Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Neighborhood Knowledge is coming to you!

Sure, you know your neighborhood. But what about others? Humanities DC's commitment to the residents and learning takes on an exciting new form next Tuesday, December 16.

With the help of Big Bear Cafe, we'll focus the spotlight on Bloomingdale, first stop in our mad concert tour of DC neighborhoods.

But this isn't your ordinary talking head format. It is the residents who breathe life into a neighborhood, and that's where you all come in. Our program will explore Bloomingdale through the voices of its community.

Hear our panelists discuss the neighborhood's past and present. More importantly, join the conversation!

Share your photos, stories, videos, art, and anything else that addresses the evolution of Bloomingdale's urban space and community.  Bring them with you, or upload in the comments below.
We can't wait to hear from you!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Neighborhood Knowledge: Bloomingdale

Good Hope, Sawmpoodle, Sursum Corda... Washington DC counts 112 neighborhoods. How many do you know? Find out with a new slot in the Humanitini program: Neighborhood Knowledge. In this recurring series, we criss-cross the city east to west and north to south to explore the diverse geographical and social tapestry of its communities. 

On Tuesday 12/16 at Big Bear Café (6:30-8:30pm), we'll focus on Bloomingdale, past and present. The neighborhood's growing development in the last few years has brought in its wake a new economic reality along with, inevitably, demographic change. Rather than tracing its evolution through charts and percentages, we'll focus on community voices. 

We want to hear from you -- Bloomingdale residents and enthusiasts old and new, former and current. We're interested in the architecture, stories, traditions, and most of all, the multiple facets of lived experience that make up the neighborhood's history. From childhood to churches, parks to parades, street art to community relations, we welcome an array of approaches to the theme of urban transformation. 

Please contribute to the conversation by sharing your photos, posters, stories, little-known facts and more! Together, they'll set the stage for discussion and become part of Bloomingdale's collective neighborhood knowledge.

HOW: For images, you may post digital, scanned photos to this blog by uploading them in the comments section. 

OR you can bring hard copies to Stu Davenport at Big Bear Café  which he'll exhibit on the walls for all to enjoy. 
We look forward to hearing from you!


WHEN: Tuesday, December 16; 6:30-8:30pm.
WHERE: Big Bear Cafe, 1700 First Street NW
WHO: Our panel includes
Natalie HopkinsonPh.D, author of Go-Go Live Ph.D, author of Go-Go Live ( 
Saaret Yoseph, multimedia storyteller; director/producer of The Red Line D.C. Project (
Scott Roberts, community activist and blogger of Bloomingdale
Autumn Saxon-Ross,Ph.D., program director for place-based initiatives for the National Collaborative on Health Equity. 
WHAT: Free! Register here:

Bloomingdale and Ledroit Park in 1901.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

World House: Fostering a Global Citizen

by Claire Salinas, History Scholar and Humanities Council Programs Volunteer

In 1967, Martin Luther King challenged Americans to see themselves as dwellers in a “world house” of international neighbors, “a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, and class.” First evoked in his 1964 acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, the vision of a “World House” called for a more peaceful society in which the pursuit of justice transcended the boundaries of local belonging. To end “the triple evils of racism, poverty, and militarism” on a global scale both demanded and forged, inexorably, a global citizenry.

Five decades on, it is a commonplace to describe our 21st century world as inter-connected, shaped by the global currents of trade, communications, militarism, and political protest. What, then, are the implications of global citizenship in 2014? Are we all global citizens by virtue of living in this era, or does the notion imply a more intentional outlook and fundamental shared ethical values, such as those Dr. King ascribed to it?

We think these questions resonate especially deeply in the international, globally-connected city that is DC, with its well-travelled inhabitants. And we want to hear from you! What does being a global citizen mean to you? In what ways do you consider yourself to be a global citizen? To start thinking about these issues, have a look at the short reading and questions below, and leave us your comments, questions, and reactions. Then join us for the discussion with panelists Rachel Weiner, Elizabeth Ogunwo, both former Peace Corps volunteers, and GWU Anthropology professor Robert Shepherd. Let’s start a global dialogue!

