When Artecka Brown was a kid, she loved to ride her big wheel up and down the hills of D.C.’s Trinidad neighborhood to get ice cream and 25-cent candies. Born in the District, her childhood soundtrack was Go-Go, which Artecka calls “music that would keep the soul of D.C. going.” Remembering the music, Artecka transports right back to those days: “The light is on, my mom’s got her speaker to the window, Go-Go is playing, and you just hear people having good conversation, playing spades, playing dominoes.”
Artecka is one of the residents that ACLU-D.C. and the District recognize on D.C. Natives Day. This holiday celebrates the people and culture that have made D.C. “Chocolate City” since 1957, when D.C. became the first major city in the U.S. to have a majority-Black population. D.C. Natives Day was established in 2019, the same year that a National Community Reinvestment Coalition study showed that between 2000 and 2013, D.C. had the highest intensity of gentrification and displacement of Black residents than any city in the country. In 13 years, more than 20,000 Black D.C. residents were displaced from low-income neighborhoods.
Artecka has seen displacement and the cultural shifts that come with it, but she still calls “Chocolate City” home. “I love my D.C.,” she says. “We have free museums that people come from all over the world for, and you can even go hiking at Rock Creek Park right in the city.” Artecka loves that D.C. offers expansive resources to its residents: “We have so much free transportation, free education, free after-school programs, and free recreation for all of us.”
Artecka wants these resources to reach all District residents, especially the Black youth, women, and men who make up her closest community. She knows that far too often, people struggle and can’t get the help and healing they need.
Artecka has struggled herself. On August 9, 2020 her oldest son, 17-year-old Christopher Brown, lost his life to gun violence in a mass shooting at a block party. With this shattering loss, Artecka and her kids found themselves among the D.C. residents who wake up every day mourning an incomprehensible loss. “All over, there is just so much pain, so much hurt. The youth, women, men – we just need some type of help, some healing,” says Artecka. “I lost my son. For someone else, they might have lost their auntie or grandmother. You never know.”
Artecka knows it’s important to begin healing from such deep loss. Artecka’s boys found some healing at summer camp after their brother passed. Being out in nature, together with other kids “helped my kids go through what they was going through in a lighter way,” she explains. “Healing helps us deal. It helps us fight, sometimes to just get out of the bed.”
She also knows that people need help, time, and resources to heal. “It’s a struggle for people. They're trying to heal, but they have bills, and they have kids, and they have something every day. Life don’t stop. It just keep piling and piling. It’s just so much.”
She started the Christopher Brown’s Heart Beats organization to provide healing and resources for her community. She hosts an annual Christopher Brown Community Day in August, where kids get backpacks filled with school supplies, jump in a moon bounce, and play video games in a game truck. Tables line the park with free clothing, food, and connections to resources around the District. For Artecka, healing can challenge what she calls “the norm of violence” by introducing people to transformative ways of dealing with grief and pain. “The norm should not be the norm,” she says.
Artecka has big plans to keep her son’s memory alive, while promoting healing and joy in the District. This year, Artecka wants to put together a series of retreats for local moms dealing with grief. She envisions moms getting manicures, visiting a spa, and chatting over a nurturing lunch. “And horseback riding,” she adds to the list. “Many people don’t know that it’s so peaceful, and that you can do it right here in Rock Creek Park.”