Change is afoot in the nation’s capital. As Solange sings, there are cranes in the sky and new development as far as the eye can see. On a recent visit, I barely recognized the Northwest nabe where I attended Howard University. The historically Black university, fondly called “The Mecca” by students and alumni, is still standing tall. But reports of new residents of the area feeling entitled to picnic and walk their dogs on the private campus Yard made me, like Marvin, wanna holla.
D.C. was once dubbed “Chocolate City,” although in recent years the city’s African American population has dwindled. Whereas in 1970 the population was about 71% Black, now only about 48% of D.C. residents are Black. According to the D.C. Chamber of Commerce’s State of Business report, “whiter and richer” families are increasingly displacing low- and middle-income families. As a result, D.C. is literally being sued for gentrification by disenfranchised African American residents.
While these sobering statistics cast a cloud over the district’s new, un-Afro sheen, there are still Afrocentric highlights to discover and explore. Here’s what to do and see on a Black culture-filled visit to the District of Columbia.
Where to get a history lesson
No place screams, “Say it loud. I’m Black and I’m proud,” like the African American Museum of History and Culture (1400 Constitution Ave. NW), the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history and culture. To date, the museum has collected more than 36,000 artifacts and nearly 100,000 individuals have become members. Now in its third year, NMAAHC is a special gathering place for Black folks and truth-seekers from all walks of life. Visitors can all break bread together at the museum’s Sweet Home Cafe, serving up fresh and flavorful regional Southern cuisine like fried catfish, homemade cornbread, collard greens and baked macaroni and cheese.
Located near Howard University, the HBCU Museum (7610 Georgia Ave. NW) highlights the accomplishments of historically Black colleges and universities and their distinguished alumni. Launched by Terrence Forte and his family, the museum is currently housed in a 638-square-foot storefront and displays several artifacts such as HBCU banners, photos of Black Greek letter organizations and early issues of EBONY and JET.
Founded to aid in the economic revitalization of the historic U Street community which was devastated by the 1968 riots, the mission of the African American Civil War Museum (1925 Vermont Ave., NW) is to honor the largely ignored yet enormous contributions of the 209,145 members of the United States Colored Troops. The museum tells the stories and preserves for posterity the historic roles these brave men of African, European and Hispanic descent played in ending slavery and keeping America united under one flag.
Born into slavery in 1818, Frederick Douglass escaped as a young man and became a leading voice in the abolitionist movement. The freedom fighter’s legacy is preserved at Cedar Hill (1411 W St. SE), where he lived from 1877 until his death in 1895.
Where to dine and sip
D.C.’s Southwestern Waterfront on the Wharf is the district’s new hot spot with plenty of food and entertainment options. That’s also where you’ll find Kith/Kin (801 Wharf St. SW), “Top Chef” contestant and “Notes from a Young Black Chef” author Kwame Onwuachi’s upscale Afro-Caribbean restaurant at the InterContinental Hotel. With dishes like braised goat roti, jollof rice, and oxtails, Onwuachi prepares food “reflective of the African slave trade” and pays homage to his roots—ranging from Nigeria and Jamaica to West Africa and the Caribbean.
The Caged Bird (1723 Connecticut Ave. NW) is a new bar, restaurant and lounge in Dupont Circle catering to Black millennials. “We wanted to combine the power of food, culture and community to foster an environment that welcomes and encourages artistic expression, cultural exploration and diverse experiences in hopes that, together, we can reimagine what’s possible for our culture and community in D.C. and beyond,” co-owner Brandon Rule told HuffPost.
Where to shop
Best friends Kimberly Smith and Amaya Smith opened the doors of their Brown Beauty Co-Op (1365 Connecticut Ave. NW) to offer “Brown girl approved” skincare and cosmetics in an affirming, boutique environment. The duo told HuffPost they also want the Dupont Circle co-op to be a safe space for all women of color and a hub that provides mentorship for emerging Black entrepreneurs and businesses.
Where to see a Broadway show
Nestled along the bustling Southwestern Waterfront, the award-winning Arena Stage (1101 6th St. SW) is a pioneer of the American regional theater movement. The theater is committed to promoting diversity in all aspects of theater, from theater-going to production. Through Oct. 20, Arena Stage presents August Wilson’s “Jitney” directed by Tony Award winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson. In the spring, April 3 through May 3, 2020, the theater will present August Wilson’s “Seven Guitars,” directed by Tazewell Thompson.
Where to stay
Located in the LGBTQ-friendly Dupont Circle area, the artfully designed Kimpton Hotel Palomar Washington D.C. (2121 P St. NW) has 335 spacious, recently renovated guest rooms. Don’t miss the complimentary nightly wine hour. In the neighborhood, dine on cuisine from around the world and walk or jog through nearby Rock Creek Park.