Posted by Tyra Fennell in Blog, Politics, Tyra's World on October 28, 2015
The $600-900k price point for a condo located at the once notoriously dangerous intersection of Otis Place and 13th Street stunned me. Otis Place?
My first night in my hometown, Washington, DC aka Chocolate City aka the DMW was wonderful. It was a long over due, planned extended trip to not only reconnect with my family and friends but also re-acquaint myself with the DC arts and culture scene in preparation for the long-term plan to expand my non-profit, Imprint.City to other cities. During this trip I was able to attend the Million March, meet up with the DC Burning Man chapter where I met Black Burners as well as head East of the River to tour Marvin Gaye Park and discuss a possible art project collaboration. Needless to say, it was an action packed trip.
After hugging my mom and dad, the first person I wanted to reconnect with was my DC #bff “Kim”. Kim is the type of tall, super badass, professional woman I am accustomed to encountering in DC. It felt like a sigh of relief being around her. We decided to meet up for after work libations and take in Chocolate City but ran into one problem. Where did all the chocolate go? As we walked around U Street, the neighborhood where I was raised, we hopped from bar to restaurant, when I quickly noticed there were no Howard University students hosting poetry readings at the restaurant Busboys and Poets, Marvin’s, a local bar, suddenly looked like a scene from the sitcom Friends and Ben’s Chili Bowl had not one African American patron. What happened?
Similar to my adopted hometown of San Francisco and more specifically my neighborhood, the once majority African American, Bayview Hunters Point, DC has experienced the accelerated outmigration of the African Americans, who gave the city its moniker, Chocolate City. Not only is the city’s African American population shrinking — almost half of the District’s 650,000 residents are white — but it’s getting harder to be Black in the nation’s capital with increasing acts of violence against African Americans from law enforcement agents, prompted by complaints from new white residents. Most recently, a white woman called the police when an African American youth made her feel uncomfortable at a bank. In response, the police almost broke the youth’s arm during his arrest, only to conclude he was not only innocent but an upstanding, student at the University of the District of Columbia.
DC Don’t Stand for Dodge City
I grew up in Washington, DC in the 80s and 90s, smack dab in the middle of the crack era. This was a time when crack heads and drug dealers were so common in my neighborhood, we knew them by name. My parents were young and trying to build their careers and raise my sister and I but needless to say, like many young people, they could not afford to live in the most pristine neighborhoods. They purchased their first home near the 8th and H Street, NE, an area best known as the sight of the 1968 riots after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. This neighborhood reminds me most of the Bayview and only recently have those burned out stores from the riots been fully repaired. Now that the neighborhood is starting to look like today’s Williamsburg, Brooklyn, many of the Black families are no longer there.
I thought about how much my old neighborhood looked like a foreign country as I sat in a café with $4 coffee, selling art books filled with the works by Keith Haring and Andy Warhol. I had such conflicting feelings because I enjoyed all of the accouterments offered in the new neighborhood including coffee shops and vegan restaurants but could not help but feel equally depressed. Where were all the Black folk?
When I was in middle school, my family moved to Columbia Heights, DC and my parents were finally able to move from their small house on H Street
to a bigger house and slightly better neighborhood. Shortly after relocating, I started school at Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Georgetown, one of the most prestigious areas on D.C. My days at Ellington were rigorous because academic hours were from 8-2pm then on to arts classes and rehearsals. I would sometimes take the bus home at 11pm. I never felt unsafe in any neighborhood I lived in as a child but knew how to be cautious. One of my strategies was to always walk in the middle of the street at night to avoid both rats and any person who may try to grab or rob me. I still do this today.
Through it all my parents weathered to storms in my neighborhood, attending community meetings, mentoring youth in the neighborhood and teaching my sister and I the importance of civic engagement. Many of our neighbors fought tirelessly along side them to uplift the community and did so with a myriad of challenges including city neglect, high crime, violence and poor school choices. Now, that the neighborhood is buzzing with cafes, eateries and performing arts venues and the average home price edging towards a million dollars, where did the people who fought, putting their blood, sweat and tears into changing our neighborhood for the better go? And, more important, who were all the new amenities and development really for?
My parents are the last African Americans on their block and receive visits and phone calls daily from developers who want to purchase there in tact brownstone. Most of the other homes on the block have been chopped up into over priced condos, clearly structured for young, singles and couples with no children and the price all but eliminates any chance of most low and middle income families which disproportionally include communities of color. Sound familiar Bay Area?
My parents are happy with their new, safer neighborhood. They are able to finally walk to a movie theater or grab breakfast at the local coffee shop but they do miss their neighbors.