Thursday, December 31, 2009

Yuquira on Being Outside and Getting Dirty

“I’m from Nicaragua. I’ve been in D.C. for five years and go to Wilson High School. When I came here, I didn’t speak any English. I was afraid of speaking the language and am pretty shy. Fortunately, I live in Mount Pleasant and there are a lot of Spanish speakers, which made it an easier transition for me. Growing up in a Nicaraguan household is nice because I get to live in both places. Home is like Nicaragua and then I step outside to D.C. and eat pizza with my American friends. Living in D.C. is nice because so many kids are diverse and have parents from other places.

"My parents raised me like they were raised. My mother is really strict with my curfew. She does not let me come home at eleven like my friends. I need to be home at seven or eight. When I get older, I don't think I will be as strict, but I want my kids to know where I came from and the way I grew up. When I was little, I used to have a wheel and a stick and would roll it down the street. It's such a simple joy and people don’t do that here. Here, you just go to play video games or hang out at a mall. That is not fun. You need to be outside and get dirty. That is real fun."

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Assistant Secretary Dan Tangherlini on Focusing on Outcomes

“I grew up in Auburn, Massachusetts. In 1991, I came to D.C. after graduate school as a Presidential Management Intern with the Office of Management and Budget. I thought that I would work here for a few years and then go back to Massachusetts. The longer I stayed, though, the more deeply routed I became. I met my wife here. We bought and renovated a house on Capitol Hill. We started a family here. Any notion of leaving got increasingly distant with time.

“Somewhere along the way, I got interested in this city itself and how to make it better. When Anthony Williams was appointed Chief Financial Officer for Washington, I was offered an opportunity to be a detailee in his office from my position in the U.S. Department of Transportation. When Mr. Williams became mayor, he asked if I would serve as CFO of the Police Department. Chief Ramsey had just come in from Chicago. There seemed to be so many exciting things going on at that time. With the Police Department, we were working on issues no less important than the safety of the citizens living in the nation’s capital. Still, I had no intention of staying with the city for longer than a few years. But, from the Police Department, I went to the D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT), then Metro, and then became the City Administrator and Deputy Mayor. Now, I am back in the federal government as Treasury’s Assistant Secretary for Management, Chief Financial Officer, and Chief Performance Officer.

“One of the great stories from my time in the city is of the Circulator bus. Someone once described me as the father of the Circulator. I think that is an unfair description. There were so many people who had been working on this idea for a long time. There was the Museum Bus that cropped up in the 80’s then died, and the Blue Bus started by Ginger Latham, and the Georgetown Bid. The Blue Bus connected Georgetown and Dupont Circle. I mean, can you imagine two cooler destinations to go to and from? What was fascinating was that the bus served primarily workers in Georgetown. For them, the bus was a huge bonus because parking in Georgetown can be a nightmare and the transit connections can be unreliable. I used to joke that the bus schedule is a list of times that the bus will not come. This shuttle made it easy for people to get to work. The Blue Bus made it clear that there was a market for similar bus routes.

“At DDOT, we shifted our mentality from roads and moving goods and people to connecting places. The Circulator fit beautifully into that and Mayor Williams was a huge supporter of the idea, as were Councilmembers Jack Evans, Tommy Wells, Jim Graham, and others. Councilmember Carol Schwartz gave me a year to make it work. We found these beautiful Van Hool buses with big windows and three doors in Oakland that the city didn’t have the money to operate. We found some cash from an old settlement related to when trolley prices went from 5 to 10 cents and a bunch of riders sued and won the old assets of the Capital Transit Company. That money had been put in a bank and was sitting there for about 30 years. The only thing that money could be used for was bus service in the District of Columbia. We used that $11 million to buy 29 buses. “The Circulator was what we called the project. We had focus groups to name the bus and tried things like the Go D.C., or D See, or one route would be Zip and the other Zap. Overwhelmingly, much to the horror of the brand people we brought in, people voted for the Circulator. They said, ‘But it is so bureaucratic.’ But, this is Washington and the answers people gave for why they liked the name Circulator was that it described what it does.

“People who had never ridden buses before were riding the Circulator. Polls showed that people liked that it came frequently and started and ended in places that people recognized. It was a model of what bus service could be. Since then, Metro went on to build some of their express routes and bring on much cooler-looking bus equipment. They also started NextBus to inform people about bus schedules, so people would have more faith in the bus system. Finding those ideas that are already sitting there like the Circulator and implementing them and finding ways of making things that people take for granted more interesting, those are the projects that I love working on.

“My time in the city was one adventure after another. The great thing about the city is that you need to deliver services every day. There is an old joke in municipal governance that a mayor runs for office every day because someone’s garbage needs to get picked up or someone needs to respond to a 911 call. That really focuses you and shows you that it is all about the outcomes and service delivery to the taxpayer. Trying to bring some of that focus to outcomes and the need for speed is what I am trying to bring to the federal government now.

"While I work for the Treasury, I will always stay connected with D.C. I still have so many friends who work for the city. People still stop me all the time to ask what I think about this and that. I just can’t not share my views. My life is here. My family is here. There is no way I could remove myself from D.C. life short of moving to Alaska. Even if I did that, I think that people would still call me there to see what I think about things happening here.”

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Jason on the Old Post Office

"I have been working as a park ranger in D.C. for four years. I used to be a teacher and feel like this job allows me to teach and be outside at the same time. I grew up around the Park Service as my father works for them. This job is great as it is a progressive education on this city. They give us a lot of research time to learn about buildings and the city. During my four years, I have worked at the Washington Monument, Jefferson, Lincoln, Vietnam, FDR, and Korean War Memorials. Now, I split my time on the Mall and the Old Post Office Tower at 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue. 

