1.5 million French and 1 American Flood the Streets of Paris in Display of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité
1.5 million French and 1 American Flood the Streets of Paris
in Display of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité
January 14, 2015
PARIS — The French Capital City has been convulsed by the Revolution of 1789, the Paris Commune of 1871 and the student riots of 1968. On Monday, January 11, those previous moments in history hovered in the air as an estimated, and unprecedented, 1.5 million people gathered in the streets of Paris, 3.7 million across all of the country of France, in an apolitical showing of national solidarity.
I had arrived in Paris for a two-week sojourn with my older “adopted” French brother and his family less than 48 hours before the outbreak of a 3-day siege of terrorism gripped the city. Plans to go on neighborhood walking tours, wander through English-language bookstores, ride every line of the Métro and explore the city’s nightlife faded into insignificance. Coming from America, which has seen its share of nationwide civil unrest in recent months, I suddenly no longer was another sterile and predictably patterned tourist.
Sunday morning, I awoke early and dressed for a jog. All public transportation had been declared free for everyone for the day, something I’ve never experienced in Washington City. Arriving at Anvers on the Métro, my goal was to make it to the foot of Sacré-Cœur. Without audio aid of the Rocky theme song, I nevertheless took the direct path — not one of the picturesque stairwells on the side rues — the stairs seen in the postcards. From Boulevard de la Chapelle to Rue de Cardinal DuBois, slowly ascending at what felt like a 90 degree incline, it took me between three and four minutes by the count of my internal clock. Ready to fall out with one of more set of stairs to go, seeing a cavalcade of historic American and European cars from Ford Mustangs to a 1958 Chevrolet Impala to a gold-colored Rolls Royce rounding the corner, I mustered the will power to make it.
Reaching the last step, I momentarily close my eyes and thrust my arms triumphantly into the panoramic sky overlooking Paris, nearly thwacking the camera out of the hand of an Asian tourist in the process. I apologize in French and English before taking a seat on the edge of the top step to take in the iconic view.
Although it’s not yet ten in the morning, tourists led by guides speaking at least four different languages are within sight and sound. Taking in the sights and a moment of recovery, I spring to my feet and begin a jog in and through the back streets of Montmartre. I run down to the Cimetière Saint-Vincent, back over to the short Rue Muller and then get back on the Metro without needing a billet or to hop or push my way through as so many young men I’ve witnessed do.
At around 2pm Alex and I depart from Asnieres on his V-Max motorcyle. As we cross the city limits into the 17th arrondissement we find ourselves falling in with a small fleet of scooters heading in the same direction. Alex leads the group for a moment or two, his motorcyle being the most powerful machine in the phalanx. Moving deeper into Paris the throngs of people are becoming denser. We are now joined by a cluster of young men and women on pedal bikes reminiscent of the scene from E.T. where Elliot and his friends evade the police through a construction site and eventually take flight, crossing the Moon, the internationally recongnizable image of the movie.
As we pass Opéra de Paris we are still obeying traffic lights, but it has become obvious with a million people descending on the streets that the French have not planned for any measure crowd control. Up ahead the conflux of participants on foot are mingling with those on wheels. For a block or two we negotiate our way through the crowd, many people admiring Alex’s bike.
“I think this is as close as we will get,” Alex says. I hop off the bike. All along the sidewalk and curb scooters are parked haphazardly. At the corner of Rue Volta and Rue de Réaumur Alex parks his motorcycle. Just a short walk away on Rue Volta is one of the oldest houses in Paris, built in 1644.
We wait for Alex’s sister and her group of friends to arrive. The cellular network is in and out, mostly out. Alex uses my phone to call his sister and gets through. He relays our street coordinates. As we wait for the Husson family delegation to arrive, I look around for people to interview. I see a young man standing with his girlfriend. “Bonjour, do you speak English?” The young man answers in the affirmative. I tell him I’m from the United States and a journalist. “Why are you here today?” I ask
“Thank you to the U.S.A.,” 29 year-old Teddy Notari, who works in advertising, says. “This march represents everything we’ve been fighting for. We support Republican values. We can vote but we must be in the streets. It shows …,” he looks to his girlfriend as they exchange some words in French. They both interlock their fingers and squeeze their hands together. “The march shows we are united.” They look at each other in agreement.
