Monday, November 30, 2009

Bobby on Going from Implementer of Policy to Policy Maker

"I joined the Army before September 11th. I wanted to help people who could not help themselves. This was the time of Kosovo, Haiti and Liberia. That was the original intent. After the whole September 11th thing, that changed. I don't necessarily agree with Iraq, but I feel like we have a commitment to the people there because of the war. That, I believe in.

"I work for the State Department now and am also in the Reserves. It is really eye opening having been the one on the ground as an implementer of policy and now I am working to make policy in D.C. My military background gives me added credibility and a perspective that many people here don't have. Being in this city gives me an amazing glimpse into how decisions are made that impact everyone, especially our troops around the world. I feel very fortunate to be a member of both the armed services and civil service."

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Maria on the Hardest Part about Coming Back to Washington

“My husband and I work for the State Department. We’ve been posted in Germany, Australia. Tanzania, Bolivia and Guatemala. This is our third tour back in Washington. My husband has had the career that makes us travel and I find something to do in those places, either at the Embassy or outside of the communities that we’ve lived in. I am a choreographer by training. I have tried to keep up with the dance community while traveling. I want to pursue it more now that I am in Washington. Every time I hear music, I can’t sit still. Music makes most people relax, but not me. I can’t relax, I instantly start thinking of choreographing movement to the music.

“We have four kids, all were born in Alexandria, Virginia, but raised around the world. The youngest two are seniors in high school so their essays for college involve living overseas and how it changed them positively. Their experience makes them look at America differently and appreciate what we have, but also what other countries have to offer us all. My kids all speak Spanish. When we were in Tanzania, they learned Swahili also. My strengths in languages are not so much in speaking, but in listening and reading. The more languages I learn, the more mixed up I get. I want to speak German and Spanish comes out!

“The hardest thing to get used to is when you are posted in a poorer economy and living in large home with a staff. I never had a ‘staff’ before, but as diplomats, you are encouraged to help the local economy. To be honest, we’ve had the best people in every place we’ve been. They become part of your family and help raise your kids. Not everyone feels the same way about it, but we came to really appreciate those relationships and it helped us appreciate the people and the country in the places we’ve lived so much more. It might sound elitist, but it is not like that. There is not much opportunity for people in these countries and working for diplomats is considered a great job. I have to say though that it is hard coming back here and realizing that I have to do the laundry or rake the leaves myself now! We were so spoiled living abroad.”

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Everett on Club Promotion

“I’m in club promotion right now. I used to be in records management, but my law firm got bought out by a bigger firm so right now, I am just doing my night club stuff. I promote for a company called Suite 202 and we throw parties at Lux on Fridays, Leila on Saturday’s and Lima on Sundays. These are mainly R&B and hip hop parties, but sometimes we have Carribean or Reggae music. You know how DC is a melting pot, we try and get everybody to our parties.

“In terms of the DC club scene, I’ve been doing this for eight years and I can say that it’s been changing up and down. A person who may not have come out before, is out all the time now because of so many different night life options in DC. I think that right now with the recession, you don’t see people out as much or spending as much money. But, we still try and get them out.

“When I’m not throwing my parties, I like to hang out at Lima, I go support other friends' parties at Josephine’s on Wednesdays, Shadow Room on Thursdays, we actually just did an event at the Donovan Room on the roof. I like to go to anything different that catches my eye. But usually, I like to lay back at Shelly's or Draper’s with a cigar. It just relaxes me so much. In the future, I’d love to open my own place, that’s the dream. I want the place to be catered around cigars. I love the clubs, but cigars are my life, too."

Friday, November 27, 2009

William on Making Trade Offs

“I’m originally from Dallas and first came to DC in 1987. When I finished graduate school, I was working for the Texas State Legislature. I came to DC for a convention and I was walking along in Dupont Circle and said to myself, 'This is a really nice place. This is a real city, not like Dallas which is so spread out. And, this is a place I ought to be.' I left the conference and went home and about two months later I left Dallas for DC. It was as easy as that. I just picked up and left.

"I had never had a feeling as strongly about anything before as I did for DC. I came here on Sunday, interviewed on Monday and found a place to live on Wednesday. I’m a government economist. The work is pretty much the same anywhere as I advise policy makers. Here in DC, most of the people I deal with actually want to do a good job and make things better. I get job offers all of the time, but I am not going anywhere. DC is the perfect place to live and retire. You have all of the museums and theaters and they're free. Again, DC is a great place to be. The weather here kind of sucks, but other than that I don’t miss much about Dallas. Being a plains boy, I do miss seeing the sun from twenty miles away, but you always have to make trade offs.”

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Nicole on the Last Remants of Italian Life on North Capitol Street

“I was born in France and came to the United States in 1960. I came because I had a sister who suffered a tragic accident. I ended up in Washington because I had a friend here. Thirty years ago, my husband and I bought the Catania bakery. Neither my husband nor I were bakers, but Grace Caruso, the former owner, taught me everything I know. For the last thirty years, we kept the place just as they did. We still make Italian breads using Grace’s recipes and deliver them daily around the District, Maryland and Virginia.

“You know, most of these old Italians can’t live without their bread. Many of them left the area, either died or went down south, but a few of them are still around. This place is the last remnant of Italian life on North Capitol Street. The Italians living around here and coming by are mostly older people. The newer Italian generation is more Americanized, but they will still come in on holidays to get some of our bread because they grew up eating our bread. We also do events with the Knights of Columbus, the Holy Rosary, Catholic Churches, and we used to do the bread for the big Italian convention in DC. Now, we also get a lot of Greek and Turkish customers who love the hard Italian breads, too, but not as many Italians.

