By C.N. Staff Writer
Former “Mayor for Life” Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry hosted a screening for his new documentary “Ward 8- The Past. The Present. The Future.” The screening was held at The Arc in southeast mid September. The film highlighted the history of Ward 8 and in Barry’s words, “told my story of the ward” and dispelled many of the negative images that have been shown about the area. Barry said his goal was to show the vast opportunities that exist and change the perception of what people think of East of the River.
The screening was hosted by WHUT and was attended by various members of the community. In the film, Barry detailed the history of Ward 8 and also gave details about other neighborhoods across the District. The film showed the history of how African Americans have been slowly and systematically moved to Ward 8 through various government-sponsored initiatives such as “urban renewal.”
The film featured various political leaders, colleagues and friends of Barry who have seen the city and Ward 8 transition over the years. Former Mayor’s Sharon Pratt Kelly and Anthony Williams spoke about the legislative history of city and how it affected Ward 8. Williams along with Barry made emphasis on the Congressional ruling that governed the city before the Home Rule Act and how those leaders heavily influenced city-appointed leadership. In addition to the two former mayors’ the film featured developers and businessmen, Phinis Jones and Stanley Jackson, who have worked in Ward 8 and/or had projects that are built in the ward.
The film began with ‘The Past,’ which showed how African Americans were living in nearly every ward of the city. They dominated the Georgetown and Shaw neighborhoods in the upper northwest quadrant. However, through legislation, they began to get pushed further east, first from lower northwest to northeast and then areas in southwest around the waterfront to east of the river. The film showed how the Ward has not received the same resources that other wards in the city had received, highlighting how Ward 8 was separated from the rest of the city via its transportation, with some of the last Metrorail’s coming east of the river.
‘The Present’ part of the film showed the current condition of the ward and its accomplishments over the last few years. In this section of the film WC Smith Construction President, Chris Smith spoke about how the ward was a food desert before he acquired land on Alabama Ave. SE between the Congress Heights Metro and Stanton Road, SE. On one side the development a Giant Grocery Store was built with an I-Hop and other retail on the front. I-HOP is the only major sit-down restaurant in the Ward. On the opposite side of the development sits Henson Ridge, a town home community with renters and homeowners.
Throughout the film, Barry highlighted how Ward 8 had been known as a “renters” ward, but developers like Smith and Phinis Jones were building homes people could own. Phinis Jones is a longtime resident of the ward, having moved here from Mississippi in 1968. In the film he said, “If you don’t own it, you can’t control it.” Jones was the developer for Woodmont Crossing, which is a single-family home development on Good Hope Rd. SE. In the film he said he remembered when Ward 8 was predominantly white, but as the white flight movement happened African Americans began to move into southeast but they were renting instead of buying.
‘The Present’ also spoke about the new development that is coming down the pipeline. One of the ward’s long standing public housing developments Barry Farms is due to be redeveloped and while residents are promised a spot back in once it is redeveloped, the likelihood that all will return seemed low pending new restrictions that would be placed on the building. This section of the film also focused on a young homeowner who made the decision to move her family to the Anacostia neighborhood of the ward.
During her segments of the film, she lamented how her friends across the city decided to sacrifice moving east of the river due to safety concerns and instead ended up in a more dense area with less living space and a higher cost to live. She said that she is willing to stay and invest in Ward 8 because she knows that the ward will soon change. She said while there are areas of the ward that are ‘transitional’ she believes every ward in the city has that too. She said she enjoys her house and her yard space where her two kids can play and she is committed to investing in the ward and staying there as long as possible.
‘The Future’ featured where Ward 8 is heading. Barry talked about the continuous development and spoke about new buildings that will soon come to the ward. He highlighted the growth that U Street, NW experienced when he was mayor. While mayor Barry revitalized the U Street corridor with the building of the Reeves Center, which housed hundreds of District government workers. During the film he said he remembered how many of his top officials didn’t understand his investment into the dilapidated part of the city, but that building “helped change the street.” And he believes that same model is the future of Ward 8. The Department of Housing and Community Development is located on Good Hope Road, SE and next to it is a vacant plot of land. The Reeves Center will do a land swap with Ackridge to develop that land and bring a new government building.
Barry said once that building comes, which is located in Historic Anacostia, the neighborhood will grow because of the demand of new services. Additionally, Congress Heights is experiencing new growth. During Barry’s term as mayor the federal government released the east and west campuses of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. Barry decided he would keep the east side of the campus and let the federal government keep the west side. In the film the St. Elizabeth’s East Executive Director Catherine Buell gave an in depth history of the east campus. She also spoke about the two new projects that have come, DC Gateway Pavilion and the R.I.S.E. Center, which is located in the old chapel.