Monday, May 31, 2010

Mark on the Dance of Days

"The first thing to say is that I knew about the D.C. punk scene long before I came here. I grew up in one of the most rural and economically depressed areas in Montana and punk gave me the awareness of possibilities outside of what I knew. I am very proud of where I come from and I learned a lot there, but at the time, it felt like hell to me. Punk music, starting with the New York scene and Patti Smith and then the London scene with Sex Pistols and The Clash, gave me a reason to live. These were young people, more or less my age, creating this angry music that was ultimately so full of life. They were not waiting for change, they were going to make it themselves. 

"Punk music helped me go to college. College was not one of those things that everybody did where I grew up. It was extremely optional. I wanted to study things that I believed in and become an activist. I wanted to change the world. That is why D.C. grabbed me. When I left college, I was very career oriented and came to Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. It was a pipeline into the establishment, for the better or worse. 

"I was from a small town, so coming here was very overwhelming. I had never seen homelessness or racial segregation, and it just tore my heart apart. My crisis became even more profound when I went to Central America in 1985. The poverty there was at a whole new level and there was an ongoing war where the U.S. was not playing a positive role. At school, I was being trained to be a mid-level functionary in this system that was supporting these policies. I knew that I could not go forward in the direction I had just spent tens of thousands of dollars for school. At the time, the only thing that made sense to me was the D.C. punk scene. It was about doing things yourself and having a positive mental attitude. So for the second time, punk rock revolutionized my life. 

"It was at that time that I thought that someone needed to write a book about the punk music scene here. It was an incredible story that mattered a lot to me. I get New York and London, but D.C. as a punk rock center, it seemed so unexpected. I wanted to share the story of how this happened. I started doing research in 1986 and the finished product came out in 2001. The D.C. punk scene and its continuing influence around the world is an astonishing an inspirational story. 

"Punk music is a chapter of D.C. that many people don't know about, but more people should. People think that this is a buttoned-up town where we only import culture. There is a part of that stereotype that is true, but D.C. played a huge role in punk and rock music and exporting a positive mental approach towards living and tackling problems to everyone who could hear our music. For people who don't like punk music, that is cool, but you should try and embrace the spirit. This is a city built out of big dreams and D.C. punk is just another amazing representation of that."

Mark Andersen is the author of Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation's Capital. He is also involved with We Are Family, which is a senior citizen support network.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

SM on Being the Ultimate Washington Insider

"My name is Scott, but I go by my initials SM now. I used to live in Philadelphia and would come to D.C. a lot. I always had a better time here than I did in Philadelphia, so I chose to move to D.C. in 2006 at the age of 36. Hitting a new town in my late-30's, I really wanted to make it count. I felt like it was my last real go-around to tackle and own a town, or at least my little corner of it. I really wanted to become the ultimate Washington insider. 

"The thing is that I work for an ad agency in Georgetown, which is as far as you can get from politics and life on the Hill. But I started writing for the Huffington Post, which got me in a lot of doors. I'm not really sure why, though, because who doesn't write for the Huffington Post these days. Don't tell Arianna I said that! Through that, I got invited to stuff and people thought that I was someone of relevance. So, I pushed my way in to see how far into the interior of big time D.C. I could get. To me, I wanted the same thing that every high school kid wants, to be invited to the right parties, get recognized, and get photographed a lot. This is Hollywood for ugly people and I think that I am ugly enough to make it in this town. 

"The thing is that official D.C. is so boring, don't you think? I recognized that I really did not want to be the ultimate Washington wonk. I prefer the Salahi model, I guess, and started to crash parties, like the White House Correspondents dinner, which I did three times. That event is like nerd prom, which made it great for me. 

"Recently, I decided to give all of this up and stop living a lie. I came out to everyone that I had not been invited to these events and was just trying to see how far into the city I could get. You know, the Salahis should come join me on this side and be honest about everything. Now, I am happy to be in the same category as those tourists on the top of those double decker tour buses as the ultimate outsiders."

SM Shrake is also a storyteller and performer. You can see his work here

Friday, May 28, 2010

Adrian on Living with No Regrets

"I am 24 years old and grew up all over this city. I have learned that different parts of the city are, you know, different. We moved a lot because some of the neighborhoods were no good and because I kept getting put out of D.C. public schools. Eventually, I was put out of all of them. If I knew the things I know now, I probably would not have acted as I acted then. I can't change what caused me to do what I done did back then, but I don't live with no regrets. 

"A lot of people don't understand that there are a lot of influences and things going on around you that make things, you know, stressful. All of this stuff is gonna affect you one way or another. There ain't nobody who can live on these streets and come away all normal. Sometimes, you fall in or sometimes you might be strong. I guess it depends on the person, but if you are subjected to all this long enough, it is going to get to you. 

"After I was put out of school, I went to school in Maryland, but that didn't work out either. My only option to not be a failure in life was to go to Job Corps. I told my mother that I was going and wanted to do something with my life. She didn't make me go or nothing, I did it because I knew that it was the only option that I had left. I went to job corps in West Virginia and got my high school diploma and a learned business technology. They trained me to use Microsoft Office. The program was supposed to take two years, but I finished in six months. The stuff they were teaching, I already knew. See, I may have been put out of the schools here, but I ain't stupid. I got this stuff. 

"I have a two year old daughter and I want her to go to college and do the things I was never able to do. I am still a young guy and ain't finished doing what I want to do, but feel like I missed out on a lot because how I was when I was younger. Ultimately, I want to get my degree in engineering, or something like that, and get certified in scuba diving. In high school, I got certified in a swimming pool and we were supposed to go out into the open water to get certified, but I got put out before that. I really miss it. I still love the water, and that was one of the things that  they could never take away from me. Now, I work on the Odyssey, that cruise ship down on the waterfront. They give tours of the city and go over to Virginia. I am a deck hand and part of the marine crew. It is a nice way to stay close to the water. That's pretty much about all I got to say." 

Adrian is pictured with his daughter Kierra.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Rita on Not Playing the Game

"I was young and crazy when I came to this country from Ireland 20 year ago. That is really the only explanation I can give for why I am here. I had lived in so many places in my life and wanted to try New York. After some time, I wandered down to Washington for work, but I don’t think I will stay. The British Isles will always be my home. 

