DCentric » Delightful City http://dcentric.wamu.org Race, Class, The District. Wed, 16 May 2012 20:20:35 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.2.1 Copyright © WAMU Scurlock and Sons: Beautiful Black D.C. http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/04/scurlock-and-sons-beautiful-black-d-c/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/04/scurlock-and-sons-beautiful-black-d-c/#comments Fri, 01 Apr 2011 14:31:13 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=5313 Continue reading ]]>

Flickr: Libenne

Young ladies watching a football game at Griffith stadium, from the 2009 Scurlock exhibit at the Smithsonian. The Scurlock family operated a famed U Street studio, which was known for its elegant work.

It feels appropriate to look at black and white pictures of Washington’s past, when it is so gray outside. Luckily, the Left for LeDroit blog is offering up a series of fascinating images, taken by esteemed African American photographer Addison Scurlock, who, with his sons Robert and George, ran a successful studio on U Street NW, which was “one of the longest-running black businesses in Washington”.

The National Museum of American History is working hard to protect the vast Scurlock collection of pictures, many of which captured important parts of D.C.’s black history. Left for LeDroit deserves much credit for inspiring a delightful online journey which taught me a lot about this family and their beautiful work.

The Post had this to say about the Scurlocks, in a review of their exhibit at the Smithsonian back in 2009:

Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Marian Anderson praised the Scurlock crew, but so did students over at Howard University, when that institution was a place for the children of the nation’s black elite. And countless men and women from the city’s black middle class, who took high tea, held soirees, staged book readings and vacationed over on Maryland beaches, depended on them as well.

The style of their work — silky, refined, dignified and poised — became known as “the Scurlock look.” It said a lot of things, chief among them that classiness is swell and uplift gets rewarded.

This excerpt from that review really frames how significant and radical these images were:

The Scurlock exhibition highlights more than 100 black-and-white photographs that were taken when the world was very different for people of color. It was a world where reports of lynchings were in the daily newspapers, along with “coon” ads for minstrel shows.

Scurlock’s granddaughter, Jacqueline Scurlock Corbett once said, “We’re just so proud these photos have captured the beauty of black America when black America was on the road to equality”. Word. Here’s hoping the Smithsonian offers another exhibition of them, soon.

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Serenading the Red Line http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/02/serenading-the-red-line/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/02/serenading-the-red-line/#comments Fri, 18 Feb 2011 19:25:21 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/02/serenading-the-red-line/ Continue reading ]]> image

Two distinguished African-Americans crooning a sweet harmony made popular by a late, Mexican-American teen (“We belong together“). Farragut North station.

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Potter’s House: All Races, All Classes, All Good http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/02/potters-house-all-races-all-classes-all-good/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/02/potters-house-all-races-all-classes-all-good/#comments Fri, 11 Feb 2011 21:57:38 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=4158 Continue reading ]]>


The Potter's House: food, books, more.

The Potter’s House has been in D.C. for over five decades. Have you heard of it? If you haven’t, you’re not alone. I’ve been here for 12 years and even when I lived on Columbia Road–where it is located– I wasn’t aware of its existence. I finally noticed it two weeks ago, when I was taking a walk. It looked like a small, specialty bookstore and that was intriguing enough. When I tried to check out its hours of operation, I saw something surprising in small letters, on a weathered sign. On Tuesdays, a group meets there to discuss “Racial Reconciliation” at 12:30 pm. What kind of bookstore was this? Well, it turns out– it’s a unique one:

Potter’s House Books offers several thousand titles focusing primarily on spirituality and social justice…In addition to the Bookstore, the Potter’s House also is a restaurant/coffeehouse, art gallery, worship space, and community meeting place. On Friday nights, it also is the venue for a concert series called “Sounds of Hope,” which features mainly local musicians performing for the benefit of community nonprofit groups.

“Worship space”? Was this bookstore/cafe/gallery an overtly Christian spot? Some of the Yelp reviews made it sound like it would be:

To understand The Potter’s House, you have to know that it is first and foremost a church. It is owned by Church of the Savior, the same organization that runs Columbia Road Health Services, Jubilee Jobs, the Festival Center, and Christ House. Suddenly the shabby interior with the random homeless people makes sense – this is a church living its mission to serve the poor and provide universal love to all.

This place sounded radically different from almost everywhere else I had been in the city. I called in advance to ask about the “racial reconciliation” program and I was gently corrected– it’s nothing as structured as a “program”.

