What if this were every Saturday?

Kennedy Street Sidewalk Fest brings a day of vibrant, inclusive community life to this corner of Uptown DC

Kennedy Street NW
Jul 1, 2014 · 5 min read

Well that was nice.

The people of Brightwood Park, Manor Park, North Petworth, and 16th Street Heights have been looking to Kennedy Street NW to reclaim its place as the heart of their community for a long time. For one day, that wait was over.

The June 28 Sidewalk Festival was a locally-driven, locally-supported event with one simple goal: to show what a beautiful Saturday could be like if we came together to make our long-overlooked corner of Uptown DC a vibrant place.

“I’ve lived on Kennedy Street for a decade and today was by far the most alive I’ve ever seen it.” — Resident

The day was conceived and organized by the Kennedy Street Development Association, an all-volunteer group of residents and business owners committed to developing business, social, and community life here. In six months, we’ve grown to over 100 members, hundreds more supporters, and have brought some real improvements to the street.

We received no contributions from corporations or political groups. Instead, it was the community that came through.

Almost the entire shoestring $2,000 budget was raised by individual donations. We blew out our Indegogo campaign goal. Local businesses, musicians, teachers, artists, and activists stepped up to make the rest possible.

Culture Coffee, which has become the heartbeat of the community since opening a year ago, slung smoothies and popcorn samples at a frenetic pace. Co-owner Saundrell Stevens said it was their best business day of 2014.

Andrene Finn, proprietor of Andrene’s Soul Food and Caribbean Carry-Out, mustered a duo of costumed characters to thrill the kids, a DJ, gave away free samples, and convinced the next-door the Hattie Homes Senior Wellness Center to open its doors on an off day. Neighborhood photographers and videographers took stories from seniors and others of their Kennedy Street memories, the start of an oral history project that will inform how we balance tradition with evolution.

Our neighborhood musicians stepped up. Harlan Jones, director of the New Sewell Music Conservatory at 712 Kennedy, one of the street’s longtime cultural anchors, brought together his Third Generation Band and other local musicians for a day of jazz, R&B, and gospel. Ronald Lewis, a longtime resident who came to his first KSDA meeting just a few weeks prior, brought out his hollow-body guitar and hit all Pharell’s high-notes. Perry Redd, a social justice activist and studio owner, hosted and serenaded the main hub up the street. Ward 4 femcee Byrd swung by and called upon us to show some neighborhood pride.

La Officina put the World Cup match on in the lobby. In front on the street, We Act 4 You financial services brought in a financial adviser to consult and reach new clients in partnership with BB&T. Horton’s Funeral Service donated its parking lot to give us a festival base, an invaluable contribution for a street with no public spaces. 10K Kitchens reopened its retail showroom for the first time in years, and now has hope for the future. Child care centers and non-profit organizations opened their doors to invite in their neighbors, new and old.

A magician heard about our event and tracked us down. Someone else knew a face painter and invited him. An art teacher put together an awesome community mural activity for kids.

Other volunteers mobilized their contacts and colleagues to reach out to the community. The DC Department of Environment talked about what they’re working on in the area. The DC Public Library held a storytime for children. And DC Office of Planning talked with parents and children about the coming Playable Art fixture that KSDA won after a citywide contest.

We got in-kind help from local non-profit Emory Beacon of Light for printing flyers and yard signs, and GoodShuffle, a DC startup that facilitates rentals between individuals, provided some much-needed tables, chairs, and canopies. Arch Development Corporation of Anacostia took us under their wing, serving as our 501(c)(3) partner to help us get event insurance and raise funds transparently.

Perhaps the most visible impact from the day will be a mural on the corner of Kennedy and Georgia Ave NW. Artist Zsudayka Nzinga, who displayed at Culture Coffee for June, spent eight hours starting the transformation of this blank wall on the side of the Lucky Corner market into a colorful celebration of music and family.

“People from the neighborhood kept coming up, saying how much they appreciated seeing art going up on that corner, and expressing hope that it would help change things.” — muralist Zsudayka Nzinga

KSDA has big plans for Kennedy Street, all informed by the recommendations of current residents and businesses. New and old residents alike want a vibrant street. People of all stripes want places to sit, share a meal or enjoy the weather. Places for their kids to play, or spend time after school. Places that are safe and welcome everyone. We see these empty lots and boarded-up buildings as opportunities to make Kennedy Street a better place for all of us.

Myles Smith, Kennedy Street Development Association

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