From ‘Chocolate’ to ‘Cinnamon City’, D.C. is Still Sweet

Murals DC 2009 piece near Adams Morgan, DC Part 2

I’ve been living in the D.C. metro area for longer than I would like to admit (NY still has my heart) and D.C. proper for close to 10 years.  Since my arrival to the location formerly known as “Chocolate City”, I have witnessed a profound change take shape, within myself and the city I fled to, from my uber white suburban community on Long Island.

I came to D.C. the same reason many bright-eyed college students come—to change the world, but also after living in an area that was 96% white I was desperate for a change of pace.   Alas, my journey didn’t take me to Howard, as I wanted, but instead to a small private catholic university that made my parents “sleep better” knowing I was “safe”.  In their defense at that time D.C. and definitely the area surrounding Howard wasn’t known for it’s trendy nightspots and coffee hangouts the way it’s transitioning to now.  Instead it was known for its shootings and theft of unsuspecting college students.

Regardless of where I was first stationed, my experience was wholly different than being on LI.  For one, professional black people could be found in droves.  No longer would I sit in a restaurant and my family be the only people of color in the ENTIRE place. No, to me D.C. was a beautiful black mecca that I only got snippets of on TV and movies.

There was energy in D.C. that I never felt before and wouldn’t be able to articulate until years later, it was the feeling like I was no longer a member of the “only one club”, now I was one among many.

Throughout my time in this area I’ve been through and bared witness to a lot of transition.  I met, fell in love with and married my lovely wife.  I moved from the D.C. metro area to D.C. and really started to embrace what Aisha often references as my “womaness”, essentially I grew up and into myself.  This change has been magnificent and I expect to continue growing and evolving constantly—because if you’re not growing you might as well be dead.

This is how I feel about the brouhaha over the reshaping and transitioning of D.C.—if the city doesn’t evolve then it might as well shutdown.

D.C. and it’s residents have seen it all, from Black Broadway to riots to corrupt mayors to welcoming the nation’s first African American president.  It’s a city that knows a thing or two about change.  Yet for a while it was left with shuttered buildings and half occupied communities, unsure of how to stop what was endless downward spiral to a city that boasts native sons like Duke Ellington.  Then over the course of decades something began to take shape, plans were drafted, and rebuilding and renovation began.

Like me in my college years, D.C. seemed to begin a transformation.

Many refer to this transformation as gentrification, which has become synonymous with wealthy white people moving in and people of color moving out.  Once a Starbucks moves in a neighborhood is surely headed for a shift. Now, I love tea and organic chicken too.  Does it make me a bad person for wanting to live a few short strides from the metro and a Fro-Yo?

For years I’ve likened D.C. to an adolescent, a young person that is just starting to get a sense of self, whose palette is still developing, and appreciation for music and art is on the rise.  Like I said earlier D.C. was once known as Black Broadway and then for a while after only referred to as “Dodge City” because of all the shootings.  Now, I like to think that we are witnessing a growth, maturity and a move towards post-adolescence with a multi-cultural fare; we are no longer Black Broadway or Dodge City and we are much more than “Hollywood for ugly people”.  We are in a sense evolving and growing into ourselves.

With growth comes exposure to new people, experiences and things.  It makes little sense to continue clawing for what was (like my size 2 college self) and instead vitally important to embrace our maturation into what’s next. Sure, D.C. statistically may no longer be “Chocolate City”, but the energy and excitement I once felt still remains—it’s just taken on a new flavor.

Tune into Politini tomorrow @8pm EST where we will delve deeper into the complexity of gentrification!