Intersections: At Morris and Elvans roads SE, finding hope where bricks are thrown

The Washington Post/Robert Samuels - Morris and Elvans roads SE.

In his weekly series, staff writer Robert Samuels explores the District, street corner by street corner.

By 3:20 p.m. most weekdays, Lorenzo Hall passes by this corner of Elvans and Morris roads SE, smiling.

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    He holds the hand of his 9-year-old daughter, Dania, as they cross the street to Moten Elementary School in Anacostia. Smiling to her is necessary, he thinks. Raising a child in an area where no parent is expected to be able to afford the cost of lunch and where one in five are jobless, he thinks it’s important that she witness some optimism.

    “I want my daughter to be positive,” he said. “That’s the best way I can be a role model for her, being a positive guy who is not involved in drug commerce and does good things. I think she’ll do well in life because she’s positive.”

    The buzz around the corner hasn’t been so positive. Until a month ago, Metro’s bus planners zeroed in on Elvans Road and declared the hilly stretch too dangerous to drive through after dark. Teenagers, hiding in the woods and abandoned houses, were launching bricks and rocks at bus drivers’ heads.

    Some area residents said the attacks on buses were the result of a frustrated generation, those left behind by the condo-crazed prosperity creeping from west of the River. At one public hearing, a transit worker declared that youths had initiated a “war on buses.” All the talk of ending nighttime bus service in the area, eventually swatted down by the D.C. Council, reignited a discussion about the kids in Ward 8, the city’s poorest.

    For parents such as Hall, 30, that discussion doesn’t fade with the headlines; it’s a worry every day. Hall has no choice but to put faith in sending his child to a school in which 80 percent of students aren’t reading at grade level. He and the mother of his children have few options but to raise their child in a community in which only 10 percent have bachelor’s degrees.

    At this age, elementary school is a haven. In the next precious years, he said, his job is to be a bulwark against the drugs and violence she’ll encounter when she’s old enough to cross the street alone.

    “The teenagers around here? I got to admit, they aren’t the people I want her looking up to,” he said. “They are getting into a lot of trouble. . . . Maybe it’s because they just don’t see enough people around doing positive things.”

    In the afternoon at this corner, the only concern about an object being thrown is among two young boys worrying that their spongy football might get caught in the trees. Parents wait outside the schoolyard to pick up their laughing children, all revealing different styles of child rearing.

    “Give me a hug,” a mom says before asking her daughter to get in their van.

    “Don’t make me have to pop you,” another says, talking to a son she considered too fresh.

    “Did you have a good day today?” Hall asked Dania, who giggled at the question. Both wear their hair tightly braided. They both have bubble jackets and carry backpacks — hers pink, his black.

    When she gets home, she does not play for long. Dad shares the same fears of the bus drivers around here. Old housing complexes are abandoned, imprisoned behind wire fences with prolonged promises of renovations. Grassy lots are so unkempt that the stalks are higher than Hall’s knees. There aren’t many street lights, so who knows what — or who — lurks in the shadows.

    “I don’t know why it’s so dark around here,” Hall said. “Maybe because the area is considered a bad area.”

    Hall hasn’t had a job in the two years since he was laid off at a car repair shop. He didn’t finish 12th grade at Phelps High School in Northeast, and he had fathered five children by the time he turned 30.

    But he and the mother of his children try to build a stable home for their kids, Dania being the youngest. She’s not sure what she wants to be when she grows up. Honestly, he still struggles with that question, too.

    “Maybe something with motorcycles because I like that,” he said. “Or culinary arts. But something where I’m supervising.”

    During the day, he’s working to find the answer. He takes GED classes at Moten, the same school his daughter attends. Both get out at 3:15, so they walk home together. On a corner where stones are sometimes thrown, a daughter and a dad lift up their hopes. She’ll dream up her future while Dad dreams up one of his own.

    Do you have a favorite intersection? E-mail the reporter at samuelsr@washpost.com. For more in this series, go to postlocal.com.

     
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