Within sight of Carole Mumin's home in the District's Shaw neighborhood are 10 "for sale" signs. Outside her front door, a gust of winter wind rolls empty bread wrappers, discarded cigarette butts and crumpled tinfoil along the cracked sidewalk. At the corner liquor store, a couple yells obscenities at each other as a lone drug seller paces the block watching for customers.
"Grandma! Look at this neighborhood," says a character in her play, "Where Eagles Fly." "Houses are boarded up. Pushers selling dope and killing folk with Uzis. Don't see why you want to stay here."
Like the play's Grandma Brown, Mumin chooses to stay. She sees something other than the discouraged neighbors who are leaving, the soiled streets and despairing people. When she looks out the tall windows of her Victorian row house, she sees a historic neighborhood where black Washingtonians pushed to overcome slavery, segregation and discrimination. For the last two weeks, her vision of Shaw and its history played on the stage of the historic Lincoln Theatre in the Shaw neighborhood.
"In spite of everything we went through, it worked out fabulously," she said, referring to her ongoing problems in financing the nearly half-million-dollar musical. "So many people felt so good about themselves when the play was over. Cities go through incredible times and struggles. If we can just get the hope back up. We have to remember we are just a human family, and all together we will try to get to where we are going."
Mumin, 52, a computer training consultant, teamed up with her husband Ibrahim Mumin, 47, to produce the play. Beginning last October with a preview, they raised money through corporate gifts, volunteer help, advance sale of group tickets and, the day before the opening, a loan of $25,000 from the Industrial Bank of Washington. Ibrahim Mumin said that while final figures are not yet available, the couple expects to break even.
The play, performed with 17 musicians and a professional cast of 28, is the story of an elderly woman fighting an urban renewal project that would destroy her family home. In the process of explaining to her granddaughter why family roots are important, she proudly tells the history of black people and their leaders in the Shaw neighborhood.
What is now known as Shaw is actually a group of five Northwest Washington neighborhoods within boundaries drawn by the federal government in the 1960s. Known as the Shaw Urban Redevelopment Project, the area bounded by North Capitol and 15th streets on the east and west and M Street and Florida Avenue on the south and north, had been identified as an area in need of demolition and new construction. Although little of the planned work ever was carried out, the Shaw name -- taken from Shaw Junior High School -- remained.
"Where Eagles Fly" played for 13 days at the city-owned Lincoln Theatre, on U Street NW, what once was called the Black Broadway, a vibrant entertainment district during pre-integration days.
Although the 1,200 seats rarely were filled the first week, the final days of the show were sold out, Mumin said. Applause for names of Shaw restaurants and churches indicated many in the audience were from Washington.
Nathea Lee, executive director of the foundation that runs the theatre, said the Mumin play was perfect for the Lincoln.
"It was a charming piece," she said. "Families could go to it. Elders could go, and everyone was comfortable."
Carole Mumin said she has been invited to bring the play back to the Lincoln and also is looking at offers to take the musical to some theaters out of town.
Mumin began to write the play more than 10 years ago, when she and her husband moved to the 600 block of Q Street NW in the center of Shaw. At the time, he was the executive director of a Shaw economic revival association, and they wanted to live in the community where he worked.
On the first day there, Carole Mumin didn't see the history she later would treasure but rather the immediate problems. As she waited on the front porch for her daughter, Velvet, to come home from school, drug dealers on the block cursed at her for watching them.
Upset, she called her husband. When he arrived, he strode across the street and into a small circle of dealers. He told them not to bother his family.
"You will have me to deal with, not the police, me," he said he told them, returning their stares. "We choose to be here, and we won't be run out."
At the opening of the play, that experience is transformed into a scene with a citizens patrol, known as the Orange Hats, scaring away drug dealers from a Shaw street. The Mumins' commitment to Shaw has never faltered, even as many of their neighbors have left or are trying to leave. Ibrahim Mumin's work is now outside the neighborhood, running anti-poverty programs for the Greater Washington Research Center.
In the Mumins' part of Shaw, as well as in the larger neighborhood, the burst of brisk house sales and major renovations of 10 years ago has slowed to a virtual stop. At one time, there were vacant shells for sale and interested buyers. Now, the sale signs are for houses with new floors, roofs and bathrooms, but there are few prospective buyers.
"This is the better neighborhood!" says the play's Grandma Brown, speaking to her granddaughter, a college student who wants to move. "And you're right, these bricks and mortar ain't it. But they are the key to lessons learned that can make a people great. Oh, they got some mud on 'em over the years. Problem is, most of us wouldn't know a real diamond if we saw one or had one." CAPTION: Actors perform a street scene from "Where Eagles Fly," by Carole Mumin, which just ended a two-week run at the historic Lincoln Theatre. CAPTION: "Where Eagles Fly" playwright Carole Mumin, right, talks with cast member Donnese Upson backstage.