A recent example of this is in a YouTube video that went viral called “S--t Nobody Black Says,” in which a character says sarcastically, “Man, Martin Luther King Boulevard is the nicest street in town.”
While these streets across the country have a similar reputation, initiatives are in place to improve Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Southeast Washington. One way is to restore the buildings on the avenue to their historic glory.
Jackie Ward, constituent services specialist in the office of D.C. Council member Marion Barry, said many people are behind this effort.
“There is a lot of support, especially from the young people,” Ward said. “They want to restore pride in this area. There is so much history here.”
A current project will improve the buildings on the street. In doing so, the architecture of the old buildings will be preserved and restored to create a niche marketplace similar to that of Old Town Alexandria, Ward said.
The new businesses that have emerged this year have helped to improve the image and voice of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.
Michael Sterling, owner of the newly renovated Big Chair Café and Lounge on the avenue, says he loves this location. The fact that he is an African American small-business owner on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue is very significant to him.
“It’s a blessing,” Sterling said.
Sterling has made intentional decisions to try to draw the community to his café. It is one of the few cafés on the east side of the Anacostia River. He believes residents of the community shouldn’t have to travel far to have access to high-quality food and beverages at an affordable price.
“They don’t have to go across the bridge to go to Starbucks anymore,” Sterling said. “We can make anything they want here. Everything on the menu is under 10 dollars. I know it’s a struggle out there. I know what it’s like.”
While reflecting on the stigma that comes with being on this avenue, he said it’s not just the street; it’s the community that has that negative stereotype.
“It’s not just MLK Avenue,” Sterling said. “When I told my friends I was doing this in Southeast they were like, ‘OMG, they’re killers.’ But I grew up in a neighborhood like this. I’m not going to run away from my people.”
What used to be Anacostia’s Cole Café is now the home for We Act, a two-month-old radio station at 1918 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE. The station, which broadcasts on WPWC 1480 AM, says it is the only independent progressive radio station in Washington, D.C.