From an interview with Jerry Phillips, a fifth-generation Washingtonian who has spent 25 years in D.C. radio and television. He is host of a Sunday morning call-in show on WDJY. Longer excerpts of this interview first appeared in D.C. Issue Watch, a local newsletter.
I love this community. It is, and will always be, my home. Washington, however, has gone through a real transition in the past 20 years. Only some of it is for the better. The first six or seven years of Marion Barry's administration were good years. He helped bring us out of the sleepy town that we were.
A real Washingtonian day was when we celebrated the success of quarterback Doug Williams and the Redskins. There was a giant parade and outpouring of pride and joy. People felt good about D.C. that day, even the many suburbanites who came down to watch and participate. People came together.
But these days I am often disappointed in my city. We have lost a great deal of community unity. Look at the schools. They used to be a community institution. Dunbar High School -- the community was in an uproar when they tore old Dunbar down. Spingarn, where I went to school, was a community. People used to refer to the name of their school as the name of their community; the Ballou High School community. Not any more.
Friends have left the city who I thought never would. Or they have moved to the suburbs. We never thought D.C. would be looked at as the little New York, the fast-track city. That kind of city is not my hometown. That is not the Washington I grew up in and loved.
As I walk around the city I think our community life has deteriorated because of factionalism -- blacks and whites; newcomers and old-timers; yuppies; the large influx of blacks that came in from the South looking for a better life. Too many people here still consider themselves transients. We haven't learned to work together.
I was born at 15th and S streets NW. That was local Washington. The area carries a lot of memories. Now I don't recognize it -- a back door to Georgetown. I love Adams Morgan, though. In some respects it is what D.C. used to be -- multi-ethnic, very refreshing. But I think our community life has deteriorated.
Look at what happened when the D.C. School Board tried to fire Superintendent Andrew Jenkins. Angry citizens protested that this was a slap against Jenkins for trying to introduce an "Afrocentric" curriculum. I'm not against this kind of education, but this issue does not require that kind of violent reaction. I would have liked to have seen a thousand parents down there yelling that their children were not being taught that two plus two equals four. That would have been a worthy protest.
And the churches. Many of them have become greedy. They are not teaching the gospel according to Jesus Christ. Not the way Msgr. Geno Baroni would have taught it. Not the way Rev. Ray Kemp is teaching it today. Or the way my good friend the former D.C. Bishop Eugene Marino taught it.
I'll tell you who makes the difference here. It is the hundreds of thousands of D.C. voters, the people who truly care enough to do something about our town. These are the real Washingtonians. These are the people who have the power to make the difference -- not The Washington Post or the Board of Trade, not the suburbanites from Virginia and Maryland who gleefully point out our problems and complain about our mayor. And I don't want to hear any more talk about giving D.C. to another state.
Downtown development here is atrocious. It mostly benefits those who live outside the city. Parking tickets are now $50. That's not my hometown! It wasn't long ago they were only $10. Listen to the morning radio shows. They tell you a lot about the city. The way commuters shift in between 6 and 9 and out again between 4 and 7. I know, I spent many years hosting these morning shows.
Too much power in this town is in the hands of the bankers, the developers, the money lenders. The board of trade, Riggs Bank, American Security, Safeway, Giant. The chamber of commerce is supposed to represent the interests of local D.C. business, particularly minority-owned business, but it doesn't do a thing. It's even run by a man hired from Baltimore.
The local people pick up the bill for Washington's being the nation's capital. The federal government has its parades and protests. But when it comes down to who pays the bill, it is the people who live here. This is wrong. The congressman from Kickapoo, Iowa, doesn't care about this city.
There is a need to clean up city hall. I trust that the voters of D.C. will do the right thing.
We need new blood. Most of our elected officials have been in office 10, 12 years. That's too long. Our citizens want change. Many of our council members are tired. They need to go.
I have worked at city hall for 16 years. There are many good people in city hall. Whoever comes in is going to have to learn to work with these employees. You can't just come in and shovel everybody out.
There are problems in our community that never should have come to Washington. Minister Louis Farrakhan. I don't know what he is doing here. Whatever it is, I wish he would go home. I don't want these out-of-towners telling us what to do. Jesse Jackson and George Stallings should know better. There was a time when responsible blacks and whites would not have allowed these people to speak for their community. They wouldn't have let them past Highway 495. Mayor Dinkins of New York or Gov. Wilder of Virginia would never let these outsiders take the spotlight.
This white and black thing is so silly. We are talking about human beings, not the difference between people and dogs or cats. Unfortunately, race is an underlying factor here in D.C. Many of the younger people have never experienced blatant segregation and racial violence. There is not enough talk and action regarding global, multi-ethnic understanding.
There are those who like to dwell on the possibility of racial tensions and even predicted riots triggered by the Barry trial. These people just want to put pokes in the fire. Those who pay the bills, the taxes, who live here in our neighborhood, they are not out to destroy or incite to riot.
We blacks have made great advances under the law and in some respect on the job. But Washington is also a social town. The question is, what are we going to do about social relations? In the King dream of 20 years ago, no one thought that you had to sit down and socialize with the other race. It was all about equality.
I go out with white friends as well as black friends. If other people feel uncomfortable about doing this, I feel sorry for them.
A lot of D.C. people are good citizens, but as for strong effective leadership, I just don't know who to mention.
Jesse gets mentioned all over town as our leader, but popularity is not the same thing as leadership. He hasn't done anything for this community. Marion Barry was a good leader. Hard to name many younger leaders.
To be very honest with you, it seems we have very little real leadership in town these days. There is a general lack of commitment to public service, to public life. The upwardly mobile and ambitious men and women want to make the bucks without the headaches of public life. But we need these people as leaders in community affairs.
I believe the media have the biggest responsibility to help bring about a sense of community. Also, our schools and churches. And of course, City Hall. But imagery is everything. You don't know what Southeast Washington is all about by staying in upper Northwest Washington -- and the other way around. The media can help make this bridge. That's why I work where I do.
We've become selfish, afraid to say hello to the person on the street, whether it is in Anacostia or Georgetown. We have to take the time to sit down and understand each other. This is a beautiful city. We don't need all this divisiveness.