Mapping Commonplaces – Intro to A Story About Shaw


My name is Cory Myrtil and as part of my freshman year at American University I took my College Writing Seminar on “Mapping Complexity: Embodied Subjectivity, Multi-positionality, and the Becoming of the Citizen-Rhetor.” Through this class I was given the opportunity to talk about the rhetoric of Washington DC using the knowledge of books such as David Fleming’s City of Rhetoric the experience of writing Digital Archives and reading analyses to expand my understanding why Washington is going through the change, what it means to the people that live there and where this once “Chocolate City” is headed.

As part of this class, all students were asked to pick a location in the D.C area, I chose 5th & O Intersection of the Shaw area and through my research learned about so many different stories and people that view the same place so differently.

Area Scale of Shaw

With all that I had acquired through my CLS research for the project, I created three multimodal, a Tumblr page , an Instagram Page and a Youtube video titled, “Shaw Confessionals” which I have explained further explain in my project reflection. I hope whoever reads this is able to understand and add to this conversation about the story of Shaw and as the years go on create a community where we can add to this story and see the evolution take place.

Thank you,

Cory M.


Annotated Bibliography 1 & 2

Annotated Bibliography 1

Johnson, Jenna. “Warring Gangs in District’s Shaw Neighborhood Declare Truce.” The Washington Post, June 9, 2007, sec. Metro.

In this article, Johnson’s main argument pertains to commenting on the two infamous gang in the 5th and O and 7th and O intersection of the Shaw Area. Though they are intersecting the crew’s rivalries are one with long history and tension going back to the beginning of the cocaine epidemic in the nation’s district if not earlier. With such background information, what Johnson brings to presents is the result of the warring gang violence between the 5th and 7th that has been going on for decades, the older members of opposing crews with the help of their community leaders are trying to find a truce. Johnson interviews a crewmember with the name of Rufus Youngblood that describes such atmosphere of the area when entering it as a “war zone.” Johnson shares the heartwarming shift of feelings on both sides, where what is more important to them at this point is keeping the “peace” and as a result the safety of everyone in the area. As the veteran crew members state in the article, “As much as people want to blame the youth, it really is us taking the lead and steering them in the right direction..”

This article gave me an entryway to think about this upcoming essay to go into the 5th and O area and look at this intersection as more than just a “war zone” as Castaneda and some veteran crew members described. At the end of it all, Shaw is an area with families full of children running around during the Spring and Summer enjoying themselves and walking to the nearby library during the school year for their afterschool programs. The ideology of the Shaw Area being a ghetto with gang violence is just one side of the story. The only way to break such stereotypes that individuals have fed into for so many years and as a result has inclined them to stay away from is to first-hand experience it and ask questions.

Annotated Bibliography 2

Samuelson, Ruth. “Truce and Consequences.” Washington City Paper. Accessed February 17, 2017.

In this article, Samuelson’s doesn’t necessarily have an argument. Moreso it humanizes the individuals seen on the news about another killing in Shaw in the process shedding light on the experience of a crew member among others, in the 5th and O intersecting area. Specifically, Samuelson shares the story of Deon Peoples a young man that was murdered in 2007 by gang-related violence. One of his acquaintances, a man called Ben Barringer, Barringer gives voice to the issues at hand in the O st intersections and tells the readers about a man whose life was taken too soon but was a man with a family, friends, and life nonetheless. Samuelson gives Barringer the platform to explain and shed light on the fact that even crew members and their families have a life besides what is shown in their neighborhood on mainstream media. Something that Samuelson put in her article about People’s and his family is this, ““They are very nice,” says one woman familiar with the relatives. “They’ll give you whatever they have. But they’re close. Their family is very close. If you’re in their circle, you got to stay in their circle and don’t try to cross them.”

This article gave me an entryway to think about this essay as the ability to humanize what Castaneda among other authors and media branches stereotype 5th and O as. By focusing on the individuals and their stories, it recreates the narrative of such places. It adds dimensions to the ideology of the area, though this is not a happily ever after’ story that ended in a positive way it sheds light that though there are major issues in this neighborhood it these “thugs” and “gangsters” have a life that should be valued and respected like everyone else’s. For me personally, I connected with it because coming from my background (native of Haiti) I know that the impact of negative stereotypes of where an individual comes from, and how misunderstood an area and the groups of people that live there can feel.