“Back in 1932 when the Catania bakery opened, there were Italian stores everywhere here. This was an Italian neighborhood. Most of the community here was from Southern Italy. The Caruso family came from Nicolosi, which was at the base of Mt. Etna. Catania, the name of this bakery, is the name of a province in Sicily where the Caruso family is from. When the bakery opened, they used a wood burning oven and delivered bread door-to-door. Then, after World War II, they started delivering to restaurants. Around the same time, the neighborhood changed and it wasn’t Italian anymore. When we first bought the place, I never came at night because the neighborhood was so bad in the late 1970’s. It got better, but it is still a very dangerous place.

“We have children, but they are not involved with the bakery. Because of this area, my husband was not keen on having our children or grandchildren come here. We’ve had a number of robberies, some of them were big time robberies. My granddaughter used to come down and spend Saturday’s here with me ever since she was three-years-old. But, she was here during a robbery and her parents wouldn’t let her come down anymore. Now, I am here by myself. Danger is still here. But, we have been here for a long time and will stay. We are resilient. The neighborhood is getting better, but that doesn’t mean the bad elements are gone. At night, you wouldn’t want to walk around by yourself, but, the neighborhood is slowly changing. Now, on Saturday’s, I started making and selling croissants out of the bakery. That is my French addition to this place. Otherwise, it is and will remain Italian. You know, after all of this time here, I feel more Italian than French.”

The Catania Bakery
is located at 1404 North Capitol Street NW.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Carolina on La Clinica Del Pueblo

"I am originally from Honduras. I came to DC to do a Master Degree in Anthropology at American University. I am surprised to see so many Latinos here! It's nice. Now, I am volunteering with La Clinica Del Pueblo. We are doing outreach on the streets and trying to get people to go to the clinic for health testing. We provide testing for everything, but mostly blood pressure, HIV, and cholesterol. La Clinica also offers legal services to anyone in need of assistance, but as you can tell from the name, we target mostly immigrants.

"A lot of people are hesitant to get help because they don't have documents to be in this country legally. They are worried that if they seek help, they will be deported. La Clinica does not target that population, but they don't turn anyone away either. Even when I walk around and speak to people in Spanish, they are hesitant to talk to me because they don't have documents. But, I inform them that La Clinica protects everyone's privacy and provides assistance to all."

Support La Clinica Del Pueblo here. Read more about groups helping the Latino population in DC from Eliezr.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Twin on the Street Code

“I have a story that you won’t believe. I am telling you, this is all real. I got shot multiple times on the streets of Southeast DC in 2003. It started off with my twin sister, we’re identical, getting in an argument with a little boy, a juvenile. He was probably 13 or 14-years-old. He disrespected her and called her a bitch. This was not in our neighborhood where we know everyone, but out in Southeast. The next day, we went back around that neighborhood to go gambling. We saw the little boy again and he looked at us and told his friend, ‘Fuck them. Fuck the both of them.’

“My sister went back to go argue with the little boy. They had words and I told my sister to leave that little boy alone. When I said, “Little boy.’ he jumped up off the steps and said, “I’ll show you little boy!” He ran into the house and got a gun. When he did that, one of his friends said, ‘Boy, you just got that gun and you be pulling it on everyone.’ He turned on us with the gun, but one of his friends grabbed it and stopped him. I was like, man, how did this get so serious all of the sudden? I was mad. I was heated. I said, 'This ain’t gonna go down like this.' I mean, who the fuck this little boy think he is? That little boy could not just do that and disrespect us. My friend who I was with said, ‘Don’t sweat it. I have more than one gun at my house.’ I didn’t want to kill the little boy. I wanted to show him that he couldn’t do what he just did and think it’s ok. I mean, he did that shit to me and I didn’t want him to do it to someone else.

“I went back around the alley where the little boy hung out. He was sitting on a car, rolling a joint. His back was turned and I put the gun to his head. He was scared as shit and started apologizing, saying he had no beef with me and my sister. I told him to stay the fuck out of our way. I said, 'We don’t know you and you don’t know us. We don’t have no beef with you. I am just showing you how easy it is to get you, too. You just pulled a gun on us for no reason at all. I am teaching you a lesson.' I turned around and walked away. The next day, I went back to the neighborhood to meet a friend, not even thinking about the little boy because I was passed that. I was talking with some friends and I saw the little boy come out of the alley. It was 100 degrees and he was wearing a long coat with a hood on. He kept his hands in his pockets. I was like, “Oh my God. I know what he’s getting ready to do. I ain’t no fool.’

“The little boy was anxious. I knew he was going to shoot me so I started running down the alley. All of the time I thought he was shooting at me, he was actually shooting in me. I only starting feeling the bullets when I heard someone say, ‘That crazy ass nigger is shooting her.’ I was shot three times in my left forearm. When I finally fell over, he came over to me. I said, ‘Look, I don’t know you and I have no beef with you. You shot me three times. Just turn around and walk away and I’ll do the same.’ He kept looking at me and I knew that he was getting ready to shoot me in my fucking head. So, I turned around and ran and held my head in case he tried to hit me there. He shot me in the head, but he took off my finger instead. He also shot me in the thigh and then in my back, my L1 vertebrae. I thought he was never going to run out of bullets. Finally, he just ran away and my friends came to help me. I could not move. I was paralyzed.

