On D.C.’s U Street, Can’t We All Just Swagger Along?

Published in the Washington Post, August 9.

Stephen A. Crockett’s article about “swagger-jacking” on U Street [“Stealing home?,” Metro, Aug. 3] got me all jacked up. I am one of the so-called “swagger-jackers” to whom he was referring. I own two of the restaurants mentioned in the article, and although Mr. Crockett assumed I am not black, frankly, I am not sure what I am. Neither are most of my customers, though most of them seem to find my race irrelevant.

My places were never meant to be black establishments catering to black customers; they are meant to be community cultural hubs that preserve the legacy and history of the District and uplift racial and cultural connections. These connections are essential for a city whose discourse too often digresses into a racial abyss that is neither healthy nor constructive. My places and others named in Mr. Crockett’s article are essential cultural watering holes that can help create community and reconfigure the discourse.

Just days before opening my restaurant at 14th and V streets NW, I was inside waiting for my final inspections. I saw two elderly black women peering through the window. I opened the door and invited them in. They entered with some trepidation, trying to assess my swagger. Standing at the center of the space, they took in the artwork all around them. They saw the mural that depicts the civil rights struggles of the area and the history of the District. I was somewhat nervous about what they thought until I saw a tear come down one of their faces. That’s when I knew that I wasn’t “swagger-jacking.”

Andy Shallal is the owner of Busboys and Poets and Eatonville restaurants, and serves on the board of the Institute for Policy Studies.