Friday, April 30, 2010

William on Being a Good and Faithful Servant

"I am originally from South Carolina. I came here by myself when I was 17. I have been living in D.C. about 53 years. I am 71 and the Lord has been good to me. I met my wife here and we had ten children. They all grown now and got their own places in D.C. and Maryland. They occasionally come in and check on me. 

"I raised my kids all over this city: in Northeast, Northwest and Southeast. It was rough in D.C. when I first came here and then it got rougher with all the drugs. Now, things are getting a little better as the police are trying to get them drugs out of this town. When the police got out of their cars and started walking and riding bicycles about four years ago, that made a difference. Hopefully, we can get all of the crime out of here and make this a better place to live. 

"I tried to keep my kids out of this by teaching them discipline and faith. I would sit down and talk with my kids about what was right and wrong. If they did wrong, I would take out the rod. That was back before all of this talk of child abuse. When they stopped people from whooping their children, that's when kids got wild. I was raised with discipline and I raised my kids the same way. If you don't try to keep your children straight, they are going to sassy out on you. They need to know who is the boss. When they grow up to raise their own children, they will thank you for it. 

"I was raised in a Christian home. My father was a preacher. We come from a religious family and I raised my kids in a religious home. Things in this city got worse when they took prayer out of the schools. A lot of kids had parents who worked two jobs and didn't have the time to teach their children about the Lord's prayers. They should put prayer back in schools. The way I see it, you should always keep the Lord first and then everything else will fall in place. I just thank the Lord that I raised my kids before they put the child abuse laws in place and while you could still pray in schools. Now, they are all grown and have good jobs. 

"The older I get, the stronger I believe. Some of the things that I have been through, I would not have made it without the Lord. I was in a car accident and the doctors gave up on me, but the Lord brought me through. Now, I spend my days enjoying Jesus and the space that he gave us to live in. When he calls me home to Heaven, I hope that I will hear him say, 'Well done, William. You have been a good and faithful servant.'

"That's about the best I can tell you." 

William, left, is pictured with his wife, Connie. 

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Natalie on Loving Who We Are

"I was born in Saint Mary, Jamaica. I spent most of my life traveling between Jamaica and the U.S., as my Dad lives in New Jersey. Please, no Jersey jokes. My husband works for the United Nations and our first post was in New York, but we lived in New Jersey. In 2008, we were posted to Washington. 

"I do community relations at the embassy. I work with Jamaicans in the D.C. metro area on things like how to give back to Jamaica and I organize our social events. The Jamaican community in D.C. is different than the Jamaican communities in New York and New Jersey. New York and New Jersey Jamaicans acts as though they own the entire United States. In D.C., the Jamaicans are a little calmer and quieter. The environment has influenced them. Because D.C. is more of a policy oriented place, the Jamaicans have evolved with the culture. In D.C., you find that Jamaicans are very organized and want to give back, which is consistent with Jamaicans across the United States. 

"There is a strong relationship between our two countries, especially because of the significant Jamaican immigration to the United States, specifically in the late 70's. Every Jamaican that you meet has at least three or four relatives in the U.S. There are speculations that there are more Jamaicans living outside of Jamaica than in Jamaica. A large number of those are in the U.S. We think that New York alone has one million Jamaicans. As much as Jamaicans here are happy to be Americans, they don't want to let go of the fact that they are Jamaicans. 

"We have a saying that within three weeks of arriving in the U.S., every Jamaican can tell you where to find salt fish and all of the things that we love to cook. Even when you move to the U.S., you still want that part of home. Jamaicans want what they are used to. There is a comedian named Russell Peters who says that you never see a Jamaican wanting to be anyone else, but you see other nationalities trying to be Jamaicans in the way they dress and speak. We just love who we are. 

"For a number of years, all we were known for was reggae music, Bob Marley and our food, but now we have the fastest man, Usain Bolt, and woman, Shelly-Ann Fraser, on earth. At the Embassy, we are working to increase people's understanding of Jamaica. We are a small island of 2.7 million people, but have a large influence. Many people think that everyone in Jamaica lives in poverty. We are so much more. Look at academics. If there are Jamaicans at a school or university, you bet they are going to be on the honor roll. A lot of these students go on to be lawyers and doctors. 

"I have enjoyed my time in Washington, This is one of those cities where you need to live in life. It is a serious place, but there is lots of stuff to do and great night life. It is also a great place to raise their kids. Being in D.C. makes me appreciate Jamaica more. Here, you feel like you are consistently on a treadmill. In Jamaica, we use the term, 'You lyme,' which means to relax and hang out with your friends. Here, you need to make plans two weeks in advance. In Jamaica, people call and say, 'Nat, open the gate. I am five minutes from your house.' In the Jamaican community here, people still do that with each other, but realize they can't always do that with non-Jamaicans. Being a diplomat, we have to take on more of the formality in our work. 

"After this posting, we will likely be posted somewhere in Africa. One of the advantages of the foreign service is seeing the world. I would love to live on most of the continents, but I am an island girl at heart." 

Natalie Campbell-Rodriques is the Community Relations Attache at the Embassy of Jamaica.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

John on Doing What He Must

"I was born in Poland, but I grew up in Italy. In 1958, I was molested by a Catholic priest at the age of 15. He was the priest of a small village where I was camping in the mountains on Italy. To this day, I still do not know the name of the priest. He offered to tutor me in Latin and then he molested me. In my case, it was only once. I can't imagine what it is like for people who are molested more than once. I was so traumatized. It was literally like being hit by lightning.

"After that, I was totally crushed and helpless. My first thought was that I ruined my life forever. My personality changed. I started to stutter and it stunted my growth. It made me insecure and withdrawn. When I went back to high school, people used to ask me why I was so sad all of the time. I used to tell them that my best friend died to get them off my back. The worst thing is that I blocked it out of my mind for 39 years.

"When I was 20, I left home and went to Canada by myself to get away from everything. When my younger brother wanted to join me, he was not able to get a Canadian visa, so we moved to Washington in 1963 because the American government was still issuing visas. We served in the U.S. Army together and then I went on to work in construction. I never really made anything of my life as I was so traumatized by my molestation. In my head, I was always a dish washer. My father had two Ph.D.s and a good job in Italy. I disappointed everyone in life - my parents, my wife, and my children.