"I came here to work for the federal government. I started as a statistician and now I work as an economist. I am not really interested in management or administrative work, but I found a nice fit doing research. I was really nervous about moving to Washington at first. Before moving here, I had only been here for anti-war marches. I would get on a bus at 4 a.m. to come down. All that I saw of Washington were the monuments and those austere style buildings. I had never seen a neighborhood, so I always associated this town with the issues I was here protesting. 

"I eventually did move here and found the neighborhoods, but it took me a long time to settle in because my Mom died after I moved, which was very sad. But I came to like the open spaces and arts and all of the activities you can do here, like hula hooping. New York can be very pushy and noisy, but that doesn't seem to be a problem here. I do miss the mix of cultures, like they have in New York. Here, you have to go, I don’t know how many subway stops, to actually find ethnic people and restaurants. In Brooklyn, you had it on most streets. 

"In New York, I used to work for the city government, mostly under the Giuliani Administration. At work, we used to talk about the government and politics and the mayor in our cubicles. We felt very open to speak our minds. With the federal government, you don’t talk at all about this stuff. People talk about the weather and the metro and their air conditioners instead. Sometimes, I think that things here are too controlled and people do not want to get out of line. A friend of mine keeps telling me that I have to learn how to play the game, though. It is not the people who work hard or speak their minds who get promoted, but the people who are always smiling and say, 'Oh, isn't everything so wonderful.' Basically, you have to be a total ass kisser. I like my job, but I prefer not to play the game."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Warren on Making the World a Little Richer and Sweeter

"I was raised outside of Cleveland, Ohio and moved to D.C. in 1995 to do my law and public health degrees at George Washington University. When I graduated, I worked for Health and Human Services as a federal litigator. I enjoyed it, but found myself wanting more creativity. I knew that some of my natural talents were never going to be exercised as a lawyer. 

"As a kid, I cooked all of the time and built a lot of models. While I was a social kid, I enjoyed the solitary and technical process of building things. When I started to teach myself how to bake to be a more well-rounded foodie, it reminded me of being a kid and building those model two inch soldiers. At the time, I was baking in my apartment on 13th and Belmont for fun. I would try out different recipes and baked cakes for people's birthdays or to bring into work. Through that, I got a lot of feedback on my stuff and it was a nice way to share my creativity. 

"About ten years ago, I decided to leave my job and do this full-time. Before opening the first store on U Street, I ran the business out of the kitchen in what is now Saint Ex. It was a little bit of a rocky road at first, and I remember having a panic attack four days into it, as the decision to leave my job settled in. But, that passed and things worked out, thanks in part to people who helped me along the way. 

"People used to ask me all of the time if I really wanted to turn my passion into a job. Of course I did. I loved all of the work connected to the bakery and felt like I was finally tapping into the things I was really good at and passionate about. Every inch of this business is literally covered with my blood, sweat, and tears. I have been touched by people who find my story inspiring. I never planned for things to turn out like this. I just wanted to do something that I liked and make more money than I was spending. In truth, I took a lot of risks at the time because I didn't fully recognize how risky they were. But things worked out and I found that opening a small business was one of the best ways to really see how this country really works. 

"I really think that people should be more entrepreneurial about their own future. We need to encourage kids from a young age to be more artistic and entrepreneurial, so when they get older, they feel encouraged to take risks. Our community would be so much richer if people exercised their real talents and passions. We all should leave this world with little regrets. 

"I hope that the world is a little richer and sweeter because of Cakelove."

Warren Brown is the founder and owner of Cakelove

Monday, May 24, 2010

Carolyn on Common Sense

"I was born in Wilson, North Carolina. My family was all sharecroppers, so I didn't get no education. I never learned no reading or writing. Now, my children read and write for me. I tried to learn when I was little, but my Mom and Dad were against it. They needed me to work the fields with 'em. I tried going to night school when I was older, but I had kids and had to raise them, so I ain't had no time for that. But, I got a lot of common sense for a 54 year old. 

"I came up here in 1977. My grandmother had just passed in North Carolina and I had a friend living here who got me a job. I took my three kids, and we moved up here. I took care of an older man and we all lived with him until he passed. This was up on 51st Street Northeast. Then, I moved around a bit and ended up in Barry Farms some 20-something years ago. I done everything for work from babysitting to cutting grass to helping elderly people. Like I say, I didn't get no education, but I got a lot of common sense and I work hard. 

"I still don't like Washington, but I stay for my kids. This place is too loud and crazy for me. I miss the quiet and peace of North Carolina. I don't know what my kids like about being here, but they sure do like something. I hope to go back home soon. 

"Y'all have a blessed day." 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Clifton on the Disconnect between Findlay and Washington

"I was born in Laurel, Mississippi. I have been in labor all of my life. I started working at a Chrysler plant when I was 18. Now, I work as a laborer for the Cooper Tire and Rubber Company in Findlay, Ohio. I have been there for 28 years. Findlay is a big manufacturing town. We have Whirlpool and Marathon Oil, in addition to some smaller, non-union plants.

"I am here in Washington, as part of the Steelworkers Union, to promote green industry to help get us off foreign oil and promote American jobs. I come here pretty regularly to help promote our issues and share the realities of jobs leaving the United States with people in Washington. I really think that a lot of people in this town don't really understand the realities of what happens when manufacturing leaves American cities. Washington never fully depended on industry, so it is hard to feel its impact here. 

"There is a town about 20 miles from where I live called Fostoria. It used to have more industry than Findlay. There were 1,000 workers at the Ford spark plug plant, 1,100 workers at the Chrysler plant, 1,500 workers at the Union Carbide plant, 300 workers at Grey printing, and many others. All of those jobs have now gone overseas and the town is dead. People in Washington need to know about this stuff and take action to stop it from happening again and again. 

"There is so much potential in this great country of ours, but sometimes the policy makers here forget about that when they are looking for cheap foreign labor or foreign oil. As long as there remains a disconnect between the Findlays and Fostorias of America and Washington on our nation's priorities, we will continue to come here to support American manufacturing and American workers."

