Michael Tucker took the summer off from his travel agency for a cause. Each night he appeals to D.C. residents to take better care of themselves -- from a tent at the corner of 7th and S streets NW. He asks them to stop smoking, develop sound nutritional habits and get off drugs.
His effort is part of the D.C. Community Crusade, a project he and other local alumni of Oakwood College in Huntsville, Ala., developed to "put some hope back into the black community."
Every day Tucker, 36, and area doctors, lawyers and clergymen who were his friends at the small, service-oriented Alabama school, conduct classes in nutrition and weight loss, present a program designed to help smokers quit, and make an appeal for drug addicts to come in for advice on how to kick the habit.
Someone has been in the tent on a 24-hour basis since it opened July 28. People from the community can walk in at any time for free food, medical or counseling referrals, or just a place to spend the night without a hassle.
It's an idea that's been with Tucker, a Bedford-Stuyvesant native who now lives in Adams-Morgan, for a long time, something he says "just grew every time I'd walk down 14th Street or through almost any part of Shaw. You have to be blind not to notice the carnival of tragedy that's going on down here."
The tent is on land owned by the city, "right in the eye of the storm," Tucker says. For weeks before the project got underway, notices were posted in the Shaw area, downtown and in parts of Adams-Morgan. He says the tent, which holds 500 people, is half to two-thirds full every day, with more showing up as word of the presentations spreads.
"We want this project to be a lighthouse in the community," he says of the work.
He began several months ago by looking up friends in the area who had attended Oakwood College. Students at the school are trained in the importance of service to humanity, Tucker said, "so I thought if I could remind them of that commitment, I wouldn't have much trouble lining up some help."
Six doctors, along with several lawyers and a number of District clergymen take time each evening to discuss topics in their respective fields. None of the volunteers is paid for his time, and most have made financial contributions as well. Tucker says he expects to generate a lot of community interest next week when a series of lectures on drug addiction is scheduled to begin.
Persons who want to overcome their addictions will be admitted to hospitals where the crusade's volunteer, doctors practice and given personal attention throughtout the recovery process, he said.
"We know that we are advocating a painful step for some of these people, but it's also something which is very necessary.Attacking the drug problem is one very real way we have of combating the decay which is hitting so many of the lives of Washington's black folks." If the turnout proves too large for the six doctors involved in the crusade, Tucker says he will "go back to the alumni directory and find a few more who can serve -- even if I have to go all the way to New York to get them."
Tucker, who owns a travel agency, is married and has a 4-year-old son, started the crusade because he felt many of the inner city's problems needed immediate solutions. He points out that he and his friends have no predetermined operating budget, but run on donations from the professionals themselves and from churches and other charitable groups.
"The budget is often the very thing that breaks the backs of groups or people who try to do good. We aren't asking anyone to hand us huge sums of money -- we're running on determination and commitment. If we need something, I tell the volunteers to chip in and then write it off their taxes. One way or another, we are going to make this work."
Doctors will check for sickle cell anemia, take blood pressures and test for diabetes this week. Workshops on drug abuse will begin next week and continue until the program, which begins about 6 p.m. each evening, ends Sept. 6.
And next summer? Tucker says he and the others definitely will be setting up shop again.