“It was really unexpected. It’s great to see that even in bad times we can come together,” Teddy says. “The last time I saw this was when we won the World Cup. Yes, we can party, but we are also engaged in what is going on. This is for France and for freedom. No matter what your beliefs, what your religion is, it’s OK. It’s not about the differences.”
Two women stand on the curb as the legion of demonstrators begins to thicken. They both work as flight attendants for Air France. “Why are you here today?”
“We are here because it’s not too late for being aware of what’s happening in the world,” says Isabelle Gegard. “We are supporting the families of the dead and the freedom of the press. The whole world is threatened by terrorism and intolerance. From the tiniest villages and places to the biggest cities in France everyone is marching. It’s happening all over the world. It’s worldwide now. We had to be here.”
An American flag is being waved in the small plaza outside the Arts et Métiers Métro station, just across the street from where we stand. “I have to go interview whoever’s waving that flag,” I say already taking steps towards the flag.
“I won’t leave until you come back,” Alex says.
Making my way against the tide of a thick flow of humanity, I reach the flag bearer. A number of people are taking pictures of the star-spangled banner. I move out of the way of an older Parisian woman who looks like she emerged from a time capsule from the 1970’s, fiddling with her archaic camera.
Wrapped in a French flag is a dark-haired woman, her arms extended, waving the American flag. I nudge my way to within speaking range.
“Are you an American?” I ask, over a spontaneous rendition of Le Marseillaise, the French national anthem. She is not. Shorena Asabasvili is a 30 year-old student in Paris from Georgia, not the state but the former member of the Soviet bloc in the Black Sea region.
“It is a day of international solidarity. The USA has always been with us. I have an American friend who couldn’t be here. I wave the flag for her.” The crush of people are moving against as I stand still and try to ask more questions. While getting dragged away by the crowd I take a couple photos as a brief gust of wind catches the flag.
I fight my way back to Alex. His sister and her friends have now found arrived. The crowd appears to be reaching a surge as the people continue to come. They are no longer large groups. They have turned into one totality.
We join the current and walk a half-block on Rue de Réaumur before the gridlock decelerates us to a shuffle. By the next block we have slowed considerably. Up ahead the crowd is merging left with another group. Our pace has slowed to a near standstill.
A trio of women in front of me pose for a selfie. I stand directly behind them unable to move. I point my finger at the camera. We’re close enough that I can see myself in the screen of their phone. After snapping the picture they turn around smiling and speaking in French. I ask if they speak English. No. One of them says they speak Spanish. “Que es importante mass personas en la calle?” I ask.
“Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité,” the young woman responds in French.
“I feel like we are in a game of Tetris,” I say to Alex. “You mean Space Invaders,” he says with a laugh, pointing to one of the hundreds of pieces of street art that started appearing throughout the city nearly two decades ago.
By now the mountain of people that we’re packed into makes a left turn onto Rue du Temple. In forty minutes we move as a mass just one block. Two groups have somehow wedged themselves between Alex and I. He yells something back to me. Any effort to say, “Pardon a moi,” have long since been abandoned. I politely elbow my through, saying, “Excuse me. American coming through. America coming through. Excuse me.”
“We go the bar!” Alex says pointing his finger to an intersection 30 yards away. We move through the crowd and settle on the sidewalk at Rue de Temple and rue Dupetit-Thouars.
Streams of people have begun to retreat course. Alex is looking at his phone, “Republique Square is closed off. They are not letting anymore people in.” It is now around 4:45 in the late afternoon. The bar we are standing next to is not taking anymore customers. The decision is made to make our way back to Alex’s bike.
Advancement of the crowd is now in almost full reverse. The revolutionary statement made by the citizens of France as the world watched has been made. As we walk back along Rue du Temple I capture a photo of Alex and his sister, both native Parisians, marching in solidarity.
When we get back to the motorcycle, Alex checks his phone for news on the demonstration. “They are reporting more than 1 and a half million people, and 1 American, in the streets of Paris,” he says with a grin. The sun is setting for the day, the sky over Paris is radiant with an amber glow.