There’s no topic or agenda. It’s very informal…sometimes people bring in a news item or a book they’re reading and then they’re off. There’s no way to predict how the conversation goes. The group has been meeting for years; it’s probably the most consistent discussion group we have. The Potter’s House has had a strong focus on racial reconciliation and social justice since the ’68 riots. We made a conscious decision to stay in the Adams Morgan neighborhood, to help work on these vital issues.

I showed up at 12:15pm on Tuesday; if it hadn’t been for a few crosses randomly scattered on the walls, I wouldn’t have guessed that this place had much to do with Christianity. I picked up on the “social justice” vibe within minutes of walking in– between the flyers, the heated debate a duo was having about gentrification and the books on display, that aspect of their mission was impossible to miss. Beyond that, it felt “progressive” and “conscious”, so much so that it reminded me of Northern California. I wasn’t surprised when I later learned that WPFW had recorded shows or hosted events there.

Most people were eating lunch, more than half had laptops open. A kind woman was standing by some chafing dishes which contained meatloaf and a few sides. There was a very simple salad bar and a few carafes of coffee. A menu listed sandwiches. I made myself a hot chocolate via packet and hot water, paid for it and sat down. Yes, it was a mash-up of sorts; the kind of conversations and people I’d run into in Oakland or Davis, being served home-style cooking by African-American grandmothers.

Around 12:30, people started to gather at a middle table. They were greeting each other, laughing, slapping backs. I couldn’t help but notice that the group was almost evenly divided between black and white; many of the attendees seemed to know each other. All of them were tucking into lunch. While they didn’t explicitly address race while I was there, from their rollicking conversation which spanned from Greek philosophers to whether God existed, I got the feeling that they wouldn’t mind.

It was a striking sight to behold, because unintentionally, they had seated themselves white, black, white, black. Meanwhile, a few tables away, two men who appeared to be homeless sat down. A young woman came out, greeted them and asked if they were hungry. I couldn’t hear their responses but when she walked away, one of the men got up and walked in circles around the table, speaking to himself. The other cracked open a newspaper. Next to them, a college student was immersed in her textbooks and computer. An elderly lady with a cane slowly walked up to the counter, smiled and asked what the soup of the day was. That’s when I realized what was so stunning about The Potter’s House; I had never been anywhere in this city where people from all social classes and backgrounds were mingling like this. From homeless people to a girl with a $2,000 computer, anyone could walk in and they would be welcomed.

In a city which often feels segregated, whether by choice or by history, The Potter’s House stands out for its diversity and openness. That lively group in the middle of the room did not explicitly discuss racial reconciliation that day, but the entire establishment feels like a living, thriving example of such a desirable goal. I plan on going back next Tuesday, ostensibly to report on a unique and much-needed discussion group, but I won’t mind spending time in that sweet, humble, welcoming environment, too.

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Saint Martin of Luther Place: a Historic Congregation’s New Mural http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/01/saint-martin-of-luther-place-a-historic-congregations-new-mural/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/01/saint-martin-of-luther-place-a-historic-congregations-new-mural/#comments Wed, 19 Jan 2011 20:39:22 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=3495 Continue reading ]]>

Luther Place: Amanda Weber

Luther Place's second mural, featuring "Saint Martin of Birmingham", watches over 14th street.

Before this week, if you had asked me where “Luther Place” was, I would’ve looked at you blankly, despite the fact that I’ve lived here since 1999. Shame on me, for that. Luther Place Memorial Church sits on Thomas Circle; it’s a brick building you’ve probably passed dozens of times if you walk, bike or drive on 14th street NW. This week, the congregation dedicated a special mural featuring “Saint Martin of Birmingham”, or the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I spoke to Reverend Karen Brau yesterday about this new piece of public art, her congregation and its history in this city.

Tell me about Luther Place.

It’s a congregation that has been part of this city since the 1870s. In the 1960s, when riots happened on 14th street, we were called to open our doors and be a refuge for people at that time. Now we have a ministry for homeless women that serves over 800 women a year with shelter, job placement and help with recovery from addiction.

I’d love to know more about what Luther Place did during the riots–

The congregation made the decision to open the doors of our church, and it became a point of sanctuary for people who needed a place to stay. Luther Place also became a distribution point…other congregations from different parts of the city brought food to us that could be shared with people being affected by what was going on at that time. I think that act was a turning point; in the words of the gospel, you should love your neighbor, care for a stranger. Those words came to life in a very palpable way. And not everyone could deal with that, so that defined the congregation too.

