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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…