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.”
“I’m not a Ford man, but I’ll sure sell ‘em,” said Dale Richardson, owner of the recently re-opened Astro Motors at 2226 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE. With a hunter green model 1996 Corvette Coupe on his desk, Richardson confirms he’s a Chevy man. “That’s what I was raised up on. My dad had Chevys.”
Standing outside his small hut of an office, motorists passing up and down Maple View Place frequently wave their hands. Back in business, back in his element, any speculation on the death of Astro Motors has been greatly exaggerated; Richardson is back in Historic Anacostia.
A native of Smithfield, North Carolina, Richardson came to Anacostia when he was 21, an apprentice to his older brother, Gerald. “He was right out of the country and made it up here,” remembers Richardson, one of thousands of expatriated North Carolinians in the city. “Everything I learned in the business I learned from him.” In May of 1988, Gerald passed away in a car accident in his native state.
“When a person can’t afford to go through a new dealer, because their credit is as bad as all-out doors, they come see me,” Richard said understating his unique role in the community’s working class economy. With cars selling from $500 to $5000, Richardson requires a down payment of half the amount and then finances in-house. Avoiding auctions or personal sales, Richardson’s acquisitions are primarily from trade-ins at regionally known dealerships such as Rosenthal Chevrolet or Koons Fords. He estimates he sells about 300 cars a year.
“He’s a born negotiator,” divulges Cynthia Speed. “Some people have that skill to sell, Bubba’s got that.” To Speed and others that know Richardson, he’s affectionately called “Bubba” due to his country roots. Over their years of friendship, Speed, who knew Richardson’s late brother, says she’s bought no less than five cars from him. “They were good cars. They ran just fine till I dogged ‘em out.”
Fenty Crackdown on Used Car Dealers
For years, Astro Motors operated at 2001 MLK until the Fenty administration’s crackdown on used car lots had ricocheting restrictive consequences for shops like Richardson’s.
“They said the dealers were eyesores,” Richardson said while confirming the real intent was directed at unscrupulous dealerships. “But in the process they made it so you can only have 4 cars in the front of your lot.” No matter the size of your space, unless there is a garage or warehouse on-site, DCRA strictly enforces the 4 car rule. (A recent ride up Georgia Avenue NW revealed this rule tightly followed by most dealers.)
Fenty’s well-intentioned, but some say overzealous, assault on used car lots included raising bond regulations. In a DCRA press release they admitted new regulations “may be making it impossible for many legitimate dealers to obtain the licenses they need to continue operating their used car lots.” The bond requirement was lowered to $25,000, in addition to the $25,000 bond required for a dealer license.
2226 MLK’s Used Car Historicity
According to conversations on the street and old City Directories, the lot at 2226 MLK has long supported car dealerships. Classified sections from mid-1950’s newspapers advertise a ’51 Mercury, ’51 Studebaker, ’53 Pontiac Chieftan De Luxe among others for sale at Colonial Oldsmobile Co., “open till 9” at 2226 Nichols Ave. SE.”
In the early 1970s, Alco Auto Sales was here; from the mid 1970s to early 1990s it was Columbia Motor Sales, followed by B&L Auto Sales in the late 1990s. An association with this lot and used car dealerships precedes an Anacostia that is near monolithically black. When Anacostia was majority white, this lot was a used car dealership.
Newcomers to old city neighborhoods tend to make value judgments about what businesses belong and do not, based on their own values, often adversarial to history. Richardson and Astro Motors have been integral parts of the community for the past three decades. With Anacostia seeking new development and investment, Astro Motors will continue to build anew on its decades of goodwill.
*Print version to be published in September East of the River. *
In the early months of his second term President Bill Clinton’s motorcade, returning to the White House from Andrews Air Force Base, barreled down Suitland Parkway, riding past the abandoned Sheridan Terrace public housing development. The sprawling 11 acre site with multiple buildings housing 183 units sat vacant. It had become the domain of drug dealers who sold to squatters scattered throughout the graffiti strewn buildings; in the parking lot were burnt out cars with out-of-state license plates.
Topographically defined by its rolling landscape that reaches inshore from the Anacostia River, the neighborhood bearing the river’s name has numerous hills and bluffs. In the 1960’s, the Sheridan Terrace public housing project, built on the hill overlooking Suitland Parkway, was constructed and “touted as urban dwellings with a suburban appeal.”
