- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 30, 2006

Gentrification, or the wholesale displacement of long-standing residents from their neighborhoods by uncontrolled market forces and complicit government policy, is a hot-button topic in the District that pits old-timers against newcomers.

“People move into a neighborhood but don’t know anything about it, but they need to respect the history,” says Ibrahim Mumin, community organizer in the District’s Shaw neighborhood. “Then, sometimes people beat up on newcomers for not respecting the history of the neighborhood, but they haven’t told them anything about it.”

So Mr. Mumin and his wife, Carole, hope to rectify some of that neighbor vs. neighbor tension by imparting the missing historical knowledge of the Shaw area with the 10-year anniversary revitalization of her award-winning musical play, “Where Eagles Fly.”

“A significant part of our culture is at risk, and we want to memorialize the contributions of African Americans like Dr. Charles Drew. Shaw is not only buildings,” Mr. Mumin said.

The “Eagles” anniversary production highlights the many contributions of black Washingtonians, such as educator Mary Church Terrell; poets Paul Lawrence Dunbar and his wife, Alice; composer Duke Ellington; opera singer Madame Evanti; Episcopal priest Alexander Cromell; and founder of the United House of Prayer, Charles E. “Daddy” Grace. They all lived in the area near the Howard Theatre and the Lincoln Theatre, where the play can been seen through April 19.

The underlying message in “Eagles” suggests that when a community unites, it can overcome obstacles and accomplish its goals. “The lesson to all is the importance of preserving and passing along the legacies of the communities in which we live,” Mr. Mumin said. And, tomorrow night’s opening gala performance and cast party will provide much-needed funding for Mrs. Mumin’s Shaw community self-help agency, Organization for Training Others in Need (OFT/ON). The decades-old program provides job and life-skills training for adults and children.

“Where Eagles Fly” began as an oral history project funded by the D.C. Humanities Council in 1981. For the anniversary run, Mike Malone directs the play, which stars Phyllis Yvonne Stickney, who was featured in “The Women of Brewster Place,” “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” and “Die Hard with a Vengeance.” She portrays Ma Brown, whose granddaughter wants her to move to a safer neighborhood until she regales her with stories about the rich intellectual and cultural history of Shaw.

“Carole was worried [the historical research] would end up sitting on a shelf collecting dust somewhere, and then it became her vision to turn [the information] into a musical and a play,” said Mr. Mumin, founder of Mumin and Associates, a community economic development, management and public relations firm.

At the gala opening, current unsung Shaw heroes and heroines will be honored, including Lillian Gordon of the East Central Civic Association; Muriel Gregory, widow of Henry C. Gregory III, the pastor who built the Shiloh Family Life Center; and Lawrence Thomas, who started a Thanksgiving giveaway in Shaw.

“In a culture that doesn’t recognize people until they’re dead, we want to give some folks their flowers while they can still smell them,” Mr. Mumin said.

A resident of Q Street Northwest, Mr. Mumin is worried about the number of low- and moderate-income blacks all over the country who are losing their longtime residences.

“Leadership and government need to come up with creative solutions,” he said of gentrification, or what he called “Darwin’s survival of the exalted and who can bid the highest” for hot inner-city properties. Although he may not be able to counter market forces, Mr. Mumin hopes the play will preserve the history of Shaw and U Street Northwest, once called “the Black Broadway.”

“U Street was not just fun and dance,” he said. “There were also the best and brightest black intellectuals and educators living there.”

As before, the Mumins worked hard to secure funding for the huge production. Besides the 26-member cast, which includes a band from the House of Prayer, the Mumins are employing local residents, as well as students from Duke Ellington School for the Arts and Howard University as stagehands.

As a mentor of young adults and teens, Mr. Mumin said it saddened him to see the Academy Awards honor the song from the movie “Hustle and Flow.”

“They need to lift up something else than ‘It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp.’ I have a young man I mentor, and I don’t want to see him become a pimp, and [I] resent Hollywood shoving that down our throats.”

That is why “Eagles” is an uplifting “message of hope, confidence, compassion, dedication and unity in a community too often portrayed negatively by the media,” Mr. Mumin said.

For information about the production, visit www.whereeaglesflyllc.com or call 202/939-0560; for ticket information call the Lincoln Theatre at 202/328-6000.

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