She leaves the apartment in far Northeast Washington with its crushed blue velvet sofas and walls lined with family portraits. Outside, she races down a steep set of stairs to the street. Then Diamond walks four desolate blocks, passing woods and a dead creek, to catch a train. It takes nearly an hour before she arrives at Cardozo, at 13th and Clifton streets NW, to prepare for the National Marathon.
The insistent calls to remind Diamond about practice get on her nerves.
“You calling me is not going to make me come. ... It irritates me, actually,” says Diamond, a girl whose exterior is as tough as her name implies. “Don’t call me and ask me if I’m running. If I’m not there, I am not coming.”
Since September, Diamond has been a part of Teens Run DC, an after-school mentoring program that matches adult long-distance runners with economically disadvantaged teenagers at Cardozo High School. The students at Cardozo had started out strong, but now many aren’t showing up.
So on an afternoon in early February, Benson Forman, the Chevy Chase clinical psychologist who founded and manages Teens Run DC, calls an urgent lunchtime meeting at Cardozo.
“Do you want to be part of the team?” Forman asks, his back against the chalkboard as five students sit in a semicircle of desks before him.
Some questions, he will later reflect, are better left unasked.
When Forman gets to Diamond, she lets his question hang in the air a moment.
“No, I don’t want to be part of the team,” she answers. Then she gets up from her desk and walks out of the classroom.
Forman calls after her, but Diamond keeps going.
Two years ago, Forman was reading about a similar running program in Los Angeles when it struck him that he could do the same thing here. A highly regarded psychologist often sought after by private-school parents, he yearned to have an impact beyond his affluent clientele.
“It was time to give back,” says Forman, 57, a harried man with salt-and-pepper hair and wire-rimmed glasses. As a marathon runner, he knew what could be gained by going the distance. And his clinical experience made him feel he understood what a disadvantaged teen might need to overcome obstacles.
Forman believed that running could help the students build self-confidence and self-discipline. The sense of mastery and perseverance would then carry over into the rest of their lives.
In the fall of 2009, Forman launched the program at Wilson High School in Northwest Washington, where it has thrived. He took his idea next to Cardozo, where he met Ebony Dennis Mundy, a clinical psychologist with the city who is based at the school. She was impressed.