Mario Schowers has been marching in front of the South African Embassy nearly every weekday for almost a year. He has watched the crowds ebb and flow as celebrities come and go, and he has noticed that the more things changed along Massachusetts Avenue, the more they stayed the same in South Africa.
But Schowers is more upbeat than discouraged these days because he has benefited from these marches as much as anyone. Until last November, he was a man on the road to nowhere, a 34-year-old native Washingtonian, a graduate of Eastern High School and Bowie State College, living in a shelter for the homeless at Second and D streets NW.
Talk about angry. Talk about blaming the world. Talk about frustration with the "white man." And talk about the awful toll that perpetual bitterness takes.
For Schowers, the formation of the "Free South Africa" movement just before Thanksgiving last year offered more than orchestrated protests against a racist regime 8,000 miles away. It was a means to let off steam about what had happened to him in America.
What happened is: He failed.
Whether or not that was his fault has been the subject of one of the oldest cases on record with the D.C. Office of Human Rights -- a decade-old racial discrimination suit against a former employer, The Washington Post. It is also a matter of much concern to his mother, who wonders what she did wrong.
"In retrospect, if I had had the money, I would have sent him to Harvard," said Dazerene Martin. "He was a beautiful child, but Bowie State did not teach him anything and then the Post came along and destroyed him."
To make his long story short, Schowers had graduated from Eastern in 1968 and entered Bowie State as an activist. Even though the college had no journalism curriculum, Schowers practiced writing for an off-beat campus newspaper called "The Ebony Tree."
In 1970, he was hired by the Post as a copy boy, and six years later he filed a complaint when he was not selected as a newsroom intern. Not long after that, he was fired.
Last year, the D.C. Office of Human Rights ruled in Schowers' favor. The Post, noting that another black had been selected over Schowers, appealed the decision. The D.C. Corporation Counsel has asked that the matter be sent back to the office of human rights for reconsideration.
But instead of moving on with his life during those 10 years, Schowers fell into the trap of self-pity, wandering from job to job as a dishwasher, parking lot attendant and messenger boy and eventually ending up in a shelter for the homeless .
He says the only thing that kept him from going off the deep end was the fact that similar frustrations had resulted in both his father and older brother being sent to the Lorton Reformatory.
Schowers had grown up near Eighth and H streets NE, a neighborhood where prison is looked upon by many youths as a rite of passage for manhood. But with one sister living in California and another dead from a rare blood disease, he was the only one left to look after his mother.
Schowers responded to the "Free South Africa" call with vigor, and he became one of a dozen or so regulars who formed the ever-present core of the daily demonstrations. It is with much delight that he boasts of being arrested four times.
And it is with pride that he recalls receiving a service award from TransAfrica for his duties in helping to organize protests outside the South African Embassy, which included briefing first-time marchers about local laws governing embassy protests and helping clean up horse manure from police patrols along the march route.
It was a learning experience in which Schowers found Christians, Jews and Moslems who shared his concerns, and who even offered to help him straighten out his life.
The only violence near the embassy to date has been between Schowers and another black man, who fought over the placement of a picket sign. Schowers was shaken up; others deeply embarrassed. But when the dust settled, at least Schowers could see more clearly.
"I guess I'm just an angry man, but I want to channel it in a positive way," he said.
For most of this year at least, it appears, he has managed to succeed.