Barry Farm Thanksgiving Kicks Off the Holiday Season

Benjamin Koconis | 11/24/2010, 12:05 a.m.

Residents at Barry Farm can sense the change in season by the fiery orange leaves that blow in the cool morning breeze down on Sumner Road, hinting that another Thanksgiving is just around the corner.

As in years past, resident Linda L. Miller was hustling and bustling in the weeks leading up to the celebration, making sure as many residents as possible had a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. By compiling lists of residents' needs and communicating them to local charities, Miller ensured that many of Barry Farm's less fortunate were able to prepare their own home-cooked Thanksgiving feasts.

"As long as I've been here, I've tried to be involved doing outreach," she said. "Years ago we would almost feed the entire property."

Prior to Thursday's festivities, hundreds of plump turkeys, golden sweet corn, yams, greens, and an assortment of canned goods were passed out to this tight-knit community in Southeast through the cooperation of caring residents, local churches, community groups, and area businesses.

Barry Farm, one of the oldest African-American neighborhoods in D.C., has a long, rich history of kind-hearted people coming out around Thanksgiving to kick off the holiday season and to provide for those in need.

Miller, a 32-year resident of the community and acting president of the Barry Farm Resident Council, has many fond memories of Thanksgiving celebrations at Barry Farm, but is partial to years when the festivities were organized by a man she knows only by his first name: "Dave would come down and bring a truck filled with sweet potatoes and put it out in the fields. Everyone was welcome to it; even people from the highways would pull around and scoop things up."

Dave's Thanksgiving dinners, held at Barry Farm Recreation Center on Sumner Road, were special because of unique foods he prepared as well as the activities he planned for the youth, she said. "The food he cooked was different. He would put deer meat in the greens. [Residents] were so surprised; a lot of the people had never tasted deer meat before."

"He always had something that was interesting for the children, like a traditional Native American dance. It was fun for the kids. We would all get in a circle and do a little dance."
Miller, 61, was not alone in the spirit of giving this year; several of Ward 8's community leaders chipped in to make Barry Farm's celebration a success.

Overcoming the Odds

Gregory Baldwin, founder of Helping Hands, Inc., a local community outreach organization, served up a feast on Sat., Nov. 20 to the crowd that lined the sidewalk leading to Barry Farm Recreation Center. All the staples were there: fried, baked, and barbecued chicken, macaroni and cheese, greens, potato salad, and sweet potatoes. The dinner was backed up by a strong message: end the violence.

Baldwin, 46, spent years of his life caught up in the vicious cycle of violence that continues to plague the streets of D.C. Shot on three separate occasions, he was leading a life headed in one direction: down. But after many near death experiences and the birth of his son in 1993, Baldwin said divine intervention stepped in.

"I owe the Lord...he kept me," he said, describing the night he almost lost his life. "The spirit of the lord came down in Dr. Mark L. Buckly's hand. When he pulled my heart out, he pulled a hardened heart out; but he massaged and caressed it with grace and mercy. He gave me a compassionate heart when he put it back in my chest--to seek and help someone else, and to let them know, if Greg can change, anyone can change."

Baldwin, focused on spreading his message to children, said he is always looking for ways to give back to the District's youth. As part of the celebration he hosted on Nov. 20, Baldwin teamed up with master barber and styling instructor, Marco Price-Bey, of the Congress Heights Community Training Development Corporation. Price-Bey, 41, brought a team of four skilled barbers to style and cut hair at the dinner.

Little girls got their braids tightened, while the boys got cleaned-up on top. Baldwin also sat down for a holiday trim.

"Part of thanksgiving is to give something back--to give thanks about what we are grateful for, because we're blessed. We have a creator that blessed us abundantly, so we try to give back. I feel blessed to give back to the less fortunate--unconditionally," said Price-Bey.

Nathaniel Brown, a life-long resident of Barry Farm, said he thinks Baldwin is doing a great service for the community. When Brown grew up, his family struggled before his mother found a stable job. "A lot of these people are on Section 8. A lot of these people won't have a Thanksgiving. When I came up, in the beginning, my mother would have to get food wherever she could."

"We would go to my uncle's house just to eat. We might eat a bowl of spaghetti for Thanksgiving," said the 45-year-old. "It's rough. That's why a lot of people are fighting out here. It may be coming from the fact that no one has anything...I know how it is. I came up the same way."

Facing the Future

The spirit of Thanksgiving continues to thrive at Barry Farm, but a dark cloud is looming on the horizon. Many residents had more on their minds this year than just big celebrations and helping out those in need. For many, this year's Thanksgiving was as much about uncertainty as it was about reflection, giving, and thanks.

Word has been out for some time that Barry Farm will follow suit with several other housing projects being razed and redeveloped, but many residents remain fearful of the transition and are struggling to make sense of the details.

"All I can say is it has been crazy," said Jewel Sims, who has been living at Barry Farm for the last 20 years. "I don't like the idea that we might get split up. Hopefully [charities] will still be able to reach out to people who do need help wherever they go. I'm grateful that I'm alive, and I still have a place to stay."

Several questions remain unanswered, and many wonder about the consequences of redevelopment: Will residents be able to come back to Barry Farm? Will there still be affordable housing? Will the property be the same as before?

Miller said she is concerned that the proposed redevelopment will mirror other housing renovations in the area which she believes haven't fully taken into account the needs of many Barry Farm's residents.

"Mainly we're seeing high rises and art galleries and different things. Homes are being changed into other things instead of homes for residents to live in. [Barry Farm] has 2,3, 4, and 6 bedroom units, and what we hear are being built--we don't hear too much about 4 and 6 bedroom places. Where are these people going to go?"

Dena Michaelson, director of public affairs and communications for the D.C. Housing Authority, said large occupancy requirements pose a major hurdle for her organization.

"It's a real difficult thing for us, because in Barry [Farm] there are large family units. Obviously, if [residents] have to move out of Barry Farm, we will find them a unit that is the right size for them. In other words, we won't stuff a family that needs a five bedroom [unit] and stuff them into two. If [residents] have to move because Barry Farm is being remodeled, we will find them appropriate housing," she said.

Brown said he is grateful and fortunate to know where he is going once the relocation process starts: "I'm in a better position than a lot of my neighbors and people that I came up with. I know where I'm going to be, but they don't know where they're going. It's kind of messed up...it's sad."