Flowers in the Concrete Jungle

Some Duke Ellington students don’t feel safe at their temporary U Street location in Washington DC. Duke Ellington was relocated to the District’s first ward in August 2014 as their building at 3500 R Street underwent some much needed renovations. However, since then, students, alumni and staff feel their safety have decreased tremendously.

Duke Ellington School of the Arts has been home to many of the District’s talented youth since it was established and a joined venture by the late Mike Malone and Peggy Cooper Cafritz in 1974. Since its establishment It has been located at the heart of Georgetown. Many students commuting from the violent streets of southeast DC consider the location a “safe haven” offering the students a more welcoming environment to artistically express themselves. Be it dressing more expressively or coming to terms with their unique sexual identities they find safety behind the walls of Ellington.

Ellington Alumni Rashawnda Williams said “I’ve never felt more like myself among individuals who I considered peers. Even now still in college my heart desperately yearns for that connection. It was so rare. I just knew when it was over I would never have another experience like Ellington”.

when asked about his experience at Ellington Arts Marcus Spaulding agreed with Williams “you never quite understand how great something is when you’re living in the moment of it. You just know that when it’s gone they’ll never be another”.  

However, as of the summer of 2014 that safe haven that students know and love would temporarily inaccessible to the youth that currently call this place their home as well as those that once did.

Despite not loving the move, Williams thought the renovation was long overdue. When asked about her experience at Ellington Williams said  “The budget seemed to be a little lacking as far as the building’s interior was concerned. The majority of the funding seemed to be funneled back into the students for artistic ventures and less so the general upkeep of the building. That thing was coming down any day” she said.

However, it seems the true cost of relocating would not only be a monetary cost to the school but a sacrifice to the students as well.

Artistic ambitions aside Ellington parents send their children to this particular school for the comfort of safety in a city that is growing increasingly dangerous by the day.

According to the Metropolitan Police Department, as of the second week of September 120 deaths have been recorded within the District. That’s a 50% increase from this same time last year. Gun crimes alone are up 20%.

According to Ronald Newman a member of the board of directors and a strong presence within the school “the temporary location has definitely has a major impact on  student admissions and safety”

In the past five years or so the residents of the Georgetown area have petitioned to have Duke Ellington School of the Arts become a neighborhood school without the arts component for their children who lack any craft. The school has constantly been in danger of being removed from the hands of the students and staff simply because of the black presence it comes along with.

Hardy elementary school is located close within the proximity of the original campus. Parents of the students also had this to say in the Washington Post article “Chancellor Rhee is trying to squeeze African American students out of the middle school”.     

This current school year marks the one year anniversary of both the school’s new location and the anniversary of then principal of the school father payne’s passing. William Garay past department chair of the technical theatre program had this to say about the situation “The first year was difficult but that’s because of the unfortunate circumstance of our principal Father Payne passing, it’s different without him there but we’ve managed and we’ve finally got it together man! if you ever need another story to report on this is the sunday times” as he motions toward the new location.


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