Ethiopian Community


Ethiopian Restaurant Finds Success In Going ‘American’

LollyKnit / Flickr

Restaurants around D.C.’s unofficial “Little Ethiopia” have been experimenting lately, hosting everything from rock bands and comedy nights, to serving macaroni and cheese instead of injera and tibs. It’s all been part of an effort to stay competitive and alive in the midst of a struggling economy.

So, is it working? Maybe so, at least for Queen Makeda. The restaurant switched over to American fare and has been holding hip hop nights and hosting bands. It’s been so successful that the restaurant now needs more space. This weekend will be Queen Makeda’s last night at 1917 9th St. NW. The restaurant is closing with plans to reopen in a bigger space in the neighborhood.

“There’s definitely a niche in D.C. for what we do,” said Queen Makeda bartender Jeremy Quarless-Cole. “You have to [change] in that area, simply because there are so many Habesha restaurants serving the same food.”

Perhaps there’s still a healthy market for Ethiopian food in D.C. Just not when it’s all concentrated within a few blocks.

The ‘Non-African-American’ Ethiopian Immigrant

Adrian Murphy / Flickr

Ethiopian flag

What does it really mean to be “African American?” Does the term refer to people with slaves as ancestors, or is it just as applicable to recent African immigrants?

It’s a conversation we’ve previously explored, and it’s front and center in an ongoing legal dispute involving a jazz club near Howard University.

Here’s the gist, according to the Washington City Paper: The Enterprise Theater & Jazz Lounge was opened by Charletta Lewis, who is now suing her landlord. She claims that landlord Michael Ressom racially discriminated against her by leasing her a building that wasn’t up to code, and therefore, she couldn’t legally open for business. Lewis is black, Ressom is an Ethiopian immigrant. Her complaint states that Ressom “is a non-African-American man.” Ressom and his lawyer declined to comment to the City Paper, while Lewis’ lawyer Jimmy Bell explained:

“He’s not African-American!” Bell says, when asked if Ressom’s ethnicity damages his case. “African-American means you are a descendant of a slave! This guy’s an Ethiopian immigrant, who wasn’t naturalized as a citizen until November 2010.”

General discrimination claims of this sort aren’t that all uncommon. Some taxicab complaints were officially filed with the D.C. Taxicab Commission by people who write they are black and claiming they were racially discriminated against by African cabbies. But for every story about animosity between D.C.’s black and Ethiopian communities, there is another about good will and unity between the groups.

Still, our question remains: is lumping everyone together as “African American” really the most accurate racial identifier?

DCentric Picks: Ethiopian Heritage Festival

Karen Bleier / Getty Images

The D.C.-area is home to the largest Ethiopian immigrant community in the U.S.

Looking for an event that relates to race or class in D.C.? DCentric will be regularly posting event listings we believe will be of interest to our readers.  If you have an event you think we should feature, email

What: The First Annual Ethiopian Heritage Festival.

When: The weekend-long event starts at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday and at noon on Sunday. Children under 13 are free on all days.

Where: Friday’s events will be held at Georgetown University’s art department building (1221 36th St. NW). Saturday and Sunday events will be at the university’s Multi-Sport Facility (3700 O St. NW).

Cost: Friday is free, Saturday admission is $10 and Sunday admission is $15.

Why you should go: The D.C.-area is home to the nation’s largest Ethiopian community, and this is the Ethiopian Heritage Society’s first festival, so why not be a part of history? Organizers want the event to be a place where “Ethiopians from all different background[s], ethnicity, religions, beliefs, values, and political opinion[s] gather and celebrate our common heritage and home – Ethiopiawent.” The weekend will feature food, music, poetry readings, coffee ceremonies, concerts, a soccer tournament and cultural shows.

Other events to consider: “A.C.T.O.R. (A Continuing Talk On Race)” takes place from 5 to 7 p.m., Sunday at Busboys and Poets (2021 14th St. NW). This installment of the monthly discussion, which seeks to provide a space for honest discussions about race, will focus on “what actions we can take to undo race-based oppression.”

