It looms over the first intersection that motorists reach after crossing the river and arriving in the heart of Anacostia: two expansive walls lined with photographic portraits and the names of dozens of young victims of homicide.
When a nearby church put up the "Wall of Remembrance" in June, community leaders believed that it would be a temporary display meant to call attention to a spate of deadly gun violence across the area.
Six months later, the memorial is still at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Good Hope Road SE, drawing a daily trickle of passersby who pause to look at photos of victims such as Chelsea Cromartie, the 8-year-old who was killed in May by a stray bullet.
For many residents, the memorial highlights a fundamental fact of life in a part of the District that has long struggled with poverty and violent crime. But the memorial also has spawned criticism from some civic leaders and residents who believe that it conveys too bleak a message for a community hoping to refurbish its bedraggled commercial artery. Although the memorial's sponsor, Union Temple Baptist Church, maintains that the display is temporary, church officials say they have not decided when to take it down.
"The sign might as well say, 'Welcome to the Ghetto,' " said Yavocka D. Young, an advisory neighborhood commissioner and the executive director of an economic revitalization corporation located a block away. "For someone who comes over the bridge to look at a new home or to open a restaurant, it doesn't send the right signal. It says this is a neighborhood full of problems."
Young raised objections to the memorial at an ANC meeting in September, prompting an emotional response from a woman in the audience, Marita Michael, whose son, Devin Fowlkes, 16, was slain outside Anacostia Senior High School last year. A portrait of the teenager, in his football uniform, is part of the memorial.
Michael told the commissioners that the display helps her and other relatives of victims cope with their grief. Young dropped the subject for the moment, but her view resonates with other community leaders.
Fred Bradley, an ANC commissioner who attended the meeting, said a number of constituents have complained to him about the memorial, saying its appearance has deteriorated in the months since it was put up. But Bradley said no one is certain how to go about taking it down.
"It's got to be approached very carefully. People are very emotional about it; you don't want to offend the families," he said.
Patricia Clay, 53, a board member at Main Street Anacostia Inc., the economic development group where Young is the executive director, said she initially welcomed the memorial as a tribute to the victims.
As the months passed, however, Clay said that she has come to view the display as "the wall of horror" and that she has grown tired of visitors asking her whether all the victims who are commemorated were slain in Anacostia.
"We want to entice people to be a part of our community, not have an image that if you come across here we may be mourning you," Clay said. "Who wants to constantly be reminded of youth dying?"
Yet that view is far from dominant among those who stop and peruse the photographs, wondering whether anyone new has been added to the display.
"To me it says, 'Welcome to reality,' " said Ladonya Allen, 21, a security guard, who gazed at the rows of faces in the photographs one morning last week with two of her three small children.
Allen said she brings her 4-year-old son, Zyshonn, to the memorial to emphasize the importance of steering clear of guns and drugs. "I tell him why they're up here so he won't go crazy," she said. "And he understands why they're up there. You have to start young."
Half a block away, Evangeline Cole-Thompson owns Cole's Cafe, one of the few sit-down restaurants in Anacostia. She said she's not concerned about how the memorial reflects on the neighborhood's image. Rather, she said, it's an important focal point for a community that's too often moving in different directions.
"It connects people," she said, after leaving her restaurant's kitchen for a moment to walk to the corner to look at the wall. "It's for people to stop and care. It's for people to pray for the families."
Union Temple put up the memorial after its pastor, the Rev. Willie Wilson, a former mayoral candidate, decided that the church needed to publicly acknowledge an alarming period of gun violence last spring. The church chose the intersection because Wilson and his wife own the corner property where the memorial is located.
Members of Union Temple compiled a list of homicide victims with help from D.C. police, then asked families to contribute photographs for the wall. More than 40 families agreed. The names of 27 other victims are listed without photographs.
In many cases, the victims lived in Southeast, including Fowlkes and Diamond Teague, 19, who was shot to death in October 2003 and who appears in a photo wearing a black jacket and a necktie, with the words "Are Forever" over his chest. In other cases, the victims were killed outside Southeast. Michael Antonio Bassett, 18, who appears in his photo in a tuxedo, was beaten and run over in June outside a Suitland convenience store.
"For parents of these children, the only recognition they get is two lines in the newspaper," Wilson said during an interview in his Union Temple office, a few blocks from the memorial. "This puts a face to the name. It says, 'My child has value.' "
Told of concerns that the memorial conveys the wrong image for the community, Wilson said: "Development is coming. People are knocking each other over to get in. This is the last frontier in Washington, D.C."
At the same time, he said, "you can't hide reality. You can't hide what's going on."
At first, the church intended to take the memorial down, perhaps after a couple of months. But Vernon Hawkins, Union Temple's administrator, said the response from the community and the victims' families was powerful enough that church officials decided to leave it up. They still plan to remove the memorial and are trying to conceive of an appropriate way to take it down without upsetting the families.
"It's a real issue," Hawkins said. "How do you make the transition?"
As the months have passed, some of the photos have been damaged by rain. Messages, such as "RIP Homies, Until We Meet Again" and "RIP Duke, the Good Die Young," have been scrawled across others.
Marita Michael said she and the other victims' families would prefer a permanent memorial, one made of marble, with trees named for each victim. And she said she would use her new platform as an ANC commissioner -- she was elected last week -- to press her case.
"Instead of talking about destroying the wall, we should be talking about how we can make it better," Michael said. "If it was a memorial downtown, they would come up with something spectacular."
As for now, Michael said she finds comfort in seeing her son's face when she passes the intersection.
"I say, 'Hi, D,' " she said. "It makes me proud."