English rock musician PJ Harvey released a walloping song inspired by D.C. last week called “The Community of Hope.” Featured on her forthcoming album The Hope Six Demolition Project, it sharply critiques social ills and economic inequity in the nation’s capital.
In the song, Harvey refers to Walmart’s now-scuttled plan to open two stores east of the Anacostia River and the Department of Homeland Security’s pending arrival on the St. Elizabeths campus. She calls Benning Road a “pathway of death,” and sings that an unnamed school looks like a “s**thole.” Elsewhere, she references South Capitol Street and “the one sit-down restaurant” in Washington’s Ward 7 — though it’s unclear what neighborhood Harvey is describing when she mentions a “drug town” teeming with “zombies.”
When Leah Garrett at D.C. nonprofit Community of Hope heard the song last week, she says she was “floored.” Not only does the tune share a name with her organization, it also mentions streets and landmarks in the neighborhoods Community of Hope serves. But Garrett took issue with some of Harvey’s lyrics.
Don’t have Spotify? Listen to a snippet of “The Community of Hope,” below.
Community of Hope provides health care, housing assistance and other services to Washingtonians in need. Garrett says Harvey’s song presents an incomplete picture of the District’s poorest communities.
People struggling with addiction aren’t drugged out zombies, Garrett counters. That characterization felt “impersonal,” she says. And the people her group serves “are strong and resilient — they are not the blighted buildings that they live in.”
After Garrett heard PJ Harvey’s “The Community of Hope,” she and her colleagues wrote a strongly worded response to the song.
“By calling out this picture of poverty in terms of streets and buildings and not the humans who live here, have you not reduced their dignity?” Community of Hope writes in a letter. “Have you not trashed the place that, for better or worse, is home to people who are working to make it better, who take pride in their accomplishments?”
Read Community of Hope’s entire letter to PJ Harvey, below.
Dear PJ Harvey,
You got our attention when you released the song “The Community of Hope”.
You are right.
There is a Community of Hope. It’s near Benning Road. It’s near the Homeland Security Base. It’s just a half a block off South Capitol Street. It’s all over Washington, DC.
It’s a group of people serving our city for the past 35 years. We’ve been tackling some of the challenges you named in your song. We improve life in a place that you call the ‘pathway of death’. Life in the form of ending homelessness for thousands of families. Life in the form of helping tens of thousands of mothers, fathers and children achieve good health.
But your picture is also incomplete.
On your tour of DC, I am sure you saw marbled halls of the best institutions in the United States. I know from your songs that you saw the places where the imperfections of those institutions are most obvious.
But we’ve found our neighbors struggling with drugs aren’t zombies – they are living, breathing, feeling humans. They need Hope and one place they find it at a place right around the corner from South Capitol, we call it Hope Apartments. They are moms and dads who focused on sobriety in a place where they stay united with their children. They heal, save, and plan for stability (and maybe even homeownership someday). Families, strong and growing and together.
You mentioned mental health, we address that too. Not in the old and cold ways of institutionalization but in a way that makes mental healthcare part of routine medical care. A part of our neighbor’s everyday life. Through therapists, case managers, staff and volunteers whose cheer and encouragement blossom wholeness.
There are great things happening in our neighborhoods.
By calling out this picture of poverty in terms of streets and buildings and not the humans who live here, have you not reduced their dignity? Have you not trashed the place that, for better or worse, is home to people who are working to make it better, who take pride in their accomplishments.
I want the world to know that in the places you describe, there is a Community of Hope. Yes, it’s this group of people working create opportunities for others to achieve good health, a stable home, family-sustaining income and hope.
It’s through the people we serve:
Our resilient families overcoming homelessness and the challenges that led them there. Our dear patients often suffer from chronic diseases (a result, in part, of the lack of good, healthy food that you allude to). Our precious patients are refugees landing in safety and security for the first time. Our valued patients are pregnant moms learning how to bring healthy babies into the world – bringing life themselves to stop that pathway of death.
But it’s bigger than that too:
Most importantly, it’s the people in the community that we serve. They choose to have hope. To be a community. They choose to fight for hope when resources, restaurants, schools, and buildings are not always there. They are the Community of Hope.
So, we challenge you and your fans to look for the Hope that we see. Read our Stories of Hope and sign up for emails, and most importantly, give hope.
Below, a trailer for PJ Harvey’s The Hope Six Demolition Project. “Community of Hope” plays during the beginning of the video.