The front of the MLK Library at night.
credit: The Anti-Apathetic

On March 4, the central downtown MLK Library will close for a 3-year renovation. Street Sense recently interviewed city officials and homeless library patrons to understand the impact this will have on the community. Here’s what our vendors can tell you:


 

It’s a big letdown. Not only for the homeless people but for the people who work at Martin Luther King Library. Right now, the train takes them right to their work and I see them twice every day.

Selling my papers across the street, I look at this library all day long. Often tourists and local people come out of the Metro and ask me where is the Martin Luther King Library?

So many people ask me about this library.  Some mens I know go there to use computers, looking for jobs. They fill that big ol’ computer room there. I know from the people askin’ me about this library that it mean a lot to a lot of people.

Another reason I know it mean a lot to them is because it mean a lot to me. Inside that library is where I did my first book talk. This library was the key that opened the door to make my book successful. Copies of my book, “Still Standing,” sit on the shelves of this library.

I never really sit down often in the library to know first-hand what goes on, but people tell me a lot about what happens in there.

They’ve been sayin’ it was gonna close for a while. But whoever decided to give only a couple weeks notice of the specific day, did you look at the shoes of the homeless people who come to your library? What if they was on your feet?

I really feel the people who spend their days at the library, with nowhere else but the street to go to, should have more notice given to them that they will soon have to spend their days outside of the library. I feel real bad about the homeless people gonna be stuck out on the street with nowhere to go. That gonna cause a lot of problem.

I can’t really say they don’t have another door to go through. Yeah, there are smaller libraries around. But some of these guys will end up hangin’ on the street in front of Starbucks and other places. Believe me when I say I see the street and the trouble it bring.

It’s like we lost Obama. (This new President gonna hang hisself because he signin’ papers and he don’t know what he signin’.) And now, we losin’ the library. I say, that’s our library because it’s Martin Luther King. A lot of people feel that way.

I’m not saying it’s a racist thing, but it’s gonna be so much more security around it when they remodel it.

Sometimes the library do need security, because I seen people get thrown out and barred for havin’ sex goin’ on inside there. K2 goin’ on in there too. I see so much.

So what’s the new step to help the homeless people for their routine? They will be stuck outside now with nothin’ to do. If I didn’t have Street Sense, I would be in those nothin’-to-do shoes with them. I know a guy who was barred from the library because he drinks. He come to me and I talk to him. He listen to me. Now he a Street Sense vendor with a purpose, because of me. He so proud.

I hope and pray there’s some place that that can open up to help these homeless people and keep them from stayin’ on the street and gettin’ into trouble and to help them with their job search and whatever they need to do.

Sure homeless people need somethin’ to eat, but they need “food” for they mind too.

— Gerald AndersonArtist/Vendor


 

The three-year closure of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library — the District’s largest — is a milestone that ends years of negotiating how to improve a piece of prime downtown real estate. Debates had ranged among closing the library, moving it, or adding residential units where, due to “safety concerns,” occupants could veto any proposal about homeless citizens living in the vicinity.

The latest plans for the new building include adding a rooftop terrace and an additional level of development for city residents to enjoy the transformation of a parcel of this transient city’s downtown area in to a greener, more accessible space.

However, because MLK has for many years been a drop-off point for the city’s homeless residents, its closing will require these residents to be transported elsewhere for their day programs. Another possible negative fallout is that after the renovations are completed, constituents and lawmakers will neither want nor permit citizens to meander aimlessly around a now-exclusive building without a defined purpose.

The takeaway is that the times are always changing in D.C. and all of us should be aware of the dynamic landscape that awaits. MLK has helped and sheltered children and adults from in and out of town for decades. Now developers have apparently discovered a new way to capitalize on that immense population.

— Amin Massey, Artist/Vendor


 

People stand in front of the MLK Library.

A group of people loiters in front of a library named in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who lived so that they would not be idle. On a frequent basis, K2 synthetic drugs are dealt and abused in this space. Not only does that dishonor The Dream, but it is what children see when they come to the library before ever accessing the educational tools within.
Photo by The Anti-Apathetic


 

In spite of its historical significance here in the District, I can’t really say that I am or ever was a big fan of the MLK Library.

It seemed like each week a new display or interesting event would be taking place there, which was good. And sure, there was lots of space. But the computers were slow to connect and I just didn’t really feel like it was my type of crowd there.

However, quite a few of the Street Sense staffers, vendors, and workshop leaders seemed to enjoy making use of all of that space. Our digital marketing (blogging) group would meet there before eventually relocating our meetings back to Street Sense headquarters. I won’t forget our time spent there, meeting weekly at the library.

 Levester Green, Artist/Vendor


 

It’s kinda weird that one week after Black History Month ends, MLK Library will be closing for renovations. Most people are aware of civil rights movements throughout our history thanks to photos, films, books and other materials kept in our libraries.

Looking forward, it’s important to learn from our past, celebrate advancement and be active in our government to shape a better future together. Thanks to all who have contributed and have a great Black History Month.

— Derian Hickman, Artist/Vendor