Photo of the mural painted by Rebeka Ryvola next to the Anacostia River.
Ken Martin

The first time I was displaced was due to a fire in a unit below me at an apartment building at 16th and W streets SE, in 1976. That building, once my home, has since gone condo. 

The door to the neighborhood store I frequented daily while living there now features a mural. It was completed Saturday, Feb. 17. The entrance of the newly renovated store is now located on the W Street side.  

The new owner of the store, which is a three-minute walk from the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, commissioned muralist Rebeka Ryvola to depict past icons and modern community members together, next to the Anacostia River. 

“Douglass is joined by friends and contemporaries,” according to a press release, “including radical abolitionist John Brown, activist lawyer and the first black graduate of Harvard Richard Greener, journalist and Civil Rights leader and suffragette Ida Wells, first African American to serve a full-term in the United States Senate Blanche K. Bruce, abolitionist and Douglass mentor Wendell Phillips, and groundbreaking journalist Grace Greenwood, seen playing baseball with a number of modern day neighborhood children. A young person serenades the gathering with the violin.” 

As I enjoyed the inspiring art in the mural, which is certainly a rose among the thorns, I noticed a street sign that said, “NO OUTLET.”  

I couldn’t help but wonder whether it is a sign of the times. 

Walking up to the site, I was repulsed by the scent of freshly burned pot. The same pot that, although legalized, I recall having the side effect of reduced ambition. Grizzled old men stood on the corners, seeming to have no destination in mind.  

On a sunny day on a street that was once full of life, there were no children playing, no soulful sound tracks, no other onlookers. I wondered, “Where are all the others that need the lift in spirit this masterful piece abundantly offers?” Sadly, there were police standing in the street deciding how to approach the driver in a car they had blocked from proceeding down 16th Street to Good Hope Road.  

Yes, Good Hope Road, paved with many stepping stones: resource-filled agencies that lead to personal development in education, employment, entrepreneurship, housing, upward mobility and financial independence. The (road) sign of the times I so desperately wish my neighbors would steer their futures toward.