Sharon Bing maneuvers down the pothole-infested alleyway between V and W streets, N.W. To her right, people congregate in the courtyard of the LeDroit Park Senior public housing complex. To her left stand the skeletal renovations of once public housing.

Bing, 53, walks with a cane and wears a faded bandana, a wearied red T-shirt and a long black skirt. Once she reaches 4th Street, she stops to check the numbers on the contraption attached to her back. The device sends heat and electric impulses throughout her muscles and tissue to help the healing process of recent surgery. A car accident has prevented Bing from working in her cherished profession, registered nursing, for nearly two years now.

Seemingly content with the readings, the Washington, D.C. native and mother of five walks across the street, past the rusted playground and around the backside of her residence. She enters the 400 block, W St. Kelly-Miller public housing building and goes to her first floor apartment. A mere 15 yards away rest the sophisticated facilities and well-manicured lawns of Howard University’s Louis Stokes Health Sciences Library.

Today, Bing is not lamenting her failing health. Nor the months it’s taken to get on disability. And she doesn’t complain about the decaying brick on the outside of her 15-apartment complex. She is lamenting the changing face of the LeDroit Park neighborhood and what she describes as the disintegration of the area’s once tightly knit African-American community.

“That’s the thing about our community,” Bing says. “Our unity, our cohesiveness have just fallen apart.”

Gentrification has been on the forefront of the District’s public mind for years now as the urban Diaspora returns. An influx of affluence into the neighborhoods west of LeDroit, such as the U Street corridor and Logan Circle, have fueled rising property values and consequential displacement of low- to no-income families. But in LeDroit, gentrification is taking on a different shape. A significant portion of the wealth influx belongs to African-American professionals, a phenomenon that defies the traditional notion of the D.C. gentrification trend: rich Whites displacing poor Blacks. And with it comes a poignant texture otherwise less pronounced.

“There’s a certain emotional aspect to how they view it,” Washington Interfaith Network community organizer and LeDroit Park Civic Association member Dorian Archie, 23, said. “They’ll say, ‘Wow this is a brother who did this to us as opposed to White people who have always done this to us in the past. We expect this from them.’“

Bing spent the first several years of her life in LeDroit Park then moved to Tennessee, Georgia, and Virginia. Three of her aunts and one uncle remained and Bing visited the area frequently. At age 20, she returned to attend Howard University and has lived in the District since. Four years ago, Bing moved to a townhouse on 2nd Street in LeDroit. After the accident rendered her incapable of work, she was forced to move into the Kelly-Miller building, where she currently resides.

But etched in Bing’s memory is the LeDroit Park of her youth: A neighborhood rich in culture, art, and community. A neighborhood with Victorian-style homes that reared the likes of jazz legend Duke Ellington and the first African American elected to the United States Senate, Edward Brooke. A neighborhood that housed civil rights activist, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Poet Laureate Paul Laurence Dunbar. This culture was a source of immense pride in the African-American community as it struggled to strip the shackles of segregation. Bing describes a community steeped in faith and genuine concern for fellow African Americans.

“Anybody that spoke about the LeDroit Park area, spoke very proudly,” says Bing. “They would say ‘this is ours, this is our showcase.’”

But as the late ‘60s ushered in an almost half-century-long era plagued by drugs, violence, and poverty, the neighborhood replaced the luminescence of success with the dark reality of destitution. “Those that were still hanging on, they left,” recalls Bing. “The drug situation got so bad and so dangerous.”

Wealth and professional success are now re-entering LeDroit Park, but, according to Bing, the sense of community is not following. The residents of the Kelly-Miller public housing units, a sprawling complex that has seven buildings in the area between 2nd and 4th streets and V and W, expect the African Americans of wealth and power to help them in their times of distress. But Bing and other Kelly-Miller residents say that’s something they simply haven’t witnessed.

The manifestation of this alleged neglect, according to Bing, rests firmly in the construction plans for a vast plot on 2nd Street. Several years ago, the plot was home to the Gage-Eckington Elementary School. After the city closed its doors, debate ensued over the future of the property. Plans to retrofit the building for a Department of Environment office and Senior Wellness Center were deemed economically infeasible and the LeDroit Park Civic Association moved forward with a park initiative. The finalized schematic features a large multi-use playing field, garden plots, a jogging park and a dog park. Despite a recent attempt by Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry to withhold funds for the park – a move many in the city considered mere political posturing – construction efforts were set to begin Sept. 1.

Bing and other Kelly-Miller residents view the park as catering to the wealthier segments of LeDroit, both African American and Caucasian. Bing says public housing residents think the civic association missed a real opportunity to address some of the desperate needs in the Kelly-Miller community.

“It’s sad, it’s sad to see,” says Bing. “It’s sad to see what’s going to come. It’s sad to see that the school was closed for a dog park and not for a center that would enrich the children, or a job preparedness center. Or really anything that would help to serve the Black community.”

But proponents of the park say it will be a location where all members of the community, irrespective of race or economic status, will be able to convene and engage in positive outdoor activity.

Kenan Dunson, 34, is a food acquisition consultant and food critic for the {Examiner.} He lives on Oakdale Place near the corner of 4th St., in close proximity to both the Kelly-Miller complex and the former Gage-Eckington property. Dunson is a D.C. native. He was able to sign a mortgage nearly four years ago through a MANNA program. Recently resigned as vice president of the LeDroit Park Civic Association, Dunson was intimately involved in the park initiative process and wholeheartedly agrees the park will benefit the Kelly-Miller community.

“I think this park is going to be teeming with life,” Dunson says. “The only the way people from Kelly-Miller won’t be here is if their numbers are so changed by this construction they don’t have the same numbers they usually do. Or unless they just don’t want to mix.”

Dunson says the civic association worked hard to engage the residents of Kelly-Miller in the park process but to no avail. Despite holding public discussions in some of the buildings and posting signs about upcoming civic association meetings, the public housing residents simply did not participate in the dialogue.

&

 

BrianDabbs

SpecialtotheAFRO