BL DMV, learn more about our organizations and work with us in determining how we can leverage our skills in service of Black people in the Washington D.C. area.”

Kevin and Meron believe that the successful impact of this database can be measured by an increase in the number of Black people in the DMV area receiving access to free or reduced legal services in Washington, D.C., and they hope to continue working together to see that vision and more into fruition.

Meron describes this ambition eloquently:

“The collaboration between D4BL DMV and L4BLDC demonstrates that when two organizations function with the same underlying principle, we can create concrete and measurable change in the lives of Black people and empower our communities in the struggle for liberation and justice.

Through our collective work, even in the midst of a pandemic, we have proven that we can conceive of an idea, gather a group from two distinct organizations, harness our various skills and resources and complete a project.

This gives me hope that if we can work together–many of us having never met in person–then the prospect for future initiatives is certainly bright and I look forward to further collaborations between our two organizations.”

Kevin shared Meron’s sentiment:

“I hope that efforts such as this one can build the relationship between the two organizations so that we can get to a place where we can collaborate on larger scale community-centered projects and collaborate on projects on a regular basis.

I have truly appreciated the joy that working on this directory has brought me and the project team. After long days of full-time work at our respective companies and organizations, it was great to see the project team engaged during our meetings, comfortable enough to ask questions and challenge each other, and excited to learn new topics. Whether it was web development, data management best practices, community outreach, or website accessibility tools, the project team was happy to learn and provide their time and talents so that we could achieve the shared goal of increasing access to legal services for Black people in the DMV area.”

This blog is not just about the creation of a database, but may it also serve as a microcosm for how we engage with one another in the service of our communities.

Ending with Meron’s words:

“. . . we were all bound together by our deep abiding interest in combating anti-Black racism, developing concrete solutions in service of our communities and working towards a more just and equitable world.”

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