Go-Go Museum’s “Secret” Garden Now Belongs to Community

"This is About Equity," Said Activist Ron Moten

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Douglas Jemal speaks, addressing activist Ron Moten, at a Feb. 1 announcement that the DC developer had surrendered ownership of the 3,900 property known as the Secret Garden, surrounded by Check-It Enterprises CEO Star Bennett, actor Anwan Glover (Big G) and Councilmember Trayon White, Sr (Ward 8-D). Screenshot: Facebook Live @Make GoGo Forever

On Feb. 1, Douglas Jemal stood on stage with three District Councilmembers and leaders in the community as activist Ron Moten announced that an agreement had been reached in the dispute over the Secret Garden.

“The Secret Garden is not a secret anymore,” Jemal said, “The Secret Garden is your secret, our secret. It’s the community’s secret.”

On Tuesday, Jan. 19, in one of his last acts as President, Donald Trump granted a pardon to DC developer Douglas Jemal in a 2006 wire fraud case.

Months earlier, Check-It Enterprises was informed that Jemal owned the ‘Secret Garden’. The community began a fight to keep the community hub, starting a change.org petition

On Feb. 1, Moten announced that the community had emerged victorious.

The 3,900 square feet property sits behind three buildings Moten and the two other founders of Check-It enterprises purchased with grants from the city in 2020. A Go-Go Museum and Cafe is expected to open in the buildings in June 2021.

Moten told viewers of the Feb. 1 event, which was streamed via Facebook Live on the Make GoGo Forever page, that community members had cleared the land when they began renting in 2010. The property has been used for concerts, fashion shows and cultural events as well as for memorials to victims of gun violence.

“We put a lot of money out here, and thought it was ours, [we] were told it was ours,” Moten said.

Moten, one of the founders of the ‘Don’t Mute DC’ movement, said that he sat down with Jemal, and they came to an agreement. “I think he forgot about this property, cause he got so many of them,” Moten teased Jemal. “But when we told him what we needed this property for, he didn’t fight back,” he added.

“This is a community hub, and we’re going to take it to another level.”

Moten said the discussion about property ownership was not just about the Secret Garden. It is also about equity. In his remarks, Moten said that only 25 percent of the African American people in Ward 8 owned their own property. Repeatedly, people on stage emphasized the importance of investment in the community, particularly on the part of city government.

Trayon White, Sr. pointed out that small, black-owned businesses are struggling, pointing to the closure of Citations and Cheers, a situation amplified by the COVID-19 crisis. He said it was incumbent upon the District to use resources to “change the narrative” and invest so that the black community can own their property and businesses.

Speakers also emphasized the importance of community coming together. “This is a reminder that we’ve got to continue come together,” said At-Large Councilmember Robert White, Jr.. “There are good people everywhere,” he said. “You’ve got to work with everybody, and together we made something really special happen today.”