Where Family Goes, Is Always Home

Estimated read time 5 min read

Originally published on July 1, 2014

I recently had a very long conversation with my sister, Vanessa Abernathy. I’ve been photographing the city for six months now, and now that I am done (save for a few on-going subjects) I admitted to feeling a bit discouraged.

The city is changing at a phenomenal pace. I’ve seen references to New York’s Manhattan with regard to DC’s evolution. I researched the population of New York City and its boroughs compared to Washington, DC and its surrounding suburbs.

Although Prince George’s County is not (at this point) the focus of rapid gentrification, I’m not sure it won’t be at some point in time. How much land space does the District have and how far into the sky can it build? After Virginia and Montgomery County become overwhelmed, will Washington-area “wannabees” finally give a look to moving into this county in order to live closer to the city ?

I ask myself why is my county moving so slowly on creating “livable walkable” communities for its current residents or is it waiting for the D.C. spillover. I ask myself what is really driving the effort to delete Go Go music from the cultural music scene in the city. When all of the small businesses that make communities distinctive are driven out of business, what will be left that will make a community special. I admit to having a love of Starbucks, but I’d gladly support a coffee bar in my neighborhood if I could find one to walk to.

1700 block of Park Road in the Mount Pleasant community of NW, DC

The things that were most loved about Adams Morgan, U Street, Columbia Heights and Eastern Market was very much about the culture of the community. On a recent trip to Samber’s Market (name still exists) I did not see groceries as I did when I was a child in Mount Pleasant. Heller’s Bakery (name still exists) is more like a coffee shop with pastries than the sweet smelling bakery of my childhood in the same Mount Pleasant.

Dupont Circle is no longer the counter cultural hot spot of the 60s and 70s, and U Street feels very “hip” and new, not the root of soul that it used to be. But that is okay. I don’t begrudge people for wanting to move into the DC area. I just want to be able to afford to stay.

So, I am conflicted. It is a delight to me to see the city grow into its new fabulousness, but at what expense? Perhaps I wouldn’t feel this way if there was more aggressive development of affordable housing so that those who lived here in the bad times, can continue to live here in the good times.

I might feel less apprehensive if the sight of homelessness did not now appear to have a greater contrast with the wealth boom in the city. Walking through gentrifying neighborhoods feels strange, kind of like the way I felt when my family first moved to Landover in 1967. We were one of the first African-American families to move onto the block. Are things reversing? Are we integrating only to segregate once again, albeit economically?

Will economic segregation at some point again turn into racial segregation? I’m 59, so perhaps my pessimism is due to my age. I’m hoping that it is and that I am very wrong. I am hoping that all Washington area jurisdictions will work hard to make housing and education affordable, increase job opportunities, and work harder towards making safer and diverse neighborhoods as a primary goal. I don’t want my daughter to have to live in an environment that reflects her grandmother’s 40s and 50s and her mother’s 60s and 70s. Why pass by that history again.

My sister, very wise indeed, reminded me that “home” is really where the heart is, the heart of family and friends and where we go – community goes with us.

My grandparents, Willie and Katherine Floyd

For us, the Floyds, that means cherishing and passing down through the generations – our traditions. That means, as my sister noted, appreciating our cultural storytellers and musicians through activities such as the annual Christmas Poetry Slam or the Pre-Thanksgiving Dinner and its fun activities. It means the trip south for Father’s Day and the talent show where our youngest get to lead as the MC/Hosts with the Most, generally lead by Jessica, Noah, and even little Ari. It means purchasing the DVDs and downloading songs on Itunes when our artists produce music. It means lemon cakes, bid whist games, and there is never too much love for the littlest or the grown young folks.

What is important is to support the musicians in the family, the poets and articulators, our young sports innovators, playing golf, basketball, archery, football, etc., etc.

My sister reminded me, that it does not much matter where we go in terms of the building (the house) or even the neighborhood, but where we go as a family, a people. This holds true for everyone, she says. Communities change, evolve, come and go away – what is constant is the people and the history, cultural legacy, and wonderful worlds they create where ever they land as beings on the planet. It’s not the structure of cement, but the structure of supportive family that makes a community. Thank you Vanessa Abernathy.

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