Parisians Demonstrate their Resolve;
Plans for Sunday rally expected to draw a million
January 10, 2015
PARIS – As CNN correspondents Chris Cuomo and Anderson Cooper take cues from their producers, a memorial of flowers, lit candles and messages of remembrance serves as a backdrop. A Parisian sits steps away unassumingly holding up a sign that simply reads, “CATHOS MUSULMANS JUiFS ATHEES -> TOUS UNiS POUR LA LiBERTE’ l THE FRENCH ARE NOT AFRAID.”
Paul Voillenin, a 30 year-old personal trainer, lives across the street from the crime scene. On the morning of the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, Voillenin said he didn’t react for 15 minutes after hearing the salvo of gunshots. “I then turned on my television and watched for 2 hours without moving. I was not crying. I don’t know how to describe the feeling. When I went out, I see that my family text me. I can’t answer. I’m too shocked.”
When I ask Voillenin if freedom of the press is why he is holding his sign, he says, “I don’t want to speak about freedom of the press. I want to speak about freedom globally, freedom of religion, freedom of thinking. The freedom of the press starts with freedom of thinking.”
In recent days I’ve gathered up a number of daily newspapers. Upon seeing the street memorial for the slain journalists and cartoonists on the cover of Le Parisien, I decided I’d pay my respects and show solidarity with my presence. Upon emerging from the Richard- Lenoir Métro station in the 11th arrondissement, a number of news vans lined the boulevard directly ahead. I made a right onto Passage Sainte-Anne Popincourt, camera crews from English-speaking countries flanked by both sides of the backstreet. On the building to the left a Star Wars-themed street art poster sandwiched three heads of Darth Vader between the platform proclamation, “VOTE DARKSIDE.”
Walking towards the street memorial where around sixty people are gathered I keep pace with an older gentleman in a wheelchair. He looks towards me and I towards him. I clench my jaw and offer the universal American sign of silent acknowledgement; the downward head nod.
“Êtes-vous américain?,” he asks. With my best effort at pronunciation I respond, “Oui, un allié de l’Amérique.” He looks me up and down, and responds in kind with a downward head nod before he says, “Merci de votre présence ici.”
Approaching the street memorial I think of my friend in Washington City, Lloyd Wolf, who for years has documented folk art that spontaneously manifests to remember homicide victims. I’ve previously travelled with Lloyd, an ancient ghost of mystic antiquity with a camera in hand and truth in his heart who gets love on the most treacherous and forgotten tilts, as he scouts the city. The human instinct to consecrate the dead knows no geo-political, cultural, ethnic or religious boundaries. It is primal.
Coming upon the assemblage, I take out my iPhone and begin taking photos. Prominent among the flowers, candles, and notes are stencils and pens, signifying intellectual and artistic defiance. Looking around at the personages gathered on this small slab of Paris, there are French of African, Asiatic, European and Arab abstraction. A handful of tissues are drawn and eyes moist but no hysteria. No betrayal of emotion. Resolute resolve. A young woman kneels to lay a bouquet of flowers. Her countenance is distant. She says a couple of words, touches her forehead, the middle of her chest, then runs her hand from left to right before rising.
Not a Biblical scholar, a verse from King James comes to me: 1 Samuel, 23:33, “And blessed be thy advice, and blessed be thou, which hast kept me this day from coming to shed blood, and from avenging myself with mine own hand.”
Moving closer in I take out a business card and write on the back, “VIVE LA FRANCE! & LIBERTE United States of America.” I place it among the candles and colored pencils.
Impromptu flyers are taped to the surrounding building walls including a crude drawing of what appears to be a caricature of Mohammed bent over with a pencil inserted into his rectum. The caption read, “un crayon … oui mais dans l fion” which translates to “pencil … yes but in the ass.”
(Later that evening I watch French prime time television with Alex. A show comes on, Les Guignols de l’info, which Alex says is very popular in France for satirizing the day’s news. The characters are all puppets. A fictitious commercial portrays a Middle Eastern youth with acne. A jihadist swoops in and says something of the effect to solve your acne you can become a suicide bomber. A young man is quickly recruited and wraps himself in explosives before detonating himself in what appears to be a Middle Eastern marketplace. The ever vigilant and hypocritical police state of “political correctness” which dominates American media, has yet to cross the Atlantic. That is an observation, not a value judgement.)