“I went to Howard University hospital on May 9, but did not go to surgery until May 11. I had DC Alliance insurance, but they would not do surgery on me that night or the next day. They waited until Medicaid kicked in on May 11. Man, I stayed fucked up for two whole days because of medical insurance. When I finally got Medicaid, I went to surgery and got back feeling in my right toe. We were celebrating, but I still could not walk so I had to go to therapy. But, God is good. They said he can make the paralyzed walk again and I am prime example. I was so determined that I wasn’t going to live my life in a wheel chair. I went through a lot, but I can smile about it now. I am happy this happened to me and not my twin. She would not have survived because I am much stronger than she is.

"You know, when I was in the hospital, the police came by telling me they knew who done shot me and wanted me to ID him, but I didn't tell them nothing. I said it was a drive by. You know, street code. Turns out that the little boy and two of his friends went out to Anacostia after he shot me up and shot five people, including three women who were just hanging out. They got caught and the little boy got 77 years. Sometimes I think that those people would have still been here had I told on him, but you know the street code. Knowing what I know now, I can say that I would have told on him, but, in truth, I know that I wouldn’t snitch. I just look at it as what I won’t do someone else might do or God will take care of. I didn’t even think about telling the police. I wasn’t scared or nothing, I just didn’t want no one to tell on me if I was in the same situation. It’s been like that on these streets for a long time. Didn’t I tell you I had a story for your ass.”

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pasquale on Streets Paved with Money

"We came to this country for a better life. In Italy, we were poor and had few opportunities. I was born and raised near Messina in Sicily. We all believed that there was literally money on the streets in America. People would tell stories about how America was so rich that even new immigrants would be wealthy. When I came here with my family, we actually walked around the streets looking for money! We really believed that these streets would have money on them. The funniest thing is that one guy I knew actually found five dollars on the street once. That only built on the legend of what we all believed.

"But, life in this city was hard for immigrants and everyone had to get by somehow. I had an uncle who worked with some bootleggers to bring whiskey from DC to Ohio. He used to drive the empty car right behind the car filled with whiskey. Why, you ask? One time, the car full of whiskey was pulled over by the police. The police suspected something suspicious and brought the guys down to the station. While the guys were being questioned by the police, my uncle took all of the whiskey out of the seized car in the police parking lot and put it in his car. When the police came out to search the car, they couldn't find anything! It was genius.

"But, while this is a funny story, there was also the negative influence of the Mafia here. In Italy, people speak badly of Mussolini, but, before and after him, the Mafia paralyzed Italy. During his time, he took control of everything, including the Mafia. On our farm, the Mafia would steal from us constantly. We were always scared. But, during Mussolini's time, we could go to sleep knowing that our animals would still be there the next morning. Here, we could have taken some lessons from Mussolini on how to handle the Mafia during my early years in DC."

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Chad and Stephanie on Their Sunday Routine

Chad - “We love DC. We came here as students through Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and now we are staying on here, but in that DC temporary way. It’ll be DC and then hopefully someplace abroad and then back to DC and then back abroad and then back to DC. We met at SAIS in Bologna and now we are engaged. If two people are going to start dating, we highly recommend doing it in Bologna, Italy. If you can’t seal the deal in Bologna, there is no hope for you!"

Stephanie - "In looking for an apartment in DC, outdoor space was a huge priority for us. We moved here and the upstairs neighbors never used the outdoor space so we fixed up the garden and got some patio furniture. Our Sunday usually involves a late rise and sometimes pancakes. When we come out to our patio with pancakes, coffee and Gospel music playing, people will look at us and say, 'That’s exactly right' or 'Table for four please.' What’s so odd though is that all of our neighbors have outdoor patio space, but outside of Halloween, we never see anyone use them. They all have tables and chairs set up, but with no one using them."

Chad - "I am from New Orleans so we listen to WWOZ which is one of the radio stations from there. It is public heritage station and on Sunday there will be two hours of gospel music, two hours of bluegrass, two hours of Cajun music and then a theme show, like cowboys and Indians or songs about trains. To me, that is also an integral part of our Sunday. We go to the dog park, too, even though we don’t have a dog. I guess we have dog envy. The dog park is a huge contribution to our quality of life. Just being able to walk by and watch dogs and talk about one day having a dog is great."

Read more about Stooping from Kate.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Vyjayanthi on the Alternative, Liberal, Hippie Indian Crowd

“I grew up in Chicago and came to DC in 2007. As diverse as Chicago is, I don’t find that people mix as well there as they do in DC. It’s probably because people are so well traveled and open-minded here. People in DC are educated in the right ways I suppose. I’m South Indian. There is a nice Indian community here. People are really alternative and artsy which you don’t find in most places. Everywhere else, young Indians want to be doctors or engineers and get married to an Indian. Here, many of the Indians are painters or songwriter. I’ve never seen that before. It’s cool. The alternative, liberal, hippie Indian crowd really is a strong draw for me here.”

Friday, November 20, 2009

Mike and Zack on Holding Hands

Zack - "I am originally from Michigan and have been here for two months. We met through a friend. It was actually kind of a funny story. We were both set up to be with the same guy at a dinner party. It was a group of people at this table and I sat next to Mike and we connected better than the guy we were supposed to meet up with.  This was over a month ago."  

Mike - "See, he just moved here and he already bagged a boyfriend! I am coming to DC from a Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona. Living here has been a surprising, but comfortable transition. I have been here for four years now. I think it is normal that we walk around and hold hands. We are a couple and it shouldn't be any different than any other couple walking down the street." 