"The Old Post Office was built from 1892 - 1899 as an urban renewal project. It was constructed as both a post office as well as the Postal Department's National Headquarters. This area was once known as Hookers Bay. Hookers Division stayed here during the Civil War and that brought a lot of prostitution and alcoholism. In addition, the canal connecting the Capitol to the Potomac River, used to construct the Capitol Building, had become stagnant and disease infested. The government built this beautiful building to try and bring up this part of town. The style is called Richardsonian Romanesque. It is based on the work of H.H. Richardson who is known as the first major American architect. This building is almost an exact replica of the Allegheny Courthouse in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which Richardson thought was his best piece of work. So, D.C. has a replica of one of the most important pieces of early American architecture. 

"However, when it was completed, people didn't like this building because the Richardsonian style was then about twenty years out of date. People used to call this the old tooth. They also thought it was too decadent and an example of government waste. It was not as functional as many people would have liked. Because of that, the building was almost destroyed in the 1930's, but because of the Great Depression the government couldn't afford to tear it down. It stood for about forty years during which time the FBI used it as a D.C. field office as did some other government agencies.  

"By the 1970's, it had really fallen into disrepair. At that point, they were going to tear it down as originally planned, but Nancy Hanks who was the head of the National Endowment for the Arts convinced Congress to save the building as a historic landmark. It was renovated in 1983. Now, it houses the offices for the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation and some other government agencies. It also became the first building in D.C. to serve the three functions of housing government offices, supporting a commercial area and food court and being a tourist destination staffed by the Parks Service." 

Learn more about the Old Post Office here. When not working as a park ranger, Jason plays in the band Sun Committee. Check them out here

Monday, December 28, 2009

Cory on Bringing More Character to D.C. Design

“I started working as a designer right after graduating from the University of California at Santa Barbara. With time, I got tired of my boss and Santa Barbara and quit my job on September 10, 2001. That made the next day all the more tragic for me. I was in limbo for almost a year and ended up getting into the design program at the Corcoran in D.C. I packed up my truck and drove cross-country in about five days. When I got here, I was totally out of my element. It took me a good while to adjust because people have such a different mentality on the East Coast. People were so tied in to their professions and ambition here in a way that I did not experience on the West Coast. To this day, that singular focus on profession gets to me because I feel like people here are not present and can’t appreciate the little things. But, that sense of ambition is something that I absorbed and apply to my work in design. After graduating from the Corcoran, I started working at the Affinity Lab in September 2005. The lab is the perfect combination of everything I love about back home and here. 

"People always ask me, ‘You moved here from California!?’ They’re confused, but I say that I have never felt more at home anyplace else. There is a sense of history here. California is so easy and beautiful, but this 
place has edge and challenges you. I am always looking to position myself in a place where I am being pushed. You go to Philly, New York or Chicago and you know what those places taste like. D.C. tastes like poi, it’s flavorless and goes well with certain things. Being here, you are pushed to find those certain things, which makes you appreciate them so much more when you find them.

"One unfortunate thing about D.C. is that there is not much inspirational design. I always feel like D.C. maintains a support system for the mundane. I don’t get to experience a lot of visually challenging things there. There haven’t been enough people here focused on pushing the boundaries. Most people who come here have one focus: how to find fame, fortune or notoriety in politics and business. When you are going for those traditional professions and you don’t have something that supports experimentation, you don’t get really intriguing cultural elements. We need to create more what the fuck is this moments with design in D.C! Everything is too conventional. D.C. needs more character big-time. A lot of the character traditionally comes from the historical communities in cities. Sadly, many of those communities have been pushed out or are under-appreciated by those who come with a singular focus. Through my design, I am trying to bring more of that here."

See Cory's work

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Curtis on Push Ups for the President

“I’m 48, the same age as the President. I started doing push ups in front of the White House when the Obama’s got here. That was a monumental day, a historic moment, for everyone. It really inspired me to become active. Before this, I was a couch potato and bookworm. Now, I come out six days a week. I don't do seven because the Lord tells us to rest on one of those days.

"Since the White House and Obama are now on the world’s stage, I decided to start doing my work outs on that stage. It's my contribution to myself and the President. If you go to a gym, you see people who go all out and hard and get crazy. I don’t do that. I go steady and easy, kind of like a politician, you know what I am saying. But still, I be out here knocking down sets of push ups like I'm bowling. I just pump out as many as I can. When I am not here, I work as a public servant.”

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Carrie on Covering the Emissions Markets

“I’ve been in D.C. for five years. I first came here to intern for a now defunct non-profit organization. Living here is a huge transition from Kentucky, where I grew up. I have definitely had all of the things that can happen to you in city life, both the good and the bad. But, coming to D.C. was one of the best things that I ever did, as I met some of my best friends here.

"Now, I am the editor of a daily publication that covers emissions markets. My work is relevant to D.C. because the emissions markets exist because the Environmental Protection Agency wrote a regulation that puts a cap on emissions. Because of that, utilities and industries can trade emissions amongst themselves to control their outputs. To cover these markets, you have to be in D.C. I spend my days around the policy makers who created and regulate that market. I write about how utilities are working within the regulations and about those that are in trouble for not complying. With time, a lot more people have been interested in what I do. When I started, I was just covering emissions markets that no one really cared about, but now people are really interested in greenhouse gases and how to cut their emissions into the environment. Because of that, our publication has become much more profitable.

"While people were hopeful about Copenhagen, the talks didn’t really do anything. No one came to any kind of agreement. What keeps me optimistic is the electric utility industry and places like D.C. that strive to be green. Compared to cities in the U.S., D.C. is a green city. Compared to international cities, I am not so sure. We still have a ways to go."

Friday, December 25, 2009

Jerry on His First Christmas Home Since 1998

“This is my first Christmas home since 1998. I am ecstatic. I was released from prison on October 16th of this year after being incarcerated at the Coleman United States Penitentiary in Daytona, Florida for ten years. I was locked up for manufacturing, distributing and possessing with intent to distribute drugs. They caught us with three kilos of coke, five pounds of weed and six guns. I never meant to get in so serious. I was just caught up with all of the money. We talking hundreds of thousands of dollars. That is hard to walk away from. I mean, I was just a simple kid from D.C. when all of this went down. I don’t think that all people who are incarcerated are bad people, I just think they made bad choices like I did. 