However, its location quickly proved problematic as issues with water drainage slowly began to deteriorate the units. By the early 1990’s less than 50 families remained; the last resident moved out in 1993.
According to local lore, President Clinton realized foreign dignitaries flying into Andrews Air Force Base would likely take the same route to downtown Washington, passing by Sheridan Terrace. Clinton did not want the site to mar the foreign leaders’ impressions of the nation’s capital and therefore, in 1997 the entire development was demolished.
For more than a decade the site sat as nothing more than a large pile of dirt until William C. Smith, well-known throughout East Washington, joined with Jackson Investment Co. and Union Temple Community Development Corporation to compete for HOPE VI funds being administered through the DC Housing Authority to redevelop the former Sheridan Terrace.
HOPE VI, a program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — an earlier phase of the program devoted funds to the redevelopment of the former Arthur Capper Carrollsburg Dwellings off M Street SE prior to the construction of the Nationals Stadium in 2006 — is a federal initiative that provides funds to develop sites of former public housing projects into mixed-income communities. Sheridan Terrace was the seventh such project in DC. Chicago is the only other city with a greater presence of Hope VI projects.
The ideology of HOPE VI focuses on defensible space, a concept of environmental design aimed at reducing crime and increasing neighborhood safety through the deliberate use of architectural design and new urbanism, a design concept promoting walkable neighborhoods made of mixed housing options that are connected to hubs of public transportation.
After three rounds of competition, the group led by WCS won a $20 million grant in 2007 to begin the first phase of the redevelopment of Sheridan Terrace, re-named Sheridan Station because of its proximity to the Anacostia metro station.
Sheridan Station, now within the area being branded as “CHASE” (Congress Heights, Anacostia, Saint Elizabeths), is located directly east of Sheridan Road, bound by Howard Road, Sayles Place, Bowen Place, Stanton Road, and Pomeroy Road.
To fully fund the first phase, estimated to cost $28.8 million, nearly $6 million in federal stimulus grants have also been provided. The total project has an estimated cost of $105 million; it is to be completed in four phases and will eventually include 344 units, of which 161, 48%, will be for sale and 183, 52%, for rent.
Sheridan Station’s 1st Phase
Lofts in the 1st phase of development will be available for rent this fall, 114 units are planned to come online, with 45 former residents expected to return. There are 8 different layouts across available efficiencies and 1 and 2 bedroom units. The for-sale townhomes and condominiums, with 3 bedrooms and 2.5 baths begin at $250,000 and $235,000, respectively. Units offer 9 foot ceilings with stainless steel Energy Star appliances, walk-in closets, wood laminate flooring, and a washer and dryer. For units that face Suitland Parkway, the portrait windows have been re-enforced to block out noise from the passing traffic.
“Aside from the design itself, which we believe to be sleek and urban while capitalizing on unique topography and sight lines, we have the advantage of location, location, location,” observed Carol Chatham, Vice President, Communications of William C. Smith + Co.
Breaking ground on May 10, 2010, WCS has remained tightly on schedule. Chatham points to “cooperation amongst financial partners, excellent consultants, and sub contractors” as the reason the project’s timeline has remained on pace.
“Sheridan Station is designed to do more than just uplift people. It will have an economic impact as well as improve housing options in the immediate area,” said Barry LeNoir, Chairperson of the Sheridan Station Hope VI Advisory Committee and President of the United Black Fund whose stand-alone building sits at the junction of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, Howard Road, and Sheridan Road.
Over the past 18 months LeNoir has been involved in the “interactive engagement process” of “getting former residents ready to participate” in the return to the site of their former homes. The group has held monthly meetings since the project’s inception and focused on identifying needed on-site amenities, which will include a 5,500 square foot health and wellness center, community meeting rooms, green rooftop garden and a computer lab.
“The Advisory Committee is an invaluable resource. Being able to hear from former residents of Sheridan Terrace and having the benefit of their experiences, both good and bad, is helping us create a sense of place,” says Chatham.
