The Barriers

Metal gates locked with a rusty chain and lock
“One of the closed lots in Shaw. Dominic Moulden, who has been organizing residents in Shaw for 30 years, says the city is still failing to meet the most basic needs of some residents, particularly when it comes to housing.
Raquel Zaldivar/NPR”

This picture illustrates a very real problem in Shaw. On one hand, Shaw seems to be improving. It seems to be developing, and along with the new developments, Shaw seems to be a place where there is newfound opportunity. That’s at least what most developers and newer residents would like us to think. But, like the caption and its picture, what use is this if developers and urban planning institutions no longer care about the previous residents? As the description suggests, Washington doesn’t see the wellbeing of these residents as a priority. I think that should be criminal.

Leaving Home and Going Nowhere

An elderly black woman looking forlorn as she holds an eviction letter in her hands
“Joan Scott, 70, sits with her belongings and holds the envelope that contains court papers that she signed agreeing to leave Brookland Manor.” 

I don’t know what else to say about this photograph other than the fact that it’s intense. The photo puts an actual person behind what seems like abstract ideas I can only talk about by reading about them. This photograph begins to connect everything I want to eventually bring to light. Although I haven’t taken this photograph (I’ve obtained it from here), I believe it’s important to include in my culminating project the human aspect to this, a.k.a. the aspect that matters most. We can talk about the socioeconomic trends about Shaw in the broadest to narrowest of terms, but it loses an important part if we don’t ask people like the woman pictured above questions like, “What happens?” “Will you be alright?” “Do you have a place to go?” The photograph really exemplifies the power that seemingly arbitrary political institutions have to transform an individual’s life for the worse.

Patriotism in Shaw

A grayscale black soldier salutes surrounded by the American flag.
“Support Our Troops” – 1513 Rhode Island Avenue NE

According to this website, this mural not only has general American history embedded into it, but family history as well. The mural is painted in front of a store called “Good Ole Reliable Liquors,” and it’s owner, Mike Toor, supports troops because he has family in service. To him, this piece means so much more than the display of patriotism just for the sake of it. To him, this means honoring his family. Like many murals in Shaw, this one features a black figure. Honoring black culture is quite common in Shaw.

Getting Stepped On, Getting Stomped Out


Mural depicting cattle being stepped on
Mural near the Howard Theatre. 

This mural is located near Shaw’s Howard Theatre, and the image above was obtained from this website. Of course, with most street art, it’s difficult to understand what context it holds. But here’s my interpretation:

The imagery is intense. A pig in a suit being stomped out by a disembodied foot in front of a sea of reds, oranges, and yellows. The pig is holding money, and if you look closely, you might be able to make out some faces in the “fire.” This clearly shows anti-capitalist sentiment in DC and the need for what I assume to be greedy capitalist pigs to quite literally stomped out from Shaw.

I find this especially thought-provoking because it’s an entirely different narrative than one I have seen in other platforms. On the websites of developers, for example, the way they view their actions in Shaw is largely optimistic. This, however, tells a different story.

Pencils as Guns in DC

Black woman holding a pencil as if it were a gun

“Education is a Powerful Weapon” – 312 Florida Avenue NW. This mural is quite iconic in Shaw. The vibrant colors and confident stance of the figure depicted certainly extends a strong message; “Education is a Powerful Weapon.” What I especially admired about this mural was the nature of the figure depicted. She’s standing strong, proud, and tall. And like many residents of Shaw, she is black.

Shaw has quite a rich and vibrant history, but it has repeatedly been marked by crime and unrest, especially after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I believe this mural wishes to transform this notion of a violence-ridden city. I believe it speaks volumes about DC’s black community fighting the generalizations forced upon them due to crime with something much more empowering and benign– education.

That Cool Place in Shaw

A long line of people waiting for a restaurant
A long line of people waiting to enter a restaurant called “Southern Efficiency” in Shaw. Photographed by me.

