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“Chocolate City,” referring to Washington, D.C.’s nearly 70 percent black population in the latter part of the 20th century, has been transformed in front of my very eyes. Fewer black folks in the city today is truly ironic, partly because this detraction is due to the sport that is known typically for lacking enough chocolate.
Southwest Washington, D.C., isn’t the same, and the city hasn’t been, either, for more than a decade.
In 2005, the former Washington Senators of Major League Baseball returned home as the Nationals after a stint as the Montreal Expos. This meant our youths finally had a different set of role models to look up to — not ballers, but ballplayers. Being an impressionable 10-year-old, singing first exposed me to professional baseball in D.C. when I sang the national anthem at a Nats exhibition game with the D.C. Boys Choir.
We were a handful of black boys from all across D.C. who came together in song for a few priceless moments in a world unknown to us. Performing at an MLB game definitely instilled in us a sense of culture shock and possibilities that afternoon at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Northeast D.C.
After the Nats’ first season at RFK, city officials revealed they were eyeing major changes to the baseball environment that ultimately affected much of D.C. In May 2006, they began constructing a new baseball stadium on South Capitol Street in D.C., just 250 feet from my boyhood home in Southwest.
One year earlier, I was enthralled by the national treasure I had missed out on as a kid from the city while feeling the contagious energy of the Nats’ home crowd. With a stadium in the works, I wasn’t necessarily prepared to feel that same thunderous applause, fireworks and ruckus. My family has experienced this intense fandom come alive each night the Nats play through the walls of our townhome on Carrollsburg Place Southwest — walls that feel way too thin on game days.
Our house is located right off South Capitol Street, which separates the southern quadrants of the city into Southeast and Southwest, and the team built its stadium at 1500 South Capitol St. S.E. It’s in a different quadrant, but it’s just one block over from my alley.
The stadium definitely has its bright spots, such as festive outings in The Bullpen and occasional live concerts, and D.C. is now officially making a name for itself as a sports town, which makes our fans proud to claim John Wall, Bryce Harper and Alexander Ovechkin. But with all the good that can come from having a stadium or two in the neighborhood, there are even greater consequences that have affected my family for over a decade. Not only are we witnesses to the removal of black people from Southwest, but the entire neighborhood feels this industrialization and the gentrification that came along with it.
Todd Grosshan bought a rowhouse near the stadium when it was being built, and both sets of his neighbors were uprooted. “We had neighbors on either side of us; they’re gone,” he said. “But they were renting or Section 8 and they didn’t own their houses, so the owners decided property values are high enough and they said, ‘OK, time for y’all to go.’ ”
The city desperately tried to get my family to give up our spot on the block. We wouldn’t go, and neither would many neighbors around the way who just wouldn’t budge.
Keya Kennedy, a Southwest resident who has lived in Syphax Gardens Public Housing since before the stadium was built, didn’t fear pushback from contractors. “This is our city, [and] if we work and pay our rent the same way like anybody else, then we deserve to be here just as well,” she said. “They tried to put fear in us, but that didn’t happen.”
The city has a history of attempting to put fear in black residents, and this cycle is deeply rooted in Southwest. Therefore, today’s gentrification is actually no coincidence. In 1952, according to There’s No Place Like Home: Anthropological Perspectives on Housing and Homelessness in the United States, the Redevelopment Authority enacted a “renewal plan” for Southwest that drove out its thriving black community at the time. The black population in the District went from 71 percent at its peak in the 1970s to losing the majority in 2011, just three years after the Nats came to Southwest.
The “ballpark in the ‘hood” has caused the tearing down of many longtime D.C. establishments, and the “new and improved” Southwest has since experienced new visitors frequenting the neighborhood.
Kennedy notices more white people, but not only during baseball games. “Every day, going to the Metro, in our stores,” she said. “Everywhere.”
Our black residents are annoyed that we don’t have access to many places that were signs of our identity. They were replaced.
“There are no gas stations around here, and no fast-food places or places for us to eat,” Kennedy said. Besides the lack of accessibility to basic necessities such as food and fuel, Southwest is missing its social atmosphere as well. The city razed many hallmarks of our once-black community, such as the nightclubs like Zanzibar and H20 on the old Waterfront.
“That was the spot,” said Michelle Stanton, a resident of D.C. for 30 years after moving here from Rhode Island. “That’s where black people went because they felt comfortable.”