"I thank God that I am no longer on the other side of the fence. First thing that I did when I got out of prison was say, ‘Thank you God.’ After that, I went to Target and applied for a stock job. The lady said, ‘You need to apply online'. I’m like, 'I am the only one in the line right now. What are you talking about?' She said, ‘No, you need to apply online, not get on line to apply.’ I was computer illiterate so I had no idea what she was talking about. 

"I came back to D.C. because this is the only place that I am familiar with. Being away for so long, D.C. seems brand new to me. I feel like a stranger in my own community. People have moved out or died who I was affiliated with. I feel like I am in a new town or something. I am just trying to make the adjustments - the mental and social adjustments - that are necessary for me to survive and remain law abiding. That is my first goal, to not break the law anymore and to be successful and productive. 

"Now, I feel the love of Christmas all around me. People are very warm around this time of the year. Even if I don’t have any family here, I now get a chance to make a family with new people I meet here. On my first Christmas back, I am just going to eat a lot of turkey and ham. I will still be among strangers at dinner, but at least I will be free. In prison, for Christmas we got a stocking with a writing pad, some candy canes and peanuts. That’s what they give you each year. I thank God for the liberties that I didn’t have before. This is a very special Christmas for me."

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Devil on His Father's Shadow

"My Mom’s Puerto Rican and my Dad is from Trinidad. My Mom was in the army and my Dad is an artist, so I was an Army brat growing up. I lived all over the place, but my Dad eventually settled in Washington, D.C., and teaches art at Howard University. The fun thing about growing up in an art house was that the things that my mother wouldn’t let me do, my father would, if I said I was doing it for 'art'. So, I’m blowing up rats or breaking the neighbor's windows, but I was doing it for 'art!' That’s the only good thing with being a young kid in an artist’s house. You could get away with anything because of the 'art' excuse.

"My Dad,
Michael Platt, has been painting since he was in his 20’s. He graduated college at 21 and then started teaching at a number of places before landing at Howard. He is a well-recognized painter, but it was a long struggle for him to get there. For me, I am just getting started. I tell you, it is tough growing up in my father’s shadow. Sometimes, it is hard for me to talk about it.

"People always say to me, 'You are following in your father's footsteps.' Yeah, but, I mean, I am
different. See, my Dad is a painter, but I am a tattoo artist. I also do photography and am a radio DJ. My Dad always used dull colors in his paintings, so I use neon colors and anything and everything from the 80’s and up. I really try to push the boundaries. I mean, look at my tattoos. I got my first tattoo at 12 and have been getting them ever since. Now, I am putting UV ink into my tattoos, which makes my tattoos glow in the dark. My whole thing is to be more expressive and stand out more than other people. Even though they still haven’t proven it to be cancer free, I don’t care. I am always trying to cause a commotion with myself and my art.

"The competition for art in this town is pretty fierce. People say New York is tough and that if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. That’s all bullshit, man. Those people have never spent time trying to make it as an artist here. This little city of ours runs everything in this nation, including art. I think that D.C. is second only to London in terms of art. I am always inspired by the city of D.C."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sangida on Knowing Where She Comes from

“I’ve been living in D.C. for about seven years now. I came to D.C. from Bangladesh when I was ten. My Dad was living here and he brought me and my Mom over. Now, I am in high school at McKinley in Northeast. In Bangladesh, there is no snow so that was a big difference given that we moved here in January. It was a big shock for us.

“My first day of school was February 14, 2003. It was Valentine’s Day and I had no idea what was going on and did not speak the language. They certainly didn’t have that holiday in my country. But, it was really cool and I grew to like things here a lot as life here is much less strict. After six months, my English really improved and things got easier for me.

“At home, we keep a close connection to Bangladesh. I talk with my cousins and grandparents all the time there. But, I also feel a strong connection to this place. With my parents, we have some tension when I want to go out with my friends. When I want to do something, I usually tell my parents that friends are also going so that they know their parents are okay with it. But, they will say, ‘Just because we live in America doesn’t mean we’re Americans!’ I say, 'We may not be Americans, but we live here.' My culture is important to me. I know where my family and I come from, but I also know that my life is in America now.”

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christylez on Rising Through Education

"I've been in D.C. all my life, man. I grew up on the South Side, in the Southeast quadrant. I moved to Northwest two years ago. It is a whole 'nother world over here. I tell you, it's dope living over here. The thing that makes Northwest so nice is that there is more diversity here than on the South Side. You run into Embassy people and there are more outlets to express yourself creatively. And don't get me started on the public transportation! I spent all day waiting for buses over there. Stuff stops running at times and there is no Circulator or express route near where I grew up.

"Even though I am here, I spent a lot of my time going back to the South Side. I want to bring what I learn here back there. I taught creative writing in the schools for four years on the South Side. It was dope. I'm happy I didn't have to teach formal writing because that would have been hell. I mean, I got to mix hip-hop into creative writing and use other cultural references to make it easier for kids to open up and talk about their own lives. I think that an unstructured forum is the best way to get kids talking about their lives. For me, writing and hip hop is all about bridging gaps. See, I could connect to these kids who were in similar situations to me coming up. Over time, some of the variables in the equation change, but it is the same old story of growing up in the ghetto. You always got to watch your back and do your best to rise through education.

"A lot of people don't realize that on the South Side there is going to be more crime because that it is where most of the low income housing options are. So, when you bring all these poor people together, you end up creating ghettos just like the ghettos in Nazi Germany. In this case, these are economic ghettos where people who can't afford housing are all rounded up together. Come on, you can't just put all of these people together and have them eliminate each other. I mean, if they don't kill each other then the lack of healthy food options will. I mean, Murry's Steak House, you ain't gonna never see one of those in Tenleytown or Georgetown. Only poor areas get Murry's as they are the worst freaking grocery stores. The food is, nah man, it's all genetically modified stuff and just bad for you. As you look around at a lot of these people, their health is declining and they all suffer the same health issues over time. Education is the thing that will break us out of these cycles."