"In 1997, there was a scandal in Texas and a boy committed suicide over molestation. I learned about the scandal in the news and that was the first moment that I started to recall my experience. I went to talk with a priest in Maryland about it. I was so nervous that I drove miles from my home so nobody I knew would see me, parked in a shopping center nearby and then walked to the church to to see the priest. He sent me to therapy, but the therapist was a religious Catholic. You can't be a religious Catholic and an impartial therapist about an issue like this.

"The priest told me to write a letter to the Diocese and send a copy to the Vatican's Embassy. In the fall of 1997, that is what I did. Sometime later, I received a letter from a bishop who seemed concerned and asked for more information. I wrote another letter with all of the details I had. No answer. I wrote another letter. No answer. I wrote a third letter. No answer. They were ignoring me. By then, I realized how much damage this had done to my life. I could not let this go by.

"At the time, I was not ready to talk about my molestation publicly, so I stood outside the embassy with a huge question mark and a sign that said, 'Bishop, why don't you recognize my letter?' The bishop eventually wrote me back saying that the priest who allegedly molested me died ten years ago, but he would pray for me and the church would pay for my therapy. I thought that prayers of the Bishop were not quite good enough for a wasted life. So, in 1998, I made this big sign that said, 'My life was ruined by a Catholic pedophile priest.' I stood on this corner where I still stand today. There were many intelligent people who would give me a thumbs up or a victory sign. But, every day people would yell, 'Hey, loser' to me. Can you imagine standing with that sign and people yell, 'Hey, loser' to you? I have also had people give me the finger and insult me, including priests. Can you imagine?

"I have been here everyday, seven days a week, since 1998. I want reparations. The money would show that they suffer a little bit. If I got reparations, I would stop doing this. They are scared of paying me, though, because of the precedent. There are thousands of kids who were molested in Italy alone. And look at all of the cases that are coming out now around the world.

"There is a quote by John F. Kennedy that has guided me through all of this, 'A man does what he must - in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures - and that is the basis of all human morality.'

"Would you give up? I couldn't live with myself if I did. Life would make no sense if I didn't do this."

Read more about John

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Lonnie on Letting People See Your Greatness

“I love music. I just play music wherever I go and am always carrying an instrument around with me. Today, I got a harmonica, which some people call a mouth organ or harp. I would love to take a piano around, but I can't fit that in my pocket. See, music is healthy for you. I play gospel music, which is good for running the evil spiritsfrom you. I ain't trying to impress nobody when I play on the street, this is just how I am. I don't like to hear all of the negative talking out here, so I prefer to play my music while I am walking on the street. People stop me all of the time and some even give me money. I never ask for it, though. I just play out of love. That is God's honest truth. 

"Whenever I see a mother or father, I stop to tell them to teach their kids to play an instrument. Music helps children be smart in school. It does something to both sides of your brain and will help make your child an A student. Every one of us has so much good stuff inside. You got a gold mine, a diamond mine, and all other kinds of mines down there inside of you. God gives everyone something special. For me, it is music. I know he gave you something, too. 

"I tell you, the graveyard is the richest place in the world. People take with them all kinds of things that they could have done during life: a business they could have done or something to elevate humanity. Don't let your talent die with you. Let people see your greatness."

Monday, April 26, 2010

Anne on Doing Her Little Bit

"I moved to D.C. in August 2001 after getting my Master's degree in International Relations. I have lived in the same building in Adams Morgansince coming here. When I first moved in, nobody was doing any landscaping around the building or on our block. I started redoing the tree boxes myself and got the city to replant a number of trees. After that, some neighbors and I started doing the landscaping for our building as our management company wasn't really doing much. I talked to the person in charge of the building who said that as long as it looked neat and clean, it was okay to do it. I pay for the plants myself as I thought that it would be nice to have flowers in the neighborhood.  I wanted to create something nice for our community.

"The idea is to plant things that are also native to this area. Not to go into a biology lesson, but there is a lot of value in having native plants. The more you reintroduce native species, the more you support wildlife. In a way, it is my own way of helping climate change. I am not in the Senate or anything, but I can do my little bit. It makes me feel better and less helpless. 

"Doing this has also been a great way to meet people in my building and the neighborhood. People always talk about how you have to go out of your way to get a sense of community. In some ways, you just need to be out where you can see and talk to people."

Friday, April 23, 2010

Sidra on Raising Your Kids Right

"D.C. was great when I was growing up, but this ain't no place to raise children any more. Now that I got two kids, there isn't too much that I like about D.C. I really want to get out of here. Don't much mind where I go, as long as it is not here. I am being for real.

"I was raised uptown in D.C. and then moved to Maryland. I liked it there for my kids because it was safe and quiet, but I be going crazy with nothing to do. I recently got an apartment in Southeast. I really didn't want to move there, but an apartment came through the city where I would be able to live on my own with my two kids.

"I tell you, Southeast ain't nothing but corruption. I don't want to live or raise my children here. It's like every time he gets up out of the house, he gets into it with somebody. My son is four years old. My daughter is one and too young to deal with all of this. What is wrong with these parents where my son can't just go outside and play? These parents ain't raising their kids right.

"See, I teach my children discipline. My son knows what's right and what's wrong. You can see a difference in how I raise my child and how they do. But we all got to suffer from these parents who don't care. That just ain't right. So, I got to shield my child and keep him in the house or bring him to Northwest when he wants to go to the playground. But now that it is getting hot outside, it is too hot to be in the house all of the time. When he does go out, I keep him close where I can watch him.

"I want my kids to be successful. I want them to stay in school and go to college. That is why I am trying to get them away from Southeast. Most of them other kids, I can tell, aren't going to get too far. As for me, I am 26 and starting college. I want to be a nurse and get out of this city."

Sidra is pictured with her son, Mekhi.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Yacob on Learning How to Ride a Bike

"I'm seven and in the 2nd grade at Bancroft Elementary School. I just learned how to ride a bike three weeks ago. I saw other people riding bikes and it looked like fun, so I wanted to do it, too. My Mom's friend taught me how to ride. He took me to Turkey Thicket Recreation Center and said, 'Keep looking up and pedal real hard. Whatever you do, don't look down!' I was a little bit scared when I first tried, but he would run along with me holding the bike. I remember when I rode all by myself. I was so excited!