Impact on Anacostia
For long-time Anacostian and community activist Hannah Hawkins, Sheridan Station is wait-and-see. Known for her work with Children of Mine, an enrichment program for neighborhood children located in historic Anacostia, Hawkins began her program in the late 1980’s by transforming two empty apartments in Sheridan Terrace into a welcoming community space.
“I went there when no one else wanted to go,” remembers Hawkins, who moved her program to its current location on Mount View Place in May 1992. “I walked those corridors every day, morning, noon, and night.”
Hawkins warned that “we know William C. Smith has done a wonderful job re-developing that area and we don’t want to see it a year later declining.”
Citing the growing perception of “a great conflict” between homeowners and government subsidized renters at the mixed-use development Henson Ridge off of Alabama Avenue in Congress Heights, Hawkins said, “I hope and pray they will do major screening. I want everyone, the owners, the renters, the developers, and the community to benefit from this.”
With the recent opening of some notable small businesses on lower Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue and the continued growth of Anacostia’s arts district, WCS knows there is a newfound attention on the area.
“Many eyes are watching the Sheridan project,” says Chatham. “Success at Sheridan will encourage further development along the MLK corridor.”
“Retailers are always asking about new housing units when they are looking to invest in Anacostia,” said Stan Voudrie, Principal of Four Points LLC. “Sheridan Station, along with Matthews Memorial Terrace, is very positive for the neighborhood. High density helps to push commercial development and investment which everyone wants.”
* A print version of this article appears in July’s East of the River.*
After leaving yesterday’s Ward 8 Community Summit, I saw a sight that reminded me of my younger days coming up in the city’s uptown neighborhoods nearly a decade ago. The “white girl mafia” is not the same mafia of Soprano and Vito Corleone fame that we all know and love due to popular culture’s fawning romanticism. No, this mafia is quite different. Taking no prisoners, the “white girl mafia” has a well entrenched presence in uptown and cross-town city neighborhoods running social service agencies and non-profits out of their zealous zeal to make a difference in an environment they fall blinding in love with. Love can hurt, and some, including my man Quique, contend with experience as their irrefutable evidence that the cutthroat members of the “white girl mafia” do more to harm the communities they flock to than they do to help. Granted, we evaluate each case on its own merits. However, for tru (sic) city denizens they know like I know; when you see the white girl mafia coming to a block near you, you best run and hide because they undoubtedly will try to save you. We offer this short commentary as a warning to those it applies to (if you think it applies to you then it does); save yourselves somewhere else.
In actual factual reality, this group was not a group of tru (sic) white girl mafia members invading lower MLK Ave. SE. This group was from South Carolina in DC for a summer service project coordinated through and with the well-respected Monsignor East of St. Teresa Avila, the oldest Roman Catholic Church on the southside.
However, the foreshadowing and danger signs would only be ignored by a fool’s fool. To those that know, they know the “white girl mafia” has it sights set on new territory. The time for expansion and further empire building is now. Get ready as the “white girl mafia” makes it way to East Washington in full force.
Change is a slow process in Historic Anacostia. After years of false starts the opening of a sit-down restaurant has been anxiously awaited and is now finally imminent; Uniontown Bar and Grill at 2200 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue opens soon.
“I’ve always wanted to own a restaurant,” says generational Washingtonian and restaurant proprietor, Natasha Dasher. Admitting her fear of failure, Dasher says the story of Uniontown Bar and Grill keeps unfolding with a planned grand opening for the Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend this month.
Drawing its name from the past, before the Civil War, developers created Uniontown, a 100-acre grid of 700 rectangular lots in present-day Anacostia to be sold under restrictive convents prohibiting the sale, rental or lease of property to any Negro, Mulatto, or anyone of African or Irish descent, according to the National Park Service.
For many reasons, Uniontown as a suburb of downtown Washington never succeeded. Dasher, a successful marketing executive, had heard many of the “myths” surrounding Uniontown, and when she saw the photo essay at the United Planning Organization’s Anacostia Community Center on Good Hope Road, she knew it was the perfect name for her restaurant.
Mindful of historic preservation, Dasher has fitted the exterior of the building to resemble Burys General Store which stood at 2200 Nichols Avenue a century ago. To thematically keep the past in mind, Uniontown will have historic photos of the neighborhood displayed on its walls.
