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Nostalgic for Black Culture, Festivals in D.C.

By Zerline Hughes, Hilltop Alumni Columnist (SPECIAL To The Hilltop)
Posted 10:15 PM EST, Sat. July 16, 2016

As you young folks say, I just got my life! And how appropriate – I was at the “Phife is Living!” event held at Marvin Gaye Park in Northeast Washington, D.C on Saturday, July 16. Live Afro-Cuban drumming by Batalá, the all-women ensemble, mic battles and ciphers by local rappers and poets, Black businesses vending t-shirts, jewelry, African-inspired bowties and natural cosmetics was organized by local nonprofit Worlds Beats & Life. There were even graffiti artists and painters crafting larger-than-life works of art all in the name of the late A Tribe Called Quest rapper Phife Dawg, aka Malik Izaak Taylor. It was a beautiful thing.

Even in the 92-degree, sweltering heat and humidity, it was an inspiring and awesome throwback experience. Throwback not just because every Tribe song was my jam back in the 1990s, but because the outdoor street festival reminded me of my good ole’ days as a Howard student.

As a junior and staff photographer for The Hilltop – back in the days where we developed rolls of black and white film in the office darkroom – I recall covering Adams Morgan Day. My shot of an African moko jumbie – a stilts walker or dancer—made it in the local section of the paper. I enjoyed the crowd of diversity – a rarity back then – filled with families, tourists and students who walked shoulder to shoulder in the streets. I always thought, “this is what Washington, D.C., is all about.”

Even as a freshman, I remember venturing out of my dorm for Georgia Avenue Day. It was a festive day, known to some as the D.C. Caribbean Carnival, where vendors, musicians, dancers and the HU/Shaw community came out, along with other residents and tourists to enjoy the spirit of the neighborhood. The smoky, spicy smell of jerk chicken and the sweet, doughy aroma of funnel cake filled several blocks of the Georgia Avenue corridor.

Georgia Avenue Day ended after an 18-year run. Some say it was because organizers owed the District a few hundred thousand dollars in parade fees. Others say it was because in its later years, attendees became unruly and police had to intervene. One person died during the celebration in 2011.

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And I hear Howard Homecoming has been scaled way down over the years, because the growing popularity of our culture phenomenon was spilling into the gentrified streets of Shaw and it was frowned upon and advocated against. Hmph.

[Howard Homecoming Committee Introduces 2016 Theme: BLUEPRINT]

These events help us come together. They help us go back to the days of social interaction versus social networking. These events allow people, young and old, to truly experience the newfound diversity of the nation’s capital and see beyond K Street, the National Mall and the politicking that the city is famous for.

And particularly for our Black-Americans, these events are so necessary, required. We need these spaces to network outside of the classroom and workplace. For those without brick and mortar businesses, we need these gatherings to show off and sell our wares. We need these festivals to share our culture, importance and impact to everyone’s daily life – past and present.

To my Howard students reading: make sure you get out and experience your city. To my fellow alumni, despite the daily grind of work-family-volunteer responsibilities, don’t forget to take a break and get out into the outdoors. To those that have the desire and power to bring us together on a more regular basis, let’s collaborate, advocate for, and sustain these events that we have, and let’s work to bring more to the community at large to increase our presence, footprint and impact.

Let’s keep learning, loving, living. Let’s leave a long-lasting legacy. As Phife said it, “act like you know; not now, but right now.”

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Zerline Hughes is a Hilltop alumni columnist (c/o 1999) and former Hilltop page editor. She owns Media Mingle, a communications firm in Washington, D.C. and writes for her blog Not These Two, which focuses on keeping her children out of the school-to-prison pipeline. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at


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