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.
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.
Throughout this semester I researched 5th & O Street intersection in the Howard/Shaw area. The reason why I had chosen Shaw was because in his book S Street Rising Ruben Castaneda had described this street intersection as a “combat zone” (105) one that was filled off strawberries, cocaine, and gang affiliated murders. I thought I would be living on the edge investigating and exploring a different side of Washington D.C. that I had not yet seen before since I was sheltered in the bubble of 4400 Massachusetts Avenue. It had been said that the district was known for being “Chocolate City” but instead, all I saw was million dollar mansions, white families walking their dog through my university’s campus. So, the second I heard that my semester long College Writing Seminar Assignment would involving the rhetoric or the Shaw Area I was excited.
However, my assumptions were quickly proven as false the second I stepped out the Shaw-Howard University Metro Station. As I have written in my Digital Archives instead of an area full of black, latino people I saw million dollar homes, overpriced mom and pop shops and isolated way at the end of 5th Street, the Second Northwest Cooperative housing complex the very few black families remained. To state that I was appalled and dare I say a bit of culture shock is an understatement. The community that was once there had been completed whitewashed over. After my first visit to Shaw, I couldn’t help but write about the complete disconnect between the two groups that now occupied the space. In my Essay 1 BED DigiDoc Textual Analysis, I brought up the fact that what can be explained as gentrification is seen as either a positive or negative based on the group of people you are speaking to. The individuals of the caucasian group might see it as “preserving historical land” improving the overall metropolitan era while the black group who were the natives of such areas as Shaw might see it as another instance where their history is being overlooked and not deemed important.
With the knowledge that I had acquired throughout the class discussion on the book “City of Rhetoric” I was able to expand my rhetorical understanding to understand better understand all sides of the conversation when exploring my CLS. My main goal throughout this project was to get all the perspective that I could gather concerning what Shaw meant to its residents, from the newcomers to the natives, the blacks, white and in between. I will admit that I am a bit bias when it comes to the “truth” that I had sided with more. Being that I identified with the black community, I understood their frustration when it came to the fact that they were essentially being forced to leave their community and the neighborhood that they had lived in for years. However, in the same token, I understood the oblivion that came from many of the new white young families and professionals that currently resided in Shaw being that they were seeing such “change” through a privileged lens.
After the practice that I had acquired with the assigned reading analyses throughout the semester I felt prepared with the Mapping Commonplace Project that was assigned. Though at first, I had difficulty figuring out what exactly to do when it came to what my multimodal components for this assignment I knew that I wanted it to be something that I could add on even after this class was over. Something that had definitely inspired me from our class discussions with Professor Hoskins was his colleague’s website mapping the different places in the Washington DC area; almost like an interactive art gallery.
I wanted my multimodal components to be like art museums where the audience can form the stories themselves with the pictures, videos, and music presented. I created a Tumblr pagewith a playlist including D.C. native artists like Marvin Gaye, Wale, Oddisee, Tarnica Junes among other artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Otis Redding. I named the Tumblr Page “A Story About Shaw” (ASBS) which presented videos and pictures and quotes that framed the evolution of Shaw from drug war zone in the 20th to early 21st century to this newly renovated, multimillion-dollar, white, quiet suburb-esque area. The Tumblr page was a compilation of both photos and videos that I had taken myself during my trips to Shaw as well as Real Estate listing screenshotted to how the prices of homes had gone up. I recorded a part of the ASBS Tumblr I attached a recording that I posted on YouTube and titled “ Shaw Confessionals.” The 2-minute voice memo is part of a conversation that I had with a Shaw native and Howard University rising sophomore who recounts how the change has impacted her community “for the worse” I felt that hearing from a person who has experienced the change that Shaw has gone through. Since all my multimodal components connect I decided to put the recording as part of the Tumblr playlist.
To add onto the ASBS Tumblr page I created an Instagram Page using the captions of each video and picture to tell a story of what was going on through my perspective. I used all the conversations that I had both published on social media or not to create a conversation through pictures on the Instagram time and my place is as stated before is to go back as years go by to add on to these components and truly show the evolution and for everyone as a group to comment and decide for themselves whether this renovation is better or worse and why.
Something that I started to notice was the separation between the newly renovated houses and the old houses. They were either on the opposite side of the street or a group of them would be on one street section before the crosswalk. It was almost as if the groups of houses were being renovated by sections of the streets. Which makes you think, 10 years from now how will 5th & O look like?
Walking through the main streets, you can see the diversity of Shaw residence. The white groups of people are eating brunch with their families and friends and you see black individuals riding their blasting music and for the most part greeting individuals that look like them. Two groups of people living in the same are but they barely intermingle with one another.
On my way to 5th & O St. I stumbled on Pastor Jim’s New Community Church, a church that was set in Ruben Castaneda’s book S Street Rising. This church seems to bring a sense of community for the nearby intersecting streets. From talking to residents living around the surrounding area New Community Church has hosted their kids in events and holiday dinners that have greatly helped a lot of the families around. The purpose that Pastor Jim set for this church still rings true today based on the statements of the neighbors.
When I first got out of the metro on my way to 5th & O the first thing I saw was a tall (very nice) building advertising new homes for sale or rent. The sign states “Shaw Streets, New Beats” in efforts to show off the new community that is being built throughout the “shaw streets.” To deliberately put such a nice building and then a big sign in front of the metro stop shows that they hope to bring in tourist and other individuals that have the means to come and create the “new beats” they are looking for.
When I saw this sign I saw it as a political statement from the Mayor’s office. Shaw is one of the most profitable neighborhoods in the D.C. area, there are dozens of houses either being built or on the market that go for at a minimum around 1.2 million dollars. The individuals that are moving into 5th & O among other streets in the Shaw Area are looking for a certain modern, clean feel. The Government of District of Columbia knows good and well that there needs the only way to attract such “prospective residents” is to upkeep the New Shaw.
After such narratives and ideologies being written about the Shaw area for me, I decided to visit 5th & O and 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 when I walked into the interior of some of the buildings that allowed me to do so…
5. When I was walking back to go home, I saw what I believe was a recreation center with the word “Grow” on the front. There was a bunch playground equipment which showed a sense of community that has a commonplace to come and spend time and connect in some way.
4. One of the beautifully, fully renovated houses that I wanted to go into but was not going to be able to was a white row home that was up for sale on the far end of 5th St. After some research I found the house on a upscale real estate website names Dc Condo Boutique. The house is going for $1,495,000
for 4 bedroom and 31/2 bath (a far different price than the co-op homes on the same street). The inside did not reflect whatsoever what the outside and nearby look like. Its very ironic how the exterior of the home has been here and established for decades if not century, but for the interior it seems to change ever so often depending on who is there.