With 1,495 square feet, a 28 foot booth, seating for 33, 14 seats at the bar, two high-definition televisions of 55 and 42 inches, and an iPad, known as the “bar pad,” for customers to check their emails and play games, Uniontown is poised to be an intimate setting for a crowd on the north side of twenty-one years old.
Despite the potential lunch business from the DC Lottery, the Department of Housing and Community Development, and two banks, along with other businesses, located within a minute’s walk to Uniontown, Dasher is aware she is blazing a trail others have not ventured.
“Franchises are going to want to attack Anacostia. There is a large workforce here during the day, there is considerable foot traffic, and people cut through Anacostia on their way to and from work,” notes Dasher. “Profit is going to be here.”
“It will be a great place to have a cold glass of beer or a nice glass of wine after work,” says Bob Cannon, a project manager for the Department of Homeland Security and resident of Historic Anacostia. Cannon recently purchased a house on U Street.
A native of the Boston area, Cannon sees Uniontown becoming Anacostia’s own version of “Cheers”— where everybody knows your name.
Sensitive to and aware of the inner-workings of grassroots and long-time neighborhood stakeholders and institutions, Dasher reached out to Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners for support, as well as Union Temple Baptist Church on W Street.
“When she planned to open the restaurant she came and told me of her goals and we offered our support,” says Rev. Willie Wilson, the head pastor at Union Temple since March of 1973, who praised Dasher for her entrepreneurial spirit.
“Uniontown will help to change what has been a blighted and forgotten community in terms of certain services and amenities that other parts of the city have,” says Wilson.
“We have 70,000 citizens and the only place you can get food and a drink is Players. We need a place where people can drink, relax, and be merry,” said Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry as he unwound at Jordan’s, a popular restaurant on Barracks Row.
Planning to hire a staff of thirty-two to cover three shifts, Dasher has already received more than fifty resumes. With unemployment rates in East Washington the highest in the city, Uniontown will hire residents of Wards 7 and 8.
Although Uniontown will not be hosting live entertainment, there are plans for a DJ to spin from 10pm – 2am on Fridays and Saturdays. Planned hours are Sunday through Thursday, 11am – 9pm and Friday and Saturday, 11am – 2am. Off-duty MPD will serve as security.
For more information on Uniontown Bar and Grill visit www.utowndc.com.
“Wyoming,” Tevin Johnson, 15, quietly whispered to Malcolm Ware, 16, on a recent Saturday morning as they sat with audience members of “It’s Academic,” in WRC-TV’s studio in upper NW Washington. “It’s Academic” is the longest continuously running television quiz show ever according to The Guinness Book of World Records.
“Mississippi,” answered the team on stage.
“No, I’m sorry. Cheyenne is the capital of Wyoming,” said Mac McGarry, the show’s host for every one of its fifty years. McGarry has challenged more than 20,000 contestants and asked more than 200,000 questions in his years as host.
Tevin and Malcolm, members of the Academies at Anacostia’s “It’s Academic” team exchanged reassuring glances, indicating their unspoken confidence that they will not be intimidated or unprepared when Anacostia makes its first appearance on the show in seven years.
While students, teachers, principals, and, even, chancellors have come and gone over the past half-century within the city’s school system, “It’s Academic” has remained a constant.
“It’s Academic is now a community institution with many schools doing their own spin-offs and off-air tournaments. It has seeped into the culture,” says Susan Altman, daughter of Sophie Altman, the creative spirit of the show more than a half century ago. “People respond to competition as it encourages a quest for knowledge.”
Math teacher, Ryan Benjamin, is the genesis of Anacostia’s return to “It’s Academic.” After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, majoring in Urban Studies and Spanish, Benjamin applied for the DC Teaching Fellows program.
“I find the paradox of a city with such power and the poverty that surrounds it both fascinating and unacceptable, and I wanted to come here to try to bridge both worlds,” says Benjamin.
“When I saw ‘It’s Academic’ on television after I moved to DC, I had an epiphany: What if I could get my students on that show?” said Benjamin.
