Thursday, November 11, 2010
GUEST POST: Historic Anacostia Dragged Screaming Into Tomorrow by Zaccai Free
The Historic Anacostia Block Association and DC Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) hosted the “Big K” Site Revitalization Community Meeting on last night (Wed., Nov 10, 2010).The meeting began badly. See, seniors were left standing outside until someone acknowledged that they had arrived early for the meeting. You don’t disrespect seniors, particularly in the African American community, they are a formidable force and have no qualms about using the status conferred by their age to do whatever they want. The oversight of access became the catalyst for the overthrow of the meeting agenda.
Citizens came to the meeting with a combination of rumor, innuendo and disparate facts ready to engage the machine. I’m sure every DC agency and development organization has faced similar difficulties when attempting to host a public forum. People have so few chances to gripe at the 1000 tentacled Bureaucratic monster that whenever one of its many appendages surfaces, the people attack. This situation is even more acute in the black community where a history of false promises and denials of opportunity have resulted in an extreme distrust of the system often represented by “the man”, which in these times often comes in the guise of a woman. In this case the Director of DHCD, Leila Finucane Edmonds, quietly exited the meeting when she witnessed the results of the coup.
Once the good people of DHCD introduced the topic, and before that could even be completely finished, hands began to shoot up around the room. The pointed questions took an accusatory tone as if the questioners knew there was a conspiracy afoot. Even as we were called together to provide input and ideas, many of the questions were pertaining to process, “why were these properties selected” or totally off topic, “I’m here to talk about Congress Heights.” The notion of break out groups to allow for more voices to be heard was shouted down by the crowd. There was a sense that breakout was synonymous with break-up or break-down, as if going into separate rooms would allow space for the enemies to conquer the people. Once again the most vocal opponents to the break outs were the seniors. They prevailed and the meeting was dominated by a few voices out of the crowd of close to 100 people.
Overall the meeting was a failure. Many people were unheard and much of the anger and mistrust in the crowd went unassuaged. The DHCD folks can check off the community input section of their agenda and move on to requesting qualifications from developers. There were a handful of whites in the room, maybe four, none of whom spoke. They silently watched the chaos, listening to the fear. I wonder if they understood the distrust as the fruit of a diseased historical tree. A tree which promised abundant life, yet too often yielded poverty, exclusion and the death of dreams deferred. A tree grown in historic Anacostia, a place chartered by whites to exclude blacks, then turned all black through white flight and now facing the reality of white’s returning for cheap Victorian homes, incredible vistas and careers requiring top security clearances. No wonder the people are afraid, but they’d be better served by organizing, planning and creating based on a shared vision, rather than a shared terror.
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