Christylez is a progressive hip-hop artist. Check out his work here.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Courtney and Nancy on Cross-Country Skiing

Nancy - "Courtney and I talked about going cross-country skiing in the city when it started snowing. I did it once before, but this was her first time. This morning, Courtney skied over to my house on V Street from Adams Morgan. We skied together over to the Metro and took it to the Navy Memorial. Then we head over to the Mall to ski. It was incredible! The Mall was a field of white. We saw a couple of snowshoers and skiers, but we pretty much had to forge our own trails. We were really happy to do it and people were excited to see us skiing in the middle of the city. We'd like to try other places to ski this week, maybe in Rock Creek Park. D.C. is a great place to cross-country ski, as it is nice and flat."

Courtney - "People really got into seeing us skiing on the Mall, especially the European tourists. They said, 'Now that is how you should be getting around today!' I have walked the Mall a number of times and I was there for Inauguration. But something about skiing there, including past the place where I stood during the Obama Inauguration, was enchanting. The Mall had a little magic to it with all of the snow. You know, coming home, we felt like we were in a ski town in Colorado. We were standing with our skis at the bus stop, like it was a shuttle taking us back to the hotel. In this case, it was the 54 bus taking us to get Bloody Marys at Marvin."

Nancy, left, is pictured with Courtney.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Janice and Keith on the Difference between Car Backfiring, Fireworks and Gunshots

Keith - "I moved to D.C. in 1977 and was looking for a place to stay and ended up on 18th and Columbia Northwest. Growing up in New York, I thought this was the closest I would find to New York in this one industry town. Over the next few years, I moved to three or four other places around Adams Morgan. We left Adams Morgan because we wanted to buy a house and ended up on Pickford Place in Capitol Hill near H Street Northeast. The Atlas District, as it is now called, is the dividing line between Capitol Hill and Trinidad. It was a nice neighborhood, but a little too crazy at that time. Near us, we had a halfway house and Section Eight housing with absentee landlords. The neighborhood was pretty rough. It was there where we learned the difference between a car backfiring, firecrackers, and gunshots. We left that neighborhood for Mt. Pleasant shortly after there were two people killed execution style at the top of our block. We sold thinking people would leave and the property values would fall, but years later look at how the neighborhood was changed.

Janice - "On Pickford Place, Keith and I started organizing people to clean up the alleys near our houses as they were filthy. That was the best thing we did as it got people in the neighborhood to meet each other. It was a big success and we did it again a few years later. We became the unofficial block captains. We tried to beautify the street and keep the alleys clean. If you're surroundings look good, it discourages crime. It may be a minimal discouraging, but it matters. There was a lot of camaraderie on that block, partly because it was such a rough neighborhood. You did what you could do, but there was still so much you couldn't do. When we left, they threw a big party for us. There was black and white, young and old. We were sad to go.

"Now, we live in Chevy Chase where violent crime is very low. We get occasional break ins around here, but that's about it. We both miss being more downtown. I hate having to get in my car to get someplace. Before, we could always walk to work. It's fairly friendly up here although a few of our neighbors were disappointed when we moved here and they found out we don't have children for their children to play with. Still, we like the neighborhood, but still spend a lot of time in the city. And the thing about kids is that the absence of children made our decisions to stay in the city for so long that much easier. We never had to face the school issue. That is a huge issue for so many people here."

Keith - "Looking back, we have lived in a number of different neighborhoods: Adams, Morgan, U Street, H Street Northeast, Mt. Pleasant and now Chevy Chase. We love it here, but I wish that D.C. had more ethnic neighborhoods. Let's face it, we have no Chinatown or other real ethnic strongholds. It is a traditionally black city with pockets of whites and Hispanics. It was not an immigrant city. I think it would be a more interesting city if we had those pockets, like they do in the suburbs here. The best restaurants are all ethnic and in the strip malls and suburbs of Virginia and Maryland. Sadly, we don't have those communities or places in the core city. To me, none of the D.C. neighborhoods really have their own identity except for being black or white."

Friday, December 18, 2009

Chris on Rowing on the Anacostia River

"I go to Gonzaga High School and have been rowing for three years now. At first, I didn’t know what rowing was, but I didn’t make the basketball team and thought I would give it a try. Now, I am the stroke man for our boat, which means I set the pace. It is a big team sport because you have seven other guys with you in the boat. We all need to work together seamlessly. Our crew program was not that great, but it has really turned around. Last year, we were national champions. We went to race in England at the Henley Royal Regatta. We made the semi-finals there. That is a big deal for us, the school and this city. It is one of the most important races in the world. In the area, we have a big rivalry with St. Albans School. We have a big race every year called the Foley Cup, or God Cup as we like to call it. It is always a really close race, but we won this year.

"Rowing in D.C is nice because we practice on the Anacostia River. The water is usually pretty good except in early February when it gets windy and rough. The river gets a bad rap, but there is a beautiful, small strip of water that we call Narnia because it is always flat. We named it after the C.S. Lewis books. It is this nice little area where both us and the University of Maryland practice. It really shows how beautiful the river used to be.

"My time rowing in this city has been wonderful. You really bond with the guys. I have strong friendships with my teammates and even when I meet other rowers who I don’t know, there is this bond. I mean, we work so hard every day and get up at crazy hours. That kind of insane life is going to bring people together. I really want to continue rowing in college. I am going to miss rowing in this city a lot."

Read more about Gonzaga High School from Kevin.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sheldon on His Mom's First Visit to D.C.