Last June, Anacostia gained local and national attention when First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, delivered Anacostia’s 77th Commencement Address at Constitution Hall to the Class of 2010. She had previously visited the school of more than 800 students on 16th Street SE earlier in the school year. At times, First Lady Obama was emotional when recalling Anacostia’s past, such as Frederick Gregory, Class of 1958, who became the first African-American commander in NASA’s history.
After securing buzzers through a grant and recruiting students from his classroom who showed a natural proclivity for trivia, Benjamin and assistant coach Brianna Copley, a special education and English teacher, contacted the producers who “were extremely excited” to hear from Anacostia.
Available records from “It’s Academic” indicate that Anacostia High School fielded a team from 1988 (the first year of the records) until 2004. In 1998, the team of Earl Curley, David Craddick, and Daryl Allan coached by Ms. Carolyn Roberts won their first round game, advancing to the playoffs.
“We are glad to have Anacostia back,” says Altman.
“The hard part has been building confidence and building knowledge. We started practicing once a week but now we practice every day,” says Benjamin. “We send our students home with fact sheets to memorize, and they come back prepared to compete.”
With three sophomores, Tevin, Malcolm, and 16 year old Eric Chavers, and 17 year old senior LaKiya Bailey making up Anacostia’s team, the students know they are not only representing their school, but their community.
“Our appearance will make a huge impact and open the door for others to follow,” said Malcolm, a member of JROTC, who has started watching Jeopardy and The History Channel as part of his preparation.
“The appearance on ‘Its Academic’ by the students, under the leadership of Mr. Benjamin and Ms. Copley, is a testament to their work. Our students have been increasing the number of activities which showcase their talents and boost their confidence,” says Donald L. Hense, Chairman of Friendship Public Charter School which has managed the Academies at Anacostia for the past two school years.
Anacostia joins Wilson, School Without Walls, and Banneker as the only other DC Public School to appear on the 2010-2011 season. Other schools to appear representing the District include Gonzaga, Maret, Georgetown Day, Sidwell Friends, St. John’s, St. Albans, and St. Anselm’s. Anacostia has recently partnered with Georgetown Day, winners of their first round game, to have friendly scrimmages.
Anacostia will face Osbourn Park (Manassas, Va.) and Islamic Saudi Academy (Alexandria, Va.) on February 5th with the show airing on March 12th. “It’s Academic” airs Saturday mornings on NBC4.
On Sunday morning the streets of historic Anacostia are enlivened with activity as city denizens and suburban dwellers flock to worship at their home sanctuaries. As songs of praise emanate from the numerous homes of God within the boundaries of the historic neighborhood, one church has faithfully anchored the same corner for more than one hundred and thirty years.
Saint Teresa of Avilla, at the northwest corner of 13th and V Street SE, is the oldest Roman Catholic Church east of the Anacostia River. Its doors opened in the fall of 1878. Originally part of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the City of Washington was named a separate archdiocese by Pope Pius XII in 1939. St. Teresa, in fact, is older than the Archdiocese of Washington by more than a half century.
Beginning as a multiracial church, reflective of the area’s population at the time, African Americans contributed much of the funding and labor to construct Saint Teresa. However, by the second decade of the twentieth century black parishioners were dissatisfied with the limited role they were permitted in the predominantly white church and established a separate church and parish for black Catholics as the Mission of St. Teresa’s. Meeting for worship in private homes and in the basement of St. Teresa’s, black parishioners raised funds for a new church.
By 1920, the cornerstone was laid for Our Lady of Perpetual Help on Morris Road, SE. According to Cultural Tourism DC, this would be the second formal division of St. Teresa’s. The first occurred when white parishioners established Assumption Catholic Church in what had been the village hall for Congress Heights at 611 Alabama Avenue SE on April 2, 1916.
The first pastor of Assumption, Reverend John E. Horstkamp, purchased the lot on the corner of Portland Street, now Malcolm X Avenue, and Martin Luther King Avenue SE. The area is now occupied by a park and gas station.
The Twining City Chapel, founded in 1924, later Saint Francis of Xavier, at Pennsylvania Avenue and 27th Street SE, was another church started by former parishioners of St. Teresa’s, as was Our Lady Queen of Peace at 3800 Ely Place SE founded in 1948, Saint Thomas More at 4275 Fourth Street SE founded in 1952, and Holy Family in Hillcrest Heights in Prince George’s County, Maryland founded in 1962.
