June 3, 2016

“I’m From Anacostia, And I Support The Busboys And Poets”

By Avery Kleinman

Earlier this week, Kojo chatted with Schyla Pondexter-Moore, a community activist from Anacostia, and Andy Shallal, the owner of D.C. restaurant chain Busboys And Poets. Schyla opposes a Busboys And Poets that is planned for downtown Anacostia, saying that where Busboys And Poets comes, gentrification swiftly follows.

But not everyone who lives in Anacostia shares her point of view. During the on-air conversation, Kojo’s inbox was flooded with emails from listeners who wanted to voice their differing opinions.

Anacostia resident John Young. Photo Credit: John Young

Anacostia resident John Young. Photo Credit: John Young

John Young, 50, wrote in with this message:

“I am a new African American resident of Anacostia. I purchased a home on W St. SE, just a few blocks from the Fredrick Douglas House.  So I’m now part of the gentrification of Anacostia.  While I’m sympathetic to the concerns of some longtime residents of Anacostia, like Ms. Moore, I must say I find her views unfounded and uninformed.  Anacostia may have a great deal of potential but right now it’s a poor run down section of the city with few services, and it needs help.  Ms. Moore is not the only voice for Anacostia; there are many of us, new and old residents of Anacostia, who welcome development that will create jobs and opportunity. She is fighting to preserve what? The liquor stores, corner stores, people hanging out on the corners of Good Hope Road and MLK.   Almost everything I need I must drive across the 11th St. Bridge to Capitol Hill for or elsewhere.  Ms. Moore and others should face reality, you can’t but the genie back in the bottle; change is coming. The question should be how to make that change work for everyone in the community. The focus should be on partnering with developers and DC government to fashion the change in the best way possible to get the greatest benefits of new development. “

I chatted with him over the phone to find out more.

“I moved to Anacostia in mid-January. Since I’ve been in D.C.—I’m not a native but I’ve been here since ’92—discussions have been ongoing about change in Anacostia. A lot of the rest of the city has changed, and people in Anacostia say they want that change, but they sound disingenuous if they say they want those things and can’t have displacement. There will be some displacement and that comes with progress. It’s an ugly truth but it’s fact.

“I feel the questions really should be how can we do displacement in a way that negates negative impacts as much as possible? What can we do to make development a good thing? As opposed to fighting and saying we don’t want this, we don’t want that.

I would love to walk down the street and go to Busboys and Poets.

Government isn’t going to do everything. You have to work with the private sector. We want to preserve the beautiful, historic neighborhood and the character, but we also have to be realistic.”

Martin Luther King Jr Ave SE in Anacostia. Photo Credit: BeyondDC

Martin Luther King Jr Ave SE in Anacostia. Photo Credit: BeyondDC

We also received an email from Larry Sternbane, 53:

“I live in Ward 8.  I welcome any new business that wants to open here.  Regardless of ownership.  We need the retail services and amenities that are easily available in other wards.”

When we spoke over the phone, Larry told me that Schyla “does not speak for [him].”

I am for any retail establishment that wants to open. We have enough bad Chinese, check cashing and liquor stores. We have only one sit down restaurant of note. Busboys And Poets would be a real catch for Ward 8. Some of us have been waiting here a long time for amenities and services that other people in other parts of the city take for granted and it doesn’t matter who the owners are.

I’m part of the change. I moved here five years ago from Virginia because it’s one of the last affordable places in D.C. There’s lots of open space and its hilly.  As for the people who’ve lived here a long time—they haven’t done a lot to change the quality of life. It seems to me that if they’re going to do that, they would have done it by now.

I live at Henson Ridge. My immediate neighbors would love to see some sort of renaissance here. That’s what we’ve all been waiting for.”

Do you live in Anacostia? Do you support the opening of Busboys And Poets? Let’s keep the conversation going.