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Party Amidst Change

Historic neighborhood celebrates while it transforms.

The Nauck Civic Pride Day celebration is a tradition that dates back decades.

Every year in mid-September, residents of this historically black neighborhood gather together for food, music and the camaraderie that comes with living in a tight-knit community.

But at the 2007 Civic Pride Day, held this weekend, it was hard not to notice the radical changes that the neighborhood is undergoing.

For one, the event was being held on South Kenmore Street in the shadow, as it were, of an enormous hole in the ground. That hole is the future site of The Shelton, a 94-unit apartment complex that will feature below market rate rents.

"I am looking forward to it," Kevin Jones, a minister in the community, said of the Shelton, which is expected to be completed early next year. "It is so needed."

The need that Jones spoke of stems from the recent erection of several expensive high-rise apartment buildings in the Nauck neighborhood and in the Shirlington area to the south. Neighborhood leaders and county officials are hoping that the affordability of The Shelton will allow some of the residents who were priced out of Nauck to return.

"We are getting real cooperation from developers and [from] the community," Nauck Civic Association president Dr. Alfred Taylor said. "What we want to do is to work with [the developers] and reach a compromise."

However, not everyone is satisfied with this equivocal strategy.

Betty Green, a 37-year resident of Nauck, expressed bewilderment at the changes her neighborhood has gone through. She views the redevelopment of Nauck in racial terms and said that the high cost of living has forced out many minorities.

"The changes have been devastating, in my opinion," Green said. "Folks who moved out can’t afford to move back. It looks like they’re trying to make it a one-race community [because] minorities can’t afford to live here."

BUT DESPITE this fretting over the future of the neighborhood, Nauck residents still knew how to have a good time.

Roughly a dozen booths were set up on either side of Kenmore Street that featured everything from jewelry and homemade crafts to people giving out information about local schools.

In one of the booths, volunteers Richard McKee and Voncille Hines were selling t-shirts and buttons for the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). After only a half an hour, they had distributed more than half of their sizeable inventory.

"Our stuff flies off the table," Hines said.

Elsewhere at the event, a large stage was set up where a D.J. spun hip hop and jazz songs. Next to the stage, volunteers doled out soul food staples like fried fish and collard greens.

The event was being held only a few yards away from the historic Drew School, which Taylor described as the "centerpiece" of the Nauck Neighborhood.

Cheryl Relford, the principal of the recently-renovated school, mingled with residents of the neighborhood and said hello to the children flitting about, many of whom were her pupils.

"The community totally embraces the school," she said. "It’s like an extended family."