The question of if the arts belong in the public school system has been circulating for as long as I can remember. I looked to address that as I sat down with Ronald Lee Newman at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts to gather both his experience with he arts as well as his opinion on the issue. As both a student of the arts and a board member at Ellington he’s the perfect candidate to answer my questions.
Washington DC is being remodeled at an alarming rate. And although some see this as a great thing most won’t be around long enough to reap the benefits because of the rapidly increasing rates of rent and general living. I sat own with Lisa Wilkins who is a resident of the first ward to gather both her experience of living in the first ward as well as her thoughts on the gentrification at hand.
The Red Lounge is one of ward one’s most popular hookah bars as it attracts the majority of the ward’s nightlife due to its relative location to liquor dispensaries and bars. Located at 14th Street in Washington D.C., the Red Lounge has been in operation for 14 years and has seen a significant rise in the popularity of hookah within the last three years according to the lounge’s owner Amad Oubah.
“Because of the rising popularity of hookah my business has grown tremendously, especially since we are one of the only Hookah Bars that provide quality hookah,” Oubah said.
Also known as water pipe, shisha and narghile, smoking hookah includes the action of inhaling flavored tobacco through a long flexible tube that draws the smoke out of a bowl often decorative in design.
Kenny Young, a familiar patron of the Red Lounge said, “It’s a pretty cool spot for music and local artists on the weekends”.
Brendan Allen is a frequent patron of the bar and has described it as, “a chill hotspot with some of the best customer service in the area”
Like most of the hookah bars in the area,The Red Lounge sees the majority of its business on the weekend between Friday and Saturday. Oubah describes the crowd as “largely young African Americans who come for the music”.
Upon arrival to the Red Lounge on a typical friday evening the overwhelming presence of youth, alcohol, music, smoke, and the color red immediately consumes your peripheral and central vision.
However, the Red Lounge wasn’t always a local hip-hop hangout spot. It was originally established as the International Grill by Amad Oubah and his wife in 2001. Like most of the other ward one resturants like Dukems, The Apple Lounge, Madjet Restaurant and Bar and Selam Restaurant, the Red Lounge is Ethiopian owned.
“We weren’t just looking for the American Dream, but we added to the community around us as well, before the grill was the lounge. We barely had enough for the rent, but we still gave back to the community by making food for the local homeless shelters and even feeding those who would come to our shop looking to rob us,” Oubah said.
Oubah recalled a story when he and his wife fed a desperate man in need and went on to befriend him only to discover years later that upon his first arrival he intended to rob the store for money to help his sick daughter.
“We treated him so kindly that he changed his mind and would ward off any other person intending to rob the store,” he said.
Eventually the Oubahs worked their way up to the second level of the building eventually owning the entire complex and it also was then that they rearranged the menu and became a lounge, as they are known today.
“Even though we changed the name, people still know us as the International Grill because of what we mean to this community, we still hear people calling us mom and pop because the generations that we helped as kids have grown into respectable adults and I’d like to believe that was because of what me and my wife did,” he said.
While the International Grill has been replaced by a hookah bar, the values they’ve instilled in the community remain the same. Multiple individuals stopped by just to say hello during the two and a half hour interview process alone. With every passing individual the Oubahs knew their name and could recall an interesting story to go along with them.
BlackLivesMatter is an international activist movement established in 2013 as a Twitter hashtag that campaigns against violence toward black Americans.
It was created as a direct response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, 32, a white neighborhood watchman who was charged with the murder of Trayvon Martin who was only 17 at the time of his death. However, in the past three years since the murder of Martin, there have been numerous racially charged murders that have added a passionate spark to this movement.
In light of these murders the Black Lives Matter movement has gathered momentum. Because of the technological advances of the 21st century most of these acts are captured on video, which has finally brought racism to the homes of those who have chosen to turn a blind eye to it.
However, Black Lives Matter has grown from a plight for courtroom justice to a political battle cry which has been the hot subject surrounding presidential hopeful campaigns as well as political debates.
Most recently Hillary Clinton bore witness to the movement up close when she gave a speech at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia. She was interrupted by BLM protesters who insisted that she only briefly covers the subject to exploit the black population for the vote. “Unfortunately, rhetoric DOES NOT save us, nor does it give confidence to black voters that we can trust Hillary to prioritize the necessity of ensuring our safety,” according to one of the protestors.
Although the black community would appear to be mostly united on this particular front, the white community does not appear to be.
The hashtag ‘All Lives Matter’ was created as a direct response to the black lives matter campaign.
David Bedrick, an author for The Huffington Post says it’s being called “more empowering as well as diversity affirming”.
Its popular opinion of black Americans that the ‘All Lives Matter’ movement disregards the importance of the BLM movement and instead attempts to hide the willful ignorance of America’s racist history.
White American resident of the first ward Jacob Jaehne, 18 says, “I see the “All Lives Matter” campaign and although I agree with the statement that all lives matter, I think people get caught up. Honestly, I think it’s downright ironic. BLM is a symbol that people do not recognize all lives matter. In my opinion, people misunderstand the context. Of course all lives matter, and it is because of that that we need to address why black people feel they do not matter as well as methods for which we can change that.”
However, there are some white Americans who are more reserved when they are approached regarding the subject BLM. Jess Marciello, 17 also a resident of the first ward stated “As far as I know I agree with their views but I’m not very educated on their objectives” almost as if she’s completely bias.
