Entertained by the funky tunes of two local bands and the high-stepping exuberance of a half-dozen cheerleading groups, about 300 Southwest public housing residents held a day-long festival Saturday to help raise funds for a closed-circuit television system to improve security in their housing development.
Tired of the crime, vandalism and deterioration that have long plagued their development, a determined group of residents of Greenleaf Gardens, James Creek Dwellings and Syphax Gardens organized Saturday's festival and dinner to raise money to send representatives to Boston to view a closed-circuit TV system in use in a low income area there.
The Southwest residents want to use their system not only to improve security in their 456-unit complex in the Delaware Avenue and M Street area, but also on train area youths in television production and other employable skills. They also want to pay for it themselves.
"All of this would not be working if it weren't for the people themselves," said Carole A. Muhammad, an organizer of the fundraiser and an originator of the closed-circuit system idea.
The day-long celebration began two hours late but featured some thumping sounds from "Redd's and the Boys" and the "Mass Extinction," two local "funk and groove" bands, as well as popular songs by Greenleaf resident Lisa Thompson and vocalists Dawn and Desi Hill.
Cheerleading exhibitions by the Terrell Thunders from Terrell Recreation Center, the Bancroft Elementary School, the Banneker Creative Dancers, the Number 4 Boys' and Girls' Club, and the Greenleaf Recreation Center displayed both gymnastic talents and boundless energy.
The Universal Truth Ensemble, a choir from the Washington Masjid of the American Muslim Mission, also performed. Mayor Marion Barry and Ward 2 council member John Wilson later appeared briefly at a sitdown turkey dinner cooked by residents. Proceeds from the dinner totaled nearly $1,000.
Muhammad, a secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said she developed the television idea about two years ago and in January received the city's permission to implement it. Although not a Greenleaf resident, Muhammad said her interest in public housing sterns from her own brief stay in Southeast's Shipley Terrace several years ago.
The Houses were a wreck, the kids were a wreck, everything was a mess," Muhammad recalled. "But I couldn't see what welfare had to do with dirt. I started working with my neighbors, sharing a sewing machine, making curtains, so they could see that everything you need is there, even if you don't see it.
Muhammad, who had acquaintances living in Southwest public housing units, later offered the city a proposal to help residents clean up their buildings, most of which were built between 1956 and 1959. Though the units were much applauded for their "livability" when they opened, parts of the complex have become better known for broken windows, fetid smells and moments of violence.
Just last Friday, according to Muhammad, ambulance drivers would not enter a Greenleaf building without a police escort to attend to a girl with a broken nose. While fire department officials could not confirm that incident, they said requests for such escorts are common.
Clarence Green, president of the Greenleaf Gardens Tenants Council, told residents they should raise as much money as possible so the system will belong to them.
"That way," said Green, "you've got to believe in it."
Self-help programs are something of a tradition at Greenleaf. In 1959, area schoolchildren constructed a model do-it-yourself apartment to show tenants inexpensive ways to fix up their homes. In 1966, Southwest House opened a credit union to make low-cost loans available to residents who had no access to credit. Two years later, a small grant from the mayor's office financed a cleanup project enabling Greenleaf youths to earn minimum wages for painting and plastering apartments in the complex.
Several dozen volunteers, many of them employes from the city's recreation and housing departments, were on hand to work or show support for last Saturday's fundraiser. They included Shaw-Pac Director Ibrahim Mumin, community activist Ali Khan, graphic designers Ralph Butler and Patrick Burk, and others who helped draft the proposal.
"If we're blessed to succeed," said Muhammad, "others will be able to follow."