Landscape artist and resident of D.C.’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood Aaron Leavy pointed me toward this great video of from the Great Blizzard of 2010. This one was filmed at Malcolm X Park (also known as Meridian Hill) last Saturday. Says Aaron, “It’s just delightful. It’s joyous. I just loved it!”
I’ve written about Malcolm X Park in my forthcoming book Who Killed Donte Manning?: The Myth and Story of an American Neighborhood. Here’s an excerpt describing the park in summer!
Now called Malcolm X Park by locals, Meridian Hill is a meeting place for city folks from all different cultures. Salvadorans, Bosnians, and Haitians don’t share a language, but they all know how to play soccer. And the field is almost always in use. On Sunday afternoon in the center of the park there is a drumming circle. About 40 drummers gather and about 100 onlookers. It’s been going on for at least 35 years. They are often joined by members of a professional Nigerian dance troupe who are overjoyed to dance in a public space rather than on a stage for “entertainment.”
This drum and dance circle is a place where people pray with their bodies. They shout out praise. They cry and comfort one another. There is a woman who stands off to the side holding out burning incense. She blesses those who come to her, sometimes including healing touch. There are little kids and elders; gang-bangers and “suits.” There are Rasta guardians who let newcomers know that marijuana and alcohol should not be brought into the circle. People share their picnics with each other; they feed the birds, and put out bowls of water for dogs. When asked why she came here every week, one woman responded, “I need this on Sundays to carry me through Monday.” To me, this drumming circle, high on the Piedmont Fall Line, looks like John’s City of God.
–Rose Marie Berger (Who Killed Donte Manning? Apprentice House Press, 2010)