"I am still a beginner, but I can ride really fast. I like to practice in Meridian Hill Park because people here play on the grass, so there are not many people on the sidewalk. Here, I can practice riding uphill and downhill and over curbs. When I get really good, I will be able to do tricks. 

"I like Washington because I have tons and tons of friends and, sometimes, my Mom takes us all to the park so we can ride together and have races. My Mom has a bike and we like to ride together, too. Another reason I like Washington is because we have a home and food and my Mommy has money. We have everything we need, which is important because a lot of people don't have those things."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Etienne on Seeing His Son Again

"I am the 1963 model of Etienne. So, I will be 47 this year. I was born in Baltimore and came to D.C. a while back. I came here because I lost my family and my home. I used to represent people's Social Security claims in court, so that they could get the benefits they deserved. I used to have money, cars, and everything. Looking back, I used to be such a ho. Ladies, oh my, they are so lovely and I was always with them. I could talk to any woman. I finally met the right one and she introduced me to the Gospel. She got pregnant with my son in 2001. 

"But, I made some mistakes and my wife and the courts took my son away from me, so I now have no connection with my family. Since then, I can't sleep. I have no taste. I feel no joy. I remember my youngest son. I used to speak to him in the womb. I cut his umbilical cord. I love him so much. My youngest son will be nine on June 22. I try not to think about it, though. I have done everything that I can to get him back, but there is nothing that I can do. 

"What a boo-hoo story I could weave, but I figured that I would channel all of my energy and my broken heart to God. The only thing that brings me relief, peace, joy, and love is to bear witness to him and to preach the good word to other men out here, so they don't make the same mistakes that I did. That's why I am out here huffing-and-puffing on my megaphone until my batteries go dead. Not everyone is church going, so you got to meet the men where they are at and spread the Gospel. Men, you need to lead with the head above, not the head below. You know what I am saying. Once you start to ho, the whole thing gets all messed up. Trust me. I want to plant seeds of goodness and purity and the Gospel in everyone, especially men. 

"I originally had two megaphones. The other one was much bigger and so much louder, too. An officer decided that she wanted to take it from me. Mind you, it was 1am when I was using it, but God's word does not sleep. I will continue to be out here using what I use to preach the good news. Hopefully, God and the courts will let me see my son again."

"God bless you, amen."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bob on Being a Rowing Official

"My son came home from high school one day and said, 'Dad, I signed up for crew and I signed you up to be a parent volunteer.' That was 24 years ago. At the time, I knew nothing about crew. My big activity in college was debate. My daughter is a debater and I used to take her around to all of her debates. My son said, 'If you support her, you have to support me, too.' So I studied the rule book and rowed one summer to see what it was like. It really is a terrific sport. 

"I worked as a parent volunteer for four years and then I thought that I might as well get my license as an official. I had to pass a written and practical exam with a variety of situations. Every year, officials have to go to a clinic to maintain our license. We do all of this for really big pay...nothing. We're all volunteers. I spent my career, 30 years, at the Defense Department and retired a number of years back. Now, I can officiate more regattas. Many of the other officials in the areas are former rowers, parent volunteers, or other retirees. I really love to do this and be out on the water. 

"In my 24 years, I have probably done more regattas at the Georgetown waterfront than anyone else because I love this location. It is a very challenging course. I tell new referees to come and work here because if something is going to go wrong, it will go wrong here. You have fishermen, kayaks, sight seeing and pleasure boats, so you need to be constantly on guard. I have worked a few regattas where a race is cancelled midway through because there is a cabin cruiser in the middle of the course. The local organized committee will reserve the water and send a notice to the Coast Guard who then shares it with mariners. People are supposed to read it, but they usually don't. Those who spend $300,000 on a boat feel like they can do what they want. That's why we, as officials, prefer cold weather for races when there are less people out on the water. As officials, our first, second and third priorities are safety and fourth, fifth and sixth are fairness. 

"Many people don't know that D.C. has by far the largest concentration of high school rowers. When my son started rowing 24 years ago, the area had eight high schools teams. Now, there are 35 or so within the Washington, D.C. area, and 50 between Baltimore and Richmond. Rowing also did a lot for women's athletics in the area. There are more women high school rowers in Washington D.C. than there are men. We also have a lot of women officials in Washington. Now, a lot of colleges come to D.C to recruit rowers. Another interesting fact is that while rowing was an elitist sport in many places, it wasn't so in Washington. For a while, only public schools rowed here. Eventually, private schools were allowed to join. 

"One last funny anecdote. After high school, my son went off to row at Wesleyan University. When he came to live at home after graduating, I told him that if he wanted to not pay rent, he had to sign up to be an official with me. So everything came around full circle after he pushed me into this 24 years ago." 

Monday, April 19, 2010

Lisa on Her Path Back to the Cathedral

"I have been carrying my city swag since I was 8. To me, that is walking with purpose and not showing fear. I went to John Eaton Elementary School in Cleveland Park. My Mom and I were living in Shaw, but she had a friend who lived near the school and we used her address so I could go there. As everyone knows, D.C. does not have the best schools. In the 80's, they were even worse, especially in Shaw. I come from a family of teachers and my Mom was insistent that I get a good education. John Eaton was a diverse school and most of the kids that I knew at school did not live in the neighborhood. I don't know if everyone was using someone else's address to go there. After school, a bunch of the latch key kids would trek across town after school by ourselves. Every day, I took a metro and two buses to get home.

"Ironically, my Mom is a social worker and worked in the child protection section of Children's Hospital. Because she had strange hours, I ended up on my own a lot and had to grow up very quickly. After I made the trip from school to home, I was to stay in the house until she got home. I could not go out, so I would just look out the window at the street outside. Because of that, I was not really able to develop relationships with kids in my neighborhood. Shaw was a very drastic change from Cleveland Park. There was a lot of PCP, or Love Boat as it was called, in the neighborhood. I always thought that the name was interesting because I watched the Love Boat and I never saw people stripping off their clothes and running down the middle of the street naked and high on drugs. And I certainly never saw Captain Stubing, Isaac, and Julie around our neighborhood.

