When I step out of the Shaw-Howard U Metro Station in Washington, D.C., I come across a cafe called Uprising Muffin. At first, I chose to ignore the cafe embedded inside a tall glass building. I wanted to understand the culture of Shaw that I felt was being overrun due to gentrification. I believed it was smart for me to explore the surrounding areas and pay special attention to the run-down buildings only utilized by the older residents of Shaw whose most defining characteristics were “low-income” and “black.” As I started to learn more of Shaw’s history, I felt that the narrow approach I took did not allow me to understand the complexities of the changing community. The friend that I was with one time wanted to buy smoothie, so we walked into Uprising Muffin, where we found a beautiful mural. The mural was filled with quotes like, “Feet don’t fail me now,” and “The revolution will not be televised.” I believe the mural best represents Shaw, and this single genre has different effects on the owners of Uprising Muffin, the older residents of Shaw, the newer residents of Shaw, and college-aged students.
For the owners of Uprising Muffin, the mural helps the cafe embed itself into the history, culture, and political atmosphere of Shaw. Shaw used to be a primarily black neighborhood, and over time, it has witnessed the coming and passing of activists like Dr. Martin Luther King, J.r., and artists like Duke Ellington. Furthermore, Shaw is known for its various murals that are sprinkled throughout the neighborhood. I believe the owners of Uprising Muffin intentionally placed a mural inside the cafe to make local customers feel more welcome. Additionally, the cafe was installed inside of a new building that was the result of a development project. To pay respects to the area, and make residents feel that their lifestyle isn’t overrun, the owners have installed this mural.
To older resident the mural’s purpose is to recognize and voice the struggles they have faced as a result of the changing political atmosphere and gentrification. In recent years, Shaw has been subject to many intense projects aimed at bettering the community through development projects. New buildings, new businesses, and new people have begun to pour into Shaw, ultimately changing it. As a result, older residents of Shaw feel that they are being evicted from their communities because of rising costs in the area. These residents often live in high rises and depend on their low or fixed income to sustain themselves. With the arrival of new residents, older residents may feel threatened because they simply cannot afford to live in Shaw any longer. Gentrification is an inherently violent process to them. The quotes on this mural, however, may serve as source of inspiration. If older residents find themselves in Uprising Muffin, quotes like “‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me,” and “Keep Ya Head Up” communicate inspiration.
In contrast, newer residents may view the mural as a window to the culture and history of Shaw. People moving into Shaw tend to be white people who are comfortably middle class and are young. The new residents are occupying a space which they know nothing about, unless they avidly research the history and culture of Shaw. This is where I believe Uprising Muffin comes in as a catalyst to integrate these new residents into the community. The cafe’s mural can be considered a window into the character of Shaw. When new residents visit Uprising Muffin and see “We’re a winner, and never let anybody say boy you can’t make it cuz an evil mind is in your way,” they understand the community cares a lot about activism and social justice. Although I don’t believe that the mural is responsible for changing perspectives of new residents, I do believe that it helps them understand their area a little better.
Lastly, it’s important to recognize that the cafe is near Howard University, so other rhetors may include Howard’s students. The students of Howard may feel that the cafe is honoring their history and the history of Howard, a historically black university. Washington, and the United States as a whole, is constantly facing intense racial conflict. Students from all over Washington and all over the United States come to study at Howard University to pursue their passion and infuse it with social justice and racial equality. Uprising Muffin recognizes that and creates a very welcoming atmosphere. Students are always welcome to come and study in the cafe under this mural. As a result, to students, the cafe seems warm and welcoming. I think the owners would have wanted them to feel this way.