What do you mean by people not dealing with it?

The city was burning. Some people thought, “I live far away, there are other churches in my neighborhood”…those were good excuses. At that point a fair amount of our congregation had moved to the suburbs. So a defining moment for our congregation as a whole became a defining moment for some of the people in it, too. They hadn’t necessarily seen themselves as activists, but when invited by their pastor, they stepped right in. That situation changed people’s lives in a very important way going forward…and that’s part of why it makes sense to have (MLK) on 14th street.

We wanted to do something on 14th st. We knew its history with the riots after Dr. King was assassinated and the burning that went on along the 14th street corridor…so to us it seemed very logical that the icon who should look out on to that street would be Martin Luther King, Jr. If an icon is someone we venerate as holy and a saint, then we feel that he is just that because of his walk with God and his witnessing.

I like that you call him Saint Martin of Birmingham. It appeals to the erstwhile Catholic School student within me.

He is Saint Martin of Birmingham, the letter that he wrote from jail was a pivotal point for the civil rights movement. An articulation of the power of non-violent action. Churches are having a hard time finding out how to be relevant. I think we have so much that we have to learn from people who have been part of the past of our church. Perhaps the reforming that is going on can mean that a Lutheran church can call on a Baptist preacher for inspiration…

Next: the rest of my interview with Rev. Brau, including more on social justice, gentrification and who posed for Luther Place’s other, first mural of Saint Francis of Assisi.
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Remembering the “Moral Leader of our Nation” http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/01/remembering-the-moral-leader-of-our-nation/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/01/remembering-the-moral-leader-of-our-nation/#comments Tue, 18 Jan 2011 15:29:38 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=3450 Continue reading ]]>

Flickr: Marlon E

"I have a dream..."

As someone who did Speech and Debate for all four years of high school, I have a special appreciation for first drafts, unexpected riffs and the power to be inspired by the moment, the divine…or Mahalia Jackson. Check out “On Martin Luther King Day, remembering the first draft of ‘I Have a Dream‘”, by Clarence B. Jones, via WaPo:

The weather and the massive crowd were in sync – both calm and warm for the March on Washington. Even the D.C. Metropolitan Police, which had been bracing for a race riot, had nothing to complain about.

I remember when it was all over but the final act. As I stood some 50 feet behind the lectern, march Chairman A. Philip Randolph introduced Martin, to wild applause, as “the moral leader of our nation.” And I still didn’t know how Martin had pulled the speech together after our meeting.

After Martin greeted the people assembled, he began his speech, and I was shocked when these words quickly rolled out:

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check.

Martin was essentially reciting the opening suggestions I’d handed in the night before. This was strange, given the way he usually worked over the material Stanley and I provided. When he finished the promissory note analogy, he paused. And in that breach, something unexpected, historic and largely unheralded happened. Martin’s favorite gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, who had performed earlier in the day, called to him from nearby: “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin, tell ‘em about the dream!”

Martin clutched the speaker’s lectern and seemed to reset. I watched him push the text of his prepared remarks to one side. I knew this performance had just been given over to the spirit of the moment. I leaned over and said to the person next to me, “These people out there today don’t know it yet, but they’re about ready to go to church.”

What could possibly motivate a man standing before a crowd of hundreds of thousands, with television cameras beaming his every move and a cluster of microphones tracing his every word, to abandon the prepared text of his speech and begin riffing on a theme that he had used previously without generating much enthusiasm from listeners?

Before our eyes, he transformed himself into the superb, third-generation Baptist preacher that he was, and he spoke those words that in retrospect feel destined to ring out that day:

I have a dream . . .

In front of all those people, cameras, and microphones, Martin winged it. But then, no one I’ve ever met could improvise better.

The speech went on to depart drastically from the draft I’d delivered, and I’ll be the first to tell you that America is the better for it. As I look back on my version, I realize that nearly any confident public speaker could have held the crowd’s attention with it. But a different man could not have delivered “I Have a Dream.”

Some believe, though the facts are otherwise, that Martin was such a superlative writer that he never needed others to draft material for him. I understand that belief; fate made Martin a martyr and a unique American myth – and myths stand alone. But admitting that even this unequaled writer had people helping him hardly takes anything away. People like Stanley, Mahalia and I helped him maximize his brilliance. If not, why would Mahalia interrupt a planned address? She wasn’t unhappy with the material he was reading – she just wanted him to preach.

