SOCIAL JUSTICE

Public Service With a Side of Spandex

By Delphine Schrank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 23, 2007

Beltway traffic marooned the roast turkeys, but that didn't stop a dynamic duo of world-saving, justice-championing, despair-fighting masked crusaders -- one with red cape aflutter -- from charging down the streets of the capital yesterday, dispensing Chinese-takeout cartons of corn bread, dressing and green beans to homeless people.

Yes, superheroes are alive and well.

Be not fooled. This is no tryptophan mirage. Nor is this a post-prandial attempt to take refuge from a feast-induced family feud by diving into an old Marvel comic book.

On a day when area nonprofit groups and armies of the charitable assisted the needy by distributing food or hosting Thanksgiving dinners in shelters, members of the all-volunteer Capital City Super Squad ventured out in their trademark disguises, each representing an invented superhero alter ego. Their mission: bringing smiles to the faces of many a homeless person as they proffered cartons of home-cooked fare.

That blur of red-and-white lycra brandishing a plastic fork who you could've sworn dashed by your window yesterday? That's Captain Prospect. The one with a pair of scales emblazoned in scarlet felt across her chest? Justice. Sworn members of the six-person Super Squad, the pair sacrificed family mealtime to do what they do: do-gooding. Sometimes that means circulating abuse-awareness pamphlets, but most often it means cooking and handing out food.

"Do you need a box, sir?" asked Prospect, a 31-year-old who allowed a reporter to tag along on the condition of anonymity, citing a possible compromise of his secret identity. He pulled a carton from a Whole Foods bag, as Justice, a.k.a. Jasmine Modoor, handed over napkin and fork.

Quotidian reality, however, sometimes imposes its limits.

"The poultry delivery didn't make it because of traffic," Prospect said, his cape flapping behind him as he leaned on a marble statue in front of Union Station. Nice Ninja, another squad member, was meant to provide the turkeys and chicken but was caught in a Beltway tangle for an hour, so Captain Prospect told him not to bother.

"See, your costume is very cute, but he's scaring me," said Anthony Jackson, 41, laughing as he accepted a carton from Justice. Jackson, who sat on a bench at I and Sixth streets in a handout jacket with the price tag still hanging from the sleeve, has been homeless for 18 months, he said, since he and his wife separated. "My life hasn't been right since," he said. He'd eaten in a shelter yesterday, but the carton was most welcome, he said.

"It beats what I've had all day. Nothing," said Samuel Sterling, 52, on the bottle-littered mound of grass between Massachusetts Avenue and H Street where he had slept the previous night. As he plunged into the green beans, Sterling said he had worked as a handyman in New Orleans until Hurricane Katrina destroyed everything. He made his way up to the District and sleeps where he can, he said.

"Hey y'all, I like your outfit!" he called as the duo bounded off.

Dozens of others sitting on walls or benches silently nodded their thanks. But others politely declined the offer.

"I don't want a handout. I want a hand up" to find a job, said Bernard Hamilton, 51, a former Marine who regularly sleeps on the marble wall in front of Union Station.

If they only had real superpowers, Captain Prospect and Justice said, they know they could do so much more. Prospect, who works weekdays in social services, would opt for invulnerability. Justice, a first-year student at Howard University's law school, would choose foresight. Her superhero identity conveys her desire to one day practice law as a social engineer, rather than a "parasite," she said.

Last summer, Modoor was planning her move to the District for school and browsing Craigslist for furniture when she stumbled on a notice from Captain Prospect calling for volunteers.

"I thought it was a very unique way to approach community service," Justice said.

Captain Prospect, whose business card identifies him as "the Washington DC Superhero," dreams of building up the network to a dozen active superheroes and applying for nonprofit status so the group can stop paying out of pocket and fund more ambitious projects.

Meanwhile, he said, "There really isn't any good reason someone can't put on a costume and do good deeds like a superhero."


© 2007 The Washington Post Company