Another flyer replicates a previous cover of Charlie Hebdo taking aim at the maniacal Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who in 2004 is found to have been hiding his assets with Riggs Bank. Less than two years later Riggs Bank, which financed the 1867 Purchase of Alaska and is known as the local bank of the Presidents, is no more. On the cover Pinochet is in his military garb, a CIA card in his cover, hunched over a bowl of chili being served in an upside down field helmet with his right hand holding a human bone, his left holding a miniature body he appears poised to consume.
On a fence barricading Rue Nicolas Appert a cardboard sign shows a man with no nationality draped in all black holding a red assault weapon pointing at a smiling French citizen who points back with a pencil in their hand. “De quel cote est la foi?” meaning “Which side is faith?”
Wedged between the standard and indelible Parisian street sign for Rue Nicolas Appert and the building it adorns hangs a “JE SUIS CHARLIE” signs that has become ubiquitous throughout the Western world. (Afro-Franco Kevin Seraphin wore a shirt with the phrase before last night’s Wizards game in Washington City.) This sign is unlike others I’ve seen in the streets of Paris. On its four corners it is sealed to cardboard by an “SNL” sticker and underneath the sign it reads “Syndicat National des Journalistes.”
On a wall with more flyers are 3X5 notecards with messages written in colorful marker and sealed against the elements with tape. The cards are from people all over the world, with a heavy concentration of Americans.
“Prayers and hope for a world where acceptance and respect lead to peace and love. Blessed be. Nancy USA.”
“We will remember those heros (sic) who have not died in vain, but as martyrs to Narrow minds who will not be allowed to limit our freedom of speech. Je suis Charlie! June, USA.”
Other messages are written by citizens of Alabama, Indiana, Washington state, Michigan and Austin, Texas.
Withstanding another day of ultra violence, the collective consciousness of the citizens of Paris remains stoic and resolute. The city of lights has been darkened by outbreaks of extremist violence in recent memory, an older Parisian woman told me. The French are a tough breed. The German occupation during World War II is not forgotten. Translated from English to French resilience is résistance, a foundational characteristic of Paris and its citizens.
A rally Sunday is expected to draw nearly a million people along a route more than a mile long, stretching from Place de la Nation to Place de la République. I will be there and plan to speak with as many friends in liberty that I can.
Thoughts and Reportage from an American in Paris on the “French 9/11”
January 8, 2015
Paris – On the morning of January 7th I left my friend’s apartment with him promptly at 7:30 as he began his commute to his job at the American School in Paris. The previous night we’d connected at the American Library in Paris at 10 Rue du Général Camou in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower where I gave my first international book talk, followed by a number of Belgian beers and consequential conversation. As we walked down his street to the local Métro a dense fog blanketed the city.
Within a stop or two we were at Saint-Lazere, a labyrinth of a transfer station where four city subway lines and the suburban trains converge. My friend and I went our separate ways, planning to rendezvous the next day. I caught the 13th ligne out to Gabriel Peri, near its terminus, in Asnieres where my Parisian brother and his family are hosting me at their modest chateau.
The adrenaline having slowly worn off by tiredness, I spoke with my brother’s wife and young children before they went off to school. After having chocolat choud and bread, I made my way upstairs to my guestroom. I checked my computer for the latest news on the Ward 8 special election and responded to emails before showering and catching up on a couple hours of sleep.
By early afternoon friends from the States were sending emails, text messages and posting to my Facebook about a terrorist attack at a newspaper in Paris and telling me to stay safe. I gave a cursory reading of the headlines. I got dressed to go out and went downstairs. My brother’s wife was sitting in the kitchen, reading from her phone, “Alesand sends a message that you should stay away from Paris today.”
I reassured her I would be all right, not mentioning covering Anacostia in Washington City over the past half-decade has installed a sense of journalistic solopism; that violence can and does pop off at any moment is part of the beat.