DC9 Death Continues to Cause Pain, Confusion

Flickr: Andrew Bossi

A memorial for Ali Ahmed Mohammed, at the entrance of DC9 on October 24, 2010.

In the early hours of Oct 15, 2010, Ali Ahmed Mohammed tried to enter DC9, a local nightclub located on a block unofficially known as “Little Ethiopia“. When he was denied entry, he picked up a brick and hurled it through the club’s window.

In response, five of the club’s employees chased Mohammed and, depending on which version of events you believe, either beat him to death or roughly restrained him, triggering a cardiac arrest.

After a witness reportedly claimed to have seen DC9′s employees attack Mohammed, Cathy Lanier, D.C.’s Chief of Police, characterized the situation as “vigilante justice“. The five employees from DC9 were arrested on murder charges that were eventually dropped. Mohammed’s death was ruled a homicide.

The story seemed to polarize parts of the city, with fans of the nightclub expressing support for DC9 and its employees while the city’s prominent Ethiopian community decried the attack on one of their own. Even today, five months after Mohammed’s death, some Ethiopian Americans are hurt and confused.

News of the controversy has spread as far as Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, where Abubeker Mohammed, a 29-year old D.C. cab driver with no relation to the man who died, was visiting when he first heard about it.

Mohammed said if the situation were reversed– if the club’s employees were Ethiopian and the man who died was white– then it “would be news all over the U.S. They’d never let them out of jail. Unfortunately, the guy who died was an immigrant. Ethiopian, black, Muslim…he had everything possible going against him.”

Hemen Solomon, a woman who lives in Columbia Heights added, “It breaks my heart that there’s no justice. Who can we turn to?…You struggle to make it here, to have a better life, and all you have is a dead body to take back to where we come from.”
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Tweet of the Day, 12.20

wow, cool fact about Metropolitan AME Zion: the church was a stop on the Underground Railroad #BloomingdaleDC
Elle Cayabyab Gitlin

The tweet below was a close runner-up, though. I love when people exceed someone else’s expectations– and when we watch out for each other:

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“Before we do anything though, lets help DC9 re-open”


Memorial in front of DC9.

I can’t figure out why, exactly, but seeing this at the top of Brightest Young Things‘ weekly roundup of events and things to do-email made me a little queasy:

This week’s BEST WEEKEND BETS is, as always, hand selected from BYT ALL CITY and calibrated for maximum fun and minimum stress, and will be punctuated by images from random tumblrs we spent to much time on this week because, well, we can.

Before we do anything though, lets help DC9 re-open.It’s as easy as sending an email with:

Subject: I feel safe at DC9
Send to ABC board and council members
Email: ,


Lets all just have a super weekend

It’s as easy as sending an email? But then what? Someone who lives in a different neighborhood, who may have a different complexion sends an email advocating for DC9 to remain closed? I get that the charges have been dropped, and if we believe in the presumption of innocence then my head tells me that it’s only fair to allow this business to reopen…for now. The squishy red thing in my chest disagrees with my head, violently.

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On my Reading List- Mengestu


When I was a child, my favorite way to learn about someone or something else was to devour fiction. Considering how often I am mistaken for Ethiopian (daily, if not hourly), it feels apposite to learn a little about this unique, visible community in D.C. The next time I’m near a bookstore, I’m going to look for Georgetown Alum Dinaw Mengestu‘s work, whose first novel was born “when he spotted a solitary Ethiopian store owner while on a walk one day through the Adams-Morgan neighborhood” (via NYT):

Mr. Mengestu’s first novel, “The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears,” focuses on an Ethiopian shopkeeper, living in isolation in a gentrifying neighborhood in Washington, who develops a tentative bond with a professor of American history, a white woman, and her precocious biracial daughter. The New York Times Book Review named the novel, whose title derives from Dante’s “Inferno,” as one of the notable books of 2007, and Mr. Mengestu quickly became a literary name to watch.

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