Thursday, May 19, 2011

Humanities Council of DC Honors U Street Businesses

Last night under threatening skies, the DC Humanities Council held their inaugural "Celebration of U Street" event. In attendance were local business owners, community leaders, District government officials and interested citizens.

At the event, the Humanities Council presented three U Street-area businesse were honored for their "contributions to the rich urban history and world-class reputation of U Street."

Nizam Ali of Ben's Chili Bowl, Richard Lee of Lee's Flower and Card Shop, and Suman Sorg of Sorg Architects (architects of area buildings such as the Solea) were all on hand to both accept their respective awards and participate in a brief panel discussion hosted by author Blair A. Ruble, who wrote "Washington's U Street - A Biography," a history of the street and its surrounding neighborhood. (A must-read for anyone interested in the tremendously rich history of the U Street neighborhood.)

Lee spoke briefly about what he views as the three defined stages of U Street's life: as the epicenter of African-American life and culture, as a decaying neighborhood plagued by neglect and under-investment in the aftermath of the 1968 race riots, and as a neighborhood reborn and resurgent in recent years. I couldn't help but notice that the crowd in attendance--a mix of people of different ages and races--seemed fairly emblematic of today's U Street.

There were some interesting facts and anecdotes that came out during the discussion and subsequent q&a. For instance, Ben Ali--founder of Ben's--never ate one of his restaurant's notorious half smokes, because he kept halal. Richard Lee, who is himself not a native Washingtonian but was actually born in Montreal, spoke of living around U Street before and after the desegregation of the District. Most interestingly, he noted that while U Street was the preeminent African-American neighborhood in DC, the People's Drugstore at 14th and U was a segregated store, and didn't allow African-Americans to sit at the lunch counter until after repeated sit-ins led by the likes of Mary Church Terrell and Mary McLeod Bethune.

Following the discussion, each business representative, along with Blair Ruble, received awards from the humanities council that reflected their individual and collective contributions to the neighborhood.

The Humanities Council of DC, which is based on U Street, "is a non-profit organization that provides grant support for community programs that enrich the lives of DC citizens through the humanities disciplines." More information about the Council, as well as how you can offer your support, can be found at their website,


Joy Austin, Executive Director Humaniteis Council of Washington, DC said...

Thank you for attending our tribute to U Street last night and for this wonderful recap!

Anonymous said...

Great! Sorg ...Now we know who to blame for that freakin' ugly eye sore known as the Solea!!!

Anonymous said...

I didn't know they were giving out awards for architecural travesties?

lilkunta said...

I didnt know People's was segregated not that Ben Lee kept halal. I thought he was from Trinidad. What halal was he keeping? Is he Jewish? Islamic?