All around the stadium there are new hotels, dry cleaners, banks and a trendier look for the newest occupants. I’ve never seen so many “coming soon” posters on street corners. To some, it may appear to make the area more accommodating for fans and tourists, but in reality it has driven out those who look like me.
“They came in, and they kind of bullied their way in,” said Stanton, who lives on Half Street Southwest. “They had no respect for black people … they didn’t care about black people.”
Grosshan broke down D.C. and the current state of gentrification in the simplest way he could: “Well, black folk are leaving and white folk are coming in,” he said.
Contrary to Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s four-hour series Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise, this is quite the opposite of white flight; it’s yet another form of black migration and the African diaspora. Now it is, as the adage goes, out with the old (black) and in with the new (white).
“Chocolate City” might not ever reach the chocolateness of its heyday, according to Stanton. “That’ll never happen again,” she said. “It’s white chocolate.”
Some of us miss the real Southwest D.C. and the oh-so-real D.C. We could do without this white chocolate substitution.
“I’ve noticed a lessening of that ethnic flavor,” Grosshan said, referring to the music and partying he used to hear at night in his alley. “That’s just because of the changeover in people.”
The stadium didn’t clean up the community, it just cleaned many of us and our institutions out. An emblem of black neighborhoods has always been the black church. Second Baptist Church Southwest used to be located across from the Southwest DMV, but it sold its property and moved to District Heights, Maryland, in 2011. The neighborhood became too expensive because of the ballpark.
“[The stadium] had a definite impact on our ability to stay in Southwest,” said Janice Lucas, chairman of the church’s board of trustees. “We had been there since the early ’50s.”
Without our churches, urban flavor and ethnic atmosphere, the chocolate west has been depleted, and the District has gone from a chocolate city to a much lighter and fluffier treat that I call s’mores.
The baseball stadium’s displacement of black bodies, institutions and culture in Southwest, much like D.C.’s state of gentrification, signifies how some corporations and the many new white folks view us.
“We’re just a color to them,” Stanton said. “I guess we don’t matter.”
Rachel, I doubted you, but you pulled through and made the right choice: Lee is gone, y’all! Bachelor Nation can now enjoy The Bachelorette (sorry, Chicago!) without feeling guilty about watching a racist dude pine after a black woman. But even with Lee out of the picture, Kenny wasn’t safe. He just couldn’t walk away from the two-on-one without some choice final words for Lee, none of which are appropriate for me to repeat here. His decision to go back irked Rachel, but Kenny eventually got the rose.
— Rachel Lindsay (@TheRachLindsay) June 28, 2017
Here’s where things got really good. We all know Kenny is a devoted father, so much so he’s apparently the only cast member who is allowed to have contact with the outside world. If you’re not ugly-crying during his emotional Skype sessions with his 10-year-old daughter, McKenzie, well, you’re just not here for the right reasons. On Monday night, Clinton (who so graciously allows me to take over every now and again) wondered why Kenny stayed at all, given how he had to put up with such nonsense from Lee. Tuesday night, Kenny answered that question: “The potential impact that Rachel could have in our lives is the reason I’m still here.” He’s so devoted to his daughter.
I need Kenny's daughter to start giving me relationship advice #TheBachelorette
— Astrid Loch (@astrid_loch) June 28, 2017
Unfortunately it wasn’t enough, as after a heart-to-heart with Rachel she let him go because she knew how much of a toll being away from McKenzie was for him. And he left graciously, acknowledging how smart and insightful Rachel is. Kenny was willing to give up Rachel for his daughter, which is all we can hope and ask for. I’m not crying, you are! I hope it works out with Rachel and whoever she does pick, because if it doesn’t work out with that guy, I think she’ll regret that Kenny slipped through her grasp.
Kenny won. He didn't get with Rachel, but he won. #TheBachelorette
— Tierra R. Wilkins (@Yerraaa) June 28, 2017
There were other, not so gracious exits. Oh, Josiah. You were never as cool as you thought you were.
Josiah is the guy who calls you beautiful while trying to get your number but when you turn him down calls you a b-#TheBachelorette
— Vicktor Alexander (@VVeeB) June 28, 2017
Also leaving the show were Anthony and Will. Neither man had anything wrong with him per se, but they didn’t have what Rachel’s looking for. Let’s talk about Will. I won’t even get into his dating history (white girls). The more pertinent thing is the way he behaved around Rachel. He was extremely respectful, to the point of emotional and physical distance. As we’ve seen time and time again with some of the more assertive guys, Rachel isn’t looking for a guy who takes his time, and a lot of the men on the show hover somewhere between shy and respectful, depending on how you look at who you’re rooting for.