The growth of the Catholic community east of the Eastern Branch parallels the population growth and residential development of East Washington.
By the second half of the twentieth century St. Teresa had become a predominantly black congregation with whites slowly moving out of the area after integration of the city’s schools. In 1976 Rev. George Stallings, the youngest pastor in the history of the Archdiocese of Washington was installed. Stallings attracted considerable attention by appealing directly to the cultural and spiritual needs of his growing black membership. Combining traditional Catholic liturgy with African rites, a traditional black preaching style, and elements of African American history and music, Stallings captured national headlines.
He hung a painting in St. Teresa’s depicting a black Jesus, introduced gospel music at mass, and delivered fiery, spirited sermons resembling those of black Protestant church orators. Stallings remained the church’s pastor until 1988. During his tenure at St. Teresa membership grew from 200 to 2,000 parishioners.
A Washington Post article from 1984 cites changes Stallings instituted at St. Teresa and quotes parishioners as being happy with the changes. In 1983 St. Teresa’s newly formed gospel choir beat out choruses from denominations across the city to win a gospel contest held at the Kennedy Center. On a recent visit to St. Teresa, near the end of a more than two hour service, the choir in the rear balcony brought the congregation to its feet. Through the floor you could feel the vibrations and movements of the congregation.
“There’s too little of the streets in the church and too little of the church in the streets,” says Rev. Monsignor Raymond G. East, who has been pastor at St. Teresa for the past 5 years, and tells members of St. Teresa that, “God is all that.”
“Being at St. Teresa has been a great learning experience. There has been so much the community has taught me. We tend to focus on the needs of Anacostia, but there are a lot more gifts than needs,” declares Msgr. East, who was involved in a support role at St. Teresa during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.
“St. Teresa gives me a sense of energy. If I miss a week, I feel funny. When I’m here with my church family, I feel better,” said Douglas Daniels, who, with his own family, has been coming to the church for the last seventeen years and has been an usher the last fourteen.
With a congregation of three hundred and fifty families, St. Teresa plans to start a Saturday evening jazz liturgy in the upcoming months as a way of opening the doors of the church to the neighborhood to give the community a place to gather and to build friendships, according to Msgr. East.
As a member of the Washington Interfaith Network, St. Teresa is active with other citywide churches of various faiths to address community issues. Recently, St. Teresa participated in a workshop with more than seventy-five adults, the majority under the age of twenty-five, who received information about job training opportunities.
For more information on St. Teresa of Avilla visit http://www.stachurch.org. Daily mass is held M-F at 7AM. Traditional Mass is at 7:30AM and Contemporary Mass is at 9AM on Sundays. The church has ministries that are active throughout the week.
“The warlords in the Congo have more integrity than these people,” says James L. Hope, a long-time resident of Anacostia and international traveler, one of many longtime East Washington residents who expressed their suspicions during a meeting held last month by the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) at the Anacostia Gateway Government Center. The meeting was held to solicit community input on the agency’s summer acquisition of 2228, 2234, 2238, and 2252 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, known as the “Big K” site.
“This is nothing more than a dog and pony show,” Rev. Oliver Johnson said as he rose to his feet. “They are meeting the benchmarks of the grant. All they have to do is turn in those attendance sheets to meet the grant deadlines. It’s pseudo participation,” Johnson, a sixth generation Washingtonian and former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner later told me. “They think we don’t have the acumen to see through the razzle-dazzle.”
In July, DHCD acquired the Big K properties from the Kushner family for just under one million dollars, thus avoiding the one million threshold requiring City Council scrutiny. DHCD hopes “to strategically invest in a long-standing abandoned and deteriorated group of properties that represent a blight to the Historic Anacostia neighborhood,” according to an official statement.
Presented at the meeting was DHCD’s timeline which called for “Next Steps” to incorporate community comments into an RFQ [Request for Proposals] and then issue an RFQ to secure development partners by December 2010. DHCD’s recommendations were to secure a development partner by February 2011 and meet with the community, and by spring 2011 to continue “on-going community meetings around development timeline and program.”
