Social Issues

Ode to the DC Urea: A Love Story

Amazon Headquarters 2 (HDQ2) is coming to town………specifically Crystal City, VA…excuse me “National Landing” (National Landing, as defined by Amazon, is the combination of three areas in Virginia: Pentagon City, Crystal City, and Potomac Yard.) This is what billion dollars squared net worth will get you: Bezos created a whole new “neighborhood” within minutes of the announcement.

Okay back to my love letter here … I grew up in a small town on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. During my early teen years, this insatiable desire overtook me to move to DC. What drove me? The love of GO-GO music.   

Let me paint a picture. On the shore, access to gogo was challenging. For some reason, my town’s culture was to follow Baltimore. My childhood was centered around folks listening to 92Q during the Miss Tony era of club music. When writing this article I was thinking like how in the world did I even stumble on the music genre?? The seed was planted with the success of EU classic ‘Doing the Butt.’ Granted that was national hit but it spawned a short time in early 90s Rap all carried the backdrop of the Congos, Salt-N-Pepa’s Shake Your Thing & Expression, to name a few examples.

Second, growing in the country in a super predominately white town, I stayed glued to BET  (Video Vibrations, Video Soul and Rap City all day, every day). This is notable because even though they were national shows the backdrop and the subculture of BET was Washington DC in true Chocolate City form. I want y’all to understand how hard it was for me to quench my thirst for Gogo music. In my town, there was a small radio station down the street from where I lived. It blocked my access to 93.9/95.5 and yes I was so pressed some summer nights, I’d put foil all over my radio antenna (remember those? LOL) and put the radio out the window just so I could hear the gogo music and mixes. From my town, a trip to the mall was a minimum 45-60 minute journey to Delaware, which only happened once or twice a year for me. I got older and trips to the mall gave me a chance to up my ‘inner cool points’ buying studio gogo releases. These experiences reinforced the idea that once I grew up I was planning on leaving my small town and I needed to be in DC ASAP. Fast forward to my senior year of high school, coming from that late 90’s Different World/Pro-African American College Clothing Era.

You could not tell me I wasn’t destined to be a Howard U student. However, once the reality of private tuition vs in-state set in and I settled to going to University of Maryland  College Park.

1999!! I touched down in Prince George’s County (PG) double blasted with reverse culture shock– and I’m not referring to the diversity on campus. I’m speaking about the new friends I was making who took me around the metro area. Many of our trips were to PG Plaza because the first slang word I learned was the word bamma and I had to make some changes quick lol. Let me tell you my first core friends were mainly Northern PG folks (Shout out too Langley Park, Adelphi), Uptown, and one homey from Temple Hills – for some Southside diversity LOL). Those city and southern PG/SE accents had me like (see pic below) because y’all were looking me like” oh you have a country twang.” I needed an interpreter my first couple of years because between the accents and slang I was so lost LOL.


“I can’t understand what your saying”

Me thinking “I was down” listening to rap & R&B, DJ Clue Tapes, reading The Source and watching BET thinking I was solidified,  but in reality, I was suburban black girl lost to real African American lifestyle. Please let me re-reference how crazy my Eastern Shore roots were…my high school’s most popular club was Future Farmers of America – y’all we had TRACTOR week at my school and now I was a resident of Prince George’s County— totally shook!

Feeling like an outcast and alienated person, my only saving grace was the love of the gogo beat. My friend told her friend about me (the youngin from the country who likes gogo— common nickname) he was like “I’ll send her some “tapes” over AOL AIM” (LOL remember that?). That’s when Backyard 7-9-99  @ Blackhole landed on my computer and life as I knew it was changed!

Okay, a confession: He sent me a lot of files and I was wondering why they all had dates and locations LOL – remember all I knew was studio CDs. We all know how hard that 7-9-99 BYB cranks. The first time I heard it, I was like “Holy crap I have arrived!!” I didn’t make it to my first real’ish gogo until a few years later when my friend took me to see Rare Essence playing outside Iverson Mall at Kemp Mills. My impressions – I had no clue what was going on. I just enjoyed hearing the music. I had to learn what cranks what doesn’t crank, neighborhood shoutouts, pockets, sockets, PA Palace, hip gogo spots (Blackhole, The Met), call and response to the hooks, that half gogo hooks came from rap/popular songs, members of the band, who Big G was….the list goes on.