Her view is not uncommon. BLM is recognized as a radical protest on social media platforms such as Twitter. The use of the hashtag (Black Lives Matter) is usually followed by attacks from multiple, aggressive, close minded individuals who refuse to see the larger picture of the movement. Most of which are white males. Their arguments stand on the fact that black-on-black crime remains an issue within the black community and that black Americans should deal with that before they attack white Americans for not valuing their life.
All white Americans do not share those beliefs. When asked about the BLM movement Jaehne said, “everyone deserves a voice, no matter what they identify. I agree with the cause and feel that the best and perhaps only way to indicate that something is wrong is to raise awareness. BLM in my opinion sends an appropriate message that the issue of race is still that – an issue, and needs to be addressed and further dealt with.”
Which perfectly captures the message that BLM is attempting to reveal in the protests speeches and hashtags.
Gentrification is defined as the buying and renovating of houses and stores in urban neighborhoods, which results in increased property values and displacing lower-income families and small businesses.
It is becoming an increasingly prevalent factor in the Washington D.C. area as hundreds of predominately African-American families are being forced from their homes at the result of skyrocketing property rates and rent to make way for a massive redevelopment plan.
Neighborhoods known for being predominately black within the District such as Barry Farm, Lincoln Heights, Northwest One, Park Morton and U Street have been targeted for reconstruction.
“The new homes will be razed and new “mixed-income” units as well as commercial spaces will be built in their stead,” according to a report from mixpressnews.
Within the first ward the presence of white faces have increased within the last five years. Statistically speaking the white and black populations have both been consistently increasing since 1970, however, in the last five years the white population has been increasing while the black population has been on the decline.
Ward one is known for housing some of the districts most historically black neighborhoods such as U Street and Adams Morgan. However, as of late the presence of African-Americans has been on the decline because of the rising cost of living within the areas mentioned. The areavibes site gave the U Street area an F rating because the rates to rent are 15% higher than the rest of the Washington D.C. area.
“A massive redevelopment was immanent as that is the way of the world, however it’s a shame to see that families have to suffer,” said Kevin Bryant when asked to comment on gentrification.
Bryant Resides on T Street with his wife in “one of the last black owned town homes in the neighborhood” according to Bryant.
“I’m under constant pressure from the DCHA (DC Housing Authority) to sell my home and move into one of the affordable housing projects in the ghetto. They’re desperately trying to send me the way of Levant, who was one of the other last black residents in the neighborhood.”
A year later on November 30th the DC Housing Authority was accused of furthering gentrification after one of the wards oldest residents, Levant Graham, 84, was suddenly removed from her home after four decades just a year prior.
Graham who is the mother of 12 said that the home she was removed from “would have been her first”. After four decades she was suddenly removed and relocated to an affordable housing property by the DCHA. The new location is one that she “doesn’t trust” and because of that she’s constantly inside.
“Most of the black population has been moved down to Shaw where the more urban neighborhoods are,” said Lisa Wilkins who is also a ward one resident when asked about the gentrification taking place in her neighborhood. When asked what the project future of her neighborhood was demographically speaking Wilkins replied “whoever can afford it”.
On October 24th, Chipotle Mexican Grill closed 43 of its locations due to an E. coli outbreak in Washington and Oregon State, which infected 35 patrons of the popular fast food chain. Although the cause of the outbreak is still unknown. Chipotle reopened those locations.
Chipotle has become one of America’s newest fastest growing restaurant chains in recent years. According to QSR magazine, sales jumped 25.5 percent from 2003 to 2013, making it the decade’s fastest growing chain.
However, due to the recent E Coli outbreak red-hot sales have been “growing cold” because of the looming fear of contracting the deadly bacterial disease.
“The effects of these recent events on the western coast of the U.S. has sent a ripple effect to that has made its way to the east coast,” said Casim King, 22 about the recent outbreak. King is an employee of a Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant located on 14th Street in the first ward of Washington D.C.
Sara Cooper, 21, who is one of the store managers said, “since the outbreak, business has taken around a 10% dive because even though that happened somewhere else people don’t want to gamble with their health over a meal.”
“You can’t spell Chipotle without E. coli,” said The Center of Consumer Freedom who are critics of the restaurant chain, because of the higher calorie counts of their meals.
“Chipotle has been on top of the fast food industry for the last five years and this outbreak threatens that position,” said Cooper. “The restaurant went from constantly packed to almost always empty”. That’s saying plenty considering how popular Chipotle is in the district.
According to Bloomberg Business, “one location seeing particularly strong growth is Washington D.C., according to analysts at JPMorgan. In 2005, JPMorgan estimates that Chipotle had around 10 locations per million D.C. residents, and by 2014 had grown to just over 30 locations.”
Because D.C. is a popular location for the company, a lack or drop in business activity here could potentially signify a recessionary period for the company. A blemish on the otherwise spotless face of the consumer favorite.
An article posted recently on Bloomberg Business confirms exactly that, claiming that its biggest strength, the promise of fresh food, has now turned into its greatest weakness or liability. As a result of the E. Coli outbreak both sales and stock prices have fallen to an all time low.
With the victim toll rising to 52 people in 9 different states one has the right to be suspicious of the once favorite restaurant.