"When I was 10, I got a babysitter from around my way who was 16. I was so excited because she would meet me at my house after school and I could hang out with her. She would take me everywhere she was going. Through her, I learned what boys on my block were hustling and saw people go to jail. I used to think that jail was like a gym because when the boys would come back, they'd be full of muscles. I probably saw a whole bunch of stuff I was not supposed to see. At the same time, I used to go to my friend's houses from school who lived this very sheltered life on the other side of town. Their Moms would always be home with snacks and they had lots of bedrooms and yards. It was very fairytailish and the kids seemed kind of naive to me.

"Even though I felt more comfortable and safe in Cleveland Park, I never felt a part of it. The level of privilege I encountered there, especially when I went to National Cathedral School, was unlike anything I had ever seen. The kids had stuff that was exorbitant to me. I remember going off to my Mom once because some girl in my class spent $8 on a pair of socks. I couldn't believe it. I felt like this was their world and I was just passing through it. What I did not envy, though, was the family dynamics that I saw in a lot of households. I didn't see a lot of loving homes. Even though we had to make a lot of sacrifices, my parents were very loving and attentive. In around 8th grade, kids started drinking in school. The big thing was screwdrivers in water bottles. What kind of situation is a child coming out of where they feel like they need to drink a screwdriver at 1pm?

"After high school, I didn't spend any time around Cleveland Park. I was very rebellious and kind of turned away from those experiences. About ten years ago, I got frustrated about something and went on a long walk. I didn't know where I was going, but I ended up coming back to the National Cathedral. I knew the path here so well from all of my trips as a kid. Coming back helped me to recognize how important this place was for me and my development. Now, it is like home and I don't look at myself as being an 'outsider' anymore. This place is a part of me.

"Now, several of my closest adult friends are friends from my time at Cathedral. In addition to rediscovering the place, I reconnected with the people just like I did with the grounds. We come from different worlds, in many ways, but the foundation laid from our adolescent years makes for a very close bond. It is the place, for sure, but the people are the marrow of my connection to that place. I love it mostly because I love them. Most people that know me will tell you that they have been here at some point because this is where I drag people to hang out or to sit and work. I look around and my footprints are all over this place. I now realize how much a part of me this place is."

Friday, April 16, 2010

Anthony aka Big An on Breaking the Cycle

"I'm 14. I was born down on Morris Road. I'm going to school to get educated. I'm in the 9th grade and studying math. I like school because it keeps me out of trouble. You know, it is hard growing up on the streets because people ain't playing out here no more. There ain't no fighting with your hands no more, people go straight to weapons. I try and avoid fighting when I can by staying focused on school and football. 

"See, I want to get out the ghetto when I grow up. My parents and grandparents were born in the ghetto.  They tell me lots of their stories about living here and I don't want to live like that no more. I am going to  break the cycle and get out. When I grow up, I want to be an NFL player. I have been playing football my whole life. Now, I play defensive tackle on my high school team. If that doesn't work out, I will work in technology." 

Big An, left, is pictured with his friend, Brandon.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Paul on Riding Through History

"I was born in Camp Pendelton, California. I came to the D.C. area in 1968. My Dad was in the Marine Corps and just came back from Vietnam and was stationed to Marine headquarters. I was in the 5th grade, so I followed him. I went away to college and finally finished last year. I was on the 34 year plan and finally finished with a degree in biology at George Mason. 

"Growing up in Virginia, my Mom would take us to lunch or dinner every Christmas in the District. I didn't get my real feeling of the District until I started working on the Hill during college. In my time here, I got to see Washington from a lot of different perspectives. I have done all kinds of work here. I have worked in the bowels of the beast on K Street and on the Hill. I have done stuff at the homeless shelters and seen that side of Washington. D.C. is a very diverse place. One of my favorite studies is by the Brookings Institute called Polyglot Washington, it says that 21% of the people who live in this city do not speak English as a first language at home.

"I started driving a pedi-cab in July of 2009. I really love D.C. and think that I am a permanent tourist here. There are so many worlds in this 60 square miles area.There is a lot to see and know in Washington and I am always learning. Many of us don't realize that we are walking, or riding, through history every day here. When I have passengers, I like to know where people work and what their interests are, so I can tailor the tour to what they like. The great percentage of people that I pick up and take on tours are nice, honest folks who share my love of Washington. Every once in a while, I get a few bad apples.

"I have been all around the world and Washington D.C. in the spring is probably the most beautiful place in the world. And I am not just talking about the cherry blossoms. Look at all of this beauty around us. This place is really amazing."

Read more about Paul's adventures in D.C. here.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sommer on DCist

"I was born in Phoenix, but raised mostly in Tucson, Arizona. I did my freshman year of college at Arizona State and then dropped out to go to a film program in Vancouver and write a screen play. Looking back, the script was really bad. It was all about rich kids in Arizona who pretend to be homeless and panhandle. At the time, I was just proud of myself for writing a whole script before I turned 20. I then moved to Los Angeles, thinking I would write for TV. I starting as a lowly production assistant, then an assistant, and then the coordinator of the props department. I worked on a bunch of shows, like Six Feet Under, The Shield, Crossing Jordan, and First Years, which you probably never heard of because it got canceled after three episodes. 

"After a few years, I decided that I should probably finish college. I started taking night classes at UCLA Extension and then eventually quit my job and graduated from UCLA with a major in international economics. I was a bit older than everyone else at school and already knew the city, so I found myself taking the role of forcing people to see other parts of the city. I have always wanted to be an expert on where I live and to introduce people to things they didn't know about. I also got back into writing and became the arts editor of the newspaper at school. 

"By the time I was done with college, I was ready to leave LA. Like every college graduate, I was panicking about what I was going to do. I had this TV experience and a degree in international economics, and I was interested in being a journalist. I eventually found a small documentary company based in D.C. that makes videos about non-violent conflict and revolutions. I ended up writing the company a long letter and asking how to get involved in that line of work. After several months, I got a job with them and worked on a film about the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. 