As soon as  I exited the Shaw-Howard U Metro Station, I was immediately greeted with a line that spanned almost the entire block. I was really confused at first because I didn’t understand what the line led to. However, since it was my second time visiting the area for field work, I took note of the type of people waiting. They were young, they were primarily white, and it was clearly a type of social setting. Turns out, they were all waiting to go into an eatery called Southern Efficiency. Although I was extremely confused at first, I soon concluded that the new residents of Shaw are indeed looking to fully integrate themselves into their community. By going to local restaurants, this is just one way they are doing so. Still, if the line is composed of people primarily of one ethnicity and of a similar socioeconomic background, there must a reason why. Perhaps the eatery is a little too expensive for everyone to enjoy.

Walking Through Fire

Block quote in corner of walls
Interior wall design in a cafe called Uprising Muffin in Shaw. Photographed by me.


This quote is painted in a corner of a cafe called Uprising Muffin in Shaw. The quote reads:

“I’ll walk through fire if this is what it takes to take me even higher then I’ll come through like I do when the world keeps testing me.”

This is the same cafe that I’ve written about in an earlier post. I think that, although the cafe seems like it may appeal to the typical hipster millennial gentrifying Shaw, the quote may speak to the residents.

Think about it. Long-time residents in Shaw, who have largely been categorized under low- or fixed-income, have consistently been overpowered by developers in the area as well as newer residents. To walk into the cafe and glance up at such an inspiring phrase may mean that life is characterized by struggle and that’s okay. However, the nature of the quote also suggests that they should not be passive about their status in society. Rather, they should actively shape the course of their life.

Keep Ya Head Up

"Keep ya head up" on a wall with other phrases
Interior design in a cafe called Rise Up in Shaw. Photographed by me.

This is one of the many sayings in the a cafe called Uprising Muffin located in Shaw, Washington, D.C. I’d like to draw attention to the way it’s written both artistically and in relation to grammar. Visually, it stands out. It’s big, bold, and in an easy to read font. It’s almost as if it’s supposed to grab a person’s attention from across the room… Weird, right? Second, I think it’s equally important to point out that this phrase is written in slang. It could have easily been “Keep your head up.” Instead, it’s “KEEP YA HEAD UP.”

But what does any of this mean? How does this relate to The Howard Theatre and Shaw? Glad you asked.

It’s not uncommon for highly populated areas to develop a preference to speak colloquially. In many cases, speaking in slang can better get your point across to a large group of people. This is especially true if the group you address isn’t exposed to academic prose often, or maybe just has a preference against it. Point is, it delivers the message.

The message this delivers is one of empowerment. The phrase communicates that no matter how wonderful or devastating things may seem, one should always keep moving forward. Given the history of Shaw and especially The Howard Theatre, the phrase is characteristic of the various narratives that have shaped the area. And so, it makes sense for such a piece to be in a cafe a block away from The Howard Theatre.

The Entry to Black Expression

Inside the lobby of the Howard Theatre there are pictures of black singers, subtle light fixtures hanging from the ceiling, and a man at the booth asking for show tickets.
The inside of the Howard Theatre, the lobby, photographed by me.

The lobby of the Howard Theatre. Only one of the booths were open and I waited for the gentleman in front of me to finish talking to the woman working there, but she was very kind and helpful when I told her what I was here for. I think it’s interesting that the inside of the theatre looked much more grand than the outside. It was renovated somewhat recently I believe.

Music is Timeless Here

A signed guitar on display in the Howard Theatre lobby.
A guitar on display inside of the Howard Theatre, photographed by me.

The Howard Theatre has a small lobby exhibit, and by small, I mean really small. Still, the artifacts that were presented in this lobby were stunning. This signed guitar is an example of that. Unfortunately, aside from the signature written, there was nothing written on it. I did receive the contact information for the current manager, and I’ll update this post when I learn more about it.