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Five More Questions for Bread for the City’s George Jones http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/01/five-more-questions-for-bread-for-the-citys-george-jones/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/01/five-more-questions-for-bread-for-the-citys-george-jones/#comments Thu, 13 Jan 2011 15:30:03 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=3393 Continue reading ]]>


Yesterday, I published a slideshow from Bread for the City’s January 7 grand opening. I also posted the first part of an interview with the non-profit’s Executive Director, George A. Jones. More of my conversation with Jones is below; in it, he discusses how the expansion of the group’s Shaw location will facilitate an expansion in their services–as well as how you can help.

What if people want to get involved?

There are two major ways: volunteer or give. We accept cash contributions and in-kind contributions of donated food and clothing. When it comes to people’s cash donations 90% of every dollar goes to our five core services.

A lot of people like to have tangible connections to our programs so we encourage them to do food drives. We have 5-10 volunteers on a given day; there are scores of people looking to do community service, including kids or teens for school. They can develop food drives right at their schools or boys club, girl scouts…I encourage parents to have their children do these food drives remotely and bring the food to us. We give kids a menu to try and generate certain foods, including items that are low in sodium, vegetables or non-perishable stuff, because we provide supplemental groceries designed to last three days to families whose incomes are very low–less than $7,000. They may not be on food stamps, even if they run a great risk of running out of food.

These are families who are food insecure, who are at the risk of running out before the end of the month. Our food pantry was designed to support such people.

Are more people receiving assistance?

We just finished our holiday drive, where our goal was to feed 8,000 people. We actually served 10,000 a turkey and traditional holiday trimmings like cranberries, stuffing and vegetables. Most of our contributions came as cash but some people did food drives and came in with boxes of food. People ask me, do you want cash or should we host a food drive…there is efficiency with cash because we have systems set up so we can buy food at wholesale prices, but when people want to do something, we welcome that– coat drives, food drives…when you bring those things in, we get them in the hands of the low-income families we serve.

Our big challenge right now is paying for food…our ability to get contributions to our food pantry is always a challenge. We just finished the holiday season when people give generously, but we’ll have 4,000 families every month for the other ten months of the year to provide groceries to. A third of the people in those families are children. We are serving a lot of children. There are 35,000 children at risk for hunger during the course of a year, and at Bread for the City, over a 1,000 kids benefit from food in our pantry. And 400 kids are in our pediatric practice.

Tell me more about your clients.

The typical Bread for the City client is usually distressed in one of the areas we cover…for example, they may be at risk of losing housing, so they see an attorney to get assistance. People walk through our door and tell the receptionist, “I heard Bread for the City can help me see a doctor”. We have two means tests: they need to be a D.C. resident, and they need to be low-income. We take them in to a counseling room and do an intake…it’s never the case that people have only one issue, it’s never isolated like that. During our intake assessment, we ask potential clients to talk more about what’s going on with them in a private setting. The average person we see makes less than $7,000 a year, so the income question is usually not an issue at all.

We ask a battery of questions, starting with housing, medical, jobs…we try to find out what their status is, what’s happening mentally/socially/medically on their end. If a person asks about a doctor, we may also find out that they’ve run out of food so we might have them work with a social worker for a food stamp application.

What new services will you be offering in your expanded facility?

Two medical services we have not provided historically are dental care and a vision clinic. There are so many people who come in with chronic illnesses like diabetes, which is often coupled with vision problems. One of the challenges with a non-profit clinic like ours is that our salaries are fairly modest, so finding qualified and competent providers like Primary care providers or Optometrists is harder. It can take a while to find someone for whom working in a non-profit clinic is consistent with what their career goals are, who can afford to take a modest salary…they may have families of their own, student loans.

Anything else?

One of the things we really think is important is that it isn’t just a matter of providing these services…Bread for the City has figured out that an important part of our formula is to serve our clients with dignity and respect. That is one of the critical ways we form relationships with the people we serve. We don’t just provide free groceries or free legal services or medical care; We do it in an atmosphere of dignity and respect that is the hallmark of the last 30 years. That atmosphere is part of the magic formula; it makes all the difference with the services we provide.

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Slideshow: Bread for the City’s Grand Opening– in Pictures. http://dcentric.wamu.org/slideshow/bread-for-the-citys-grand-opening-in-pictures/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/slideshow/bread-for-the-citys-grand-opening-in-pictures/#comments Wed, 12 Jan 2011 18:39:30 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?post_type=slideshow&p=3344 Continue reading ]]> Later today– an interview with George A. Jones, Executive Director of this non-profit which serves the city’s poor.

