While Shaw residents held another meeting with city officials yesterday about the future of the historic Bowen YMCA, some of the neighborhood children roamed the streets, several spending Saturday at the nearby "Young and Restless Arcade," which has grown in popularity since the YMCA closed a year ago.
"The Y used to be a nice place. We played basketball, shot pool and went on field trips," said James Johnson, 14, as his Pac Man game ended. "They would come and pick you up at school." He paused to dig into his pocket for another quarter. "Or, you could just come over . . . . "
While Johnson played video games, about 50 adults from the neighborhood assembled in the nearby 12th Street Baptist Church, located next to the boarded-up YMCA at 1816 12th St. NW, to make suggestions to the "Mayor's Committee on the Bowen YMCA" on what the renovated building should include.
The forum was one of a series of meetings about the YMCA's future since the board of directors of the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington closed the 73-year-old facility last year, citing safety and fire code violations. The action drew criticism from community leaders and residents, who complained that the board was closing the first black YMCA in the country and the only affordable recreational facility for poor children in the inner-city.
For the most part, those who attended the forum were long-time Shaw residents whose children had been raised around the Bowen YMCA. While the committee has until May 23 to make its recommendation, these residents already knew what they wanted the YMCA to be.
"We want it to be like the old Y was," said Clara J. McNeary, president of the Central Northwest Citizens Association. "It's ridiculous that they won't give in and let us move back into the building. A YMCA is a Y. You have all types of activities for young and old: dancing classes, swimming and cooking. They used to have a camp counselor and take the boys scouting. They shot pool, and had a basketball team."
"We need someplace for the children, so they won't have to go so far outside of the neighborhood," said Basil Armstrong, another resident.
Some people wanted to talk about the heritage of the YMCA building, about how it had been designed by the son-in-law of Booker T. Washington. Others wanted to talk about how symbolic in this Easter season are the efforts to renovate the Bowen YMCA.
Meanwhile, Sybil James, 10, her sister, Sheree, 6, and brother Shane, 4, skipped past the building with their dog, Ginger, looking for something to do. Their mother had given each of them a quarter, but they did not want to go to the arcade. They said that they were not interested in the video games.
"We used to go in the Y after school to do our homework," Sheree said.
"They had tutors that we liked," Sybil said.
"They had basketballs," said Shane.
Now they had three quarters, and a choice. Said their mother, Sarah James: "They can go to the arcade--or they can go home."