Friday, May 21, 2010

Jewell on Oral Histories

“I grew up in Arizona and Hawaii. I first came to Washington in 1956 when my husband joined the Foreign Service. We were in-and-out of Washington from 1956 to 1985, and then settled here permanently. We were posted twice in Holland, once in Sierra Leone, Morocco, Curacao, Trinidad and Tobago, and Brazil. My husband was an economic officer and I was a tag along spouse. In those days, we couldn’t work, but we gave lovely dinner parties and brought up perfect children. 

"When we came back to Washington, I was around 50 and no one would hire me. I had no resume or network, as I had been overseas for so many years. Saying that you gave a nice dinner party in Curacao didn’t do much for helping you get a job. My husband suggested that I start helping out the city. I started by helping to clean up our neighborhood and helping, in my small way, to bring my area of 16th Street back after the Martin Luther King riots. 

"I also started doing oral histories. My first one was of foreign service spouses. Foreign Service wives had, in my day, been very quiet because they did not want their words or actions to reflect on their husband’s work. We used to be included in our husband’s efficiency reports, if you can believe that. They used to look at our dinner parties, philanthropic work, and the behavior of our children. In the end, I don’t think that stuff ever really mattered, though. A foreign service officer was successful if he was good at his job, but they wanted us to believe that our behavior mattered. Now, things are so different. Many of the spouses are men and most spouses are allowed to work, either in the Embassy, or the host country. We interviewed over 200 people and published a book, Married to the Foreign Service: An Oral History of the American Diplomatic Spouse.

"At the time, I was also involved with the Woman's National Democratic Club. The Hatch Act prohibited me from promoting either party when my husband was a government employee. When he retired, one of the first things I did was to join the club. I came to lunches here and joined different task forces. When my foreign service spouses book was finished, I came over and did an oral history here. With the foreign service spouses, I knew nothing about oral histories, but I knew my subject. This was the opposite. I missed the women’s movement and civil rights because we were abroad, but I knew how to do an oral history. I worked to publish Democratic Women about the amazing history of this place. 

"The Woman's National Democratic Club has been around since 1922. Our building was originally a mansion designed by Harvey Page, a notable Washington architect, and built in 1892-94 for a descendent of the noted Adams family of Massachusetts. After she died, her son rented the building to senators and cabinet secretaries. We purchased the building in 1927 and started to grow the group. One of the members gave us an interest free loan and the Democratic National Committee helped us with our mortgage, the salary for the executive director, and funding our newsletter until the depression hit. 

"This club has a lot of important history and gone through many changes. Eleanor Roosevelt was very involved with our work and we have had every sitting president here, expect for Clinton and Obama. In doing research for the book, one of my favorite stories about the club is about the musical Hair. When it was first screened in Washington, there was a lot of debate in the city about whether it was too racy. The club put on a special performance of the production and people resigned in protest that the club had sunk to such depths. The club has really been at the forefront of many important social and cultural issues, even if some of the membership moves a little slower. Now, my generation is the mainstay of the club, but there is a new youthful group, people in their 60’s, who are taking the lead here to move the club and its history forward." 

The Woman's National Democratic Club is located at 1526 New Hampshire Ave NW.  

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Brother Hamza on Making Good on His Mistakes

"I got home on November 30, 2009 after being incarcerated for 21 years, 6 months, and 20 days. See, I was married to a beautiful girl, Hafsa, who gave me a beautiful daughter, Ruqqiya. We had a beautiful life together. But, my daughter died of cancer at nine. Two years later, a man murdered my wife. So, I found the person who killed her and I killed him. I do not regret killing him at all. If I had my way, I would dig him up, bring him back to life, and kill him again. I will say this again, so that I am being real clear. I would dig him up, bring him back to life, and kill him again. I have no remorse whatsoever because he took away something very precious from me. You see these cracks in the sidewalk, that is how my heart feels every day. I don’t think that I will every marry again. She was the only one who made me happy. 

"I came back to Washington after I got out because this is where my problem began and, Insha’Allah, this is where my problems shall end. I came back to rectify what I f-ed up and work to change the areas I once corrupted and tainted. I was a tyrant on these streets until I bit into Islam whole heartedly while I was incarcerated.

"I came to the faith on August 25, 1980. I was walking on New Jersey and 4th St. NW on a Friday and heard the call to prayer. It pricked my heart and I walked into the Masjid and everything became as clear as day. But, I did not live as a good Muslim until I was locked up. Some of the most beautiful times that I have had in my life were when I was incarcerated, especially the Muslim holidays. I was the Imam when I was locked up in Kentucky. People looked to me for guidance, strength, and help. While I am free now, sometimes I miss those days of having such a position of responsibility now that I am living on the streets. 

"I have no family or home, but Allah places people in my path to help me. He places people in my path to feed me, clothe me, and give me knowledge. He also places people in my path, so I can give what I have back to them. There is a hadith in the Koran says that if you see a wrong, first change it with your hands. That means do something about it. If you can’t use your hands, use our mouth. That means speak on it. If not that, change it within your heart. I want to use my hands, words, and heart to spread wisdom and knowledge to people here. Allah has a purpose for me, which is to help my brothers and sisters and make good on my mistakes."

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Noble on Staying Connected to Foreign Places

"My Mom came up to D.C. with the Carter White House to work on urban revitalization. She knew Carter before he got into politics and worked on his campaign. I was about four when we moved here from Atlanta. I did most of my school here and then started doing development work in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.

"In 2003, I got a call on a Sunday night, asking if I could go to Iraq that Monday for three weeks to work on a Department of Defense development project. I went and ended up staying for a year. Before I left, I didn't realize that I was pregnant. While I was in Iraq, I was pretty sick, but thought that I had worms. The food was so bad and everyone was losing weight, so I didn't think anything of it. Five months in, I went to a local doctor to get checked out. He told me that I was six months pregnant. I was shocked. 