"I was not writing a lot for work and wanted to get back into it. I randomly met a couple of people who were writing for DCist and eventually became the arts editor. DCist was started in September 2004 at the bequest of Gothamist, the publisher. I came in about a year after it started. There were about eight people working and we would post four or five things a day. What really drew me to contributing to DCist from the beginning was that I wanted to force myself to figure the city out. For me, I have always found that the best way to do that is to write about it. We were all doing this as a hobby in addition to our full-time jobs. Over time, a lot of people running the site left. At some point, I was the only person left. At the time, we had built DCist up into something, but it needed someone working on it full-time. I started lobbying Gothamist to hire me full-time as Editor-in-Chief to turn DCist into something more substantial. They eventually agreed. Since then, it has really grown. We have 40 contributors and post 15-20 things a day. When I started full-time in May 2007, we were doing about 300,000 page views a month. Last month, we did 3 million. 

"The more that I have learned about the city, I see that it has gone through some real highs and lows and still has a long way to go. I get that my readers and friends are frustrated by the pace of progress, but I have seen a lot of changes since I moved here five years ago. In D.C., almost always, the changes are for the better. I don't always see that in other cities. Very rarely am I finding myself wanting to keep the status quo here. Not that everything in the city is positive, but I think that things are getting better. 

"Since moving here, I have really grown to love D.C. I don't know where else I would live. I have always said that the nice thing about D.C. is that no one cares if you are cool, they care if you are smart. It is nicer for me to live in a place where you are judged by whether you know things rather than if you are wearing the right kind of pants. My impression is also that there are a lot of people who really care very deeply about their city and neighborhoods. They want D.C. to be a nice place to live for everyone. I don't see D.C. residents as being complacent about the future of our city." 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Chuck on Being the Godfather of Go-Go

"Go-go is a groove, man. It is a mixture of Latin percussion, jazz, blues, and African call and response. To me, it has also always had a spiritual vibe because the roots of go-go came from a church that my Mom used to take me to as a kid. At our church, people used to jump and shout, just like they do now when they are listening to go-go. 

"D.C. is where go-go got started. I always say that D.C. is my hall of fame. I was raised in all four corners of this city. When I was a kid, we used to live in a little shack by the railroad tracks. I used to beat on a rock to the beat of the train going by. Everyone in my family could sing, but my Mom could outsing anyone. We used to sing at church together, and she took me around to sing at house parties. We would pass around a hat to make some money. Then, I started shining shoes around town. One time, I shined Louis Armstrong's shoes outside of the Howard Theater. Back then, I would make $2 or $3 in a day, as shoe shines only cost a dime. I remember he gave me a whole dollar tip. I will never forget that. I told myself that one day I would play at the Howard Theater. 

"I left home and school at 13. I had all kinds of jobs and got into a bit of trouble. I spent my share of time behind bars, and then I did an eight-year stint at Lorton Reformatory. I had been to several other jails before, but all those experiences taught me was how not to go to those same jails no more. When I went to Lorton, it changed my whole life. That was over 50 years ago, and I ain't never been to jail since. I am proud of me for that. To me, Lorton was college. There, I got a high-school diploma, learned a trade, and learned the guitar. In Lorton, I paid a young man five packs of cigarettes to make me a guitar in the wood-working shop. I watched some of the cats there play, but pretty much taught myself the guitar. At Lorton, chow time and showtime used to both be at 5 p.m. on Saturdays. After about six months of practicing, I made it onto the show. When word got out that I was playing, they had to change the chow time to 7:30 p.m. because no one was at the mess hall when I was playing. That let me know that I could put on a show.

"When I got out, I used to play in a group called Los Latinos and the Earls of Rhythm. In 1966, I started my own band, Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers. I liked to keep the music going in between songs, so there was not a break. See, the music just goes and goes. I mixed up the Top 40 with a lot of the Latin percussion and the call-and-response. At the time, they had go-go clubs and go-go girls, but no go-go music, so I decided to call it go-go. When they heard my music, people started coming out of their clothes and moving the tables and chairs out of the place, so there was more room to dance. The music really caught on in 1976. After that, we put out a tune called Bustin Loose. That was our biggest hit. In 1979, we were on Soul Train, which meant that go-go had arrived. Then, some of the other bands started catching on, like Rare Essence, Trouble Funk, and the Junkyard Band. 

"Still, when I get on the stage, I become enraged and forget about my age. A lot of people ask me when I am going to retire. I say, 'Come on, I still got the fire, the desire, and I am getting hired. Ain't no need to retire.' People call me the Godfather of Go-Go. I didn't give myself that name; it was the fans and the DJs. They made it all happen and I appreciate it. Looking back, I still would have been happy had go-go just been popular in D.C. I didn't expect it to go anywhere, but it went all over the world. I will always be grateful to D.C. for that -- and for my family. You got a lot of love in D.C. I found my first wife here. We stayed married for 27 years. I then got remarried and have been with my second wife for 25 years. Both of them were great. I am the one that wasn't so great, but I am cool now because I am too old to be anything else. Now, I have four kids. I lost one son in an automobile accident 20 years ago. We have five grandkids and another grandkid on the way. I really feel lucky. 

"Last thing I gotta say is that for all of you who want to be on your feet dancing for hours, you need to go to a go-go."

Monday, April 12, 2010

Jen on Moms on the Hill

"I grew up in Staten Island and then did high school in New Jersey. There is certainly a lot I miss about those places, but there is something really special about living in D.C., especially around the Hill. I find the people here really passionate and informed. I came to D.C. with my husband, then boyfriend, in 1995. We met in college and came here for his graduate school. I didn't think we'd be very long, but now I can't see living anywhere else. 

"During our 20's, we lived in Columbia Heights before it was cool and had a metro. I did a variety of weird jobs, like working as a puppeteer. It was fun to tell people here that I was a puppeteer, as everyone works for the government or a non-profit. When we were pregnant with our first child in 1999, we moved to the Hill, near H St. Northeast. Just by chance, someone saw our current house and told us about it. We moved a block off of H St. and have seen the neighborhood change. It is amazing to see that there are now restaurants and bars, many of which are kid friendly close by. 

"After we moved here, I gradually met other moms in the neighborhood. We started having a regular playground and this group of friends was the original Moms on the Hill (MOTH) group. One of the Mom's started a yahoo group because her husband was tired of having his inbox clogged. With time, the site grew and we all invited new Moms we met to join the group. In September 2001, I wrote an article for the Hill Rag about being a Mom on the Hill and MOTH. After that, the group got bigger and bigger and now we have over 3000 people in our group. 