Zack - "I've got to say that there hasn't been any negative response at all to us being out as a couple in DC. In other cities, it can be different. When we went out to Luray Caverns in Virginia, we couldn't really do that. We got some looks. There is  a very different attitude there than in DC." 

Mike - "I don't think there is any mission or goal here.  We hold hands because we are comfortable with each other and no other reason."

Mike, left, is pictured with Zack.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Rebbie on Making Farmers Markets More Accessible

“Food stamps used to be physical stamps that people would use in supermarkets or farmers markets. A number of years ago, the government switched to an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) swipe card. While it seemed like a great idea, it largely removed farmers markets as an option for lower income people because the farmers markets did not have access to wireless terminals. In places like California, the government went out and bought wireless terminals for every single farmers market. That didn’t happen in DC. Because of that, a whole generation of food stamp recipients here doesn’t know that they can access farmers markets. When I took over the Mt. Pleasant Farmers Market two years ago and heard that we didn’t have that capability, I just went out and bought one out of pocket. Four other area markets got a grant from the city for wireless devices. Now, we have gone from zero to five markets where you can use an EBT card in the DC area. The wireless machine handles EBT, credit and debit cards and costs $1100 plus a $45 monthly charge. The hope is that the fee we charge people for debit cards usage will eventually pay off the cost of the machine. We don’t break even, but it is important that we have it.

“In terms of EBT outreach, this has been a real challenge for all of us at farmers markets. There has been a ton of EBT outreach in this city with very little success. Now, through Women, Infants and Children (WIC), there are food assistance coupons that can only be spent at farmers market. With WIC, DC residents went from spending zero dollars in 2003 to $32,000 a year at farmers markets. I think this is also due, in part, to word of mouth. I need to find some Malcolm Gladwell connector types and have them start spreading the word across DC and bringing their friends to farmers markets. Then, I think we will hit the tipping point with the EBT crowd as we did with WIC. We are putting up signs and doing outreach, but this is a real challenge everywhere, including New York City which has one of the most successful EBT programs in the country. Our numbers are not stellar. At this market, we have zero to two EBT transactions a week. But, we are trying.

“The thing with WIC money is that it is free money that you can only spend at a farmers market. If you don’t use it, it is gone. Whereas the EBT money can be spent at a grocery store. So, if you want to go and buy $80 of Top Ramen noodles, you can do that. While most products at farmers markets are more nutritious, it is a hard choice to make if you have a big, lower income family and need high calorie, inexpensive meals. But, what is hopefully coming this season is Councilmember Tommy Wells’ proposal to get $500,000 in matching funds for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients. The idea is to use $300,000 of that to match EBT money at area farmers markets. If you use $20 of EBT money here, I would give you another $20. Oddly enough, I didn’t ever think the problem would be how to give away $300,000. We don’t have the numbers right now to prove that there are $300,000 worth of sales. EBT customers still don’t know about or don’t want to come to farmers markets. I really want to spread the word to lower income people around the area and I don’t know how to do that yet."

Learn more about the Mt. Pleasant farmers market here. And, if you have suggestions on helping Rebbie and the Mt. Pleasant Farmers Market increase their outreach to lower income individuals, please provide ideas in the comments and/or contact them directly at

This post is part of a weekly series of People's District on the Prince of Petworth, check it out here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hilary and David on Living in the Capital of the World's Greatest Nation

Hilary - "As you can tell from our accents, we are English, but we have lived in DC for 17 years. We still feel a connection to England, mostly through reading the British news and drinking tea for breakfast. Those are probably the most obvious British things we do. Now, we feel very at home in DC. We really love it here. It is an easy city to fit into and feel comfortable. It also has a very different feel than London. I suppose if you come here for work, the life is similar. You get up and go to work, come home and then repeat. There are the same routines and chores wherever you are living, but life is easier here and the city is much more congenial. I used to regard it as something of a privilege to be driving to work across the Mall, looking at all of the monuments as I did my commute. And here I was in the capital of the world’s greatest nation. I felt a certain amount of privilege in being able to do that."

David - "We made a choice to live in the District and not to be suburbanites. When we moved to the U.S., we wanted to be in the capital city. Now, we live just beyond Georgetown and spend a lot of time walking in that area. Today, we wanted to explore other areas and ended up in Meridian Hill Park. We keep finding these wonderful hidden treasures in the city. We really feel close to this city."

Hilary - "You know, after all of this time in DC, we don’t believe we have an American accent. We have developed vocabulary and certain intonations which are more common to America. Also, we probably have a slightly different pace in the way that we speak so that people understand our British accents. Still, we don’t think our accents have changed, but our friends say that we do sound like Americans. The funniest story I remember was going back to the UK and telling my girlfriend, 'Let’s go shopping. I need some new pants.' She looked at me and said, "We, British, call them trousers.' I was so embarrassed!”

David - "At least you didn't confuse your knickers with underpants!"

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tanya on Her First Boss

I was born in DC, raised in Northwest and I moved to Ward Seven five years ago. I did my last year of high school at Dumbarton Senior High. From there, I started working for the DC government at 17. I will never forget it, I graduated on a Friday and I started work that Monday. I didn’t have a break. I started off as a time keeper at the Water Department for the city, right by Howard University campus. My sister, who is seven years older, was a supervisor there and helped me get a job. They had 12 open positions and two were for women and the rest were for men. The men were going to be meter readers and the women would be administrative staff.