"I grew up in South Carolina. I've been in Washington for nine-and-a-half years. I think that one of the largest motivating factors for me to move to D.C. was spread somewhere between personal and career motivations. You know, I am an openly gay black male and I spent most of my time, up until that point, living in the rural south. I knew that there was a limit to my own personal quality of life and development down there. Unfortunately, that is just the way that life down there is structured. So, I wanted to explore that part of my life in D.C. In terms of career, the pace down there was much slower. Things like actualizing a career take a long time. I was working for an organization where my next move up would have had to depend on the death or retirement of the person above me. I just didn't have the energy to wait for twenty or thirty years for a promotion. On the other hand, it can also be faster down there as people get married and have kids earlier. I'm 33 and most of my friends have kids who are about to enter middle school.

"When I first moved here, I lived in Alexandria, Virginia, and worked as a psychotherapist with sex offenders. Living and being in this area was like a gateway to so many different worlds that I never saw in South Carolina. With time, I saw the writing on the wall that therapy was not the path for me. I did some work in the fashion industry and then started performing and acting while waiting tables. Now, I work at restaurant Marvin. I did my first show in 2007. At that point, I was in between directions in life between activism and performing. The juxtaposition of the two forced me to do my activism through performance. My first show was a one-man performance called Faggot. The show was about my relationship with that word growing up in the south. It was also about how that word can have a potentially deadly impact with the growing level of youth suicide related to sexuality. In 2009, I got back on the performance track and performed a narrative about the two halves of my life: growing up in rural South Carolina looking for a man as a father figure and then moving to D.C. and looking for a man as a partner. For me, it is a very necessary and personal exercise because I wanted to deal with the honesty of my own story so that I could go on and tell the stories of others, no matter how painful it may be. A lot of this story was about my own family and my relationship with my mother.

"My mother only fairly recently came to terms with my sexuality. We had the first conversation about my sexuality in 2001. It was a very challenging conversation for her. She had her ideas of what it meant to be gay. Growing up in the rural south, she had a very narrow view that gay people ended up alone and in institutions. I always tried to encourage my Mom to come up to Washington D.C., and see for herself, but just was never interested. I knew that it was largely because she was not settled with my sexuality.

"But, in 2008, she came to me and said, 'I'm ready.' I had already been up here for eight years and I knew what that meant. My mother is not a very expressive person, but she was ready to see what my life was really about here. She came up here and saw my life and met all my friends: gay, straight, black and white. I really showed her the diversity of this city and of my life. She was so taken aback. She could not stop talking about how much she enjoyed herself in Washington D.C. I think that me being in this place offered her tremendous comfort. Being a therapist, I understand the complexity of parents having to deal with a child who is gay or in any way different than they intended them to be. All parents really want is for their children to be happy. If her understanding of gay life was a very miserable existence, why would she want that for her child? When she came here and saw that was not the case for me, I think she was settled with it. But, she never said anything or asked, it was just understood. A month later on the phone, she asked if I was gay. I said. 'Yeah, absolutely.' At the end of the conversation, she took a big sigh of relief. One of the most comforting things that my mother ever said to me, remember she is not a very expressive person, was, 'You seem to be doing very well in Washington. You are surrounded by a lot of people that really like you. I am happy for you. So, do you have a 'friend'?' That was a really big step for us. She's been back to Washington, D.C. two times since and we talk two-to-three times a day. Now, every time she's here, she wants to spend more and more time with me in Washington."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Shannon and Chai on Holla Back DC!

Shannon – “When I moved here from Atlanta and started taking public transportation and walking around the city, I faced gender-based public sexual harassment at least once a day. It was really scary. Last fall, I decided to do something about it and I took the advocacy training program at the D.C. Rape Crisis Center. That’s where I met Chai. We started talking about street harassment and realized that there was no venue in D.C. for people to talk about these issues. A lot of people don’t know that D.C. has one of the highest rates of gender-based violence in the country. We wanted to bring people together to think about community solutions to the problem of harassment.

“We were really inspired by Emily May who started Holla Back in New York. Her blog’s aim was to create a forum for women to share stories about harassment. We contacted her and she shared her model and the name with us. We set up Holla Back DC! as a place for people to share their stories about harassment in D.C. We also offer workshops and training on street harassment for women and those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community. We believe in addressing the roots of this problem so we are doing youth outreach, too. Now, we are working to bring
RightRides to D.C., which provides free rides to women and those in the LGBTQ communities on Friday and Saturday nights. We are also working with businesses to develop safe streets and safe stores where the staff are trained in dealing with street harassment and it is just a safe place for one to get away from a harasser.”

Chai – “We recognize that the medium that we use is not accessible to all individuals who are victims to this kind of harassment. Now, a lot of the stories that people share are from Northwest, but that does not mean that it is confined to that quadrant. We know it happens everywhere. We are trying to engage the victims, harassers and bystanders all around the city to better understand the problem in D.C. and work together towards a solution. Still today, a lot of folks don’t know that it’s not cool to catcall a woman. We get a lot of people telling us that harassment is the cost of living in the city. But, we see it happen in rural areas, too. Regardless of where someone lives or her socioeconomic status, a woman can feel disempowered when somebody says to her, ‘Hey baby, I want to have sex with you tonight!’ People change their walking routes and talk about how they feel differently about themselves when they are harassed.

"Look, we’re not trying to say that if it is consensual and both parties are cool with it, it is wrong. For example, a highlighted wedding story in one of the Washington newspapers this summer talked about a man who met his wife by hollering at her on the street. He said, ‘Keep doing that catwalk!’ She said, ‘Oh, you like it?’ That is literally the way it was written. It was street harassment that turned into dating then marriage. Again, we are not here to judge, but a lot of people may have been offended or scared by comments like that. While few individuals end up in loving relationships due to street harassment beginnings, the vast majority are unsuccessful and offensive to women. Some men write into our blog and say that street harassment is just a natural part of the male evolution and they can’t help themselves. My response is that given how unsuccessful of a practice it is, it should have died out through the basic laws of evolution long ago!”