"I always say that MOTH is a combination of old fashioned neighborliness and the Internet. One of my favorite things that we do is meals on wheels. Yes, we stole the name. Every time someone has a baby, we get people in the neighborhood to volunteer and cook them dinner. It is really nice to bring food to someone, especially to parents of a new baby. It is such a kind gesture that is so greatly appreciated. We're not used to accepting kindness from a stranger anymore, but it is a really wonderful way of helping the parents of newborns. 

"We don't have a public site and we are not a non-profit. We keep an informal email group because it allows people to do what they want with it. Because it is so informal, it keeps the energy of the site up. A group of people met through MOTH and started Two Rivers Charter School. After that, a lot of people started to develop an interest in the local public schools. There has been a resurgence in a lot of the elementary schools and that is due in some part to these families having the ability to connect through MOTH. Everyone who leaves the area says that there is nothing like MOTH in other neighborhoods or cities. There are other listserves and websites, but there is something really special about this community here."

Friday, April 9, 2010

Sid on the History of D.C. Hip-Hop

"When God made me, he made a musical mismatch. My father was into jazz and spirituals and my Mom was raised on country music. So, I was raised listening to everything. When I got older, I was all about go-go. That was all I knew. That was all I wanted to know. In the late 80's, a guy named Zay moved to our neighborhood and started talking about hip-hop music. We weren't trying to hear that because go-go was king. Zay became the manager of a club called the Krib that had a lot of rappers come through. I started hanging out around the club and got exposed to the hip-hop culture. In those days, there were no local hip-hop artists, so all of the music was coming down from New York or Philadelphia. But, eventually D.C. started to produce its own hip-hop in the late 80's. 

"About five years ago, I really got into hip-hop and decided to write a book about its history in D.C. At the time, there were no books and very little research done, so I interviewed a lot of the local artists for my book. While small, D.C. has a rich hip-hop history. The first local hip-hop record to really hit in D.C. was called Stone Cold Hustler by DC Scorpio. I am pretty sure that the go-go band Rare Essence played the music for the track, so it definitely has a D.C. feel to the record. After him, there were other go-go rappers, as they were called, like Stinky Dink and Fat Rodney. The influence of these rappers was tremendous because it showed the ability to cross between these two genres. Still, hip-hop has always been and remains a step child to go-go in D.C..

"As hip-hop developed in D.C., there became two distinct movements.The U Street movement, which were a lot of college kids who hung around Howard University, was centered around Bar None, now Pure Lounge. That place is legendary because it is where a lot of rappers got their start. The U Street movement is very lyrical and melodic.  Then, there is the uptown scene, centered around the Island Cafe. Uptown is more gangster rap, for lack of a better term. The two groups don't overlap that much, except for the open mic nights. 

"D.C. hasn't really broken out on the national hip-hop scene because a lot of the music isn't even hitting in D.C. I say it again, go-go still kills it here. Some people have gotten national attention, though, like Nonchalant, D.C. Scorpio, the Section 8 Mob, Question Mark Asylum, and DJ Kool. Of all of the D.C. rappers, I think that Wale is the really the first to make national moves. I think that 2010 is going to be a great year for D.C. hip-hop. There is a lot of energy and collaboration right now, especially with Obama as President. 

Sidney 'DCSuperSid' Thomas is author of Diamonds in the Raw.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Daniel on Being the Wig Man

"I think that everyone is introduced to politics when they are little. We all read books about George Washington in elementary school. What really got me into politics is that when I was in high school, I won the titles of most talkative, most likely to have a talk show, and most likely to become president. What is unique is that I was not even in the student council. Those titles really affected my decision to enter politics later in life. 

"I graduated from college at 20 with three majors -- business, psychology and communications. After school, I worked as a reporter, and, later, editor, in Shaker Heights, Ohio. From there, I moved to Connecticut and was the editor of the weekly newspaper, the Greenwich Post. On 9/11, I was in one of the cities most impacted by what happened on that day, because so many people in Greenwich were working in or near the World Trade Center. 9/11 really hit me, and I didn't like how President Bush evolved the confusion and anger of that day into a war against Iraq. Presidents shouldn't do those things, especially under such extreme and uncertain circumstances. Statistics prove that about 95 percent of America supported the war at one point or another. I was one of only 5 percent of America who did not ever support the Iraq war. 

"Even though I was only 31 at the time and the youngest Republican in U.S. history to ever run for President, those experiences really affected me and were a direct reason why I ran for president against George W. Bush. I only campaigned in a few states: Iowa, Connecticut, Ohio, Texas, and New York. I had volunteers, but I was doing most of it myself. I lived in a truck that I called Air Ford One. My campaign slogan was, 'Small ideas for America.' Presidents should really focus on small ideas because those sometimes mean more in the end than big ideas. I never made it onto a ballot for president, but I got a lot of media attention, which I then used in future campaigns. 

"When I was doing research in Iowa for my first book, Will You Run for President?, someone told me about a Halloween party in Washington, D.C. at the Guards Restaurant.They suggested that I go dressed as George Washington to get a feel for what it was like to be president. I rented a George Washington costume, but I had to buy the wig for hygiene purposes. I went to the costume party in D.C. and it was a great experience. People really interacted with me differently, and I did feel very presidential. The next morning, I was wondering what made me feel that way - was it the outfit or the wig? I experimented by wearing the wig along with my normal clothes. My first experience was walking into an elevator with these two maids. They kept wanting to salute me. I realized they thought I was a dignitary or something because of the wig. So, I spent that day walking around Washington, D.C., with the wig on and noticed that I got a lot of attention. Years later, I used the wig for political events and in my campaigns for the U.S. Senate seat from Illinois against Barack Obama and for U.S. Senator in Maryland against Michael Steele. Now, I am running for county executive in Montgomery County as Daniel 'The Wig Man' Vovak.

"Some people don't view the wig as serious. I think it's better to look in terms of who historically has not been taken seriously and their ultimate impact on America. People like Andrew Jackson, Ronald 'The Gipper' Reagan, and Gerald Ford were not taken seriously until they became president. Certainly, nobody took Jesse 'The Body' Ventura seriously until he became governor. The way to be considered serious in America is to be elected. One day, when I am elected, people will take me seriously. At that point, it will be up to the voters to decide whether or not I wear my wig in office. 

