Deanwood: A Safe, Resource-Rich Community

Simona Wright-James of Walk Yo Hood, Val Saurez of Positive Chalk DC and the author (L-R) pose in front of the famous mural in Marvin Gaye Park in Ward 7 at Porchfest DC.

When I graduated from the University of Houston, I decided to make the District of Columbia home. Shortly after, I landed a position with a prominent DC Councilmember. I was determined and ready to create change by working and living on Capitol Hill.

As my life began to bloom, I started to prepare for my next chapter, home ownership. As prices in the District soared, my search for a home became more pointed toward East of the River because it was economical and the homes were unique, especially in Deanwood. The community offered houses in Victorian, neoclassical, colonial revival, prairie and craftsman styles, with front- and backyards. These homes were designed and constructed by African American architects.

Purchasing my home on “the other side of the tracks” seemed like just an expression until I began to pack my bags. Throughout US history, railroads, highways and other human-made boundaries have been used to racially divide. In my case, moving across the bridge served as a symbol of separation between DC’s more affluent wards and those communities that have been historically overlooked.

When I announced to my co-workers that I would be moving away from the Hill, their responses were telling. “Why leave the Hill when everything you need is right here?” “Are you sure you want to live across the bridge? It’s really unsafe.” Although most of my colleagues had never ventured east of the river, nor did they have mentionable relations with the people there, they pushed a false narrative that did not reflect the lives nor the experiences of the people that called Wards 7 and 8 home.

Deanwood was established by a white slaveholder named Levi Sheriff. He divided his land between his three daughters, Margaret Lowrie, Emmeline Sheriff and Mary Cornelia Dean. The three subdivisions were named Whittingham, Lincoln Heights and Burrville. These communities later came to be known as Deanwood.

When my realtor showed me a home for sale in this historic community, I was ready to purchase. I fell in love, first, with the family-centered culture and, second, with the charm of the house. Deanwood felt like home because it is a closeknit community in the city. This charm reminded me of my childhood down South but complemented my professional interest.

My neighborhood is one of the District’s oldest African American communities. Located in Ward 7, it is considered the greenest ward in DC. I spend a lot of my free time enjoying green spaces or exploring the 15 cultural and historical landmarks that have been identified by Cultural Tourism DC. Deanwood is home to Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Garden, a state-of-the-art recreational center with an indoor pool and Marvin Gaye Park, the longest municipal park in DC.

My neighborhood has nothing like the incidents of crime that are often amplified by media outlets. It is a community with a history of resilience and self-sufficiency. This history is remembered through the works, activism and history of my ancestors. The Strand Theater was the first motion picture theater open to African Americans east of the Anacostia. It was home to the National Training School for Girls, founded by Nannie Helen Burroughs, a place of residence to activist and songwriter Marvin Gaye and skilled architects and contractors like H.D. Woodson.

It is a safe and resource rich community.

Over a decade later, I am more excited than ever by my decision to move from Capitol Hill to Deanwood. My community is historically rich, with unique green spaces and important landmarks. Homeownership is an accomplishment, no matter the ward.

Leniqua’dominique Jenkins holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Houston and has worked on Capitol Hill and in Africa, India and Spain. She is a preschool teacher at a language submersion school in Ward 7.