Learn more about Holla Back DC!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

John and Matt on Cigars

John - “Draper’s Tobacconist has been in D.C. for 122 years. In fact, it is one of the oldest tobacconists in the nation. It has always been employee owned and operated. I’ve owned this place for ten years now. Matt has been my partner here for the last four. Before this, I worked in the coffee business in D.C. I came to cigars when I was having one of those days in the coffee business where I was either going to go out and get drunk or start smoking cigarettes. As I was walking out of my office, I passed a cigar store and thought that was a perfect compromise. The relaxation and peace of mind of a cigar put me in another place for an hour. From that moment on, I was hooked to that feeling. As I continued to smoke cigars, I started to meet other folks who smoked them. There is a camaraderie among cigar smokers that I have not experienced anywhere else. You can walk in here on any given day and find a Senator talking to a bike courier covered in tattoos and torn up clothes. But, for ten minutes, they are equals. They are just two people smoking and talking about what they like and don’t like about the cigar. Cigars level the playing field like nothing else I have seen in D.C. The cigar really is the great communicator.

“You ask any of our customers and they will say that Matt and I have the best jobs in the world. In a sense, we do. A lot of people describe this as Cheers without the booze. You can come in, take a seat, have a cigar and relax. This is one of the few remaining places where you can still smoke indoors. That is because 75% of our sales are in tobacco, which makes it legal to smoke in here. You know, I really do love it here. I have always needed to interact with people. I have had desk jobs and jobs where I wore suits and they never fit my personality. It wasn’t until I stumbled in here one day as a customer and got to know all of the guys who worked here that I realized this was the business for me.”

Matt – “D.C. has always been a big cigar town. There has always been this romantic notion around power and cigars here. You used to see the power brokers sitting at some of the big D.C. restaurants smoking cigars, drinking martinis and eating a steak. That changed with the smoking ban and the reforms to lobbying in this town. Still, there are certain members up on the Hill who enjoy a good cigar. Actually, one of the remaining safe havens for smokers is in the personal offices of Senators and Congressmen. So, we regularly get staffers coming down to get cigars for their bosses. These days, people are very cognizant of the public’s response to smoking. If you are seen as enjoying smoking as an adult, especially as a politician, it is perceived as a negative even though it is not illegal. Look, Obama is a known smoker, but you never see him with a cigarette in his mouth. It's an image thing. Now, with the FDA regulating tobacco and all of the tax issues surrounding smoking, eventually a lot of people would like to see smoking go away all together. We have been in D.C. for 122 years and have seen a lot of history. We think we serve an important role for this city.”

Read about the history of W. Curtis Draper Tobacco here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Max and Sara on Their Role in Gentrification

Max - "I think that we are really conscious of our own role in the gentrification process of Petworth. Gentrification is a slow process and I think about it a lot. Sadly, just being conscious of gentrification does not change things, but I try and do my part in the neighborhood and be respectful to the community. I, like many artists, musicians and students, moved here for the cheap rent and to be around my friends. I'm not trying to change the neighborhood or tell people how they should live. But, I realize that I am part of a wave of white people moving into Petworth and, in doing so, people start to lose their white fright and the neighborhood will continue to change. Before living here, I was in Columbia Heights. In that neighborhood, there are lots of points of contention between what was there and what is replacing it. I have family that has lived there for the past twenty years and we saw the area change from a few small businesses into condos. The whole thing happened so fast.

Sara - "From what I've heard, Petworth has been being gentrified for the past ten years or so. White people started moving in because there are beautiful houses with yards and the real estate is pretty cheap. From what I can tell, it has not been nearly as gentrified as Columbia Heights, but there are a lot of tense feelings here. I live in a group house with four white men. We talk openly about gentrification with our neighbors. I think that it is important that you know your neighbors and understand the history of the place. Too many people don't do that and that is partly what gives the term gentrification such a bad connotation. If you have that kind of camaraderie with your neighbors, it really lessens the tension. That doesn't mean it goes away, though, as gentrification is a very complicated and painful process.

"I used to work at Domku. That place is a very gentrifying force in Petworth for the better or worse. Many of the clientele would come in complaining about the parking or neighborhood. They would say we need more parking or make comments about being in the ghetto. I was like, you mean we should knock down people's houses so you can get to your brunch easier? This place does not exist for you to just come here and tell the neighborhood how it should be. Look, it is important to be in touch with your white privilege and be conscious of the fact that many gentrifiers come into a place where they are not the majority and act like they are. This is an issue that I think about every day. It stresses me out to think that a lot of people don't have the right attitude when they move to a place like Petworth."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Jesse on Being the Mayor of Brookland

“Believe it or not, a lot of people call me the Mayor of Brookland. I came to this neighborhood in 1984. I grew up in the Ledroit park area of Northwest, then moved to Petworth before coming over here. Now, I am married and have four kids. My thing is that when I see a need, I try and fill it regardless of where I am. I have always been involved in the community. I always made a point to meet my neighbors, even when I was a kid. Someone moved to the block, I went over to greet them. When I I first came here, this place came alive to me. I saw so much potential of how this place could be. Brookland is a warm community because of its diverse cultures. It was a large Catholic community and it still has a lot of Catholic influences. The church sold off a lot of its property to other businesses and entities. Now, the neighborhood is growing and constantly changing.

“In 1998, I worked with the community to organize festivals and parades on 12th Street Northeast. They were called Brookland festivals. We would close off 12th Street from Monroe down to Otis, and we had vendors set up and stages at both ends of the street. It was a nice community festival for Brookland. I was also instrumental in getting a Main Street status for 12th Street. We eventually lost that status, as it was too hard for one person to maintain. A lot of people, like myself, did not have the time to maintain things to keep it running right. The young lady who runs the Community Development Corporation was also running around doing a million things, so her hands were full. If she had more community support and if people stopped pointing fingers and would help, we would still have it.

