Actress Jayne Kennedy joined city notables for a parade down Georgia Avenue NW yesterday that celebrated the revitalization of the thoroughfare, one of Washington's longest and oldest streets that in recent years has been a battered showplace for dozens of black-owned businesses.
Several thousand spectators cheered the parade that was part of the first Georgia Avenue Day, organized by D.C. City Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4) and several entrepreneurs who own businesses on the avenue.
The festive parade stretched along 15 blocks of Georgia Avenue and included marching bands from Howard University and Roosevelt Senior High School as well as dozens of cars driven by the entrepreneurs, most of whom have operated small businesses on the street for more than a decade.
Kennedy, the guest of honor, wore a wide brim hat and an elegant ruffled gold dress with black polka dots and rode down the avenue in a yellow convertible Mercedes sportcar. She was a magnet, drawing young and old who pleaded to kiss her hand or take her picture. Families lined the parade route from Eastern Avenue NW to Barry Place NW, a stretch of about two miles.
The parade gave the community a chance to display itself. A preacher in a black robe with red trim stood on the north side of the street waving while a group of youths stood on the other side dancing to soul music and drinking beer.
Children in strollers smiled and waved as majorettes high-stepped past them. Three women in hair rollers stood in front of a beauty salon and gawked as eight people on horseback drifted by.
"We are Georgia Avenue," said Andre Robinson, 18, a senior at Roosevelt who placed 14th in the 10 kilometer race earlier in the day. "This is where the action is 24 hours a day. It's just one long block of fun."
But, yesterday's parade was not designed just for fun, council member Jarvis said.
It was designed to bring attention and respect to the businesses on the avenue that are still suffering in the aftermath of the 1968 riots in Washington.
"The purpose of this parade is to make people see that they should be shopping on Georgia Avenue," she said. "The revitalization has begun and it will continue with the help of the people. Already, you can buy just about anything you need here. Ten years from now, I see an avenue that has a greater variety of shops."
Jaris is spearheading the revitalization effort as head of the Georgia Avenue Foundation, a group co-founded by D.C. Mayor Marion Barry and City Council member Frank Smith Jr. (D-Ward One )
"Today was our first project," said Jarvis, who was beaming with pride as the parade ended in front of Banneker Recreation Center, at 800 Euclid St. NW. "We are now talking to the Hechinger Company about building a mall at Georgia and Missouri avenues NW. The bottom line is that we want to stop District residents, particularly those who live near Georgia Avenue, from going to Maryland and Virginia to shop. Whatever goods and services they need we want them to get them right here where they live."