When: October 16, 6:30-8:30pm
Where: The Coupe (3415 11th St NW)

1.      What are some of the attributes of the global citizen? What role does travel play in shaping global citizens? What are the benefits of being a well-travelled person, and how does it increase our understanding of, and concern for, humanity?
2.      Do global citizens have a responsibility to uphold common humanity and dignity on a global scale? Do the world’s wealthy citizens (Americans and others) have an ethical duty to end extreme inequities and injustices, such as poverty and racism?
3.     What must we teach students and others to make them truly and effectively globally connected, and able to interact easily and skillfully anywhere and with anyone?

4.     What does studying or promoting the humanities bring to being a world citizen?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Urban Farming in DC: A modern phenomenon or an indelible part of the city's past?

An Interview with David Quick of the Neighborhood Farm Initiative

David Quick; Image Courtesy of WAMU, Jonathan Wilson
 Last year, the Neighborhood Farm Initiative conducted an extensive oral history project, interviewing over 35 long time community gardeners throughout Washington, DC. The interviews were funded by the Humanities Council of Washington, DC as part of the DC Community Heritage Project, a partnership between the Council and the DC Historic Preservation Office. David Quick and his team rapidly built a collection of narratives that manage to broadly survey DC's recent history despite a determined focus on a very particular topic - urban farming. Last week, Quick swapped seats at the interview table to give us some insight into his team's goals, processes, and hopes for the future of their project.

What was the overall goal of the DC Gardener’s Oral History Project?
Our goal was to gather personal historical narratives from long-time DC gardeners and uncover the way that gardening and food-growing have been a part of DC urban life for many many years. Our primary mission at Neighborhood Farm Initiative is to educate people about how they can grow their own food, but we also know that gardens are spaces where people connect with each other and share stories. We wanted to document those kinds of connections and stories.

How did you decide who to interview?
Our only criteria were that interviewees be long-time DC residents and long-time food growers. Mostly, this meant that we were interviewing older DC residents, but we also talked with some people in their 30's and 40's who've lived here and gardened here their whole lives. As long as we felt that someone had a lot to say about growing food in this city, we wanted to talk to them.

What did you learn about community gardening and urban farming in DC?
Again, it's certainly evidence that DC residents have been doing this activity for a long time, well before urban agriculture and local food became as popular as they are right now. These interviews also highlight how often urban food gardeners (or their parents) often tend to have moved here from another country or region of the United States. We had quite a few stories of people who had grown up on farms and found ways to continue to grow food when they arrived in the city, and the interviews show the many techniques used by gardeners and farmers from around the world.  Likewise, they are people who feel passionately about food, and that passion comes out in the garden.

What was your favorite story?
Bennie Harris
I will cheat and name two. First, we interviewed a few people from our home Mamie D. Lee
community garden. One was with a long-time leader at the garden Bennie Harris who was also an advisor on our project. Mamie D. Lee has changed quite a bit recently with many more young professionals of a wide variety of backgrounds gardening plots, but for many years, there was a smaller community of African-American gardeners who were the primary stakeholders at the garden and who kept the garden cultivated so that the National Park Service would not perceive it as unused. There's a lovely moment in the interview when Josh, the interviewer and a MDL gardener, thanks Bennie for maintaining the garden so that newer gardeners have a place to grow their own food now. Bennie also talks about the way that the garden community shared their produce with folks who walked by and asked for food. Also, the changes in the make-up at MDL reflect many of the ways that DC is changing, so the interview is a valuable window into how gentrification is affecting many kinds of spaces.
The other interview is with a woman named Fannie Hamilton who grew up in Barry Farm but has lived with her family in Takoma, DC for many years. Throughout her life, Ms. Hamilton has gone out of her way to teach and educate others about how they can grow their own food and herbs and the health benefits that come from that, so hers is a powerful story about how gardening creates community and improves people’s lives. Our interviewer Mia has a similar passion for teaching others about growing herbs, and plants, and foods, so the interview is a wonderful record of the two of them sharing that love.