"At the time, the Americans did not know. I had pre-natal vitamins sent to me through my Army Post Office (APO) address, but someone opened my package and found out that I was pregnant. I finally had to inform everyone and they were definitely not happy about it. They were angry about the liability and resource issues given that we were in a war zone. But they said that I could stay in Iraq if I signed a release saying that if anything happened to me or my baby, the military would have no liability. I loved Iraq and the work I was doing. It was still during the time when people were optimistic and I thought that we could fix things.

"Three weeks before I gave birth, the Judge Advocate General (JAG) decided that he wanted me to leave Iraq and go to Frankfurt to have the baby. They were in the process of negotiating the arrangement when my water broke while unloading some cargo. My colleague took me to the Green Zone where the JAG and most of the doctors were upset about having to deal with this. They started bringing in U.S. military specialists from around the country to help with my labor. Right before I came in, the hospital got a call that there were wounded soldiers coming in. I ended up having a cesarian and was in-and-out in five minutes. With Alex, my baby, they had to modify everything. They put her in tupperware and jerry-rigged a ventilator out of someone's popcorn maker. All they had were death certificates, so they had to modify things to make a birth certificate. 

"Amazingly, everyone there rallied around Alex. When she was a a little stronger, the nurse took her around to see the wounded soldiers. The whole place was packed with people with side arms passing her around. It was really surreal. When I got ready to leave the hospital, the JAG came by to tell me that it really upset him that I was going to have a baby there, but at the end, it really changed the morale of the place. He even asked to take a picture with me, Alex, and the birth certificate. She was born on an American base, so she is American, but her place of birth is Baghdad. That has put her on the no-fly list three times already as a six year old. I was the first American to have a kid like that, and I don't think they have allowed it since. 

"We got evacuated a few months later when the security situation got much worse. From there, I went to Jordan and then came back to D.C. Since being back, we have travelled a bit, but have stayed mostly in D.C. I think that traveling is a great way to raise a child, but Washington also has so many great opportunities to keep that connection to foreign places and cultures." 

Noble is pictured with Alex. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Lloyd on Washington's Other Monuments

"I was born in Dayton, Ohio. My Dad was an aircraft engineer at the Wright-Patterson Air Force base. He eventually got a job on some new thing called computers and we moved around a bit before settling in the D.C. area in 1965. 

"By hit or miss, I became a photographer while in college in Connecticut. When I came back to the area, my work was taking me all over the city and I started seeing these shrines to people who were killed on the streets. To me, it was like watching someone’s heart bleed in public. There is a huge amount of emotional content in them. They are homemade folk art and very specific to D.C. From my relatively small research, there have been shrines recorded back to the early Middle Ages in Europe. The instinct to build shrines varies from place to place, but they are immediately recognizable no matter where you are.

"I started photographing the shrines seven years ago. I have been to over 500 and documented over 200 of them. Many of them are very modest, just some police tape and a teddy bear, but others are huge. I have seen panties and condoms, but typically it is plush toys, balloons, and liquor bottles. I think that a lot of these items represent someone's hope for the deceased and for the community. Maybe it is a hope for a better, safer, and heavenly place for the deceased and a call against violence in the community.

"When newspapers were strong, you could find information about every shooting in the Washington Post. Now, someone getting shot doesn’t make the paper. Three or four people have to get shot before that becomes news. I still drive around looking for the shrines and also use the area police resources to keep up with what is happening. I think that I have been to almost every shrine in the area since I started. I do not document the vigils out of respect for the families, but I take photos of the shrines to capture crime’s aftermaths and how it affects people. I am interested in documenting and sharing the healing aspects of shrines and how people try and rebuild themselves using this folk art.

"Doing this is part of my own way of keeping my priorities straight. I think that our job in life, if we have a job, is to learn and enlarge the consciousness of ourselves and others. I do this with no support, but because it is the right thing to do. I would like to bring this work into a public awareness program and to people who can make use of it, like survivors of street violence.

"As one guy said to me at one of the shrines, 'No matter how bad you are, no one deserves this.' When someone is murdered, you don’t just kill a person. You are also killing their entire family. Life is a short, complicated, and mysterious gift. Some lives end too soon. I can’t imagine ending this work unless the murders disappear in this city."

Read more about Lloyd Wolf's work here.

Monday, May 17, 2010

AjaƩ on Her Wish for D.C.

"I am 32 and was born in SE, Washington, D.C. The city changed a whole-whole-whole-whole-lot since I've been around. I have seen SE fall and grow. I have seen the projects change and people move in-and-out of neighborhoods. Things were torn down and condemned and they brought in a lot of new stuff. They say it is for the better, but I am not certain. In the political aspect, yes,it is better, but for the city people, no. 

"I want peace, tranquility and kindness in my neighborhood and for the city. I mean, a lot of stuff has calmed down. SE used to have a high rate for killings. Years ago, we wouldn't even be able to sit out here and have this conversation, but now the streets are safer. I am proud of the change here. Still, there is a lot stereotyping that they give SE, but there is also a lot that comes out of here. I contribute to the city by doing sexual outreach, things like handing out condoms to the community. That's how I try and make this place better. 

"Now, I do home health care work. I work with seniors, people with disabilities, or people who just need a home nurse. I went to several trade schools to get certified and I was impacted by Marion Barry's summer jobs program when I was 14 to 21. That program gave me something to do and helped my job training skills at an early age. As a teenager, you can't always depend on your parents, so it was also nice to have money in your pocket.

"Of course, Marion Barry is the longest serving mayor in D.C. He is well loved in the SE community because he did a lot and brought a lot to our communities. In terms of this new mayor, Adrian Fenty, he hasn't really stepped up to the plate. It may be because everyone is looking for another Marion Barry, but there will never be another Marion Barry. If I had a wish, I would bring him back. I don't see it happening again because he has a lot of controversy behind him, but I think that you will get a lot of positive feedback from the people in SE if he does."

Friday, May 14, 2010

Jovonne on her 2019 Bid for Mayor

Jovonne, left, is pictured with her mother, Shirley.

"I was born in Washington D.C. and grew up on 6th St in Shaw. In my neighborhood, if you didn't have a good family or support network to help you, you would end up as another statistic. I feel blessed that I had both, but things were still hard. The first experience that made me think the world was crazy was at ten years old. I was outside playing and all of the sudden, I heard a car speeding down the street and this pop,pop..pop,pop. There were bullets everywhere and people were running in all directions. Can you imagine living in a place where the hustlers don't care who they shoot? I always wanted to tell them that it was them who made our neighborhood bad. 