I disembarked from the Anvers station, one of 86 remaining Art Nouveau exits designed by Hector Guimard, and made a right on Rue du Steinkerque, taking quick photos and personal notes on changes within Montmartre. The ascending street leading to the Square Louise Michel was flowing with tourists speaking the many languages of the world, seemingly unaware of any reason to show concern or fear. A game of three-card molly appeared and disappeared within a blink of an eye, two clean cardboard boxes stacked on the curb the only evidence left.
In the middle of the corner of Steinkerque and D’orsel a man fashioned in yellow stood with a Subway banner reaching four feet above his head, directing tourists to the franchise sandwich shop just three doors up, within clear eyeshot of his pointing finger. In no more than a minute he assisted the gastronomic decision of at least two couples.
I turned right and negotiated past numerous garment shops consumed by all manners of people caressing hundreds of styles, textures, colors and thread counts of cloth. With Reine and Dreyfus Déballage Du Marché Saint Pierre behind me I turned onto a side street, rue André del Sarte where my mission was to visit small boutique shop, Isakin, that I’d visited last year.
Behind the counter was one of the shop’s co-owners Thomas Traore, a 38 year-old Parisian, who recognized me from before. “Did you hear what happened?” he asked.
I said I did and asked what it meant to him. Explaining that one of the cartoonists killed had a popular show on French television during his youth, Thomas said, “Anyone between 40 years old and 30 years grew up with him. His show instructed us and inspired us how to draw and do art. It’s a tragedy.” He looked down at the counter, unable to explain. “This is a point of departure.”
A young man of 22, Tagand Theo’, who described himself as a “mon ami du quartier” had his back to the wall, immersed in his smartphone. He took a step forward. “Look at this,” he said, bringing up the uncensored video of a police officer being shot in the head. Thomas came from behind the counter and leaned in to watch the raw footage. The sound of powerful gunfire ricocheted through the local streetwear boutique. Tagand ran his finger left and the video repeated. “He was holding up his hands saying, ‘I’m dead. I’m dead,’ and they still killed him.”
After watching once or twice more, both men stepped back. At this time I had my notepad out and asked, “What does this mean for Paris and for France as a country?”
“It’s the French 9/11,” Thomas said without hesitation. “It’s about more than a newspaper. It’s about our symbols of freedom. This a war mindset. There was a cartoon’s in yesterday’s paper. There was a book coming out today. This is war mode. This is a big surprise to everyone. It’s real. Which camp are you in? This is the last day you can be in the middle. It’s another era of our history. It’s the start of something. Don’t think it’s about right or wrong. That’s not the question. It’s about liberty. Will France continue to be a country of liberty?”
Listening intently, Tagand opined, “This is very bad for the country. People will fear each other more. Don’t ask what the government will do. Ask how this happened? This is about everyday life and the right to live it how you want. This is a very sad day for all of Paris.”
With a loud thud a young Middle Eastern or North African man walked into the glass facade. He came through the door, rubbing his head and speaking French (of which I have no fluency.) “He’s saying he has just shaved his beard to avoid anymore police brutality,” Thomas said.
In this intimate corner of Paris in the 18th arrondissement, where social and cultural interaction between new and old world Parisians, influenced by American and European street culture, is lucid, honest and visceral the violence was condemned absolutely.
Up the street and around the corner on Rue du Prince Albert a young graphic and screen print designer was looking at a 1975 edition of Charlie Hebdo with a cover drawing of the French President stretching his head between his legs to half-submerge it in his posterior. “I was hurt personally today. It’s been a hard day.”
Later that night I was on the back of a motorcycle as my big brother led us through the back streets of Montmartre, where he grew up as a child and adolescent. Talking over a beer, he said he plans to attend a rally on Saturday, the first time he’s ever done so. “For once, France is unified.”
Riding back to his home over the Seine we passed a number of men and women on scooters and bikes that had affixed, “Je Suis Charlie” to the back of their jackets.
“Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia” mentioned by The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education
Thank you to The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education for the mention, alongside fellow Douglass scholar Celeste-Marie Bernier, appropriately.
Yesterday news ricocheted throughout the Washington, DC metropolitan area that Chuck Brown, the “Godfather of Go-Go,” had passed away at 75.
In the upcoming issue of Washington History I contribute a review of “The Beat: Go-Go Music from Washington, DC” which gives respect and acknowledgment to the Godfather. I feel that the timing of the review is fortuitous rather than tragic. In my eyes and to my ears, Rare Essence has now had the torch passed their way.