“My sister became my supervisor and she was really strict with me. I wasn’t allowed to take any time off for two and a half years. But, she taught me to be grounded and never to be lazy. She was big on integrity. She pushed me to work hard and to be at work every day and on time. I'm telling you, she was really hard on me. I would come to work with headaches, but I had to be there and I had to perform like I didn’t have a headache. At work, I called her Ms. Lewis even though everyone knew we were sisters. She was my supervisor for two and a half years and then she got promoted. I was so happy when that happened because I love her, but I was tired of having her as my boss. We were living together, ate lunch together and even commuted together in the beginning until I got my own car. It was a lot!

“Since then, I worked with the Department of Public Works, the Police Department, the Department of Transportation, Metro, the City’s Administrator’s Office, and now the Department of the Treasury. I have learned so much about working and about myself in these jobs. I’ve also met my closest friends and my mentor working in these places. Now, I don’t know what a normal work day is. My friends may get off at six, but I won’t get off until eight or ten. When I get home, I spend as much time as my eyes and body will allow me to with my son. The big excitement is that we are preparing for his college. My son knows how hard I work and he understands that I am single Mom. He knows that I work so hard to support him. He knows that I work so hard so that we can survive."

Monday, November 16, 2009

Brother Amir on Mosque Number Four

“The history of Muslims in this area dates back to the 1730's. That was when the first person I found came through the Annapolis area. His name was Ayyub Bin Sulaiman Jallon. He was a scholar and could recite the Koran by memory. He got his freedom after three years of slavery. Another Muslim who came through this area in the 1770’s was Kunta Kinte. Many people don’t recognize that he was a Muslim.

“In the 1930’s, Elijah Muhammad moved into the DC area. There is a plaque on 9th Street that honors his presence in DC. He came here and built this mosque. In fact, this mosque was the fourth one built by the Nation of Islam and called Mosque Number Four, the first three were in Detroit, Chicago and Milwaukee. Before this mosque, people in the area practiced in homes. This place was built by donations. Even Malcolm X went around the country raising money for the mosque. Mosque Number Four played a crucial role in the growth of the Nation of Islam. Elijah Muhammad used this place as a springboard to carry his message up and down the eastern seaboard. Many of the members here became leaders of mosques around the country in Baltimore, New York, Richmond and Philadelphia.

"We have had a number of prominent members in our community including the first openly Muslim woman to work in the White House. She worked with the Johnson, Nixon and Carter administrations. Out of this Community also comes the first Muslim chaplain to the U.S. Army. We also have one of the earliest judges, Judge Hassan, who is out in Prince George's County. Our imam, Imam Yusuf, was the only imam to open both the House and the Senate with prayer. He is also a police chaplain. We also have a lot members involved in civic duties like police officers, firemen, and doctors.

"In the early days, we, as members of the Nation of Islam, did not want to participate in America. But, since 1975, awareness opened for us and by us to get involved in all facets of America. The mosque does a lot of interfaith work to create a dialogue with other religious communities. We were actually one of the first to do that. We also do outreach to boy scouts, girl scouts and cub scouts. We reach out to youth to get them involved and develop a sense of worth and identity. Another program is working with Muslim veterans. We have a prison service program to help people with reentry into society after incarceration. We also do outreach programs to the community and events to share the history of Muslims in America. DC is a great place because of the diversity. As Elijah Muhammad said, 'We have friendships in all walks of life.' That is a reality here."

Brother Amir is a historian and author and president of Collections and Stories of American Muslims. Learn more about Masjid Muhammad (Mosque Number Four) here.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

George, Michael, Cliff, Johnny, Eugene and Frank on Growing Up

Michael - "I'm 11 and in sixth grade at Jefferson. My favorite part of DC is how you can light fireworks here. I don’t like how you need a license and a helmet to ride dirt bikes though. Come on man, I am good enough to ride around these streets. Why I be needing a license? I want to be a football player when I grow up."

George - “I'm 12 and in sixth grade at Jefferson. I just love my neighborhood, Capers. I don’t like the fighting though. It’s bad and there is a lot of it here. Lots of bullies, too. I was thinking of being a, like, lawyer or businessman or something when I grow up. I have a girlfriend. Her name is Nakim. I love her and she loves me.”

Cliff - “I'm 14 and in eight grade at Jefferson. I like the sports in DC. I am best at football. I play safety for my school team. I don’t like the harassment from police in DC. They harass little kids now too because they think we be doing dumb stuff. Just last week, they be harassing me and putting me in handcuffs and checking my pockets. Then, they pushed me and called me a 'b.' You know, a bitch. The cops are usually in my neighborhood harassing the big people, but now they coming for us. I want to be a firefighter in Washington when I grow up."

Johnny - “I'm 13 and in the seventh grade at Jefferson. I like the football here, but I will always be a Cowboys fan because they good. Cowboys all day man. I don’t like all the gun violence. There ain’t as much violence as there was because the police come around now more often. I know someone who died from guns around here. I want to be a criminal lawyer when I grow up."

Frank - "I'm 13 and in eight grade at Hamilton. DC is good. I don’t like some of the people though because they mean and be bullies. I want to be a firefighter in Washington when I grow up.”

Eugene, - "I'm 14 and in eighth grade at Jefferson. Nothing I don’t like about Washington. I like everything about it. I even like school, too. My favorite subject is math. When I grow up, I might be a movie star or a football player."

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Jorge on Becoming George

"I was born Jorge, but I became George in fourth grade when I had my first white teacher. He looked at my name and decided to call me George because it was easier for him. Now, everyone calls me George, except for my family. After all this time, I feel like I am more of a George than a Jorge.

