John Kelly's Washington

John Kelly's Washington

When he's not knocking off a scarf on his commute to and from Southeast Washington, Dwayne Lawson-Brown is spreading the word on HIV prevention as the after-school coordinator for Metro TeenAIDS.
When he's not knocking off a scarf on his commute to and from Southeast Washington, Dwayne Lawson-Brown is spreading the word on HIV prevention as the after-school coordinator for Metro TeenAIDS. (By John Kelly -- The Washington Post)
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By John Kelly
Monday, October 12, 2009

There might be other break-dancing, poetry-slam-hosting, dreadlock-sporting, HIV- awareness-raising, crochet hook-wielding young men in Washington, but if there are, I don't know any. I do, however, know Dwayne Lawson-Brown.

I met the 25-year-old late one night when I was trying to stay awake on the platform of the Gallery Place Metro station. You know how some people just have a look? That's Dwayne. He's partial to heavily flared jeans and neatly pressed T-shirts. Clamped atop his avalanche of dreads that night was a chunky pair of headphones. He had a backpack over one shoulder and was wheeling another behind him.

I noticed him even before he unzipped one of the backpacks, reached in and pulled out . . . a crochet hook, a skein of yarn and a half-finished scarf.

This guy I had to talk to. What's with the crochet?

"I was dating a young woman," Dwayne began.

How many stories begin that way, I wonder?

He was dating a young woman who was addicted to latch hook. She could sit for hours, latch hooking a rug. Dwayne decided he needed his own hobby.

He went to a bookstore. When he walked out, he was the proud owner of "I Taught Myself to Crochet." And so he did. He no longer has the girl, but he has the hobby.

That was five years ago. His first efforts were unfortunate: lumpy, misshapen, more dishrags than scarves. "I couldn't get the hang of counting stitches," he said. "Or keeping tension on the yarn."

But he got better. And he got faster. If you saw Dwayne now, on the Metro or commuting home to Southeast on the A bus, his hands would be a blur. He can knock off a scarf in a couple of days' worth of commuting.

For 10 years, Dwayne has worked at Metro TeenAIDS, a nonprofit organization that strives to reduce infection rates among the city's young people. He started as a volunteer peer educator, roped in by a young lady he was courting. He realizes now she just wanted him involved with her cause, not with her. But, like crocheting, it stuck. Now he's the group's after-school coordinator. He has a cadre of peer educators who urge teens to get tested, use condoms and think about their futures.

"They remind me of me," he said, laughing.


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