Filmmaker focuses his camera on neighborhood's history, pride
Documentary shines light on Barry Farm, gives youth a sense of community

By Christy Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 29, 2009

Young residents of Barry Farm are trying to rise above the crime that consumes their streets and educate themselves and their neighbors about the community's history, instilling a sense of pride and purpose.

A documentary in production, "Barry Farm: Past and Present," features scholars, historians, neighbors and teenagers telling the story behind the Southeast neighborhood.

Tendani Mpulubusi, 27, a media arts program director at Helping Inner City Kids Succeed, said he wanted to teach the youth in his neighborhood their history so they can represent community pride instead of associating themselves with the area's negative aspects. HICKS is a nonprofit youth enrichment and arts program in Southeast.

"I'm going to preserve this history. I'm going to show these young people no matter where you are, you can have some type of legacy. Knowing your history gives you life instead of death," said Mpulubusi, who recruited some of the youth in the HICKS program to work on the film.

"There are prolific characters in history that look like you and made major contributions to the social, economic and political fabric of D.C. and the nation," said Mpulubusi, who represents Ward 8 on the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

The filmmakers explain how Gen. Oliver Otis Howard, who was named commissioner of the Board of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands after the Civil War, was integral to starting the community and Howard University.

Howard lobbied for federal funds to buy 375 acres of farmland from the Barry family in 1867. That land was then sold for $125 to $300 per acre to newly freed slaves, creating the District's first freedmen's community.

Some of the profits from the land sales were used to create the Howard Normal and Theological Institute for the Education of Teachers and Preachers, which was later renamed Howard University, to educate the growing community on the Barry farm property.

Domonic Boney of HICKS helped research and film the documentary. In one scene, he says he learned that the sons of Frederick Douglass, the Smithsonian's first African American employee, Solomon G. Brown, and several other historic figures lived in his neighborhood.

"I couldn't believe it," Boney said into the camera. His neighborhood was built by "good people who have done stuff with their lives or tried . . . or made your life better."

Now, when "most people think Barry Farm, [they think of] gangs, violence and drugs," he said.

"We've got something good going on in the community, but people just don't know about it," said Marcus Garland, another HICKS youth and Barry Farm resident.

Mpulubusi and his crew are working to edit 10 hours of film. He wants to have two screenings this winter, one at Howard University and the other with the D.C. Humanities Council. The council and the District Historic Preservation Office awarded the project a $2,000 D.C. Community Heritage Project grant.

Patsy Fletcher, community outreach coordinator for the preservation office, said projects such as Mpulubusi's film " let people know historic preservation isn't just about buildings and high-style architecture. It is about many efforts related to heritage, social history and so on. This is a way to get people involved, especially in those communities that have been underserved in the preservation arena."

Mpulubusi said he felt an urgency to make the film because the area is planned for a large-scale revitalization and history could be lost forever.

Those reasons attracted Kalfani Turé, a Towson University professor in anthropology and criminal justice, to the project. Turé has been collecting oral histories in Barry Farm as part of his dissertation and is a featured culture historian in the film.

Turé listed several streets in Barry Farm, such as Wade, Sumner and Eaton.

"All these names in the community are white abolitionists and political figures who, in concert with Frederick Douglass and Solomon G. Brown, fought side-by-side in this ugly stain in our history," he said. "I was intrigued by that, and I know the community would be revitalized. I didn't want this history lost."

In addition to wanting the film to be distributed nationally, Mpulubusi would like to continue working with Howard University to keep a dialogue between the two communities.

"What I want to come out of this is Howard [University] to have some kind of relationship with Barry Farm . . . so that young people in that community can become more familiar with Howard University than Oak Hill Youth Detention Center and D.C. jail," he said.

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