[IMC-DC] Open Letter to the Community -- From Mawonaj
mawonaj at yahoo.com
Fri Dec 9 10:03:39 PST 2005
OPEN LETTER TO THE COMMUNITY FROM CAFÉ MAWONAJ
The fire at Café Mawonaj is heart-breaking; especially for those of us who have worked there day in and day out to make sure we are open for the community. For three years, we have thrived in the area and served thousands of people. We have fed children, sponsored and hosted important events, donated resources and most important, been a part of global campaign for a better world. At Mawonaj, we take pride in this brief yet energetic history. Its our success. (To read about Mawonaj then and now, view this link: http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/dc/Community_Prosecution/Nuisance_Property/624T_nw.html)
Just at a time when we are reaching maturity and opening up another Mawonaj in New Orleans, our foundation gets hit! Its like someone has pulled out the rug from underneath our feet. What hurts even more is to know that someone is behind the fire.
It was hard to believe when the Fire Department told us that it was an electrical fire. They pointed to the extension cord of a computer that has been running for more than six months, undisturbed, in the same place. The computer runs 24 hours. Luke, from May Day DC/Indymedia, operates the computer and is knowledgeable about fire investigations. He came to take a look at the place where the fire started and discovered some new information. It appeared that the place was torched with gasoline, judging from the patches of burns in more than one area.
We immediately called the Fire Department to request a full investigation because there was new information along with the discovery. There was a woman outside who witnessed something suspicious just before the place went on fire. She called 911 but did not leave her personal information because she was scared.
The Fire Department has never come back to the Café since they doused the flames, despite their assurance that they would be coming to investigate. I followed up with several calls to 311, the non-emergency numbers to request police presence, but their response to this day is: the case is under investigation, so they cant help us. They asked me to call the officer who is investigating. I called several times the officer who is investigating but he does not answer his phone or return calls. The investigation Officers name is Hobbs.
In addition to the failure of the city government to carry out their obligation, Café Mawonaj was looted all night after the Fire Department tore up the place. It is reported by witnesses that there was cases of food and drinks at the bus stop near CVS on 7th Street and police on patrol witnessed the looting but did not do anything. One officer named by witnesses is Officer Julius. The witness said he told the officer that people were stealing music equipment, chairs, tables and everything else. The witness pointed to some of the things dropped near the CVS and Officer Julius said he would look into it, but he left.
WE NEED HELP
The night after the fire, Chip Ellis, a real estate developer who bought the property last month, showed up about 9 a.m. on Monday. Im not sure how he knew the building had been on fire but it wasnt me who called him. His composition is what concerns me, because the first words that came out of his mouth were:
Im glad this happened. I want you to get the F**K out of here and take your business someplace else. We are going to tear this building down and do something else with it.
This was said in front of witnesses. I didnt know what to think about these words. I responded that we were going to stay. We still have several years on our lease agreement and there is no way that is not going to be honored. That response really did tick him off because he became very angry and started to swear. His words:
We f***ing own this building now. Im not going to allow it to be rebuilt and you can bet on my words.
Gentrification has finally hit Mawonaj? They want to build condos in place of this great community project, just like theyve done in the Dunbar Hotel across the street and all around Shaw. I was left speechless but it gave me a new determination. Instead of feeling like a step backwards, I feel like its a step aside in order to assess things and do even better.
This year has been the best yet in that Café Mawonaj has become more than part of our local community, but also part of the worldwide community. We were among the first to respond to the Katrina disaster by initiating an important project in New Orleans that has served thousands of people in need. We joined with UNIA-ACL in building the Free Breakfast program, which has a permanent director. We have managed to continue sending resources to Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana to our orphanages, as well as help a radio project in Senegal. We have been successfully building a Capoeira school with Capoeira Angola and many events in collaboration with numerous organizations. Success was in the air, because our success has never been measured by how much we make, but by how much we do.
We want to start rebuilding immediately. We need a conscious contracting company to come forward and give us an estimate of what it would cost to rebuild. We have already cleaned up the floor, ceiling and some walls. We need people who can come to help finish cleaning up.
In order to run Café Mawonaj better, we want to request interested people to create a committee that will protect this community project. We plan to step aside and leave room to other community leaders who will take over running Mawonaj after we rebuild. All the finances that will be recovered from insurance will be dedicated back into the community. The new committee will require following up with the objectives of Mawonaj and perhaps bringing some new ideas so that the project will be very efficient and shame the developers.
Meanwhile, we need help with rebuilding and advice through this difficult time. Above all we are very thankful for your support for the past three years of success and look forward to achieving more. Those willing to help can email me at Mawonaj at yahoo.com or call 202.460.5929.
With enough love,
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