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Women of D.C.’s Public Housing Share Their Stories on Stage

For many, life in public housing can oftentimes be a bleak existence — and an untold one.

To that end, six women who’ve lived in such D.C. tenements are showcasing their experiences in a stage play that runs through Dec. 18.

Developed by Empower DC, the play, “On My Mind/In My Heart: The Voices of Women in Public Housing,” conveys the women’s raw stories that touch on themes of disability, hardship and the impact of gentrification.

“They look at us and assume, ‘There goes that poor project lady with all those kids. They’re just victims of their own making. They had to have done something wrong to end up here in the first place,'” said cast member Abena Disroe. “One of the goals of the play is to break those stereotypes [which are] especially hard on the children.”

In her story about returning to her redeveloped Arthur Cappers complex, cast member Robin Fields grapples with the realization that all of the former residents have been displaced.

“Where did all the Black folks go?” she asks. “Seems like my new neighbors care more about [their pets] than about me.”

In addition to Disroe, the recently-elected resident council president at Hopkins Apartments, and Fields of the refurbished Arthur Capper townhomes, the play’s participants include Paulette Matthews of Barry Farm, India Fuller of Greenleaf Extensions, Rhonda Hamilton of Syphax Gardens and Linda Brown of Greenleaf Senior.

As members of Empower DC, the women united through their advocacy to save and improve public housing.

The play was developed from their personal stories with the help of playwright Caleen Sinnette Jennings, an award-winning playwright who also serves as a theater professor at American University.

The production team includes director Thembi Duncan, production manager Keta Newborn, and DJ RBI, who performs a short set while the audiences are being seated. Each of the shows is followed by an audience discussion.

The remaining performances of the 9-show presentation are slated for:

6 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 14 at Martha’s Outfitters, 2204 MLK Jr. Ave. SE
2 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 16 at First Baptist Church, 712 Randolph St. NW
7 p.m., Monday, Dec. 18, at Theater J, 1529 16th St. NW

All shows are free of charge, except for the closing night performance at Theater J, when tickets will cost $10 and can be purchased online at theater.org.

For more information, contact Parisa Norouzi at 202-234-9119, ext. 100, or parisa@empowerdc.org.

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