Walking in Southeast DC
It is no secret in my social circle that I’ve grown weary of living on my street in my neighborhood. Southeast Washington, D.C. is one of the last quadrants of the city ripe for revitalization. I bought my first house here nearly 7 years ago for that reason. Without jumping completely on a soapbox, I’ll just say that some change is evident, but it’s slow.
There are new condos and single-family homes nearby. One condo building sits atop an organic food market that sticks out like a sore thumb. But in an area crowded with fast food restaurants, the option to choose healthy, organic fare over the artery-clogging stuff is a huge deal!
Still, Southeast has the highest crime rates in the city. Less than a month ago, there was a shooting in the alley behind my house. And I’m consistently reminded of how little respect some have for the properties of others. Suffice it to say, I’ve never felt at home here. I’ve never felt a sense of community, either.
Home for me is Philadelphia, where I spent the first 10 years of my life, and subsequently moved back to for college. When I think of “community,” I think of my old neighborhood, a village, really. We all looked out for each other. We all knew each other. I was blessed to grow up in a loving, two-parent household. But when Jackie and Steve Gilliam weren’t watching me, a host of other unofficial guardians around me were. And we young folks respected them for it. Annual block parties in the summer were a love fest where neighbors grilled burgers and hotdogs for anyone who stopped by, music blared, people danced, and kids played freely. It was the kind of community I wanted to be an adult in one day.
So what happened? Did I grow up and became a grumpy homeowner? Or have communities like the ones I knew disappeared? Do I have a community in Southeast, DC and not realize it? Writing this forced me to put aside the housing section of The Washington Post, and simmer on that idea.
I closed my eyes to think positive thoughts. Who can count on me and who can I count on? There are my immediate neighbors – on one side Miss Barbara, a dog lover like me who travels often for work, and on the other Miss Denise, a retiree who coincidentally grew up on this block and now happily keeps to herself. Both are awesome women who dish out good advice from time to time. When one of us is away, we keep an eye on each other’s property. There’s Cadillac Man, nicknamed for his ever-glistening Escalade, who seems to own every tool my husband and I don’t. When he sees us struggling with a task, he eagerly jumps in and helps. And Mr. Parrot. Without this sweet, old guy, the block would remain littered. He totes trash bags and sweeps it from top to bottom everyday. Now this community doesn’t quite resemble the one I long for. Not even close. Times have changed.
But maybe I need to be part of the solution. Perhaps it’s up to me to help create a more harmonious ‘hood. I can join local organizations to connect myself. I can get to know and extend myself to more of my neighbors. I can come up with a reason for a group of us neighbors to kick back and chew the fat like my parents did back in the day. I can be a part of the revitalization!
Before I move to seemingly greener pastures, I resolve to try. If you’re not happy with the community you live in, you should, too.
Stacy Gilliam is a part-time producer at One Economy Corp. She lives in D.C. with her husband and adorable Shih Tzu, Mylo.