“The Main Street status brings money for façade improvement and supports businesses in the community. It helps bring anchor businesses and industries to develop the area into a commercial zone. Look at Adams Morgan, they have a lot of clubs and restaurants. Instead of people going to a particular place, they go hang out in the neighborhood, which helps to support all of the businesses. We are trying to do that in Brookland. When you look at 12th Street now, there are a lot of places that don't belong. I mean, Long and Foster Realtors should not be on this street. It does not bring the foot traffic that is needed to support other businesses. We need businesses on this street that cater to the community, so that those who live here do not need to leave the neighborhood to purchase their basic needs."

Read more about the Brookland Main Street program here.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

JD on Style and Class

“I grew up all over this city: Northwest, Northeast, Southwest and Southeast. I have lived in every part of this city for at least five years each. It was cool, but uptown is where the style is at. Southeast has a little something something. Southwest is suburban. Northeast is in between. But, uptown DC is where you need to be. I love it here. When I grew up, there were lots of drugs around. There were lots of drug dealers and prostitutes in the 70’s. Then crack came in the 80’s. But, the city has changed.

“In my time here, I can say that a lot of people don’t understand fashion or style in this city. They think they know, but they have no idea. They think that what they see in the music videos is style, but it
ain’t. They be wearing an orange hat with an orange shirt. Just because you match don’t necessarily mean you’re in coordination with the style of the times. You got to give it your own twist and wear what you feel. If it feels good to you and looks good to you and it’s tailored right, you good. That is the way it should be. D.C. needs to look to the red carpet, that’s style. That’s what we need to bring here, some style and class. My D.C. style is funky with a little twist of retro. I feel good in everything I wear.

“I think that part of D.C.’s lack of style comes from the lack of boutiques. This city needs to find a way of bringing small businesses back into the district. It’s hard with all of the malls around. We need more small businesses which bring money, jobs and style to the community. With small businesses here, it’s a win-win situation for the business and community. It’s not like that with them big malls. Look, style was not started in malls, but boutiques. You can interact with someone in a boutique. It’s not like at the mall where you’re just the next person in line. In a small business, you gonna know your customers and make time to interact with them. Hands on with everything, that’s the way a business should be.”

Read more about D.C.'s particular fashion style from Lara.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Tom on the Potter's House

"This place is a pretty interesting story. The Potter's House started in 1960. The name comes from Jeremiah, 'Arise and go to the potter's house and there you will hear my words.' We are getting ready to celebrate 50 years of being in the Adams Morgan neighborhood. We've been here through thick and thin. One of the things that I respect about the Potter's House is that they made a conscious decision to stay after the 1968 riots when a lot of places moved out.

"It's sponsored by a non-denominational church called the Church of The Saviour and the founding Minister, Gordon Cosby, and his wife Mary were the founders of the church. He was a Chaplain during World War II. He counseled soldiers who were potentially going to meet their death, and many of them did. After the war, he wanted to establish a church. Gordon and his wife wanted to capture the feeling of a tavern, but in a spiritual way so they had the idea of the coffeehouse church as we don't serve alcohol. We may be Washington's original coffee house. Now, we are also a book store. We sell mostly books on spirituality and social justice: poverty, hunger, war and peace, a lot of that stuff. I'm the book store manager and buy the books and I try and define social justice as broadly as possible.

"The Potter's House has always been a place where everyone is welcome regardless of background or whether people feel they have a spiritual background or not. It has always been a place for discussion groups, author events, WPFW used to broadcast from here, all kinds of things have gone on here. The Potter's House was also the birthplace to many of the Adams Morgan activist and service organizations including: Christ House, Jubilee Housing, Jubilee Jobs, Good Shepherd Ministries, Columbia Road Health Services, and Samaritan Inns.

"These are the original tabletops, as I understand it, and if they could talk, they'd tell a lot of great stories. One of the interesting stories that I heard was back in the 60's during the height of the civil rights era, students from Howard University, officials from the Justice Department, civil rights advocates and church people would meet here and talk about civil rights. As I heard it, some of the language for the civil rights legislation was drafted on napkins here. Racial reconciliation has always been one of the main interests of the Church of the Saviour. The philosophy of the church is to use your gifts for the benefit of the community and humankind. If you have an idea to help people, go for it and we will support you."

Learn more about the Potter's House here. Read more about faith in D.C. from Pastor RL Stevenson and Brother Amir.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Justin on the Fojol Brothers

"My history is in D.C. My father was born in Italy and my parents met here in D.C. We've lived in the same house in D.C. our entire lives. My Dad is still cooking the same food he was cooking 25 years ago when he taught my Mom how to cook. My Dad thinks that everything good in this world is from Italy and everything not good is not from Italy. He takes a lot of pride in his jobs. He basically started the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. He is one of those people who takes his job really seriously, but is not one of the guys who works 12-14 hours a day to make an extra dollar and not spend time with his family. My Mom worked multiple jobs. I picked up my hard work ethic from both of them.

"The Fojol Brothers is a concept that involves visuals, smells, music, taste and sounds that are all part of what we think are D.C. These all come through in different ways from the complex elements of our outfits to our respect for the earth to giving a portion of our proceeds to at-risk youth. Curry, in a simple way, is something that a lot of people can relate to. People in America can relate to a hot dog, but people around the world can relate to curry. You have people here from Little Rock to Mumbai and maybe we are the intersection of those two places with a little splash of all of the urban sights and sounds you see in this city.

"Yes, this city is so international, but it has a core of people who live here and one of our goals is to help both groups pay attention to the other. This truck was our brainchild of bringing together all of these different themes, but revolving around food and the circus and carnival feel. It just made sense. Everyone likes food. No one doesn't like a circus. We have had all kinds of customers - from managing partners of some of the biggest law firms to hipsters to homeless people - join in this concept. We appeal to a lot of different groups. D.C. is not all power brokers or people getting shot. Yes, those things happen, but we want to show a different side of this city. We are invested in this city and the people here."