“I grew up in Columbia Heights. My parents are from El Salvador. They came to the area 22 years ago and have lived in Columbia Heights for 14 years. They came to DC for a better life. My Dad gave up a small business in El Salvador to come here. My Mom was poor in El Salvador and came here to make some money for her family and then go back home. But, my parents met here and they decided to stay.

“Growing up in both environments was great. As a kid, my friends were all kids whose parents knew my parents in El Salvador. These families created their own El Salvadorean network here in DC. My English only started to pick up later in my childhood as I was only surrounded by Spanish as a child. At home, we speak Spanish. Now, I do my English thing when I am out here with my friends. But, at the house, it is always Spanish. My parents are really strict about that.

“The last time I went to El Salvador was 18 years ago. The whole territorial gang violence down there is really hectic so I haven’t been in a long time. So, I don’t really feel a connection to the land of El Salvador, but I do feel a connection to the people and culture. See, I did the whole public school thing in DC which was tough. Fortunately, I went to a charter school for high school. As I was the only Spanish speaking kid there, it made me feel more Latin because I had to represent. That experience really helped to shape my identity."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Amy on Storytelling

“I am third generation DC. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a comedian. My idol was Carol Burnett. I did improv for a while with Washington Improv Theater and taught a couple of courses there. One night, I ended up going to see the Washington Storytellers Theater, that is what SpeakeasyDC used to be called. The event was an open mic storytelling night. It seemed quirky and the perfect thing for what I was interested in. There was a smattering of people and a mix of stories. My roommate noticed that I was going to the open mic nights a lot and saw that they were looking for a program assistant so she suggested I apply. I took the job and hated it at first, but now I love it.

DC's one of the biggest theater towns, but the city mostly puts on plays. Whereas in New York, Chicago and LA, there is more experimental and smaller theaters for people to do whatever the hell they want. So, I think that the bar is high to get on stage in DC between the artist and non-artist. You are either a consumer or a creator. Storytelling, the way that we do it, shrinks that gap. Any person who walks in off the street can tell a story. We will help them do it. I can’t tell you how many people come over and thank us for helping them explore their artistic side. All day, they are in a government office or a contract lawyer looking at documents and this is one of the only creative outlets that they have found. It is not the only one available of course, but everyone has stories. We help people here share those stories.

"My DC story that I like to tell on stage is about being different. I was working in a miserable cubicle downtown. It was draining my soul and I was trying to figure out what to do. I would spoon confectioners sugar from the box just to keep alive. I walked out one day and saw this tall guy in pink spandex with yellow headphones running backwards while spinning around and screaming as he ran into oncoming traffic. I was like, 'Oh my God, that guy is crazy. I want to be crazy like that, too!' I was in a suit and pumps and I was frozen watching this guy thinking, how can I be that guy. This cop came over to me and said, 'Yeah, that's Cedric. He's as sane as you and me. He's an accountant.' See, that's good crazy, someone who doesn't care and just does what he wants to. I was going to put on pink spandex and meet him one day, but there is no way that I could keep up. The moral of the story is that he makes that choice to be himself here. He is unafraid of looking like a crazy person in the heart of downtown DC by doing what makes him happy. At that time, I was walking around DC in a constant cubicle. That guy really inspired me to pursue what I wanted to do and be more crazy in my life."

Find out more information about telling a story, hearing a story and learning about storytelling through SpeakeasyDC here.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Al on Honor Flight

"Honor Flight is an organization that flies World War II veterans to DC from all over the country free of charge. The program started in 2004 when the World War II Memorial was finally dedicated. There are now about two million living American veterans of that war. Every year, we bring about twenty thousand of them to DC. Flights come to DC just about every week, mostly on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The guys and their families spend about an hour-and-a-half at this memorial and then they can see the rest of the Mall. At the end of the day, they fly back home. For many of these people, it is their first time in DC.

"The memorial took so long to build because when these guys came home from the war, they just went to work. They were not rallying for recognition. And it wasn't until 1987 when a real discussion on the memorial got started. If you are from Washington, you know how Washington works. They started talking about the memorial in 1987 and it took until 1995 to select this place. They then fought over this place for six years for a number of reasons. They said it interfered with location of Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream' speech. Also, because this location is on a flood plain. Another reason was that it blocked the view between the Lincoln and the Washington Monuments.

"But, in 2001, guys like Senator Dole said, 'Enough! World War II veterans are dying at 1,000 a day. Let's build the damn thing.' That's how it started. They then raised $195 million and spent $180 million to build it. It was very little federal money and mostly private money from veterans, schools having bake sales and other sources. That is how it got built in 2004.

"On a good Saturday, we will bring in 1,000 World War II vets to the memorial. It is very emotional for me to talk with these guys as I am a Vietnam vet. While we served in different periods, we speak the same language. And one thing we all have in common, whether it is with the World War II guys or the guys returning now from Iraq, is that there is the right way to do things, the wrong way to do things and the Army way to do things!"

Read more about and support Honor Flight here.

Matt Irwin and I conducted this interview.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sam on the Audacity of Hops

"I grew up outside of Burlington, Vermont. When I was 19, I tried to convince my Dad to let me use his home beer brewing kit, but he said I was too young. Then, when I was 20, I bugged him again and he finally took it out and we brewed a brown ale together. In college, I grew to like beer more and brewed a new batch every couple of months for me and my friends. But, I really fell in love with beer when I moved to DC.