"You know, I am a Republican, but I am worried about the party. As far as I'm concerned, we need to be a party of optimism. We need to find a way to look at America's good points and help shape America's problems for the better. I don't always see that among Republicans. Now, the optimism is low, which is normally the case when a party is out of power. We need more great optimists as candidates."

Daniel 'The Wig Man' Vovak is an author, movie producer, and currently running for county executive in Montgomery Country, Maryland.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Cindy on the Congressional Cemetery

"I was born in Mayfield, Kentucky and was raised in Memphis, Tennessee. When I finished college, I got a job with the Agency for International Development in Washington. I am a Republican and very involved in politics. At the time, I was asked to become the Executive Director of the National Young Republicans. When Richard Nixon left office, I was devastated and went home to Memphis in distress. I came back ten years later when I married my husband. We moved to Capitol Hill and have been here ever since. 

"In 1984, my husband was working with the Congress and the president of the association that runs the Congressional Cemetery was a good friend of his. He said, 'Paul, I need you and Cindy to come and help us clean the cemetery on Saturday.' I thought that it would be a fun thing to do, so I showed up wearing sandals, shorts and I had my Japanese farmers knife, which is used for pulling weeds. We drove up in front of the cemetery and saw the terrible condition of the place. I said, 'This is not going to work. Take me back home.' I put on boots, long pants and used a sickle, rather than a weeding tool, as the grass was above my knees.

"At the time, the cemetery had no money and nobody to keep it up. Most of the people who are buried here don't have anyone left as we have been burying people since 1807. There used to be hookers in the east end and wild dogs in the west end and the drug dealers on the front of the property. An association was formed in 1974 to help take care of the place. The association sought help from Veterans Affairs and the National Parks Service, but both organizations could not help for different reasons. So, they decided to have a bake sale and raised $35. Then, they had a fundraiser at someone's house and raised a few hundred dollars. Then, they had a Halloween party here and raised a few thousand dollars. Then, they sent out a letter to all of the people in the neighborhood to seek members. In 1978, the Association raised enough money to mow the grass three times a year. They couldn't rake or do anything about the snow. The rest of the time, the mowing was done in pieces by volunteers.

"After I volunteered in 1984 and 1985, I did not come back to the cemetery until 2005. When I came back, I was stunned at how much the cemetery had changed. At the time, the association was looking for someone to manage and build upon the history of the cemetery and put out a request for proposals for an executive director. The vice chairman of the board, who I had met a number of times, asked if I would consider applying . I said, 'I don't want to run a cemetery.' She said, it is more than just running a cemetery. I said, 'Well, if I can do what I want to do, I'd love to take the job.'

"When I got here, there was one nice lady who answered the phone for four hours a day, three days a week. There are now seven of us. We are working to tell the stories of the people in this cemetery who made a difference in American history and for this city.There are 55,000 people buried here, including 1,200 veterans. This cemetery still has people who own plots, but haven't used them because they are still alive. We bury around 12 people a year.

"When L'Enfant drew up plans for the city, the Southeast corner was called Reservation 13 and set aside for the insane asylum, the pauper's house, the jail, and the hospital for the terminally ill and diseased. The cemeteries were established up near Takoma Park and in upper Southeast, but the location that was chosen for this cemetery was marshland. The U.S. government swapped the original location with a piece of Reservation 13. The cemetery was originally 4 1/2 acres. The first person buried was the master stone mason of the Capitol. The third person buried was the wife of the Commandant of the Navy Yard. The fifth person buried here was Senator Uriah Tracy. By 1812, we buried 12 members of the House and Senate and a Vice President and a number of Cabinet officials and military leaders. At that time, Congress declared us the Congressional burying ground because there was no embalming. When you died, you had to go someplace pretty fast. This was the only cemetery in the federal city.

"Probably our most famous person is the March King himself, John Philip Sousa. He was the very famous director of the Marine Corps Band. Matthew Brady was a photographer in the 1800's who took pictures of the Civil War and also took the famous picture of Lincoln that is on the $5 bill. We also have J. Edgar Hoover buried here. Some people feel that he was not straight. I don't know if that is true or not, but his longtime secretary, Clyde Tolson, who was number two in the FBI and his housemate and inherited all of his property bought a site as close to Hoover as he could get, which was about 12 sites away. We also have Leonard Matlovich who was the first person kicked out to the army for being openly gay. His tombstone says, 'When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.'

"We are still a secret in D.C. Even people on the Hill have no idea where this place is. For the last 40 years, we haven't done anything to publicize ourselves. Until ten years ago, we were embarrassed about our condition. Now, we have specialized and general tours, pageants, plays and musicals. We are also developing materials to help D.C. students learn about the history of this city. There are 26 people buried in this cemetery for whom D.C. schools are named. We have the first ten mayors of the city buried here. We have the man who designed the Washington Monument. We have editors of the first and second newspapers here. We have Senators, Congressmen, and Vice Presidents. We have the guy who designed the Navy Yard and the man who ordered it burned, so that the British couldn't get it. This cemetery is full of stories about D.C. and our nation's history."

Cindy Hays is the Executive Director of the Congressional Cemetery at 1801 E Street SE.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Cedric on His Way of Running

"I am a young 57. I was born in D.C. General Hospital in 1952. My family history goes way back in D.C. I was raised in Georgetown and came through the Catholic schools as a three-sport athlete. I played basketball, baseball and football. After high school, I got a football scholarship to play defensive back at the Community College of Baltimore. While I was there, I was recruited to play for the University of Pittsburgh. At the time, my high-school sweetheart was having one of my first babies, so I decided not to go. I dream about that missed opportunity all of the time. Tony Dorsett was there at the time, and I would have won a national championship. It would have changed my whole life had I made that move. I am not mad, though, because I am still happy with what I have accomplished. I've been married for 30 years. I have six kids and four grandkids. I am blessed by my family. Everybody has a destiny, and I think that this was my destiny.