DHCD’s Executive Director, Leila Edmonds, was not available for further comment. Along with other officials at last month’s meeting, she was decried as a “professional mover” by Rev. Johnson, who predicted that a changeover in Mayoral administrations could sharply change the organization’s leadership.
At the heart of the future of the Big K site is the Anacostia Historic District which includes 2228, 2234, and 2238 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, but does not include the former site of Big K Liquors at 2252 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.
In early 1978, after years of community driven advocacy, Anacostia was designated a Historic District, roughly bounded by Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue on the west, Fendall Street at the rear of the Frederick Douglass house on the east, and Bangor Street at Morris Road on the south. The historic designation by the Joint Committee on Landmarks of the National Capital includes 550 buildings dating from 1854 to 1930 within a 20 block area listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“We feel that these buildings are important to the Anacostia Historic District. Now that the city is in control of these resources we feel they need to be brought back into productive use in a timely fashion,” says Rebecca Miller, Executive Director of the DC Preservation League, which has listed the Anacostia Historic District on its 2005 and 2010 list of Most Endangered Places for Washington, DC.
According to Catherine Buell, recently appointed Chair of the DC Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB), the Kushner family’s request to demolish the properties earlier this year was denied by the HPRB.
“It is difficult to say what HPRB will and will not support at this point. We will have to wait and see a proposal before the board,” says Buell, an associate attorney with Patton Boggs.
Expressing a need for parking, workforce development, affordable housing, and locations for area youth, some in the meeting focused on Anacostia’s need for commerce.
“The Anacostia metro stop is the gateway to one of the most historic communities in the city, yet one of the most neglected in terms of high level development. The community has more than its fair share of social programs, like the Salvation Army Headquarters across the street from the Big K property,” remarked Drake Wilson, a resident of the 1600 block of V Street for more than two decades and an active member of numerous neighborhood civic groups. Drake called for the former Big K liquor store, falling outside of the zoned Historic Anacostia District, to be demolished immediately. “What is most disturbing is that these social programs have a strong presence on the ‘main street’ where businesses should be located.”
Anacostia’s main streets remain blighted with a large inventory of vacant properties and a high concentration of social service agencies —- from Bread for the City on Good Hope Road to the Whitman Walker Clinic on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, and the Good Hope Institute, a high volume methadone clinic which attracts heroin users and their dealers who idle in the neighborhood throughout daylight hours.
“There’s a lot of hustling going around,” says Hannah Hawkins, known for her work with Children of Mine, an after-school program for neighborhood children, located at 2263 Mount View Place SE, directly behind the Big K site.
“There was trash everywhere. Homeless men were sleeping on the back porch,” notes Hawkins who says the historic homes on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue were abandoned when she moved into her location on Mount View Place in May of 1992.
“It’s hard to tell what’s going to happen because you have a lot of speculators. They are always looking out for their concerns as opposed to the concerns of the general public,” observes Hawkins. “The Salvation Army went up like a thief in the night. They came into the community without any major references,” notes Hawkins, a native Washingtonian, who says DHCD officials have yet to reach out to her in any way.
Questioning the timing of the purchase in the middle of this summer’s Mayoral contest, current Ward 8 Councilmember and former Mayor Marion Barry says he was not informed of the DHCD’s purchase beforehand. In a subsequent letter, sent in November, to District officials and community organizations Barry writes, “It is unprecedented that the government would buy a liquor store because it’s an eyesore rather than getting DCRA [Department of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs] to clean it up.”
“If it is possible and can be done right we can move the houses to an alternative site,” says Barry. “In Washington we are so land poor we need to go up. I would support housing or office space with retail on the ground floor; something half the size of the Salvation Army building with parking on the bottom.”
Others in the community such as Nikki Peele, of Eat, Shop, Live Anacostia, a newly launched branding campaign, have expressed a desire that DHCD rehabilitate the current properties to become a restaurant and cultural center that can be used as a performing arts venue.
“Both parties, DC government and the community, want to see the best outcome for this property,” says Charles Wilson, ANC 8a04 elect and founding member of the Historic Anacostia Block Association.
With 2010 coming to an end, the past decade of change and development that has defined the continued, albeit sometimes contentious, re-emergence of many of the city’s historic commercial corridors has eluded Historic Anacostia. With 2011 dawning, the process of change in Anacostia moves forward with lingering questions and suspicions as to what the future will bring to the Big K properties.
