Local real estate developer Douglas Jemal announced at a Feb. 1 press conference that he is donating a 3,900-square-foot parcel of land known as the Secret Garden located behind three adjoining store-front buildings in Anacostia owned by the LGBTQ youth-run company Check It Enterprises to Check It.
Jemal’s announcement at the press conference, which was held on the site of the Secret Garden, ended a four-month standoff in which Check It and its supporters in the community rose up to oppose a request by Jemal’s company, the Douglas Development Corporation, that Check It remove the amenities it and its neighbors have built on the land and turn the property over to Douglas Development, which bought it in 2003 in a little noticed land deal.
People in the Anacostia community familiar with the Secret Garden have said it had been abandoned for years and became overgrown with weeds, littered with trash and hypodermic needles, and overrun by rodents. People associated with local small businesses surrounding the land and nearby residents, later joined by Check It, cleaned up the space and turned it into a community gathering place they called the Secret Garden.
Hidden by the streets and buildings surrounding it, since around 2012 the space has been used as a vegetable garden, home to honey producing beehives, a space for outdoor concerts on a wooden stage, and a popular community meeting space with tables where families share meals.
Ron Moten, Check It’s managing member and co-founder who serves as an adviser to the youth members, told the press conference that following strong support from the Anacostia community and at least three members of the D.C. Council, who spoke at the press conference, he and Douglas Jemal met to discuss a possible amicable resolution to the Secret Garden matter.
Moten praised Jemal for what Moten called Jemal’s understanding of the importance of the Secret Garden to the community it serves. “I appreciate him,” said Moten.
“I love everybody here,” Jemal told the more than 20 people attending the press conference. “This is my giving back something to the community. It is an honor and a pleasure to be standing with you today,” he said.
D.C. Council members Robert White (D-At-Large); Trayon White (D-Ward 8), in whose ward the Secret Garden is located; and Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) each told the press conference they are strong supporters of Check It and the Secret Garden. The three praised Jemal’s decision to donate his land to enable the Secret Garden to continue its role as an important community asset.
Through a $2 million city grant approved by the D.C. Council, Check It Enterprises last year was able to purchase the three buildings it had been renting at 1918, 1920, and 1922 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., S.E. One of the buildings will soon be the home to the city’s new Go Go Museum, which Moten helped to found.