I will always be a proud Eastern Shore native but I’m so glad I came to the area when I did because I got to live and see so much of the UNIQUE DC-Area culture. These days, DC culture has faded due the fashion, time, and gentrification. I remember going downtown to Pennsylvania Avenue with my friends to get WB socks and hoodies and going with my UPT friends to get Madness Gear. I remember going to the mall for Jordans, Flight/Foamposites shopping at Up Against the Wall/Commander Salamander, my first pair of Parasuco/Sergio jeans, seeing the brothers rocking their glitter bandannas, going the mall getting shirts and jackets made and heading downtown to DC Live and the Ritz (back when NOTHING was on that part of downtown for our demo except ESPN Zone). I saw the rest of the Green Line being built and opening. A lot of firsts and a lot of fun during those times.

During my sophomore year of college, one my friends got a car – mind you, we are all broke’ish college students working on-campus jobs. I knew she worked off campus yet I didn’t really know where or what she did. I’m like how are you able to buy a car at age 20? She responded I have a government job — Me: ?? What’s that??  Fast forward one year later I had applied to the good ole STEP/SCEP/Summer Intern programs (RIP – those programs helped so many people get into the government) and the D-Dept hired me for the summer, which turned into a part-time position while I was in college. Getting that job was more important than my degree and it began to help me understand why Prince George’s County (and the other surrounding counties of DC) were WEALTHY.

I want to pause and reflect because sometimes what has happened with the DC Area gentrification and its displaced residents reminds me of my views of my hometown. I grew up in town called Easton, famous for annual festival of Ducks, Purdue chicken and seafood. I hated the country life and never really learned anything about town, the shore, and its history.

Yet, while I didn’t see it firsthand; I get it– many of my DC native friends told me how bad, dangerous and depleted DC was in the 1970-2000s BUT the federal government and agencies were in the backyard of the district and co-located with PG county.  There were good jobs had to be somewhere in order to generate the many of the black homeowners that once made up the majority of the city. Regarding Easton, it’s only been the last 6 years (once I turned 30) that I learned that my town is a top 10 town in ALL of America, it has the most retired millionaires in the state of Maryland (quietly Maryland has the most millionaires per capita than any other state in the US, per 2018 stats). I also credit the NMAAHC to waking me up to the fact the shore had a ton of free blacks which gave an advantage to getting a head start when most were enslaved. How yall think Fredrick Douglass, Harriet Tubman–both born & raised on the shore– made those kinda groundbreaking moves?

The point is, I feel there is no one master gentrification theory BUT people not from the DC Area seem to come here and see opportunity whereas those who lived here all their lives may have been blinded. DC may not have always been ranked but we didn’t need Amazon coming to stamp it as top 5 desirable place to live looking at the growth spurned from the last 10 years. As angry as people are about the vast changes, it’s not like the DC Area was singled out to self-destruct.  There’s a major boom of major city revitalization happening all across America. DC natives, go talk to my folks in Brooklyn NY, which is slowly becoming Manhattan. Real Estate parallels between both cities especially with cheap brownstone (rowhouses) selling for thousands 50 years ago now going for half a million. Listen to Jay-Z 4:44 he is so right about wishing he brought up the block back than back in the old Brooklyn.

Image result for gentrification in dc


Okay– rant over. Back to the story. At this point, I’m adulting and living my best life as a GS-5, got my car, my own apartment, my lil government job and you couldn’t tell me nothing LOL.  I’m still going to go-gos with my friends, hanging down U Street, going to poetry and open mic night. Looking back we thought Busboys and Poets opening in 2005 was a MAJOR change; at the time it fit in perfectly with the U Street Vibe but now can be viewed as an anchor of much change impacting the 14th St corridor.  I think back to when the Columbia Heights Target was a mere grassy field you cut through. When I walk past new places like City Center I shake my head and remember when they tore down the old convention center and there was a hole in the ground and we would go over there to catch the bus to NYC. Back then in the 2000s people still did NOT desire to live downtown and the highlight of that era was the NBA All Star game at the than MCI Center back in 2001.

