Photo by Shevry Lassiter

Many attending the 11th annual MLK Parade in Southeast crowded both floors of the neighborhood bar Cheers @ the Big Chair, nestled in the downtown Anacostia corridor.

Dionne Bussey-Reeder, co-managing partner of the bar, scrambled to fill 25 orders for a private event being held on the second floor while also trying to manage the 30-minute wait on the first floor.

“It is overwhelmingly busy,” she said.

It’s the first time the parade has come their way. After several route changes taking place since its inception, the parade finally headed north along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue Southeast, rather than south.

The decision to change the route occurred, in part, due to the influence of Mayor Muriel Bowser and her ongoing initiatives to highlight the development of downtown Anacostia.

The windows of the bar, offered a prime viewing spot for hungry parade spectators.

“It seems like they should have always been doing it this way. This is the business district of this area,” Bussey-Reeder said.

The Anacostia River has historically created significant physical and socioeconomic divides among the city’s east and west sides. A recent D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI) report found that the District’s poor and African-American residents overwhelmingly reside east of the Anacostia River and suggested that the area has been alienated from the rest of the city’s post-recession growth.

Poverty rates decreased west of the river after the recession and increased in Wards 7 and 8 where they remain three time higher than the rest of the District. Meanwhile, post-recession incomes have remained the same and significantly lower than the rest of the city in households east of the river though they have grown west of the river.

But a growing number of local businesses and proposals for new developments slated for the area’s commercial corridors suggest the Southeast community now stands on the cusp of economic change.

A Busboy and Poets restaurant is scheduled to move into the area in the summer, the proposed 11th Street Bridge Park would transform the freeway bridge over the river into an elevated park and civic space and the D.C. government has released a Request for Proposals for several vacant storefronts in the downtown Anacostia corridor.

“I think it’s better this way. The parade used to start at the Big Chair,” said Dionne White, a Ward 8 resident.

White attended the parade with her friend, Chanel Icyes Jackson. The two have marched in previous parades with their community-based organization Wonder Woman of Cattleya. This year they participated as “slightly perturbed” onlookers.

“They should have forewarned us. I’m from out of town and if I wasn’t with the organization, I wouldn’t know where I was going,” said Jackson, who is a Virginia resident.

Some parade attendees struggled on the south end of the street to find the new route but were assisted by police.

The parade kicked off at the R.I.S.E. Center at St. Elizabeth’s, proceeded through downtown Anacostia and disbanded on Good Hope Road Southeast at Anacostia Park.

Stuart Anderson, co-chair of the MLK Steering Committee, said the committee distributed flyers and released public service announcements about the change in route on radio, television and social media.

“We want [the businesses] to appreciate the economic impact of the MLK parade,” said Denise Rolark Barnes, chair of the MLK Steering Committee.

She said the businesses along the new path were better suited to take advantage of the business opportunities that a tourist attraction like the parade could offer.

“Most of the businesses up that way were closed on the holiday,” Barnes said of the former route which typically ended at the south end of MLK Avenue.

Michael Sterling, owner of Caribbean Citations, said he was pleased with the route change and the business it attracted to his restaurant in downtown Anacostia.

“I’ve seen a lot of new faces. I knew a lot of people would be out today and I wanted to be a part of it,” Sterling said, adding that he hopes the parade comes his way again next year.

Tatyana Hopkins has always wanted to make the world a better place. Growing up she knew she wanted to be a journalist. To her there were too many issues in the world to pick a career that would force her...

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