The allocation of millions of dollars from the District coffers to build a mega-recreation center in Ward 3, which is wealthy and white and has the fewest children of any ward, did not happen by the wave of a fairy godmother's wand. Nor was the closure last week of a recreation center in Ward 8, which is poor and black and has the most children, the result of some black magic.
This is the second in a two-part tale of two city recreation centers -- Stoddert, which is attached to Stoddert Elementary in Ward 3's Glover Park neighborhood; and Orr, which used to be inside Orr Elementary in Anacostia.
Yesterday's column noted the inequity of closing the one in Anacostia, which has 2,065 children, while building a mega-center in Glover Park, which has only 419. Today's looks at some of the decisions made by the haves to help themselves and what the have-nots might learn from them.
"The parents are very vocal," said Sheena Tuckson, principal at Stoddert Elementary, where parents are the driving force behind the mega-center. "I knew that this was a community where I would have to be available and accessible and give them information immediately, because they wanted to be part of the decision-making process."
When a handful of parents and residents showed up last week at Orr Elementary to ask Principal Michelle N. Williams why the recreation center was closing, she had them barred from the school, according to participants. Had there been more protesters, it is unlikely that she could have brushed them off so easily.
"I think when we told the neighbors about trying to keep the center open, they were sympathetic," said Linda Holmes, one of the community organizers who tried to meet with the principal. "But as far as getting citizens to show up for meetings, that was like a different story. A lot of it has to do with the mind-set of people. They have never been involved in anything before. They just go day to day, taking whatever they can get."
In Glover Park, on the first Friday of each month, Tuckson sets aside time for what she calls "Tea with Mrs. T," so parents can drop in and talk about anything they want. Moreover, she maintains zero tolerance for lackadaisical attitudes toward her students.
"We have some parents whose third-graders read at a higher level than they do, but if you are here, you are expected to participate," she said.
In other words, the gap between the rich and poor is not just about money. Parents can bridge it by demanding the best education for their children, and city officials can support them with the resources they need instead of taking away the little they have.
Ironically, some of the most forceful advocates for improvements in Ward 8 live in Ward 3. As one Glover Park resident put it, "Why are we getting a 22,000-square-foot new rec center with underground parking, and a new and improved Guy Mason [rec center] three blocks away, when other neighborhoods have nothing? Not only that, but these children have so many extracurricular activities going on that they need to take a vacation."
Proponents of the new mega-center say it will provide Stoddert Elementary with a new gymnasium and auditorium, which the school lacks. They accuse the opponents of fearing that a new recreation center will attract strangers to the neighborhood.
When the two groups find themselves together in the local dog park, some say, the barking of the dogs gets drowned out by the barks of humans. Say what you will, but that's community involvement.
Restoring pride and self-respect in Ward 8 was the theme that former D.C. mayor Marion Barry used recently to win the Democratic primary for a seat on the D.C. Council representing that area. But he need not sound so psychological. What Ward 3 knows, and what Ward 8 has somehow forgotten, is that the squeaky wheel gets the grease.
In Glover Park, they know how to howl. In Anacostia, they could at least learn to holler.