COLUMBIA ROAD is full of families decked out in their best outfits for church services at my parish. Sts. Paul and Augustine, at 15th and V Streets NW. One of the great myths perpetrated on the public is that the Catholic Church cannot survive in central cities once abandoned by whites fleeing to suburbia.
Sts. Paul and Augustine is thriving, due in large part to pastor Ray Kemp, who believes that the parish must be involved in the life of the neighborhood as a necessary condition for "building the Kingdom." On 14th Street, that means reaching out to the elderly, the addicts, the evicted.
After mass, I stop by the parish housing information centre, staffed by parishioners and some of the Georgetown students with whom I work. One of our students is explaining to an elderly woman that she may be eligible for a rent decrease. He sets up a time to go with her to the Rental Accommodations Office to file the petition.
For the first time in four months, I bike to work today. No more squeezing onto a packed Metrobus. When I bike, I get a better sense of my neighborhood, Adams-Morgan.
I arrive at the university for the start of a big week. The student groups I advise are sponsoring ""social Action Week," an attempt to increase involvement in projects responding to human needs. The group I work most closely with, the Community Action Coalition, contends that work with the poor and oppressed can be a profound learning experience.
Lunch with Father Jack Haughey, founder of a community action effort at Georgetown during the '60s. He reminds me that ideas only get to our heads through our feet. We are trying to plant our students' feet beyond Embassy Row and Tourmobile route.
My day is spent attending to the myriad small details that always crop up when organizing and event - arranging for tables, class visits, microphones, rain sites. This job can get pretty basic at times.
Start with a meeting at Washington Inner City Self Help (WISH), an interdenominationally sponsored community organization at 14th and N Streets NW. Jan Johnson, the student coordinator for the housing effort, and I are seeking the advice of Robin Craddock, WISH's area organizer. The students are attempting to aid parishioners who face being pushed out of their neighborhood by real estate speculators.
Right now, three students are surveying the largest apartment buildings in the parish to determine which ones have tenants' associations. Robin suspects that few buildings are organized. This means that the area is very vulnerable to rapid property transfer.
The G2 bus takes me directly out P Street, from 14th Street to Georgetown. "Social Action Week" is in full swing. The people who said they would catch up with me after the weekend all do so in a 20-minute span.
At 6 p.m. I head to the Superior Court. GU students work there as aides to probation officers and counselors for juvenile offenders and they are being recognized for their efforts. One student is reluctant to go to the ceremony because the offender he works with has been rearrested. Denise Long, the juvenile's probation officer, convinces the student that there are many forces in the child's life beyond a Georgetown student's control. He comes to the ceremony. Denise Long is a teacher too.
Return hurriedly to campus to hear Ralph Nader address a packed house. He calls on the students to use their education not for private gain, but to fight injustice. The question period is marred by hecklers who link the Three Mile Island accident to aZionist conspiracy masterminded by the Stern Foundation. This city attracts political neanderthals like flies.
The Georgetown Chapter of Nader's Public Interest Research Group is sponsoring Energy Day. The schedule includes workshops on health effects of radiation, solar energy, personal options for involvement in the energy issue.
I give a presentation on Paolo Freire's "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" in a course titled "The Philosophy of Social Action." The students find Freire stimulating, particularly his notion that the poor are made passive by a system that limits their choices.
Tonight I moderate a debate on nuclear power: Exxon's nuclear expert and an Edison Institute fellow against a Union of Concerned Scientists lobbyist and the director of Nader's Critical Mass. The audience gets a good sense of the industry vs. public interest tug-of-war that goes on in this town everyday.
Twenty students from Cardozo High School, the school publicized the press for its noisy atmosphere and pot-filled air, are at Georgetown today as part of our high school outreach program. They tour our biology lab and peek through the electron microscope. The students are attentive, interested and fit none of the stereotypes that the press has created about the D.C. public schools.
Sam Harvey, director of minority student affairs, and I are hoping to increase the number of D.C. students who want to come to Georgetown. We want to do this by making Georgetown familiar turf to a large number of local students, rather than the foreign territory it has traditionally been.
In the afternoon I receive good news about the District Action Project, an experimental living alternative in Copley Hall on campus that I advise. Renee DeVigne, the floor's resident assistant, tells me that the floor has received high marks from university officials who reviewed its first year.
Each of the Project's 40 students is involved in the community. Beth Killian, a sophomore language major, is presenting a slide show and tape she did with the Spanish children she works with at the Spanish Education Development Center. Sunday morning, a group of students organized by floor member Sarah Bruder will cook and serve breakfast at So Others Might Eat (SOME). Who says student activism is dead?
Home early tonight and I seize the last hour of daylight to pick up a basketball game at a playground on 18th Street. I love to play there because they play my kind of ball game-run and shoot with no defense.
This morning I meet with my boss, Bill Stott, dean of students. My year as D.C. Action Coordinator is ending and we have started the process of selecting a successor.
I wrap up the week meeting with the students directors of the Community Action Coalition, Ed DeBerri and Rose Audette. We discuss ways to complement our programs with more projects that use students as advocates for the dispossessed, especially for the elderly poor.
As GU basketball coach John Thompson says, students are very effective at "negotiating the system." They have a responsibility to help others do so. CAPTION: Picture, Dan Burke, 22, is the District action coordinator in the office of Student Affairs at Georgetown University. A 1978 Georgetown graduate, he was a co-founder of the Community Action Coalitionon the campus in 1976.