By C.N. Staff Writer
Each year one of the District’s oldest continuous parades takes place in southeast. The Congress Heights Day event kicked off with its annual parade that began at Malcolm X Elementary School and ended at the recently opened St. Elizabeth’s Gateway Pavilion on Martin Luther king Jr. Ave. SE. The parade featured marching bands, cheerleaders and dance teams across the southeast area, also had local community and civic leaders who marched. This year the Grand Marshall was Vice Admiral Manson K. Brown, United States Coast Guard.
The parade celebrates the rich heritage of the Congress Heights Community. The event is sponsored by the Congress Heights Civic Association, where longtime civic activist and community leader Philip Pannell serves as president. “This is such a great event because it celebrates the community,” Pannell said. Pannell has been the president of the civic association for the past few years and under his leadership the organization has received two prestigious awards over the last two years from the Federation of Civic Associations: Civic Association of the Year and President of the Year for a Civic Association.
Each year Councilmember’s across the city attend the celebration and take part in the activities. This year Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser marched in the parade with a group of supporters. Bowser just recently won the Democratic Primary for Mayor and will go one to face a general election challenge. During welcoming remarks, Bowser said, “It’s nice to see so many of my colleagues out supporting Ward 8 and the great work the Congress Heights Civics Association is doing in this community.” Council Chairman Phil Mendelson also attended the parade.
The day also featured many activities and a various vendor booths, which were set up at the Pavilion. Local schools, churches, organizations and independent vendors were on hand recruiting and selling their products.
There was a health fair where various health-oriented community organizations participated along with official District government agencies. This year the event began a new tradition- instituting the community’s largest line dance. Participants young and old participated in the event which showed off the dancing skills of community members. Audrey Hailes, one of the younger dancers said, “I had so much fun dancing this year. I can’t wait to come back again next year!”
The event also featured live music performances from local artists. This year the lineup included Chi Chi Monet, Brittany Anderson, Daytona State, James Poet, Darius Wolley, Shelia D and Niya. There was also a featured special guest appearance by Marcus Canty, former Baltimore contestant form the X Factor USA.
Also participating in the vending was the monthly Whole Foods pop-up mini store. The event brought many more patrons than the normal, adding to the element of ‘health’ that the festival was also promoting. Parade Event Coordinator and board member of the Congress Heights Civic Association, Monica Ray, said the event just keeps growing every year and she is proud of its success. “It is a great thing to see the people of the Congress Heights community having fun; while some people are partaking in supporting the vendors, others have the wonderful opportunity to learn and gather information on Health Awareness, which is something the event tries hard to promote.” Ray also noted that she was extremely proud of the sponsorship for the event and how it continues to grow every year. “We are reaching a level where the event is becoming more sponsorship driven, which is excellent for the event because it not only helps offset costs, but helps to promote our sponsor’s products and services,” she said. Some of this year’s sponsors included, District Development Group, Vision of Victory, LLC, Anacostia Coordinating Council, The Capital News, ANC8D and Brighter Day Ministries, to name only a few.
Congress Heights, which contains the largest commercial district in Ward 8, is bounded by Mississippi Avenue SE to the southeast, Wheeler Road SE to the east, Alabama Avenue SE to the north, and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and South Capitol Street to the northwest. It is served by the Congress Heights station on the Green Line, of the Washington Metro. Most residents live in garden apartments, but there are also older single-family bungalows. Frank W. Ballou High School and Hart Middle School serve the neighborhood.
Congress Heights, which takes its name from its hilly geography that offers a view across the Anacostia to the Capitol, began development as a neighborhood in the late 1920s when it was established as the end of the Washington streetcars line. Prior to World War II the D.C. National Guard was housed at Camp Simms. The facility included firing ranges up to 1,000 yards. It was on Alabama Avenue at the intersection of Stanton Road and Barry Farms Housing Project. During WW II it had gun emplacements (Anti-Aircraft) to defend Washington from air attack. After World War II, the U.S. Army built a military reserve facility, in the central part of Congress Heights.
The campus of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital already stood immediately northwest of the neighborhood. Many early residents worked at the U.S. Naval Gun Factory, which stopped production about 1960, or at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. The annual Martin Luther King Birthday parade on the avenue bearing his name, is a notable neighborhood event. Starting in 2006, the parade date was changed from January to April to accommodate for cold weather. Now, the parade is held closer to the anniversary of his death (April 4, 1968), rather than his birthday (January 15, 1929). There is a new tennis and learning center on Mississippi Avenue, combining sports and school tutoring.
Because of its location in Southeast Washington, Congress Heights had experienced great urban neglect for several decades. The reason it experienced neglect was due to the great white flight as it was termed by journalists in the middle sixties. However, in the 21st century, Congress Heights has received a great deal of attention from the city and urban developers. Nineteen development projects worth a total of $455 million are underway or completed in Congress Heights as of November 2006. Among these are a redevelopment of St. Elizabeth’s West Campus for federal use and the east campus, where the event took place for Congress Heights Day. A request for proposals from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority for the area around the Congress Heights Metro station has been issued and there is a new Giant Grocery Store along Alabama Ave. SE, the first full-service grocery store constructed in the Ward in nearly 40 years. It is located at The Shops at Park Village, which features several retail stores, food shops and a Wells Fargo bank. Also in the shopping center is one of the Ward’s busiest restaurants, IHOP.
For more information on how you can become involved in the event next year please visit www.congressheightsday.com