"There were way worse environments that I could have been in, though. There was an apartment building on 13th and S St. called Garfield Terrace. I went to school with some kids who lived there. When I saw how these kids were living, I felt like I lived in Georgetown. The dope heads were in their hallways. My Mom couldn't make sure that the neighborhood was safe for me, but she made sure that the area from our house to the corner was a safe environment. We were the house that no one messed with because people were scared of my Mom. She never had to apologize to me about our neighborhood because we were the lucky ones. It definitely was not the best neighborhood, but it certainly wasn't the worst. 

"We lived in a nice, working class neighborhood. I felt like I was raised in a village. If a neighbor saw me jaywalking, they would tell me to go back across the street and wait for the green light, and then they would tell my Mom. My Mom allowed us to live our lives, but we had rules. The most important one was to finish high school. There was no dropping out in my house. College was an option, but high school was mandatory. I graduated from Cardoza High School in 2001 and went to college in Dover, Delaware. 

"Since I was little, everyone around me expected a lot out of me. I think a lot of that comes from starting at the New Community for Children in 1990. Their program helped me to recognize my talents and opened my eyes to the world. With time, I recognized that I was setting trends and not following them. If I could get all of my friends to follow me in doing something silly at school, I thought of what it would be like if I led them to do something positive. I started to do community service and found a love for children. Everyone is not blessed to have a good family and supportive community, so if you can help just one child, you could change someone's life just like my life was changed. 

"When I came back from college, I got a job here teaching 4th grade at New Community. I love the mission here, which is that each one teach one. I let my kids know that they can relate to me. Sometimes they are shocked that I know what things are like for them on the street. They look at me as an adult, not as someone who has been through the same things they go through everyday. 

"I would be really interested in taking my experience and talking to kids in private or suburban schools about urban life. I would love to tell people that we are not different. We just live in different worlds. A lot of people glorify that world, especially those who don't live in these neighborhoods, but people lose their lives here every day. The streets will chew you up and spit you out if you are not strong enough to survive them. You can judge the life and decisions people make here, but until you live here, it is hard to beat the odds. I don't know too many lawyers or doctors, but I do know a lot of hustlers, drug dealers, and drug users. I might not be rich or famous, but I did beat the odds. So did my sister and brother. And these kids can, too. They just need people to believe in them and give them an opportunity. 

"My goal is to be mayor and help make people's lives better and give people who want them opportunities. We don't need hand outs, but we need to help those who want to help themselves. So watch out for me in 2019. Jovonne Simpson, remember the name."

New Community for Children provides underserved children and families in Washington, DC with before school, after school, and summer programs that help them strengthen their academic skills as well as foster the self-confidence and creativity needed to realize their fullest potential. Donate your time or money here.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

David on the Brickskeller

"I was born at home at the corner of Rodman and Connecticut Avenue in 1950. People talk about being a native born Washingtonian, it doesn't get much more native than that. I played music professionally and lived on the road for about six years, but have been here otherwise. I guess I just can't figure out how to get out of here. 

"My wife's grandfather started the Brickskeller in 1957. He was French and a Cordon Bleu certified chef. In the 1940's, he was a chef at Napoleon's, which was Washington's best restaurant at the time. He wanted to open his own place and leased a space over by the Mayflower Hotel and opened the restaurant Blackstones. Eventually, he bought this space and opened the Brickskeller  in 1957. There were a lot of good restaurants at the time, so he wanted to make his stand out. At the time, places had good wine lists, but no one had a good beer list. This place opened with around 50 different beers available. We probably had the most beers in the world then, and we have tried to keep that up. 

"There were a million bars called the Ratskeller at the time, especially around colleges. Ratskeller is a German word meaning a bar below street level that serves beer. He didn't want to have another ratskeller, but he liked the sufiix. The place was built of brick, so he combined the two words. The original menu of this place had Alaskan king crab legs for $1.75 and a pitcher of beer for $.85. Those prices are still good, if you pay in 1957 silver dimes. 

"This bar has gone through many variations. In the 1970's, this was the largest dart bar in the country. The problem with darts is that the place was jam packed, but the bartenders were sitting on their asses because no one was drinking. They didn't want to screw up their game. The place also has an interesting music history. Emmylou Harris, Mama Cass, and Jose Feliciano played here. Jim Morrison used to hang out here when he lived in Virginia. 

"During the bicentennial, someone dared the owners to have a beer from every state. Missouri, at the time, was a dry state, so they didn't succeed, but it planted the seed to expand the beer list. They bought a truck and sent it around the states to get beer from all over, including Alaska. We had about 400 beers when I came here in 1982, half of which were cans because can collecting had been popular in the 70's. I saw that the future of the industry was in better quality bottled beer. In the first year I was here, I increased the number of beers to 850. At one point, we had it up to 1,300 beers. Now, we have a little over 1,000. I like having the opportunity to present the world of beer to people who want to experience it. 

"Since opening, this place is remarkably unchanged. People come in who haven't been here in 40 years and say, 'This place looks exactly the same.' I say, 'We probably swept a couple times." 

The Brickskeller is located at 1523 22nd Street NW.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Laura on the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington

"My family started in the grocery business in D.C. My great-grandfather came here in 1918, just two days after World War I ended. He opened a grocery store in Trinidad. My grandmother was a bookkeeper, and my grandfather sold milk and eggs at the market. My father was always very proud of being born in Washington and his roots here. I grew up with a strong awareness of local history and an attachment to the places and people here.

"I used to work as an international tax lawyer for the IRS. I loved it, but one day when I was walking home, I thought that these multinationals and all of their tax problems are so divorced from everyday life. I always knew that I wanted to do something that was going to make our community a better place. Ever since I was a kid, I was interested in historic buildings, the environment, and creating a sense of place. When I started to volunteer at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington in 1993, things just clicked. A year later, the curator told me that the executive director was going to retire and I should apply. There were a number of people applying and I didn't think that I would get it. But, at the age of 35, I became executive director. Since coming on, I have been working to build a strong sense of pride in our Jewish community and history in Washington and help build bridges to the wider community.