This morning people on the street and Metro were chattering about the Godfather. Taking a page from our friend Lloyd Wolf, (the “Godfather of DC Street Memorials”) and his amazing work at “Washington’s Other Monuments” we caught this street memorial for “Chuck” at 7th & T Street NW.
“They didn’t know we take vacations down here in Barry Farm?” local activist Gregory Baldwin scoffed. A crosstown listener might have assumed he was referring to some out of town jaunt, but in this forgotten locale it is a statement about the neighborhood’s reduced homicide rate.
According to Homicide Watch DC, a website that tracks every murder in the city, Barry Farm had not seen a murder this year until the third week of October. In one of the most historically dangerous neighborhoods of the District this is a palpable sign of progress.
Recent Deaths Mask Progress
In the early morning of October 17, 25-year-old Antonio Headspeth was found unconscious in the rear of the 1100 block of Stevens Road SE. He had been shot and was pronounced dead on the scene. Police have yet to charge anyone with Headspeth’s murder.
On the evening of October 20, Jodie Ward was found unconscious in a child’s bedroom in a home in the 1100 block of Eaton Road. The 30-year-old male had been stabbed and was pronounced dead on the scene. Police arrested 30-year-old Felicia Jones.
“It’s a struggling community that has tried hard to improve itself, and has had some successes. These two new slayings have shattered the peace,” says Lloyd Wolf, an intrepid photographer whose blog documents street memorials throughout the city. “I trust that proper resources will arise from within the neighborhood, and within the city, to properly honor the lives that have been lost,” he adds.
Before the two October murders, the last homicide in Barry Farm occurred in November 2010. Within recent memory annual neighborhood murder statistics tended towards the double digits.
The sweeping reduction in Barry Farm’s murder rate, in part, reflects citywide reductions over the past decade. In the last two years there have been less than 150 homicides recorded citywide.
Since 2004, when Mayor Williams identified Barry Farm as one of 14 “hot spots,” the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) has moved aggressively to police the neighborhood. In 2006, the neighborhood, first inhabited and built by freedmen in the 1860s, was chosen as one of four New Communities, meaning the eventual transformation of its 600 plus public housing units within Barry Farm and Park Chester into more than 1200 mixed-use units. [ED Note: This refers to a previous redevelopment plan. For latest visit here.]
In November 2007, under Mayor Fenty, Barry Farm became a “Focused Improvement Area” which sought to combine community policing with improved social service delivery. Barry Farm has now been designated a “focus area” by MPD according to Joel Maupin, Commander of the Seventh District, which includes Barry Farm.
“Our officers have really bonded with the community,” says Maupin citing a recent meeting in which the police received a standing ovation from residents. “We have a constant level of patrol, 24 hours a day,” Maupin confirms.
Regardless, Baldwin, a repeat survivor of gun violence, is not waiting around.
A Survivor Gives Back
Baldwin, a repeat survivor of gun violence, employs bold tactics to deliver a message of non-violence to the residents of Barry Farm. Speaking to local youth, Baldwin often lifts up his shirt to expose the colostomy bag that filters his excrement.
“There’s a shock value,” says Tendani Mpulubusi, a multi-discipline artist and activist in Barry Farm. “Even those that might be desensitized because of all they’ve seen. Greg’s story hits them. It’s a reality check.”
Through Helping Hands Inc., his own non-profit and with the supported of the United Black Fund, Baldwin backs his words with actions. At a recently organized back-to-school event, he distributed 100 backpacks to area youth. This month, he is preparing for his annual Thanksgiving-themed banquet held on the neighborhood’s basketball courts where talent from the region and National Basketball Association compete in the summer’s Goodman League.
“We need something we can put our hands on,” says Mike Taylor, Director of the Barry Farm Recreation Center on Sumner Road. With the pending re-development of Barry Farm there is “a lot of anxiety in the community,” Taylor points out.
To allay resident’s fears, community activists like Baldwin need to be given greater access to city officials to relay popular concerns. “He can get the people involved,” Taylor says.