But here’s the thing: Rachel is a power bottom. She’s looking for that guy who will take charge and scoop her in for a kiss without asking first. Will wasn’t willing to step up to the plate, so Rachel sent him packing after their one-on-one. She was insulted when he told her about how passionate he was in past relationships (with white women), and she had every right to be because he wasn’t showing her any of that passion. Will doesn’t have to try so hard to elucidate passion with white women, I guarantee you. Just his big, black presence is enough for them. Rachel clearly didn’t appreciate being Will’s black girl experiment. This is, perhaps, the learning moment we’ve been waiting for.
— Alexinski (@anelly_94) June 28, 2017
At this point there are two clear front-runners: Bryan and Eric. From day one, Rachel has been extremely attracted to both men, but they offer very different things. Bryan is the alpha of the pack and exudes sex appeal. He’s suave, but we don’t really know that much about him, which is unusual at this point in the game. It’s looking more and more like he’s a loser in cool clothing. Eric is the sweeter of the two, and his eagerness at the prospect of a relationship makes up for the fact that he doesn’t move as fast as Bryan. Plus, he’s an open book.
There are also two dark horses:
— Am Sam (@BigBrothersMom) June 28, 2017
Seriously, who are these guys and how did they get a rose when Alex didn’t?! I can’t believe they’re still here when four (4!) black guys were eliminated in one episode. I can’t wait for next week.
Clinton Yates contributed to this report.
There is one education-based tech company that has found a way for mothers to become teachers at home, which offers them the opportunity to become hands-on with the early learning process of their children and, for some, even increase their household income.
San Francisco-based tech company Wonderschool is offering some relief. This digital marketplace of early child care programs recently announced it received a $2 million round of financing, led by First Round Capital and including Cross Culture Ventures, SoftTech VC, Lerer Ventures, FundersClub and Edelweiss. The funds will be used to build the initial product and team network of boutique early childhood programs that combine the quality standards of the best child care facilities in the world with the personal touch of an in-home program.
The money raised will also help the company attain its goal of democratizing high-quality preschools and teachers and helping them double their salaries by becoming small-business owners, which in turn can benefit mothers who opt to become teacher moms.
According to Wonderschool, the child care marketplace is in a crisis. There aren’t enough preschools to meet demand, and high-quality preschools are scarce: One study found that only 8 percent of preschools it surveyed across eight states are of high quality.
According to the press release, Wonderschool partners with experienced educators and child care providers, assisting them with licensing, program setup, marketing and more. Its software allows program directors to manage their students, parents and their program from one dashboard. All programs set up nurturing, developmentally appropriate in-home environments and must define program philosophy and curriculum for parents. Mentors provide Wonderschool directors with coaching, support, professional development and training.
Wonderschool’s program quality and oversight is guided by Mia Pritts, a childhood education expert who was in the team of preschool pioneers who started the groundbreaking campus preschool system at Google, Stanford and Pixar. The organization has more than 50 early childhood programs in its network in California and plans to expand to 15 cities.
“There is a true crisis around ‘child care deserts,’ where for every one slot at a child care center there are three or more kids vying for the spot,” Pritts said. “Wonderschool provides one solution to this issue by giving parents more options while combining the quality of a commercial program with the soul of a neighborhood one.”
Approximately 60 percent of Wonderschool’s current partners are women of color, and 20 percent of the directors are black women. In a study conducted this year, Wonderschool found that some teachers have gone from unemployed or taking jobs paying about $38,000 to earning $60,000 annually. The study revealed that the bulk of their partners are in the San Francisco Bay area and Los Angeles, two areas with high costs of living.
More than a third of the program directors were stay-at-home parents when they decided to work with Wonderschool to start their own in-home program.
How does Wonderschool work?
- A digital child dashboard: Parents browse Wonderschool programs nearby, schedule visits, enroll their children, review program philosophy and curriculum, and make payments.
- Preschool mentors: Team mentors are education professionals and provide teachers with coaching, support, professional development and training.
- Helps teachers become business owners: Educators are helped with licensing, program setup, marketing and more so that they can focus on what they are good at: creating a high-quality sanctuary for kids.