"The Jewish population was always small here compared to other places. The Jewish community started to form in D.C. around the 1840's. By community, I mean 20 families of around 400 Jews who came in through the ports in New York, Boston, and Baltimore. The presence of the government helped lure additional people. Until World War I, we only had about 2,000 Jews in Washington. Later, the number of Jews grew dramatically, as a lot of Jews came here to work for the New Deal or the newly-formed government agencies. Now, Washington has grown into one of the most educated and affluent Jewish communities in the country. 

"Jews have lived in all four corners of this city. While there were neighborhood enclaves, there was not one particular Jewish neighborhood in Washington that had all of the Jewish life. Jews largely spread to the thoroughfares, where they could open shops. In NW, it was 7th Street. In SW, it was along 4 1/2 Street, which isn't there anymore because of the urban renewal. Jews were also on H Street, NE, and in Anacostia. These were mostly mom-and-pop stores, but a number of the smaller shops ended up becoming department stores like Lansburgh's, Saks, Hechts, and King's Palace.

"In the 1920's, Jews started to move uptown to Petworth, Shepherd Park, and Silver Spring. As more and more Jews were living uptown, many of the synagogues left downtown - specifically I St between 5th and 8th Streets where there was a synagogue on practically ever corner - for bigger spaces and to be closer to their congregants. In the 1950's, that is when the commercial area on 7th Street started to go into decline. Things got much worse after the riots. After that, people were not coming downtown, as they were afraid. In 1969, many of the remaining Jewish groups, mainly the Jewish Community Center (JCC), the Hebrew Home, and the Jewish Social Service Agency, moved out of the city to Rockville. For them, it may have seemed like the clear choice because the Jewish community was largely uptown.

"Because there has been a real push to make D.C. more of a livable city in recent years, that has helped to reestablish some of the important historical Jewish sites in the city. Who would have dreamt that in 1997, the JCC would buy back their building on 16th and Q Street and there would be a downtown JCC again. Moving forward, I would love to see more of an emphasis on arts and culture in the Jewish community here. You look at places like New York, which has a dedicated Jewish museum, and Toronto, where the Jewish Federation has a vice president for culture. We are working to be able to do those kinds of things for the community here."

Laura Cohen Apelbaum is the executive director of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Saro on Who He Is

"I'm 17. Throughout my life, I have lived in the whole D.C. metropolitan area. Now, I live in Arlington. I came out when I was 15. I always knew that I was gay. As a kid, I played dress up with the girls and loved Barbies. I really wanted to tell people before, but I couldn't. I finally decided to tell everyone how I really was in the 8th grade because I wanted to start high school as a new me. Telling my Mom was easier than I thought because she always knew. It was hard on my father, though. He took it worse than my Mom did. My friends already knew too, they were just waiting for me to say it. 

"Now, it is fun being a young, gay teen. I have a lot of friends and do the normal stuff that teenagers do. I have a lot of straight friends, too. A lot of my friends don't care that I am gay. They know that even though I am gay, there are barriers that we won't cross as friends. Other people can be all fake towards me because they don't want to be perceived as gay because they are around me. So, we can be friends in private, but not in public. I tell you, I am not really one who is pressed to have a lot of friends, though. If you are close to me, you are close to me. If you are not, you're not. That is the way I carry it. I'm a fun, good person and like to party like everyone else. That's all that should matter. 

"When I grow up, I want to work in fashion. I love fashion. I only read Vogue and W magazine. I grew up with style. My Mom is Vietnamese and black. My grandmother is German and my grandfather is Polish, so I grew up around a lot of different cultures and styles. They have all defined my own personal style. Now, I like to dress the way I like to dress and wear my hair the way that I like to wear my hair. This is just who I am."

Monday, May 10, 2010

Richard on the Treasury Building

"I grew up in North Hampton, Massachusetts. I did my Masters and Ph.D. in Massachusetts. I have a doctorate in American and New England studies. When I finished my coursework, I took my first job as an architectural historian with the state of Vermont. That was followed by a job in the Virginia historic preservation office as an architectural historian. From there, I got a job as the curator of the White House of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia. Then, I crossed the Mason-Dixon line to work at the Treasury in 1990. I first worked as a collections manager and then as assistant curator and then curator and historic preservation officer for the Department of the Treasury.

"This building has a lot of history. The Treasury building is the third oldest federal building in the District of Columbia, preceded by the Capitol and the White House. The first Treasury building was built in 1800 and then burned by the British when they came to town in 1814. A second building was erected, which was burned again in 1833. After the first two burnings, Congress wised up and hired Robert Mills who was from South Carolina to come and build a fireproof building. Mills had worked on the Capitol and used the Bourse in Paris as his prototype for the Treasury building. He gave every employee his own office, and essentially created the first modern office building in the United States. Since then, the building has undergone a number of extensions and renovations and now essentially occupies an entire city block.

"Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, who served from 1921-1932, was one of the first to attempt to recognize Treasury's historical and artistic significance. He instructed one of his assistants to collect historic furnishings and was instrumental in celebrating the historical significance of this building. However, it was not until 1986, that the Treasury Department created the office of the curator. Now, comparable offices exist at the White House, Senate, Capitol, and State Department. As the curator, I am charged with the preservation, restoration, and maintenance of the Treasury building and the Treasury collection. Treasury has the most comprehensive and oldest portrait collection within the Executive Branch. We also have a large collection of antique office furnishings, as well as museum quality art that relates to Treasury's history, including serving as the temporary office of President Andrew Johnson after Lincoln's assassination."

Read more about the history of the Treasury Department

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Melissa aka Sunny on Schools Being the Same

"My friends call me Sunny because I am always wearing sunglasses. I've been collecting sunglasses since I was seven. I wear them at night and during the day. For me, it is more than fashion. I am very shy, but when I have my glass on, I feel more comfortable. 

