Like many melanin-filled individuals, I am still trying to figure out how Sir Donnie made it into office, but with DC being one of my favorite cities, I was determined to make my trip to visit the new Smithsonian - one that celebrated the beauty of my melanin-filled history. Yes, our president is on track to using more government funds on travel in one year than Obama used in 8, yes, the leader of the free world throws tantrums on of all platforms, Twitter, and yes, I will probably be using my minimal Espanol when I leave the country to increase my survivability rate, especially knowing that if I get “taken” the only acknowledgement that I might get, if I’m lucky, is a tweet telling me that I might as well put my head in between my legs and kiss my … goodbye. However, in reverence to one of the cities that I love, but am too poor to afford to move to, I present my DC Travel Guide, the Black and Proud Edition.
This museum has been on my bucket list since it opened last year, so when my best friend texted me saying she was able to get 4 tickets, I immediately started making travel plans. Due to the high demand for tickets, potential visitors have to either secure them months in advance or attempt to get one of the limited walk-up tickets available Monday through Friday by waiting in line outside of the museum. Our tickets were timed for a 1pm entry, and even with 4 hours to explore the museum, I was told that we would still not have enough time to cover all of it. On the advice of the information center and former visitors, we started on the bottom floor: Slavery and the Reconstruction Era. Over the course of 4 hours, I experienced almost every emotion across the spectrum: extreme sadness, helplessness, hopefulness, joy, the list goes on and on. Even if I walked you through every exhibit, the NMAAHC is something that every person, whether Black, Hispanic, or Asian, need to experience on their own, because without the sweat, blood, tears, and souls, of those that fought for racial equality, there would not a land of the free. It’s hard to not leave the museum doors without a renowned lease on life and the desire to make a difference. Midway through our visit, we decided to take a quick lunch in the Sweet Home Cafe, especially since we had chosen additional sleep over breakfast. While I appreciate the museums attempt to replicate regional soulful cuisine, mass production almost always kills authenticity, and the food was mediocre at best. However, I’m looking forward to my next visit to the museum, especially since I somehow missed the whole Jordan sneaker exhibit.
When I first visited the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, it was the week of Obama’s 2nd Inauguration, the temperature in DC had reached Alaska status, and I was one of the thousands of tourists struggling to get quick pics before retreating to find warmth in the frigid weather. So needless to say, the only thing I remember seeing from that trip is the actual MLK statue and nothing else. On this visit, however, the weather Gods were showing favor, and I had a chance to actually read the quote adorned walls, to enjoy some shade under the blooming cherry blossoms while looking over the Tidal Basin to the Jefferson Memorial, and to reflect on the sacrifices that were made and are still being made for my rights and those of my future children.
Since this was the first trip to DC for one member of my party, we had to make sure that we took her on a trip to visit the National Mall. After passing the reflection pool and praying our knees carried us up the 87 steps that lead to the Lincoln Memorial, we finally made it to one of my favorite DC memorials. The 19 foot tall, 175 ton white Georgia marble statue of Abraham Lincoln, sits up impressively, seemingly looking out to the Washington Monument. I’m sure that I don’t have to tell you why the Lincoln Memorial was included on this list of places to visit on your next trip to DC, but just in case, shout out to Abe for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. While I am aware that slavery was not immediately abolished and that this proclamation was used as a war strategy to free slaves in the rebel states, crippling the Southern economy and affecting their livelihoods, it would be ignorant to not acknowledge that this was one of the first of many major steps taken towards racial equality.
There was a time that I would travel from Houston to DC, at least once every couple of months, however, this restaurant did not become a staple on my itinerary until Inauguration Weekend. I’m from the South with Louisiana origins, so I’m well versed in soul food, and skeptical when it doesn’t come from my Granny’s kitchen. I can admit that I was a bit perturbed by the prices this time around, $25 for a catfish plate with 2 sides and cornbread, however, it was almost midnight, and my fish was fresh and straight out the grease. According to the menu, Oohs and Aahs charges a late night fee for those of us that still want our greens and macaroni and cheese after 10pm. From my brother’s turkey wings with meat falling off the bones to my sides of greens and yams that tasted like home, Oohs and Aahs was just as savory as it had been in my memories. If you’re a fine dining connoisseur and turn your nose up at hole in the walls, this probably wouldn’t be the establishment for you, but if you just want some great down home southern soul food, see you there.
I’m pretty sure that just about every tourist that has visited DC has heard of Ben’s Chili Bowl. This landmark restaurant is steeped in rich Civil Rights history and has been frequented by many celebrities, including our very own, President Obama. Mostly known for its hot dogs, chili, and milkshakes, Ben’s continues to be a staple on tourist’s itinerary. In 2008, the second generation sons of the original owners, Ben and Virginia Ali, opened Ben’s Next Door. This trendy eatery has more of an upscale flair and menu than it’s predecessor, with items on the menu like shrimps and grits (which seem to be on every menu in DC), jerk chicken pasta, etc. I didn’t get a chance to try the food at Ben’s Next Door, but we did stop by briefly to enjoy the drink specials at their full-service bar.
So, while this may not be a black owned establishment, since its name is inspired by the legendary Marvin Gaye, I decided to cheat and add it to the list. My friends and I have reached the age where we prefer day parties and trendy bars to clubbing until the wee hours of the night. I would like to say that we stumbled upon Marvin’s while U-Street bar hopping, but since one of my friends has frequented this place and calls it her “go-to” when all else fails, I guess that would be considered an alternative fact. Needless to say, when one of our crew members was denied entry to a bar because of his attire or lack thereof, we ended up on the rooftop at Marvin’s. While it took me the whole weekend to quit referring to this place as Marvin’s Room, let me just say that the drink specials and small bites, accompanied with the soulful hits and R&B and Rap classics from artists like Teedra Moses and Fabolous, landed this place on my itinerary for every future DC visit, right up there with Oohs and Aahs. Sidenote: Day parties in the Spring and Summer in DC are almost reason enough to make that move to the DMV.
Since my late night clubbing days are on the verge of extinction, I debated whether to put Park on this list. However, any club that has been open as long as Park, that is still as popping as Park, and that is black owned, definitely deserves an honorable mention. While I didn’t make it to Park for any of their night festivities on this trip, I did make it to a brunch turned day party that reminded me of the 99 reasons that I still recommend it to anyone looking to go out in the DC area. The drinks are slightly pricey, but for 4 floors of fun with banging DJs in an upscale establishment, you definitely will leave feeling like you got your money’s worth.
“Favor ain’t fair,” and in knowing that I am blessed beyond what I deserve, I make an attempt to attend church in cities across the country where I have heard phenomenal things about the pastor. My motto is always that if I can turn up in these streets, I can get up and make it to somebody’s church on Sunday mornings. Yes, God is still working on me… Being that one of my close friends is a member of Alfred Street Baptist Church and I’ve listened to several streamed sermons, it was already on my DC itinerary, but knowing it’s historical significance made it a perfect fit for this list. Founded in 1803 in a historically black neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia, Alfred Street Baptist Church, formerly known as the First Colored Baptist Church, was and still remains an active participant in providing resources to the black community and even donated one million dollars towards the completion of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. After streaming Pastor Wesley for months, it was refreshing getting to hear him preach in person, and his sermon about being accountable for affirming the humanity of others spoke volumes to my current stage in life that centers around more giving regardless of whether I’m receiving.
Just in case, you have more room in your itinerary than I did on your next trip to DC, below are a list of a handful of additional places worthy of being added to your DC Itinerary:
Avery’s Bar and Lounge
Malcolm X Park
Frederick Douglass Historic Site
Howard University Campus