Life goes on. Small changes are happening, but I was happy living in PG and I would always tell my friends yeah I’m going move to the city one day. I had cold feet, was a bit nervous and still kinda broke until I learned government contractors pay double the salary of government jobs.  2010 brought more new buildings around 14th street and with a push from several people, my childhood dream was realized and I moved to DC, sold my car 6 months later, and never looked back. DC still clung to its unique charm and flavor but changes were coming fast and furious. Nationals Stadium was built, Anthony Williams/Fenty had bike lanes built in the city, President Obama bought a lot of diversified workers to the area. Here I was black female IT worker at a big consultant firm feeling like a stranger in my own fancy building. This time I had reverse culture shock (again) being used to living in predominantly black PGC and moving to a building filled with mainly young whites who looked at me like how can you afford to live here with us?  They were super unfriendly. It didn’t bother me because I still felt there was strong sense of US around. I’d walk to the Columbia Heights metro and pass the youngins waiting in line at DTLR early in the morning for Jordans and  I’d smile to myself.

Wrapping up this love letter with present-day Washington DC. It’s no longer about the gentrification and all the new buildings & residents; it’s about this area’s reputation being solidified as Tech Talented city.  We are now the East Coast Silicon Valley and yes, we have more tech stuff booming than the beloved NYC. If you didn’t know it already, most of the major dotcom companies (Google, Facebook, Apple, etc.) have satellite offices here for work and of course for political lobbying. Y’all gotta remember Tech and the wealth it creates is no stranger to the DC Area – the old AOL headquarters (Dulles, VA) look at your boy Ted Leonis. How yall think he owns 2 sports teams? It’s that old AOL money.


In Seattle, where Amazon is headquartered, city officials in 2015 declared a state of emergency over homelessness as rents skyrocketed and some landlords advertised that they would prioritize Amazon, Microsoft and Google employees over other prospective tenants.

I have family in Seattle/Tacoma Washington and the stories of both Washingtons seem to be on collision course. I’ve visited Seattle several times in the 90s & 2000 but I haven’t been since 09 to see the latest changes. Seattle had a unique culture (Grunge, hippies, eclectic vibe) that’s hanging by a thread and/or has been displaced due to the rise of Amazon.

The Amazon HDQ2 disruption we are about to experience will make the last 10/15 years of change look meager compared to 2018 and beyond. Yall think it’s funny now that people are displaced to Waldorf and southern Maryland…try living in Baltimore or Delaware when it’s said and done because people are going to be PRICED OUT. I’m screaming right now– If you have assets, hang on to them. We are living in times where skills and hustling of the gig economy will keep you ALIVE. Air-BNB, Ubers, Door-Dash Upwork, Virtual Assistants, Youtube– If you only have just a 9-5 and no side hustle you are already in danger. You must learn how to monetize the power of the internet and embrace the digital economy no matter what your traditional background of study may be. It’s so freaking easy these days to learn and gone are the stigmas of college = jobs. Youtube, Udemy, Skills Share, hell even Wikpedia can help you learn. As I say to people if you got time to be on Facebook for 3-4 hours a day you have time to learn a new skill – don’t be mad when your job is phased out because you elected to stay stagnant.

Image result for Amazon HDQ2


I’m writing this as a person who can easily be like “Yasss WooHoo Amazon is coming! “and all us tech workers are about to be PAID — but I’m not happy. I do well but my dreams to buy a house[crushed]–metro [trash] everyone hates the traffic and who wants to be San Francisco version 2.0? Homes already average nearly half a million; and if you’re earning a good salary who wants to spend more because Amazon has driven up the cost of living? Not cool.

Lastly, the DC Metro Area embraced me. I have nothing but love for everyone here and I don’t want to see the place I dreamed of making a home turned into a plastic soulless city.

I AM NOT MOVING!!! I stand with my DC UREA folks but you have been warned– the change is gonna be a slow drip, but don’t wake up wondering what happened as you wave goodbye – now is the time to plan. (P.S Apple is sniffing around NoVA for mini headquarters of about 20k people.)



Lastly – don’t you DARE call me a d@mN transplant — I’ve been in this urea long enough to know……

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