"My Mom is from El Salvador and my Dad is German and Dominican. I currently live on 14th Street, near the yard where all of the buses go at the end of the day. I really love this city. What I especially like about D.C. is Columbia Heights. The neighborhood brings out all kinds of different people. I have met artists and lawyers here and people from all different nationalities and races. 

"The thing is that I go to Roosevelt Senior High School in the neighborhood, which is all black and Hispanic. That diversity on the street is not in my school. And in my school, the blacks and Hispanics hang out in class, but outside of class, both groups only really hang out with each other. That's just how it is. 

"For me, school is tough, but I am trying to make the best of it. I have always felt that way. I do my best by doing my work and not doing what I am not supposed to be doing. It is hard to stay focused in that school, though, because a lot of people aren't focused and are doing what they shouldn't be doing. I try and avoid them. I really wish that all of the schools were the same, and that there were not 'good' schools and 'bad' schools - just schools." 

Saturday, May 8, 2010

David and John on Coming into the City

David - "I'm 17. I live in Montgomery Country, Maryland, but hang out in D.C. all of the time. As a kid, I came in with my parents to see the museums and stuff. When I got older, I started coming into the city on my own to hang out. I am a hip-hop dancer and play guitar in a rock band, so I perform here a lot. Coming from the suburbs, I really like spending time here because of the diversity of people and things to do. Sometimes I wish that I lived here. Even though it is kind of dirty in some places, that adds to the character. 

"There is so much going on here and I like that you can walk or take the metro everywhere. I think that social development and interaction is really important for kids, so the city is a great place to learn how to deal with all kinds of people. In the suburbs, it's not really like that. It is nice and clean, but a lot of the people there are kind of the same. When I am older, I would love to live in the city with my family. The only issue is making enough money to send my kids to good schools."

John - "I'm 18. I love the suburbs and don't think that I could survive living in the city. I like the open spaces and that everything is so accessible. I come in a lot to dance and hang out, but I like going back home at the end of the day. City kids always seem like they have more stuff to do, but they are all cramped up in apartments. Us suburban kids have more space, but we stay at home a lot and play video games because we can't walk anywhere. I am definitely going to raise my kids in the suburbs. It is really safe there and nothing bad can pretty much happens." 

David, left, and John, right, are members of the Ajnin Precizion dance crew

Friday, May 7, 2010

Jewel on Her First Time Voting

"When I was born at D.C. General Hospital 55 years ago, my grandmother looked at me and said that I was precious, so she named me Jewel. I have raised my four kids here and am proud of what we have accomplished. For 23 years, I have worked as a cleaner in the Senate. I cleaned the offices of Senators Clinton, Kennedy, and Obama, and a bunch of the committees. 

"You know, Obama's office was simple, but some of these senators have offices filled with antiques, fish tanks, and totem poles. A lot of these Senators are so nice to us and let us leave early on the holidays or let us play music in the offices when we are cleaning. Let me tell you about the time I met Senator Kennedy. Lord, it was so embarrassing! You know how some people need drugs for a boost. Well I need my music. I was playing my music in his office and was in the zone, dancing around. You know what music does to you. Next thing I know, I turn around to see Senator Kennedy, John John, and Caroline there. I ran to turn the music down, but Senator Kennedy was so kind and down to earth. He told me to keep playing my music and was always kind to me after that. Lord, I can tell you stories about some of these other Senators.

"One of the things that really kept me going these years was Obama. He really changed my life. I used to be a shop steward and would say to my people that you need to step up to the plate to make change. You got to do something to make a difference. I have a daughter who is a cop and a son in the military. They are making a difference. In my own way, I am, too. I knew that Obama would make a change for us. At work, I used to wear an Obama t-shirt and my 'Obama Mama' hat even though we were not allowed to wear political stuff. You know me, I had to represent. I even have a tree that someone in Obama's office threw away. I kept is as a way to feel closer to him. I call it my Obama tree.

"People used to tell me, 'You really think Obama is going to win.' I said, 'He is because I am going to vote.' See, I got baptized as a Jehovah's Witness 27 years ago because my husband was of the faith. Up until Obama, I made a decision not to vote and put my trust in God, as is instructed by our faith. The first time I ever voted was for Obama, and if he runs again, I will vote for a second time. I don't look for Obama to do everything, but I know that he is going to make a difference.

"I would like to meet President Obama and say, 'Thank you.' I saw so many of my black sisters and brothers say that he wouldn't make it as President. I always believed and said to them, 'What are you doing? Are you stepping up to the plate? What changes are you making?' I want to thank the President for doing something. "

Register to vote in D.C. here.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Derek on the Greatest Profession on the Planet

"Me and my brother, my father, my grandmother, and my great-grandfather are all from Washington, D.C. My family has a strong connection to the city, but, like many families, we eventually migrated out of the city to the suburbs. I grew up in Maryland and spent most of my childhood there. I grew up in the hard-core scene in D.C., which is funny to think about now that I own a bar. 

"As a teenager, I moved to Charleston, South Carolina, with my father. There is where I started to stray away from the idealistic, straight edge 14 year old and started drinking and partying with kids in high school. As soon as I could, I left South Carolina and came back to D.C. I had no plans or designs of being a wine-and-spirits professional at the time, but I got a job waiting tables at Rocky's in Adams Morgan, which is where Evolve is now. 

"At the time, I was somewhat aimless. I know this is going to come off as a little harsh, but a lot of people in the restaurant industry are aimless, which is a nice way of saying losers. It is an easy way to make cash and support substance-abuse issues. I considered myself one of those losers. Fortunately, I didn't have substance abuse issues, but I didn't know what I wanted to do. Eventually, one of the bartenders left and Rocky asked if I knew how to bartend. I said, 'Yes,' but I really had no idea. She could sense my hesitation and asked me to make her a rum punch on the spot. I grabbed every rum on the rail and threw in some juice and sour mix and garnished it with every piece of fruit I could find. Amazingly, she said it was good and that is how I got my first job bartending. After that, I fell in love with it and knew that it was the job that I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I think that bartending is the greatest profession on the planet. Sometimes it is hard because people can abuse alcohol. There have been instances when I had to cut off people who were my grandparents' age. As much as I lionize drinking culture, I recognize the need for moderation. 

