While other youths rode bicycles past him and congregated in the shade nearby, Donnell Wyder, 10, sat on a folding chair at the corner of Seventh and R streets NW selling newspapers to motorists. Although he is getting quite an education, the young entrepreneur said he can hardly wait for school to start.
"I want to hurry up and get it over with," he said. "I want to be a millionaire."
Around him, in the hustle and bustle of street life, there were men hanging out at the Washington Pool Checker Club while others streamed in and out of a nearby liquor store. As potential customers approached, Donnell eased toward them, a spunky little boy with large, dark eyes. He waved his newspaper to catch attention, then used his eyes to make the sale.
He is a gifted boy, with savvy beyond his years, but seems too young to sense the odds against him. The U.S. Census Bureau reported last week that blacks made significant gains in education and health during the 1970s, but unemployment worsened and the number of children living in one-parent households rose dramatically.
This spells trouble ahead, but ask Donnell if he worries about getting a job and there is never a sign of doubt. His confidence is refreshing, and although it comes by way of a 10-year-old, should not be discounted as a decisive factor for anyone looking for a job.
On the streets near his newspaper stand, the grim statistics are portrayed with a certain lethargy, as the worst cases are laid out at curbside, drunk, begging and seemingly beyond help. Education was supposed to mean jobs, but even though more and more blacks graduated from high school and went to college from 1970 to 1982, work became more difficult to find.
"I didn't finish school but I did get a GED," said one 31-year-old man who lives near the area where Donnell works. "It don't even pay to mention GED. I just wasn't qualified."
His friend, Keith Colbert, a Howard University student, sympathized with him. "Like King said, 'I have a dream . . . . ' "
"But this is a nightmare," the other man said.
Donnell, who has worked as a "grime fighter," cleaning streets in the city's spring clean-up program, has big plans, however. It is not his plan alone. His mother keeps the piggy bank.
Still, Donnell keeps change in his pocket and walks tall for not-quite a teen-ager.
It's not how many parents raise a child, says his mother who is raising him and his 3-year-old sister alone, it's how the child is raised.
A lot of people try to raise children different from the way they were raised," says the mother, Thelma Page, a secretary at Howard University. "I'm raising my children the same way my grandmother raised me--and take them to church every Sunday. I teach Donnell that I will not be here all the time and that he has responsibilities around the house."
When Donnell gets paid for his work, he gets to keep all but what she keeps out for church offerings. She calls herself "strictly lenient," adding, "You have to teach them when they're young."
To her delight, Donnell was selected last year to participate in a special filmmaking program for gifted children at Howard University. He spent last summer learning what a cameraman does and how television commercials are made. This year, his mother said, he has earned money cutting lawns and selling newspapers to buy his own school clothes.
And he doesn't let up, counting down the school years as he counts up his cash.
"I've proved to myself that I can get a job. Now I want to think about what kind of job I like," Donnell said with a gleam in his eye. "I'll be in fifth grade this year at Cleveland Elementary School and pretty soon it's junior high, then high, then college, and then . . . . "
You can see the dollar signs in his eyes.