Anacostia Unmapped ★★★★
Anacostia Unmapped is a fantastic show about the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, D.C. which is part of the Localore: Finding America series from AIR Media. Through the initiative, producers are embedded in a geographic area and report for nine months. On this particular show, three residents were given recorders and began to talk to their neighbors, looking for unique stories that helped weave the fabric of the Anacostia neighborhood.
What you need to know about the Anacostia neighborhood is that it is in southeast Washington, D.C., Frederick Douglass owned a large home here in the late 1800s, and it became a working class neighborhood through the middle of the 20th century. But eventually the prosperity gave way to drugs and crime. It became synonymous with blight: boarded up houses, drug deals, empty lots, and poverty. Recently, developers and restaurateurs have taken notice of the location and have begun to invest and plan projects to revive the area. Yet, there is still concern and fear over the neighborhood losing its culture and charm. In my view, this show simply shares some of the most wonderful things about Anacostia, while admitting some of the harsh realities.
In “Does Art Have a Color?” I was transported to the street on which a white woman runs a theater, and thinks about whether she belongs there or not. It actually made me want to hear more about racial divides and the threat of gentrification in Anacostia – some residents comment online that it is a very mixed-race neighborhood but others describe it as “unfriendly” (in my opinion that reads: black, from the mouths of fearful whites, but I could be wrong). I identified with the young woman in “The House That Gayle Built” who followed her dreams and saved enough money to buy a house that not everyone would see as their dream house, but was the perfect match for her. The latest episode, more of a collection of clips, was a goodbye to Marion Christopher Barry. He died in August of a suspected drug overdose and struggled in his short life, yet contributed a lot to the community of Anacostia through his construction business. Guests shared stories about Barry and how he impacted Anacostia, and it was really touching.
I love that this show has contributors with different points of view: Kymone Freeman and John Johnson have interviewed most of the subjects. Episodes are really short-often less than 10 minutes, which makes them easy to listen to–you could even binge-listen to all the episodes and it wouldn’t take long. The length of episodes is perfect for the type of content – interviews with neighbors don’t need to be 20-30 minutes long. A handful of local photographers contribute some beautiful complementary black and white photos to the stories, my favorite of which was from Imagination on Pavement (photo uncredited):
The last episode was published on 8/22 and I believe the producers only intended to record through July, so I’m not sure if there will be more Anacostia Unmapped to come, but I hope so. I’ll post an update here if I hear back from the show. The show is produced at 88.5 WAMU (home to other excellent shows such as The Big Listen and The Diane Rehm Show) and maybe it can find a long term home there – seems to fit in well with a local radio production. If not, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this little glimpse into a neighborhood I’d have never known about. I’d certainly have had an alternate view of had I just pulled up articles or looked at it on Google Earth. This show has been an excellent reminder to keep an open mind and realize geographies change over time, and that people are the fabric of every community.
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Audible Feast Ratings
Educational Value (4 / 5)
Pop Culture Value (3 / 5)
Host Listen-ability (5 / 5)
Flow & Production Value (5 / 5)
Humor (2 / 5)
Investigation (3 / 5)
Storytelling (5 / 5)
Makes Me a Better Person (5 / 5)
Overall Audible Feast Rating: (4 / 5)
Start with These Episodes:
The House That Gayle Built: Renita “Mommy Gayle” Simril grew up saving her money, and ultimately started her own daycare and bought the house of her dreams.
Living With a Death in Anacostia: Beverly Smith’s Son: A mother recounts the aftermath of her’s son’s death at the hands of local police.
Does Art Have a Color?: A White Woman runs a theater in Anacostia and she reflects on the concept of gentrification.
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