See The Fojol Brothers profiled on the BBC here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Ferdos on Her Introduction to America

“In 1982, I came to America at sixteen as a refugee with four of my younger brothers and sisters. At that time, my Mom was in Saudi Arabia and my Dad had recently died. I had a sister in Egypt, a brother in a Djibouti refugee camp and another sister in Greece. The whole family was scattered and I was the oldest one here and had to care for my youngest siblings all by myself. When we first came here, there were almost no Ethiopians in Minnesota. When we told our relatives where we ended up, they said, ‘Where is Minnesota?’ Nobody even knew such a place existed. Of course, the winter started and it was very tough. We also had the language barrier as I barely spoke English. Back home, we learned English from Ethiopian, Indian, Chinese, and Vietnamese teachers. When I first had an American teacher, no one understood what he was saying! We were making fun of him all of the time. We thought he had such a funny accent.

“In Minnesota, we were sponsored by a woman who helped refugees as a business. Before us, she sponsored 40 Cubans and made a lot of money off of them. She was working for the Church of God, which has good intentions, but she was just corrupt. She sponsored people and the church gave her money, but she did not give it to us. She would seek out donations, things from the garbage and other cheap things and give them to us instead of buying us the things we needed. She put us in a bad neighborhood, although bad neighborhoods in Minnesota are not like the bad neighborhoods here. We had clothes, money and maids in Ethiopia. In our life, we never had used stuff. We didn’t want it. We were in America and expected a better life. But, that was how we were introduced to America. When we finally realized what was happening and told people, they looked into it, but nothing happened to that woman. Later on, one of her sons went on to be a professional football player and she became rich. I have to laugh about it now. What else can one do?

“As she didn’t help us, we met another Ethiopian who helped me and put my brothers and sisters in school. As I started to take on more and more responsibility over the family, it became harder to stay in school. Remember, I was sixteen. I eventually left school and took three jobs to support everyone. But, with three jobs, I didn’t save a penny! Most of my money went to phone calls as I needed to talk with everyone from Egypt to Greece to Saudi Arabia to Djibouti.

“With time, I found ways to bring my family to this country one-by-one. Everyone is in America now except for two of my siblings who are still in Africa. Finally, when everyone was here and I was 20, I went back to school to be a pilot. I graduated before I got all of my licenses and then had to get a job. I told myself that I would make some money and then come back to get my commercial pilots license, but that never happened. After school, I got a job with FedEx in Minnesota and worked from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. as a manager. I had no time for anything else. In 1998, I transferred with my job to Washington, D.C. to be close to my two sisters who live here and to get away from the cold. When the opportunity came to leave my job and work in our family business, I jumped at it. In my life, I have worked enough for four people and needed a break! Now, my sister and I own Café Sureia in Brookland, which is named after my youngest sister. We make traditional American dishes, but add our Ethiopian spices to them. So, that’s the story of my life.”

Cafe Sureia is located at 3629 12th Street, NE.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Armando on the Capital of the Empire

"I am reporter in D.C. with Channel Nine News. I've been in the area since 1982. I was born in Cuba. I started working for Spanish radio here and then worked for a variety of news organizations over the last twenty-some years. Over that time, I have come to know D.C. pretty well. I have seen it change for the better. I cover general assignment news, which can be crime, entertainment, politics, just about anything. There is a joke that a general assignment reporter wakes up every day, puts on a blindfold and throws something at the wall and whatever it hits is what he is going to cover that day. That's what we do.

"Somebody who has been in this city as long as I have and has covered national and international news, understands the identity crisis that this city goes through. Is it just the capital of the United States? Is it just a local community? No, it's both. Yesterday, I was covering the carjacking of a Tennessee Senator's daughter who also happens to live here. That is national and local news. I covered the Salahis, who are an interesting couple. It is a national story because they crashed the White House, but all of the people that they allegedly scammed, that's a local story.

"What makes this city unique for me is the fact that it has all of the realities of a local community, yet lives on the national scene. It is the nation's capital. In fact, a lot of people say that the United States is the Rome of the 21st Century. If that is the case, it is an Empire and this is the capital of that Empire."

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tone on Being Well Groomed

"I'm from Brooklyn. I came to D.C. about thirteen years ago. I wanted a change of pace and a different environment as New York is so congested and crazy. The thing that keeps me here is the women! Not really...OK, really it is the women!

"But, on the serious, it is a calmer pace of life here. It's a big break from the city. You get tired of the New York city atmosphere after a while. As I get older, I want to wind down a little bit. I wouldn't want to live in New York again. It's like going from calm to crazy. No matter what, though, I will always be a Yankees fan. That rubs some people here the wrong way here. I guess people are just always coming after the best! Sometimes, I feel like a raisin in milk as everyone is coming after me. You've got those who are cool with it and those who aren't, but I am not going to change my logo for anyone.

"I've been at this barbershop for six months and have been cutting hair for twenty years. A guy named Isaac taught me everything I know. The money is good. I love the camaraderie of the barber shop. I cut women's hair, too. It is a great joy to cut a woman's hair. You get to cut the woman's hair and maybe, if the conversation is nice, it may turn into a date. I've had quite a few of those! But, back to the barbershop. We get to talk, you know, and learn different things from each other. It is real, like, therapeutic, better than going to a psychiatrist. You can express yourself in here. You get some arguments, but there is always laughter and some serious issues. I don't think there is anything in the world like a barbershop. This is like a community center. It's just about communication in here.

"And a barbershop is gonna make you look good. It is important for a man to be well groomed, you know. A well groomed man is everything. You can't be well dressed and not have your hair and face done. It comes with the image. I cut my hair on a regular basis, maybe once a week. You would never see me without a haircut or shave. I don't want to look at myself when I am not groomed."

Tone works at Carl's Barbershop at 1406 P St. NW. Read more about barbershops from Hollywood.