#5 Green and Clean in Combat Zone

What that I found interesting is that 5th & O have an “Adopt-A-Block” sponsorship. A strategy that in the 1990s would have never been thought of as the people living there at the time. Back then, making sure that the block stayed clean and green was the not the first priority for the neighborhood. What could have been important is making sure the 5th and 7th crew stood out of each other’s way, drugs were being sold, and strawberries were being picked up from the way Castaneda explained Shaw during that time. Especially with Baldie just two streets over what was important to the notorious “neighborhood leader” was not having the blocks like 5th & O adopted by the Minor Football League to enforce cleanliness.

#4 The Original Corner Store

Despite all the new mom and pop businesses, there are  still corner stores that remain in their place since opening up in the 1980s. One of the customers that I spoke to from the Liquor stated that that particular liquor was there since the late 70s. Though the store hasn’t gone anywhere, everything else around them seems to be changing. As I talked to the man  who I didn’t get a name from there was construction happening behind the corner store building for new luxury apartments. It seemed to me the more young professionals and families looking to not be in the rustle and bustle of downtown come to live in Shaw, the less natives of Shaw that were once labeled as “gang members” there are. The more apartments and new restaurants being built, the less able natives of Shaw like that man I talked to outside the liquor store are able to afford living there.

#3 Government Housing?

Sponsored Housing complex in Shaw.

Another kind of house that I saw that does not fit the criteria listed in the previous post was cooperative homes. As I was walking farther down 5th street I found a cooperative homes complex. After researching what cooperative housing was I discovered that the purpose of these homes is to give families the ability to own their homes and set a leasing agreement signed by the family and the company that owns the home. This way they are able to afford to own their own space without the threat of eviction. This cooperative home was just a couple of feet down the street from the same black and brick luxury row homes. The people that lived in the cooperative homes looked very different from the those living in the newly renovated row homes surrounding it. As I stood there observing the street I saw little kids coming out of the cooperative housing complex playing among themselves and not even 15 feet away little kids whose parents/guardians owned the renovated homes playing among themselves as well – not acknowledging each other whatsoever.

#2 Luxury Living in the Heart of a Combat Zone

When I finally got to the 5th & O intersection I saw three types of houses. Houses that have been there for decades, that had little to no renovations to them, the ones that were under construction to become renovated, or luxurious homes such as the one attached here. After doing more research, I discovered that a house like this would go for about 1.5 million dollars because of this renovation. It is very ironic that not even 10 years ago in 2007, people were being killed, and there was gang tension between 5th & O and 7th & O crews. But now, row homes go up to the millions and more of them are being constructed.

# 1 From Ghetto to the New Brunch Spot

Main Street of Shaw

(Click link above for video)

Walking the main street on my way to 5th & O I saw a bunch of small owned businesses mostly restaurants with a bunch of young professionals or couples with young children eating brunch. Most of these individuals were caucasian with a few of Hispanic and black among other minority groups sitting in the same area as them enjoying their early Saturday afternoon. Though there was music in the cars passing, it was quiet and peaceful walking around the area. As I made my way to 5th and O almost every other car would stop and wave to the person walking the sidewalk – a gesture that represented a sort of acquaintance or friendship between those groups of people. Something I realized with those interactions with the people in the car and those walking greeting each other was that they were mostly African American individuals. Though 5th & O (as I later found out) is now filled with newly renovated apartments and row homes the group of individuals that continued to live after such changes, were friendly and had a sort of family-based community.

From Combat Zone to Family Friendly: 5th & O St NW (Shaw)

Street sign for 5th & O intersection in Shaw.

In his book S Street Rising Ruben Castaneda described 5th & O Streets Northwest in Shaw as a “combat zone” an area whose reputation involved a murder, drugs and little to no press attention on the intersecting streets. As I continued to do research, googling 5th & O I discovered articles that were written a decade or so after Castaneda’s stories in the book, that played the same tune. In article Warring Gangs in District’s Shaw Neighborhood Declare Truce and similarly in Truce and Consequences authors Johnson and Samuelson describe 5th & O as gang filled, murdering spree atmosphere that was finally in the midst of trying to find newfound peace in the area after too many lives lost in the streets.

After such narratives and ideologies being written about the Shaw area, I decided to visit 5th & O to see if these same stories would fit what 5th and O is now. When I got here I was presented the opposite, the first word that comes to me to describe Shaw is – Gentrified. Here are some of the things that I observed…

House sign showing appreciation to Shaw.