Wonderschool was developed by veteran entrepreneurs Chris Bennett and Arrel Gray because of the problem Gray faced finding good child care for his family.
The program will help with child care affordability and scarcity.
“The first five years of a child’s life are a critical period of learning and development, when a child needs opportunities to explore and socialize,” said Bennett, co-founder and CEO of Wonderschool. “By providing online tools and a community of support for educators, we simplify the process of starting and growing an in-home child care or preschool program so our partners can focus on what they do best: the quality of their curriculum and teaching. Parents benefit from having their child at a program with the quality standards of some of the best centers in the world.”
A slave master, four centuries ago, could avoid legal sanction for using lethal force against his enslaved property by simply saying the latter opposed correction. “I was disciplining my slave, who then resisted.” Utter those magic words and the state would level no punishment if the master committed homicide. A police officer, now, can avoid legal sanction for using lethal force against a person by simply saying the latter made the officer fear for his or her life. “I stopped someone on the street, and I then thought my life was in danger.” Utter those magic words and the state will level no punishment if the officer commits homicide.
Black folk, always the victim in the first context, also bear the brunt of these legal realities in the second. Thus, because of these magic words, black people living today, during police encounters, have the same right to life as did a stolen African in the 17th century.
My mind conceived this historical analogy while stewing in the misery produced by the acquittal of St. Anthony, Minnesota, police officer Jeronimo Yanez, who snatched away the life of Philando Castile, a black man. During a traffic stop for a busted taillight, Castile, after informing Yanez he had a firearm, reached for his identification per Yanez’s request. Yanez told him not to pull out his firearm. Castile replied, “I’m not pulling it out.” Yanez next fired his gun seven times into the white 1997 Oldsmobile, killing Castile, as his girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter sat inches away as a man they loved breathed his final breaths while bathing in his own blood.
Yanez, on the witness stand during his trial, uttered those magic words: “I was scared to death. I thought I was going to die. … I had no other choice.” He, therefore, walked out of Ramsey County courthouse a free man, a jury acquitting him of second-degree manslaughter and other lesser offenses. Castile’s family, though, left shedding tears, a melancholic scene that recent events have forced to replay on an endless loop, most recently when former Milwaukee officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown was acquitted for killing Sylville Smith, despite the incident being filmed.
Much of the outcry about these verdicts has focused on how they reveal that racial oppression molests every aspect of our criminal justice apparatus, how the system operates as intended when it never punishes cops who kill black folk. Although this conversation must hurtle onward, we must also situate these fatal occurrences in historical context, dramatizing how harrowing the black plight continues to be. We achieve this by reckoning with a brutal truth — during police encounters, black folk have as much agency over whether they will ever lay eyes on their loved ones again as their enslaved ancestors did when being punished by their masters.
The Virginia Colony, in 1669, enacted a statute permitting the killing of an enslaved person who resisted an owner’s corrective punishment. The reasoning behind the statute appalls current sensibilities: “[I]t cannot be presumed that propensed malice,” the statute stated, “should induce any man to destroy his own estate.” Since an owner, in other words, would not lay waste to his own property because of evil intentions, the state should presume the owner acted properly when such killings occurred. Other colonies, because Virginia was the first and most influential colony, followed suit, passing similar laws. This meant something horrifying for the enslaved throughout colonial America — the law allowed an owner to kill them if the owner’s story fit a specified narrative.
So, too, can police officers kill when their stories fit a specified narrative, the I-feared-for-my-life narrative. Officers can use deadly force when reasonably believing their lives are in peril. The Supreme Court wrote, in Graham v. Connor, the situation “must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.” Because prosecutors and jurors presume officers behave properly, a presumption that slave owners enjoyed too, whether they get charged or convicted turns more on their ability to recount a convincing tale than on the surrounding facts.
American society transmits explicit and implicit messages about black people’s inherent dangerousness, making us susceptible to believing a black person posed a threat in most any scenario. Cops understand that should an ordeal with a black person turn deadly, their ability to utter the magic words inoculates them from punishment, a scary fact that black folk understand all too well.
The police officer, like the slave master before him, has been allowed by the state to dispense summary justice. If white people feared, like black people do, that their lives were subject to the decision-making of an easily frightened or malicious officer, changes would surely be instituted. To prevent the next Philando Castile or Sylville Smith, black folk need allies willing to wield arms in the battle to strip the magic from words.