"I bought equipment down here and started making regular batches. DC is a political place and I like to make theme beers. You know, beer names are full of puns, that is why people like beer so much. I wanted to throw an election party and brew a cleverly named, themed beer. Four or five months before the election, which is probably more time than I spent preparing anything, including my senior thesis at college, I created the Audacity of Hops. I used victory malt and progress hops and coffee from Hawaii, Kenya, and Indonesia, which are Obama's three homelands. It was 8% alcohol and made of half-light and half-dark malt. It was a very thought-out process. The election came and the party went over really well. People loved it and
The City Paper even wrote about it. You know, I didn't have a contingency plan had McCain won. I could have made a McCain beer I guess, but it would have been bitter, old, and dusty!

"For inauguration, I had another party and made 200 numbered Audacity of Hops beers. That was the most beers I had ever made in my life. I even kept a bottle of Audacity of Hops for the President. It is numbered 50 for the great State of Hawaii. I have tried to get it to him on a number of occasions, but I don't know if it's going to happen. But, if the President ever wants it, even when he is no longer the President and just some dude living down the street and he wants to have a beer, it will always be waiting for him.

"Seeing and being involved with the beer culture in this city got me thinking about starting a brewery. One of my biggest questions is why there is not a real functioning DC microbrewery. Other major cities have multiple local breweries. Seeing the success of the Audacity of Hops and the success of my regular beer-tasting nights with friends, it is clear that people love beer here. But, the most local brew you can get here is from Delaware and Virginia.

"It has been 25 years since there was a microbrewery in the area. Before the Kennedy Center was built, that land once belonged to the Heurich brewery, built by a German immigrant in the 19th century. But, sometime in the 50's or 60's, he started contract brewing up in New York. That was really the last bottling brewery in DC. I would love to buy a DC beer that is brewed with DC water and takes pride in being from

This post is part of a weekly series of People's District on the Prince of Petworth, check it out here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Maryam on Being Persian

"I grew up in Boston and came here four years ago to do my LL.M degree after finishing law school in England. I have always liked the diversity of DC as it exists on so many levels. Culturally, you have all different kinds of people interacting here every day. Work wise, you have a lot of people coming here to do what they truly love whether it's non-profit, a law firm or the different development banks. Geographically, you have a city feeling, but five minutes down the road you can take out a paddle boat for the day or head out for a hike. Whatever you are in the mood for, DC has to offer. There is a great energy here and people are nice and undiscriminating.

"Ethnically for me, being Persian, people are knowledgeable or keen to being knowledgeable about my background and where I am from. Other cities I've lived in, being Persian intrigues people, but more in an ignorant way. I find that interest really refreshing here. There is a huge Persian community in the area, mostly in Virginia and Maryland. What is nice about this Persian community is that is so young and vibrant. Here, people are very proud to be Persian. They are excited to host Persian events and bring Persian culture forward. Most of the Persians around here are very liberal and open minded and not stuck in that old world mentality, but keen to promote being Persian for what that means for the food, culture, and music. And, you see those elements all throughout the area."

Monday, November 9, 2009

Cynthia and Scott on Raising a City Girl

Scott - "This is Sabine. She is named after a river in Texas. My family crossed that river over a hundred years ago. Cynthia listened to a Lyle Lovett song, the Texas River Song, and heard the word Sabine and we decided that it would be a beautiful name for our baby. Sabine's a DC girl. However, when she was born, we had some Texas soil sent up and lay it under her so we could say she was born on Texas soil as well. I really love it here and wouldn't want to move out of the city, unless we go back to Texas."

Cynthia - "She's only three-months old, so we are still getting the hang of this whole parenting thing. You know, you have to think ahead for everything, stroller or babybjorn, always decisions to be made. It is very cool to think about raising her here. I would love to raise her in DC, but there are lots of trade-offs, especially when it comes to schools and voting. As you know, the public schools here are not great. And, I need to say that having a kid makes me angrier about DC not having a vote. I have gotten more galvanized about the issue. It seems so much more appropriate now with a child that we be able to represent ourselves. When we were living together before I was pregnant, we didn't really pay as much attention to all of the little things and seemingly minor risks. But, once you have a kid, you worry more about everything, especially crime. With Sabine, I get a little more cagey around people. So, there is a give and take, but it is awesome here and when I think of moving to the DC suburbs, it gives me the hives. There is an instant community in this city. It is not like we are living on an acre of land completely disconnected from our neighbors. And, kids who grow up in DC have so much more moxy from such an early age. In this city, age three is the new age five. That's a little bit scary, but it will be nice that our city girl will be more savvy than her suburban friends."

Scott - "Yeah, that whole grow-up-faster thing, not so exciting for me as the Dad of a girl."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Dawit on Teaching Eritrean Youth about Their Forefathers

“One of the values of Eritrean culture is that we don’t really speak a lot about ourselves, but about our collective effort. We don’t really believe that anyone has achieved anything based on his own efforts; it is all about the collective effort. Eritreans are very resilient and hard working. We strive to do the best in life. That is what I am trying to teach our youth.

“Our main goal in the Youth Center at the Eritrean Cultural and Civic Center is to make sure that the newer generation maintains the culture, history and values of their ancestors. Young people need to feel comfortable in their new home, the United States, but they also need to know their forefathers history.These are tomorrow’s leaders and they need to be ambassadors between Eritrea and the United States. We have several programs: language and history courses and leadership development. We want to empower Eritrean youth to be responsible citizens.