What did you learn about the oral history process?
This was my first time coordinating an oral history project like this, so I learned all kinds of things. One thing that I understand much better is the importance of training and preparation. The two fabulous interviewers that we hired were new to the world of oral histories, so I tried to do as much early preparation to convey the value of oral history and practice the interview process. Likewise, it helped to check in with the interview team as the project went forward so that we could continue to learn from each other and become more confident as interviewers.
 I was also reminded of how wonderfully open people are to being interviewed and sharing details about their lives. I expected us to have to work much harder than we did to find willing interviewees, but again and again the simple offer to sit down and listen was enough to convince people to be interviewed.

How do you hope people use the collection?
I definitely hope that there is real research value in this collection, not just into the history and culture of food, but also into different aspects of community, neighborhood, race, immigration and class in an urban environment like DC.
I'm also hopeful that these stories will be an inspiration to people who are interested in growing their own food in an urban place. The people that we interviewed have a deep reverence for this activity, and I'm so glad that it comes across in their stories.

Listen to the full collection in the DC Digital Museum!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Event Recap: Humanitini- Conversations on Great Streets: Mount Pleasant!


The Humanities Council hosted HUMANITINI ™, the smart happy hour, on Thursday, April 24 at Don Juan Restaurant. This edition of Humanitini, “Conversations on Great Streets: Celebrating Historic Mount Pleasant Street” was moderated by Washington City Paper Journalist Aaron Weiner. The conversation offered attendees a perspective on the history, culture, and heritage of the vibrant Mt. Pleasant street corridor and community.

Panelists included Alberto Ferrufino owner of Don Juan Restaurant, Pedro Aviles, founder of Aviles Associates, LLC and Peter Stebbins, a 25 year resident of Mt. Pleasant.

Approximately 60 attendees filled Don Pablo Restaurant and they both learned and shared their perspectives on the changing Mount Pleasant demographics, business climate and opportunities for growth.

Conversations on Great Streets is a series created by the Humanities Council to engage residents around the history and great treasures of some of D.C.’s well-known corridors.

Take a look at photos from Humanitini, and stay connected with the Humanities Council for upcoming events.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Recapping the Humanitini

Two Panel Discussions Demonstrate the Continued Importance of the Humanities.

By Maria Galiano

Last week, while the streets of D.C. experienced a small preview of the weekend's winter storm, happy hour met the humanities at the council’s first Humanitini event of 2014, “Who Needs the Humanities Anyway?” The event opened with a screening of Lance Kramer's The Scholar and the Sailor, a short film that tells the story of how a professor’s book served as an inspiration for Greg White, a former prison inmate. Kramer was then joined by White and Dr. W. Jefferey Bolster for the first panel discussion of the evening. 

After getting his hands on Dr. W Jefferey Bolster's book, Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail, White decided to write a letter to Bolster to share his life experiences including his service in the United States Navy. In his first letter, White mentioned how reading the pages of Black Jacks reminded him of how much he missed being at sea, and how the stories of African American sailors carving out their own sense of freedom encouraged him to incorporate seafaring into his post-incarceration life. One of the most inspiring moments of Thursday's Humanitini was Bolster’s statement that the humanities allowed him and White to connect, and that the connection was mutually beneficial.  Another was White’s reminder that no cloud should ever be too dark to keep you from sailing your ship of life.  

Following this poignant of example of the power of the humanities disciplines, the focus of the event shifted to examine the state of the humanities more broadly. The second panel brought on Lacey Dunham of the effervescent youth creative writing non-profit 826DC, Esther Mackintosh of the Federation of State Humanities Councils, Tia Brown McNair of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and Nafisa Isa of Busboys and Poets

This enlightening panel discussion, made it clear that the humanities have been, and continue to be, an important tool in our present-day globalized world. The humanities disciplines link us and allow us to communicate. Panelists also addressed the subject of the employment rate for liberal arts/humanities majors, noting that many employers seek the research and analytical expertise gained through these areas of study. Though it is commonly contended that the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) disciplines are the only sure path to employment opportunities after graduation, the panelists reassured the audience that students who are learned in the humanities acquire essential skills that are required both in and outside the workplace. Kramer, returning for the second panel noted that while the cutting edge in the STEM disciplines changes as technologies develop, humans will likely interact with each other in consistent ways for the foreseeable future. 