Baldwin’s efforts have drawn the attention of city officials. Mayor Vince Gray recently filmed a Public Service Announcement with Baldwin, who walked him through the neighborhood making recommendations on how the city can improve services.
“The coffin [Baldwin] carries in his truck helps send a message that resonates,” Maupin says.
To those familiar and unfamiliar with the everyday struggles of Historic Anacostia, news that the proprietor of Uniontown Bar & Grill has been charged in a federal drug trafficking case in Maryland and Texas couldn’t hit harder. The thunderclap of attention is a calamitous development for a neighborhood still on the periphery of a revitalized city.
“Uniontown,” says Charles Wilson, President of the Historic Anacostia Block Association, “is a glimmer of hope. Even though this had nothing to with Anacostia people are going to wonder.”
From within the ranks of Historic Anacostia’s working class community and emerging group of young professionals, Uniontown’s opening earlier this year and subsequent success was solid evidence the neighborhood could support commerce. Unlike crosstown areas where craft brew abundantly flows from the taps of multiple watering holes, Uniontown thrived because of its exclusivity as the only traditional sit-down restaurant in the neighborhood. Senior officials from the Department of Homeland Security rubbed elbows with community activists, both cheerful to toast a symbol of progress in the neighborhood. Cognizant of Anacostia’s unrealized retail potential, many hoped Uniontown’s success would attract new investment.
Multiple sources in the neighborhood said they feel baffled, confused, and betrayed. Apparently, Natasha Dasher, the owner, had been seen as recently as Friday at the restaurant. Two separate Facebook pages have been active within the past week, and their Twitter was last updated Friday.
“I don’t know anything about that,” said the Saturday night bar tender when asked about the staff reaction to the news of Dasher’s drug trafficking arrest. Speaking over a packed house, he said a reporter from The Post had been in the restaurant waiting for Dasher earlier that afternoon, but left after she hadn’t shown. The bar tender did not know the reason for the reporter’s presence.
Over the past year there was no indication of any insidious activity at Uniontown, at the corner of Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue and W Streets SE. Officers from the Seventh District were a regular presence. During a visit earlier this year a patron took his beer outside, drinking illegally on the street. He was kindly asked to leave.
Further down Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, towards the intersection with Good Hope Road, one of the area’s many vacant buildings speaks softly, yet presciently. “WE CAN JUST PRETEND” is etched on a glass panel, since broken, of a former furniture store. Similar phrases adorn buildings throughout the area’s commercial district.
When the facts emerge and circumstances are more fully explained, the worst could be confirmed against the better hopes of the community. Let’s hope not.
Jessica Adair has come a long from battling her twin sister, Jazmine, one-on-one everyday at the asphalt basketball courts behind Charles Hart Middle School on Mississippi Avenue SE. Last month, Adair was instrumental in helping the Minnesota Lynx defeat the Atlanta Dream to win their first WNBA Championship before a national broadcast audience.
Before her freshmen year at Anacostia Senior High School, Adair, already 6 feet tall, was playing a summer league game at Jelleff Boys & Girls Club off Wisconsin Avenue. “She grabbed a rebound above the rim and I saw the potential,” says Coach Frank Briscoe, who has been a surrogate father for Adair and her twin sister.
Under Briscoe, the Adair twins, Jessica with her finesse and Jazmine with her aggressiveness, became a dominating inside presence at Anacostia. Although, a DCIAA championship evaded them twice, they were recruited by the top women’s college basketball programs in the country. Committed to staying together, they decided to attend George Washington University.
While at GWU, Jessica was a three-time All-Atlantic Ten First Team Selection and made two NCAA tournament appearances. After graduating in 2009, she was drafted by the Phoenix Mercury in the 3rd round of the WNBA Draft. Less than two months later, four days before training camp began, Jessica was waived.
Out of basketball, she stayed in DC and worked for a non-profit while working out and playing pick-up games on the side. Unexpectedly, she received a call from Joe McKeown, her coach for her first three years at GWU, with an offer to help her get a second chance at the WNBA. McKeown had given the coach of the Minnesota Lynx her first professional coaching job and asked her to giver Adair a shot.
On April 22, 2010 Adair joined the Minnesota Lynx’s training camp roster. Less than three weeks later she was, again, waived. Cheryl Reeve, the Lynx’s coach, had a message, “You never know when the call is going to come so stay on top of it,” remembers Adair. “The call came and I was ready.”