“There is a substantial Eritrean population in DC. One thing that we can see that happens here is that those who come and stay within their community and stay true to their values, tend to be very successful in their personal life. They are more positive citizens to both Eritrea and the United States. This is because kids need to know where they come from and who they are. It teaches them to respect their elders and respect humanity.

“The majority of the Eritrean youth are doing well in life and in their studies. But, some of the youth have drifted away from the core values of our culture and pick up the negative aspects of the youth culture. You don’t see Eritrean youth engaged in destructive behavior, at least that I know. Eritreans look out for each other and take responsibility for our own kids and our community’s kids. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, but some of the challenges you see mostly arise from cross-generational, cross-cultural differences between parents and children. These are the things that we try and address."

Dawit, right, is seated with friends at the Eritrean Cultural and Civic Center at 600 L St. NW.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Tyrone on Living in a Young City

 “I came up on East Capitol Street.  The main thing about DC is that it is constantly evolving.  It is always reinventing itself.  There was a time when it was a small country town.  It is a young city now, not a sleepy little old town anymore. These days, DC is more of a young person's place.  Maybe I say that because I am getting older! Even when I go to the restaurants now, they are always full of young people.  It always seems to be the twenty-something crowd running the show.  The city is so young and energetic which is a nice change from when I was coming up here.  But, I have always been young and energetic, so it is nice to see things finally catching up with me!”  

Friday, November 6, 2009

Barry on His Characterization of Ben Franklin

"I don't consider myself anything more than a recent student of history. My first entree into reenactment was as a colonial soldier. My son who studies history suggested that I give it a try. I did and really liked it. I learned how to soldier and fire a musket, it was quite fun. A couple of years ago, I injured by back and could not do maneuvers with the regiment. Instead, I sat by the campfire in my colonial outfit with my hair pulled back. People would come over to me as say, 'Hi, Ben.' They wouldn't say, 'Who are you or what are you?' It was always, 'Hi, Ben.' So, I ended up getting a new outfit made for me as Ben Franklin. When I am in a crowd, people don't mistake me for anyone else.

"DC wasn't here at the time of Franklin. But, it is a fascinating place because it is the nexus of the political nodes of this nation, just as Philadelphia was during Franklin's time. That makes this a very special place and Franklin would have loved it, simply because of all of the different people from different walks of life that DC attracts.

"Franklin was a thinker. He was outspoken. Today, we say he was outside of the box, but the box didn't really exist at that time. He understood people and how things worked and was able to work within those parameters to build a new and exciting country for all Americans. As Ben Franklin, I want to impart these lessons to those in the DC area. I visit schools and do events at lunches, dinners and restaurants. I did a bit in Paris as Franklin in French, just as he did when he went there in 1776.

"What is fascinating for me is that Franklin unselfishly pursed his goals. He did not set profit as his goal ever, yet he was still successful and made money. He worked for the public cause, not private gain, which is so interesting in light of today's political environment. These are important lessons for everyone, especially our politicians today."

Learn more about Barry's characterization of Ben Franklin here.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Rose on Being Where She Wants to Be

“I can recall when they had dirt roads going up and down Martin Luther King Avenue. At that time, it was known as Nichols Avenue. This was many, many years ago. They had ice trucks and watermelon trucks and fish trucks driving up and down these streets. It was wonderful. It is still wonderful. There is a lot to see over here in Anacostia. People should come and visit. Anacostia is a historic part of Washington, DC. And, Frederick Douglass is over here, too. Come over here and see him and get some history out of this old neighborhood.

"All of my life, I have lived in Anacostia and I couldn’t live nowhere else. This is my home. I raised my family here. I met my husband here. I met him at the top of the hill on Mars Road, near Fort Stanton. We are still together after 50 long years. See, this is my homeland over here. This is where I want to be. I don’t really leave here because this is my love. I love the neighborhood and community. They are so supportive. This is where I will be for the rest of my life.

"Now, I own Maple View Deli and Catering. This place used to be the old Miles Long sandwich shop, home of Pearl, the Miles Long sandwich girl. Our signature dishes are the Maple View cheeseburger and fish and cheese on a bun. But, you also got to try our macaroni and cheese."

Go visit Rose and try the macaroni and cheese at Maple View Deli at 1208 Maple View Place SE.

Rose, in orange, is pictured with Little Joe, Daron, Kristen, and Yvette.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Theresa on Moving Back to DC for Her Son

“I moved to Capitol Hill when I graduated from college. I loved it here. It was so exciting. But, I got married and had kids and moved to the big house in the suburbs of Annapolis. It was in one of these Mysteria Lane type neighborhoods. My husband and I raised the kids there, but I was always yearning to come back.

“When my second son decided that he loved music and wanted to go to the Duke Ellington School for the Arts in Georgetown, he commuted for two years from Annapolis. It was one and a half hours each way. That is how much he loved the school. After two years of that, we decided to get an apartment in Capitol Hill and eventually bought a house here not far from my first apartment in Capitol Hill.

“Another thing is that my son is gay and so, the city is so much nicer for him. It is so much friendlier and more accepting. This is where he needs to be. I think that’s what makes us the most happy here, too. Here, our neighbors are a gay couple with a child. So, my son feels very at home and more himself.

“We initially came for our son, but stayed for us. We love our Saturdays here. We walk the dog, go to Eastern Market, sit at Marvelous Market with a coffee and watch the parade of people. It is a great place to be. We had nothing like that in Annapolis as we had to drive everywhere. Annapolis is such a different lifestyle. My husband is not a big city guy, but he is starting to like it here now."

Theresa is pictured with Tilly.