"After Rocky's closed, I went to work at a number of different places and then studied to be a sommelier. In the end, I didn't love being a sommelier as much as I loved being a bartender. While I was still a sommelier, some friends and I started a speakeasy during our days off. Eventually, I came back into bartending when I got involved with The Gibson and eventually opened The Passengerwith my brother, Tom, and Paul Ruppert. When we opened this place, we wanted a bar that was of the District. We were tired of the mentality that D.C. is not good enough, so we thought there was no better way to show pride in the District than putting a D.C. flag on the door with a sign that says, 'God save the District.' We also wanted to incorporate local things, like half-smokes and rickeys.

"The rickey is actually D.C's native cocktail. The gin rickey may be the most popular rickey, but the bourbon rickey was the original, and it was invented at Shoomakers, which was on Pennsylvania Avenue, in 1893. It was described quite literally as a shit hole. One of the bartenders, George C. Williamson, was considered Washington's greatest bartender at the time. The Washington Post called him the 'King of Julep' makers and he invented the rickey. Every President visited Shoemakers except for Rutherford B. Hayes, who was dry. I went and made drinks for President Obama, but can you imagine that presidents actually used to go visit that guy to get a drink. It blows my mind. In his obituary, it said that Williamson likely had a hand in every political decision of the time, as Shoomakers was where all of the politicians and journalists hung out and talked about work. 

"Shoomakers eventually closed because of prohibition, which came to D.C. earlier than the rest of the country. Morris Sheppard, a senator from Texas, wanted to make an example of the District. D.C., now as then, drinks more per capita than any city in the country. Correspondingly, the indicators of drunkenness are 36th or 37th in the nation, which means that we can hold our alcohol." 

Derek Brown is the co-owner of The Passenger at 1021 7th Street Northwest.  He is also a regular contributor to The Atlantic.  

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

John aka Unique on Fighting Back

"I was born in Brooklyn and raised in Staten Island. The community that I lived in was overrun with crack cocaine. A lot of my friends got into selling drugs. I, personally, didn't think that was for me, and I went in the opposite direction. When I was eight years old, I joined the Young Marines. When I was older, I remember seeing the Guardian Angels in my neighborhood. I thought they were a gang because of how they looked. They were all wearing the same outfits and looked like gangsters. But I questioned them about what they were doing, and they told me they were out to be role models and help the community. 

"When I was 14, I joined the Guardian Angels. You needed to be 16 to join, but I lied about my age. I didn't have any brothers, only younger sisters, so it was nice to have all of these guys as older brothers to me. Every Angel has a code name. I always thought that John was too common. They call a man without a name John Doe. A toilet is a john. A man who picks up prostitutes is a john. I said that I needed something unique and that's where the name come from. 

"I came to D.C. 21 years ago, when I was 19. At that time, crack cocaine was terrible in the D.C. area. A lady in Bladensburg, Maryland, reached out to the Angels in New York and asked us to come help her keep the Mattapony Apartments safe. The police were outmanned and outgunned, and they heard about the good work that we were doing up in New York. I was just out of high school and offered to move. I came down to patrol the area, recruit people, and start the Guardian Angeles in the area. I had a couple of guys come down from New York occasionally to help me, but I basically did this by myself. It was my duty to stay here and help make the community safer. 

"My goal is to get as many young people involved and keep kids away from drugs and violence. The problem is that we are working against so much negative stuff on TV, in the rap videos, and on video games. Plus, so many young black men don't have black guys to look up to. We are working to be role models for these kids and bring the positive back to the neighborhoods. People want to do something to help their community. They just don't know how. We help provide positive options. We don't want to bring people from outside the community to fix things. We want the change to come from within, which is why we recruit people from the neighborhoods where we work. 

"The truth is that I haven't seen that much of a difference in crime since I got here. Statistics show that crime has dropped, but I personally don't see it. Obviously, it depends on where you are, but we are in Southeast now and people here don't feel safe. There are still murders and drugs on these streets. Years ago, if someone robbed a woman here, you would need the police to come and stop the community from beating the thief. Now, they don't call the police at all because they don't trust the police or because they've given up.

"People always say to me they don't have time to help. Come on, put down that XBox and come and help your community. Right now, I could be home relaxing, but I am here. I drive the Bolt Bus five days a week back-and-forth to New York and I still make time to patrol these streets. If we don't fight back, the criminals will take over."

John "Unique" Ayala is the Director for the D.C. Metropolitan area Guardian Angels.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Maxcine on the Michael Jackson House

"The first time I heard Michael Jackson was when Thriller came out. When I first saw the video, I was scared of him as I was just a child. But the more I saw Michael Jackson, I got mesmerized by him and his music. I couldn't believe that this kind of person existed. I bought every CD of his and have seen every performance of his on television. His music captures you and you just can't get enough of it. I never did try to dress like him, but you may catch me doing the moonwalk every once in a while. 

"I was in my sister's room when we learned that he died. I didn't believe it at first. I thought someone was playing a cruel joke on all of us. I just broke down and couldn't stop crying. How could this be? He had kids and a family and so much more to give the world. When he died, I felt like a part of me was gone, too. I wanted to do my part to honor his life and share his legacy with the city 

"I started by putting a picture of him on a chair in my yard. After that, my Mom and sister pitched in and started buying more things to add to the memorial. Other people started contributing as well, and now our house and yard is a shrine to him. People know us as the Michael Jackson house. We want to do our part for the city to keep his memory alive and let everyone know that D.C. loved him and his music. My mother and I are out here playing his music 24/7. We ask that people who come by the house to admire the memorial, dance like him or do something to pay tribute and keep his memory alive. 

"The one thing that I want people to know about Michael Jackson is that whatever you read about him, that was not him. He was the kind of person who would do anything and everything for everyone. For the media to paint him as a child molester is just wrong. His song Childhood says, 'Before you judge me, try hard to get to know me.' He wanted people to get to know him. I want people to know him as a kind and genuine good hearted person. I want D.C. and the world to know the true Michael Jackson." 

The Michael Jackson House is located at 922 8th Street Northeast. Watch Joy, Maxcine's eight year old nephew, dance like Michael in front of the house here.