"When I didn't go to the University of Pittsburgh, I came back to D.C. to be a bus driver. Ever since I was younger, I had always wanted to drive a bus. I used to see the 
bus drivers looking all cool and talking to the ladies, and wanted to be just like them. Four months later, I was driving a bus for the southeast division of Metro. I was always good at my job because I am a people person and an excellent driver. I tell you, my driving is smooth. I have driven every route in the city. I did 25 years for Metro and now I have done 12 years driving the mobile lounges at Dulles Airport.

"A friend at Metro got me into running. Before, I was all about playing sports: tennis, basketball, and touch football. I started running with him in 1975 and said, 'This ain't so bad.' Since then, running has changed my life. Because I knew all the bus drivers, I would race the buses from my place on H Street, Northeast, to the 
White House. I was crushing them. Running forward, I can beat anyone. In 1984, I said, 'Why not start running backwards?' I started doing the spinning thing while I run to work on my endurance. I wanted to make my body stronger. And I am blessed with incredible peripheral vision, so I always know what is around me. When I am on a run, you will always see me moving. I will run in place or spin around the intersections or in the middle of traffic to keep from stopping.

"A lot of people don't know me, but they recognize me because of how I run. See, I am very vocal. I listen to whatever is rocking on the radio and will yell out, "HOOT! HOOT!" to my bus driver friends and the cabbies. Some people have even stopped me and told that I am an inspiration to them. Because of me, some people started exercising. I tell you, I really feel blessed.

"When I first started running, my wife used to say, 'Why you gotta run all the time?' Now, if I don't run, she thinks something is wrong with me. Just like waking up in the morning and washing my face, running is a part of my life. The only reason that I will ever stop is because God wants me to. Until then, I will keep running the same route every other day. I go straight down H Street, past the White House to 20th Street, and come back the same way."

Monday, April 5, 2010

Roxanne on a City Full of Life

"I was born in Washington, D.C. at the Washington Hospital Center. I was raised in Petworth, but then moved all over the country to live with family. I have lived in New MexicoCaliforniaVermontCincinnati, and Atlanta. I came back to D.C. in 2001.

"When I left, I brought the music of D.C. with me. There is a genre of music here called go-go. We were always talking about and listening to go-go at home. It took me leaving the city to realize that this was a style of music particular to D.C. When I was living in other cities, I would request go-go on the radio or at the skating rink, but people didn't know what I was talking about. Outside of that, I liked living all over the place. It exposed me to so many different people and places.

"When I finally came back to D.C., I noticed that gentrification had just started in Petworth. I was worried because I saw that my neighborhood was changing and my friends and family were moving out. But the gentrification also presented new opportunities for the community and a chance for me to meet new people. In a way, gentrification brought the whole country to me, which was nice for me after having lived in so many different places all of my life. I ended up meeting people who came from all of the places I had lived in growing up. So, I realized that the changes were not that bad because it created more diverse neighborhoods and a more exciting city.

"There is still so much of D.C. that I want to see. I told myself that I would try and go somewhere new every weekend. I usually just get up and go wherever my feet take me. While I sometimes feel like I can have a love-hate relationship with this town because it can feel very small at times and because of the violence in the neighborhoods, I will always love the life in the city. Everyone here, including the panhandlers on the corner, are so full of life and doing something interesting."

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Ron on Giving Things an Extended Life

"I was born in New Olreans, but my memory of that place is limited, as we moved to the Washington area when I was 4. I grew up in the suburbs of Washington and the long-standing attitude towards living in the city was, 'Who would want to do that?' I was around during the riots and very much aware of their impact on the city. I did eventually move into D.C. in 1974. This city was a ghost town after rush hour. At the time, I was on a limited budget and there were ten restaurants throughout the whole city where I could afford to eat. Now, there are 20 reasonably priced restaurants on every block. To me, it was a no-brainer that this city would come back, especially because of the stabilizing effect of government. 

"At the time, all of these neighborhoods had such interesting architecture and there was very little being done to celebrate it. Now, you can appreciate how beautiful this place is, but back then, you saw everything through smokey glasses. There clearly were several neighborhoods that were interesting and well-kept. One of them was Adams Morgan, were I moved shortly after coming to the city. Back then, I worked at George Washington University in the Physical Plant. Through that, I learned about the demolition process. I remember my first lesson in the business of demolition. When they were tearing down my apartment building, I was determined to buy this beautiful brass doorknob in the house. My Dad used to have an old porcelain door knob as a paper weight. I can't help but think that got me interested in door knobs. That also inspired the name for our store, theBrass Knob. I walked up to the demolition guy, Cool Breeze, and said, ‘How much for the door knob?’ He said, ‘$5.’ I said, 'How much for the door?’ He said ’$5.” If I had asked just for the door, I would have gotten the door and the doorknob for the same price. So, I ended up deciding to buy the contents of the house for $90. That was a pretty good purchase and was my introduction into the salvage business. 

"My business started because I had a truck and a place to store my stuff. My partner and I opened our first store in Adams Morgan, in the space next to the current Brass Knob store. We split into two different corporations a few years ago when I opened this warehouse, but we still work together closely. I find my stuff through a lot of different ways. The guys that are in the demolition business are my first leads. I met and befriended them and gained their trust a long time ago. You had to prove that you will not hurt yourself or steal anything on site. Those are the two big tests. I also have pickers who bring me stuff. With some of them, there is always a question of whether they are bringing me a legitimate take. I have to be very clever about finding out where the materials came from. On occasion, there have been issues when people bring me things that are not from a legitimate take and I am very quick to cooperate with the police. 

"To me, this business started because I could not get over the idea that people were throwing all of this value away. I used to go the dumpsters with a friend and strip all of the hardware off of the doors. See, I always enjoyed the collecting part of this business. You go into these deep mysterious dark buildings, basements, attics, and cubby holes looking for treasure. There is so much history in the buildings here and it is nice to take parts of those buildings and bring them to a new life. It is always fun to tell people where things come from. We get stuff from Embassies and sell the bathtubs of the rich and famous. I bought the bathtubs of Pamela Harriman's Georgetown building, she was a socialite and Winston Churchill's mother, so I can conjecture that some famous people probably took a bath in one of my bathtubs. Even if it is an insignificant piece of history, it is nice to think that things will have an extended life."

Ron is the owner of the Brass Knob Backdoors Warehouse on 57 N Street NW.