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What’s so great about D.C.? Everything! http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/12/whats-so-great-about-d-c-everything/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/12/whats-so-great-about-d-c-everything/#comments Mon, 27 Dec 2010 18:15:02 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=2945 Continue reading ]]>

Flickr: jGregor

Photographer j Gregory Barton saw this young woman on the Metro, and asked if he could capture the love.

I love twitter. It’s the one element of social media I use most; from story ideas to learning about breaking news, I tweet, retweet and read tweets, constantly. For those whose grasp of it is hazy, Twitter is a site where you can post updates, thoughts, links or absolute drivel– all in 140 characters or less. When someone starts following your drivel tweets, you get an alert telling you about this happy development. While it isn’t always possible to do so, I love examining these emails and learning more about the people who were kind enough to start reading me, by checking out whom we have in common, perusing their brief bios and clicking on their links.

One such Twitter user, Jacob Patterson-Stein, gave me three Christmas presents on December 25; he started following DCentric’s twitter account (@DCntrc), he started following my personal account (@suitablegirl) and when I looked at his bio and found his blog, “Tumbling Through the City“, he made me smile with a recent post of his, “50 Great Things About D.C.“. Here are his picks for numbers 14 through 26:


Part of Jacob Patterson-Stein's list of 50 things he loves about D.C.

Jacob has inspired me to start curating my own list, but I’d love your help, too. What do you love about D.C.? Leave your answers in the comments, tweet them at me or (if you must!) email them. I’ll compile them and even though we are off after Wednesday, I will log in and post the best of your submissions here, in one glorious list. Ready? Go!

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A People’s History of Washington, D.C. http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/12/a-peoples-history-of-washington-d-c/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/12/a-peoples-history-of-washington-d-c/#comments Tue, 07 Dec 2010 23:15:12 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=2516 Continue reading ]]>

Amphis d'@illeurs

Danny Harris

Last night, I finally met and had a fantastic conversation with Danny Harris, the man behind the popular local website,”People’s District“. Danny is a photographer, DJ and oral historian who collects the stories of D.C. residents. Here’s why:

People’s District was my way of meeting the people I saw every day, but never stopped to introduce myself to: Carolyn, the crossing guard on my street; Cedric, who ran by my office most days, spinning in circles while yelling ‘HOOT, HOOT’; Dave, who rides his bike up and down my street in a finely tailored suit and fedora; and Josh, who checks my ID at the 9:30 Club. I saw these people more often than I saw my own family, yet I had never exchanged more than a ‘good morning’ or ‘thank you’ with them.

During one of those proverbial wake-up moments in July 2009, I stopped my first person to ask, ‘So, what’s your story?’ Joe, my first interviewee, spoke passionately about growing up on U Street and his first experience of going downtown after the end of segregation. After Joe came Andrew, talking about overcoming homelessness, then Eric and Maddie, discussing the D.C. hardcore music scene. Each story shed light on a new slice of D.C. life and brought me into the world of a complete stranger who was kind enough to share his or her story with me.

Each of those tales is compelling and while this is the part of my post where I’d normally exhort you to visit Danny’s online collection of D.C. stories, I probably don’t have to– the number one question I get from DCentric readers is, “Have you seen this site called ‘People’s District’?”. I’m not surprised (both of our sites explore race, class and the city), but I am grateful for the recommendation (seriously– feel free to tell me what you are reading). If I did introduce you to a new addition for your reader, then I’m glad I was able to shine some light on a worthy endeavor.

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And what a tux it will be! http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/12/and-what-a-tux-it-will-be/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/12/and-what-a-tux-it-will-be/#comments Fri, 03 Dec 2010 15:49:50 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=2443 Continue reading ]]>


Chuck Brown, shooting his "Block Party" video.

Congratulations to Chuck Brown, who was nominated for an Emmy! TBD has some words from the Go-go legend, himself:

“It’s the most wonderful thing ever,” Brown says. “I never dreamed of this, I didn’t even dream of this. This has been a great, great year—the greatest year of my career.

“After some 40 years in the business, running around and singing in different parts of the world, I never thought it would be like this,” he continues. “I give all credit to God, my manager, and my family. My wife and children have been such an inspiration, so encouraging.”

Although the Grammy ceremony isn’t until February, Brown, known for his amazing sartorial choices, already has an idea of what he’ll wear on the big night.

“I’m going to wear a tux,” he says. “I have a bunch of suits, but I know I can’t go wrong with a tux.”

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