BLACK VOICES

Fight To Save Black Culture In Gentrifying D.C. Continues After Go-Go Victory

Community members joined #DontMuteDC to protest efforts to suppress the music that has played at a famed intersection for decades.
A MetroPCS storefront in Washington, D.C., is again bringing the sounds of the city's go-go music to the corner of Flori
A MetroPCS storefront in Washington, D.C., is again bringing the sounds of the city's go-go music to the corner of Florida and Georgia avenues.

Many people in Washington, D.C., are celebrating a recent successful effort to bring the sounds of go-go, a genre of music rooted in black culture, back to a city intersection. Meanwhile, efforts to protect black culture in a gentrified D.C. continue. 

Members of the D.C. community have said this week that they are hoping to build off the momentum of a viral online petition to protect the city’s indigenous go-go music, which combines elements of funk, hip-hop, soul and other styles.

Community activist and author Ronald Moten and Howard University assistant professor Natalie Hopkinson created the Change.org petition last week, after the owner of a Metro PCS storefront was reportedly instructed to stop playing go-go music outside his store. 

Although the music has since returned to the intersection of Georgia and Florida avenues in the Shaw neighborhood ― known for decades as a hub for the sounds of go-go ― Moten and Hopkinson shared an update to the campaign on Friday, noting their ideas for next steps to “empower black businesses and youth and protect black culture,” the petition read. 

Their newly revised online campaign includes efforts to document black cultural businesses in D.C., create forums to bring together new and longtime city residents and fundraising efforts toward a digital streaming platform showcasing go-go music. 

The initial petition came about after Donald Campbell, the owner of a Metro PCS vendor known as Central Communications, said he was directed by higher-ups at T-Mobile, which acquired Metro PCS, to stop playing go-go music outdoors about a month ago, according to local news outlet DCist. Campbell told the publication that T-Mobile had reportedly received a noise complaint from a resident of a nearby luxury apartment complex.

But Hopkinson, a D.C. resident and author of “Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City,” told HuffPost that the noise complaint in question is just one example of a larger issue.

“As somebody who lives in the neighborhood, I know that this is a daily occurrence,” she said. “These sort of aggressions, these sort of tensions, are a daily, everyday occurrence.”

She continued: “You’re faced with something that’s different — or maybe you don’t understand ― the instinct is to just to try to get rid of them, erase them, and move on, and continue to march toward whatever D.C. it is that you envisioned in your mind that doesn’t seem to involve black people or black businesses.”

Last month, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition released a study identifying Washington, D.C., as having the highest percentage of gentrifying neighborhoods in the U.S. between 2000 and 2013, with 20,000 black residents displaced.   

The absence of Campbell’s collection of go-go music, which he has been cranking at that intersection since 1995, sparked outrage among residents who argued that the removal was yet another symbol of how gentrification often strips away black culture in D.C., once affectionately known as the “Chocolate City.”

Campbell told The Washington Post that he has remained in compliance with noise ordinance laws despite an increase in complaints in recent years.

And although at least one D.C. native and former Howard University student, Anita Norman, who is the area’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission representative, told DCist that the go-go music has played at an “excessive volume,” she has also acknowledged that the volumes have remained in compliance ― as D.C. elected officials have also stated

In the days following a Howard University student’s tweet about the absence of go-go music at the Shaw intersection on April 7, community members organized music celebrations and a number of demonstrations in support of Central Communications, using the hashtag #DontMuteDC to promote the protests on Twitter.

As DCist reported, groups collaborated on Monday to organize an “Emergency Go-Go Protest” rally at the storefront, which is located on a block called “Chuck Brown Way,” named after the “Godfather of Go-Go” Chuck Brown.

The demonstrations built traction throughout the city; Moten and Hopkinson’s petition has since garnered more than 75,000 signatures, with the support of D.C. elected officials, including Mayor Muriel Bowser, Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau and at-large Councilmember Robert C. White Jr

On Wednesday, T-Mobile CEO John Legere responded to the backlash, tweeting that the “music will go on.”

“I’ve looked into this issue myself and the music should NOT stop in D.C.!” he wrote. “@TMobile and @MetroByTMobile are proud to be part of the Shaw community ― the music will go on and our dealer will work with the neighbors to compromise volume.”

When reached for comment, T-Mobile referred HuffPost to Legere’s Twitter statement.

Crowds gathered Wednesday to celebrate T-Mobile’s announcement and the days of successful demonstrations outside Central Communications, Moten told HuffPost. The announcement was made ahead of a press conference community activists had scheduled that same day, he added.

Hopkinson told HuffPost that while it’s important to “celebrate and honor” what the community has accomplished at the intersection of Florida and Georgia avenues, there’s still work to be done, including building support for black businesses and the fight against mass incarceration.

“What happened was really big and really important,” she said. “Hopefully people got educated, but the work is not over. I would not declare a victory, there’s a lot of work.”

Moten added, “It’s our job to convey that the victory is putting a structure in place to deal with gentrification.”

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