While at GWU, Adair, who stands 6’4, was susceptible to chicken tenders and fries from the popular Wingos. As a senior her playing weight was 270. To contend in the WNBA she would have to lose weight. With a change in diet and strenuous training sessions, Adair dropped nearly 40 pounds.
Three days after signing a contract with the Lynx, on August 22, 2010, she made her WNBA debut against the Indiana Fever with 5 points and 8 rebounds. The Lynx did not make the playoffs, but Adair received an opportunity to play overseas where many WNBA players go during the offseason.
Last winter, Adair played for Samsun in the Women’s Turkish League. In 25 games, she averaged 14.4 points and 10.3 rebounds. She plans to return to Turkey this winter where she enjoys “learning about new cultures.”
After flourishing abroad, Adair was again invited to the Lynx’s training camp. Now just over 200 pounds, Adair competed for a roster spot and made the team as the back-up center. Throughout the season she did the dirty work – boxing out on defense, grabbing offensive rebounds, blocking shots – and slowly moved up the depth chart. Coach Reeve told The Star Tribune, “And the reason that happened is she plays so hard and plays with so much energy. Teammates love playing with her.”
On August 18, Adair made her homecoming as the Lynx defeated the Mystics at the Verizon Center. She grabbed 2 offensive rebounds and had 6 points in twelve minutes. “We talked after the game,” says Coach Briscoe. “It was like watching your child play at the highest level. There’s no greater feeling.”
“Growing up in DC and playing for Coach Briscoe impacted my game,” says Adair, “by making me tough with a bit of elegance. I like to call it aggression in its most elegant form.”
The Lynx finished the season as the best team in the Western Conference and made the playoffs for the first time in seven years. In 31 regular season games, Adair averaged more than 4 points and nearly 3 rebounds.
In the playoffs she stepped up as the Lynx coasted into the Finals. In game 2 of the Finals, Adair had her best game with 13 points, 2 rebounds, and 3 blocks. The Lynx won in a three game sweep.
“Winning a championship is a dream come true,” Adair said. “I’ve been working so hard to get it for years. The feeling is indescribable,”
“Washington, DC has innateness,” says Coach Briscoe. “Once someone goes to the next level they become the pride of Washington, DC. Jessica persevered and did it the right way.”
Tonight at the Goethe Institut the 38th DC Historical Studies Conference kicks off with a lecture on “Lincoln’s Citadel: The Civil War in Washington, DC” by Professor Winkle of University of Nebraska-Lincoln. MLK Library will host events Friday and Saturday. Tours will take place Saturday and Sunday.
Coming from long distances and nearby a robust and diverse group of presenters will touch on the city’s political, social, and culture throughout all periods of Washington’s history. A number of sessions touch on some aspect of the Civil War. A networking event Friday lunchtime offers an opportunity to meet authors, members of community groups, and leaders of some of the leading institutions that preserve city history such as the Jewish Historical Society of Washington.
Some unique presentations this year cover archaeology, the Sesquicentennial of the Metropolitan Police Department, escaped slaves in the DC during the Civil War, neighborhoods, and online resources, including H-DC, to dive into the city’s history.
A once in a century book sale will be hosted by the Friends of the Washingtoniana Division on Friday and Saturday. Separate tours on Saturday will explore Lafayette Square and prohibition. A Sunday tour will visit the Civil War defenses of Washington.
All are welcome to participate, engage, and discuss Washington’s history. Registration is $20. Events will continue through Sunday.
If you don’t know the name Dwayne Betts, you should.
Betts is a native of Suitland, Md. and author of A Question of Freedom and a recent collection of poems. He is currently at Harvard on fellowship working on a non-fiction work about the criminal justice system. Betts has been featured in the pages of national newspapers and magazines and featured on national television. The young family man is an emerging voice in American letters.
Tomorrow evening, Friday, October 14th, he will speak along with The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisa Coates at the Folger Elizabeth Library at 201 East Capitol Street SE. E. Ethelbert Miller will moderate. Tickets are only $15 (if you call on the phone — 202.544.7707).
See you there.