Washington, D.C. is many cities in one. It is a federal city, a diplomatic city and a political city. It is also home to thousands of young people who grow up in neighborhoods that are rich and poor, peaceful and embattled, stable or on the verge of change.
From the "Gold Coast" in Northwest to far Southeast, from Georgetown to Northeast, the District's diverse neighborhoods provide youngsters with a wide range of lifestyles, attitudes and perceptions.
Susan Smith who lives on the "Gold Coast" and Sarah Passonneau from Georgetown are both talkative, opinionated, idealistic and aggressive 18-year-olds from the upper echelons of Washington life. Tony "Mr. Natural" Farrar, 19, of far Northeast is passing through the school of hard knocks, learning to take care of himself on the streets.
Thurston Williams, 16, is a senstive dancer who is examining his thoughts and emotions. Dean Sanchez, 17, a feisty and adventurous youth from Chile, is one of the many Hispanic immigrants who add to the District's international flavor.
These young men and women talked at length with a reporter about growing up in Washington. Not surprisingly, they held a wide variety of opinions about life in Washington. They saw the District as both a small town and a large metropolis, a black and white city that is more segregated than integrated, a city both safe and dangerous.
Much of what they said indicated that wherever a youngster lives, he is likely to have many things in common with youths from other areas of town.
For example, youths in almost all parts of the city share a common fear of street crime and violence. Some youths live closer to crime than others. For those who can look out their bedroom windows and witness crimes taking place, the concern for personal safety is ever present.
Money or the lack of it, employment opportunities, race, politics, the opposite sex, music, education and friendship all play important roles in the shaping of young peoples' personalities.
According to youths interviewed for this story, one of the main things that makes growing up in the District different from growing up elsewhere is the presence of the federal government.
Knowing that home is where the White House is appears to give youth a sense of sophistication, a feeling that they know what's going on politically. It engenders in them a sense of pride; it gives them something to think and talk about and it serves as a constant reminder that the seat of power in this country is where they grew into adulthood. Like youngsters sitting in a theater, they watch players on the stages of government, politics and business vying for position.
And like second stringers on a football team, they anticipate -- some with ambivalence, others with confidence -- their chance to take part in the action.
Most youths interviewed seemed disenchanted with the federal and city governments. There was a consensus that drug abuse in the D.C. is pervasive, and leads many youths to begin "lunching out," or becoming irresponsible.
Questions about family and community life brought mixed reactions. One young woman said her mother is her best friend. Another youngster said his peers have become antagonistic toward him because he refuses to "belong" to a specific neighborhood clique. The same young man echoed the opinion of several other youths when he said that "young people in D.C. are too bunched up together. It's better to live in Maryland or Virginia. There's more space in the suburbs and it's cleaner."
The following page offers a glimpse into the hearts and minds of five youths who are growing up in Washington. Three of these young adults are native-born Washingtonians while two have lived here for at least 10 years. Together with thousands of other D.C. youths, they share the distinction, for better or worse, of growing up in one of the world's most unusual cities.