After years of community anticipation, Higher Achievement opened its Ward 8 Center this summer at Savoy Elementary School at 2400 Shannon Place SE, a short walk to the Anacostia Metro station.
The formal ribbon cutting for the Ward 8 center held last month was attended by Mayoral candidate and City Council Chairman Vincent Gray and former Mayor and current Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry, who led scholars in a chant, “My mind is a pearl. I can do anything in the whole wide world.”
“Young people motivated me to get back into politics,” said Barry, who has been on the City Council since 2004 and made a public pledge to volunteer with Ward 8’s Higher Achievement Center.
Higher Achievement provides an “additional lift” to schools and families in East Washington according to Gray. Thirty-nine percent of all children in the city live in Wards 7 and 8 said Gray who frequently visited Higher Achievement’s Ward 7 Center at Kelly Miller Middle School on 49th Street NE while representing the Ward on the Council.
In an interview, Ward 8 scholars K’Nihja Yong and Brooke Shelton-Epps, fifth graders at the Washington Middle School for Girls, shared an excitement for Higher Achievement. Both admitted to being talkative and sometimes disruptive in class, but with their summer experience at Higher Achievement, they confessed to becoming more focused and coming to the realization, with the support of Higher Achievement staff that they can use their personalities to help other students in their class who might need help. Higher Achievement has given them “confidence in helping others” and has made them role models amongst their peers.
Ward 8 Center Director Durham, a 1982 graduate of Higher Achievement, says the community is “very excited” about the program’s presence.
Before opening its Ward 8 Center, the organization raised funds to cover three years of operations.
“The communities of Ward 8 have a lot to offer and we have a lot to offer to the communities of Ward 8. We’re not going anywhere. This sense of longevity is refreshing and lets Ward 8 know that we have made a commitment,” says Durham.
In their initial year, Ward 8 has fifty 5th and 6th graders culled from an applicant pool of sixty-five. Recruitment for rising 5th graders will begin in January with staff visiting local schools and soliciting recommendations from teachers.
The staff and scholars of Ward 8 had a busy summer taking a field trip to the offices of Voice of America, the official radio and television broadcasting service of the United States federal government since 1942, and staying in the dormitories of Penn State University while on their college trip.
In the last decade Higher Achievement, started in the 1970’s at Gonzaga High School in NW, has undergone exponential growth and in the process built itself as a national model for after-school academic enrichment programs. Last November, First Lady Michelle Obama presented Higher Achievement with the Coming Up Taller Award in recognition of their outstanding community arts and humanities programs, one of 15 nationwide recipients selected from more than 400 nominees.
With centers in Wards 1, 4, 6, 7, and now Ward 8, Baltimore and Alexandria, Higher Achievement provides 650 hours of out-of-school instruction each academic year to 5th through 8th grade students known as “scholars” with the ultimate goal of placing students in competitive and selective high schools throughout the Washington, DC metropolitan area.
By aligning their curriculum with DC Public Schools, working closely with the families of each scholar, and providing their own unique programs such as a citywide spelling bee, Higher Achievement “ratchets up the academic culture of excellence” according to CEO Richard Tagle. Using data tracking to hold staff and mentors increasingly accountable to produce scholar outcomes, Higher Achievement provides a “360 degree view of scholars” that has helped the organization to expand its sphere of influence.
Dominique Tucker, a resident of Fort Dupont, graduated from Higher Achievement’s Ward 7 Center in 2007 and is now entering his senior year at St. Albans High School in NW. This summer he has attended a program at Yale in New Haven, Connecticut before working as a summer instructor at Ward 8.
With after-school instruction on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, Higher Achievement has traditionally utilized area college students and community members to fill the ranks of their mentors who volunteer from 6pm – 8pm and lead small groups of scholars in workshops with curriculum that is supplied in advance and online.
“Higher Achievement draws from an intellectually curious group of students making the enrichment of mentoring mutual,” says Rick Stoddard, a past mentor with Ward 6. “We are another adult outside of their parents or teachers who are expressing care and interest in their lives.”
Ward 8 is actively recruiting 50 mentors. Those interested in mentoring can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202.544.3633 x233.