Reaching the Top

Wrote this for one of my classes. It didn’t turn out too well, but I felt like sharing none the less. 

As I strolled past the communist themed Marx Café, a hodgepodge of Latin American grocery stores and a couple of yoga studios, I found it hard to believe that this quaint and diverse neighborhood near the National Zoo had been the scene of racial tension in the ‘90s. Looking at the smiling and diverse makeup of those around me, it seemed the personification of America.

But it wasn’t always that way.

In May 1991, protesters took to the streets after an African-American police officer shot a middle-aged Hispanic male. Police cars were set on fire and more than 20 businesses were vandalized according to a written history from American University’s public radio station.

In 2017, residents say relations between racial groups are fine, but rent is not.

“I find that people generally get along very well, but the property out here, everything is being rebuilt. For every house that a resident moves out of, it then becomes a unit or a flat so to speak,” said Eric Handon. 42 and black, Handon recently moved back to Mount Pleasant and expressed discomfort at the economic changes occurring in the area.

“The area is definitely getting younger. More young professionals than I’ve ever seen are moving out here. They can make it, but an older person who may want to move in, no,” Handon said.

According to data from online real estate company Zillow, monthly rent in Mount Pleasant for an apartment ranges from $1500 to $3000 a month. Someone receiving Social Security benefits would not be able to afford a home. As of January 2016, the average monthly payout for the program was $1,341.

Like Handon, El West Boutique clothing store owner Veronica West, 56, also said there is little tension between racial groups in the neighborhood, but views the increased cost of living as a benefit for some and hindrance for others in the community.

“A lot of people have moved out because the rent has gone up. But the street looks prettier and people take a little bit more care of the front of their property,” West said. “When wealth moves in, what happens is that it undermines the people that don’t have a voice. That’s part of life I suppose.”

Her 24-year-old son Charlie expressed a similar view.

“There’s not a lot of homeless compared to when I first came here. I know that’s cruel to say, but you don’t see as many,” said West.

The family only works in the neighborhood and doesn’t live there. Due to this, other area residents see their perspective on economic challenges as flawed.

“For the store owners on Mount Pleasant street, they’re right, nothing has affected them much. But I’ve seen business owners leave and get replaced by more high end outlets,” said Hannah Merrill. The 33-year-old wants old and new residents to work together to make the area livable and not just wealthy.

“When developers and others come here in the future and try to change things or use their resources to get their way, we all need to say no, not in this community. We can do better,” Merrill said.

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