Frankly speaking, it is one of the only places in the District where you can find a real community. My neighbors, many of whom have lived on my block for more than 30 years, and some longer than 50 years, look out for me, ask about me, take care of me and call me when I’ve been out of town simply to check up on me. My neighbors are one of the best parts of my day. Every morning there is a word of wisdom from a neighbor or an offered ride to the Metro. Every night is a friendly recap of the day’s goings-on and every month is a block or dinner party. After several years in Anacostia, I am now a brother to my neighbors. That is what they call me and that is what I feel.
In the District , this amiable neighborly behavior is now remarkably rare, which is why I moved to Anacostia in southeast — where it is not. Unfortunately, too few people on the west side of the Anacostia ever cross the river to realize this. I’m amazed at the psychological barrier; despite how close Anacostia is to downtown Washington.
Until this barrier is bridged, the aforementioned wealth, race and education achievement gaps will remain persistent and pervasive. I’m not suggesting gentrification — far from it, though it’s worth noting that my neighbors’ biggest beef with the newly built condos nearby is that the middle-upper class owners never come chat or chill with us, not even at the big annual end-of-summer block party. Their aloofness and disregard for preexisting dwellers is the biggest offense.
What I am suggesting is a courageous countenancing of the classism, racism and inequality of opportunity that exists in our nation’s capital and in our country. In Anacostia's case, that means crossing the river, being present with people, listening to their needs, and asking how to be of service, whether it is small business grants, local hiring quotas for east-of-the-river projects, job skills training, housing and mortgage assistance, tutoring and GED test prep, nutritional options, free legal advice and representation, career mentoring, summer jobs for Anacostia’s youth, in-town environmental cleanups, or as simple as childcare for a single working mother.
There is a reason why Anacostia’s older generation still votes for Marion Barry as their Ward 8 City Council member. When serving as mayor of Washington, Barry got them jobs. We must now do the same for Anacostia’s next generation, empowering all youth east of the river with the access, opportunity, skill and confidence to rise and lead – before the boot of a gentrifying city kicks this can further down the road.
And yet the District’s disparities are not so different from the country’s disparities. America is witnessing some of its highest income inequality and lowest social mobility rates ever, and the rise in violence and prejudice based on race, creed, color and sexual orientation is increasingly disconcerting. If we are to fix any of this, it is best that we start at home, in our back yard, and in our nation’s capital. And that begins with the Anacostia.