One most of the most time-tested debates against the humanities disciplines is that their study is reserved for the children of the wealthy; those who have less need to learn a practical skill. Isa countered this argument by calling attention to the humanities disciplines' unique ability to give a voice to the underrepresented. The ability to understand the, often invisible, human-made systems that guide our lives can prevent those systems from become intrusive, unfair, and oppressive. 

The panel concluded with the reminder that our focus should not be on the metrics of employment rates, but rather on the long-term benefits that the humanities provides us.

So who needs the humanities anyway? Well, as our Humanitini event demonstrated, we all do! 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Don't U Forget As U Walk On By!

A glimpse into past and present day U Street

By Maria Galiano

If you are a resident of the nation's capital, then you probably already love the one and only, famous U Street. From its iconic Ben's Chili Bowl diner to its venerable Victorian era architecture, U Street screams D.C. culture!

A row of historic homes just off the U Street Corridor.
Although modern U Street may be known for its exquisite style, U Street's memory bank is rich with history that is worth preserving and celebrating! The row houses tell the story of the post-civil war era when housing was in great demand in the city. At first glance, these houses might look identical to each other, but if you take the time to appreciate each block, you'll realize that each house has its own unique features that contribute to this city's collective mosaic! And speaking of the community, it is impossible to overestimate the importance of Civil Rights Era in U Street's history. Though the neighborhood was long a bastion of African American business, and self determination, following the 1968 assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., riots exploded around the U Street corridor. Businesses were hurt and the community was affected, but there is no doubt that the U Street managed to get back on its feet!

And who can forget the great culture of U Street?! The performing arts are an integral part of this community's culture. The Howard Theatre built its historical reputation in the early part of the twentieth century. At a time when African Americans were excluded from white cultural opportunities in other parts of the city, this location allowed many African Americans to come and establish a place that reflected a sense of community. Many famous artists such as James Brown and The Temptations showcased their talents on this theater's stage! Special audience members, such as President Franklin D. Roosevelt, attended performances at Howard Theatre Oral testimonies from community members who remember growing up and having Howard Theater become a special and central place in their everyday lives can be found in DCDM's item Memories of the Howard Theatre. The Lincoln Theatre is also remembered as a welcoming place for its community members. In fact, Washington's D.C.'s  very own Duke Ellington began his career as an rising star at the Lincoln Theatre. Located next to Ben's Chili Bowl, the Lincoln Theatre echoes a time when french horns and trumpets played to the rhythm of Jazz!

Now we fast forward to present day U Street... And CVS.Yes, those red-logo, brown buildings that have been built in what seems to be every corner of this town make up a major part D.C.'s businesses. But U Street is also home to other business sites, such as Busboys and Poets, Lee's Flower and Card Shop, and Sorg Architects. Busboys and Poets provides a pleasant and amicable atmosphere to its customers! After enjoying a delicious meal, customers are able enjoy the artwork display at the restaurant. It is a delicious way to satisfy a lunch craving and a fun way to feed the creative mind! If you ever forget mom's birthday or the fact that it is Valentine's Day, U Street's Lee's Flower and Card Shop can come in handy with its same day delivery service!With its heartwarming cards and great customer service, it is no surprise that Lee's Flower and Card Shop was and still is a family operating business! And a look into Anacostia High School, reveals the inspired restoration that Sorg Architects has completed over the last few years. As mentioned in Celebrating U Street: A Washington DC Great Street, (footage from the program can be found in the DCDM), these businesses contribute to the flavor and energy of U Street!

 So as you walk on by U Street, don't  U forget about its historical past, and don't forget to appreciate its alluring present!