It was a warm and breezeless afternoon and Sam Jordan's well worn El Producto seemed stucked to his lip, hanging there while he talked, spewing ash as he manhandled a 1968 Ford through a turn onto East Capitol Street from Benning Road. The car was dark and hot inside and so dusty outside that the gold D.C. government seal on the side could barely be seen.
Through the hot air rippling from the pavement, a complex of plain beige brick buildings came into view, windows open as electric fans inhaled the exhaust of the thoroughfare below.
"The East Capitol Public Housing Project," Jordan said faintly. "Holy hell up there, man. You'll see. Come summer, when the temperature at night stabilizes at, say about 80, they'll be out on the streets. Thousands of 'em. Hardly any of these places have air conditioning. It's going to be hot all right," he said.
Jordan drove farther, heading west to the Fletcher/Johnson Elementary School where Edgar Dews, director of security for washington's public schools, worked. Dews is a contact, one of several whom Jordan consults as he makes his rounds each day to take the pulse of Washington.
Jordan, 39, is an adviser to Mayor Walter Washington and special assistant to the director of the Department of Human Resources and something of a government doctor. daily, he makes house calls, talking to community organzers, social workers and his "boys on the streets" to diagnose the diseases of the city and report back to City Hall.
He is also field operations coordinator for th Mayor's Special Events Task Force, following disturbances at the Human Kindness day program in 1975.
His work as sometimes mediator and government representatives has taken him though the riots of 1968, fights and the D.C. Armory during a Jackson Five concert, jail breaks, block parties and community protest. When a child is missing or a toilet needs fixing in ahousing project, Sam Jordan usually knows about it.
Jordan settled back in Dews' brightly lit, pastel-colored office, a small cubicle that resembled the office of a high school guidance counselor, cupping his hands to relight his cigar, nodding with melancholy understanding as Dews laid out the summer scenario.
"I guess we'll be feeling the tension pretty soon," Dews said, relating what teachers say children are saying to them. "They're already asking questions, 'Do you have anything for me to do this summer?' Dews said, staring at Jrdan who sat near a poster about children that hung above a police walkie-talkie being recharged on a shelf.
'The teachers are saying we're still waiting to hear about such and such program. When they finally have to come clean with the kids - like next month - then you'll be able to feel the tension," he said.
They had had talks like this for many years. Dews and Jordan met when Jordan was with the city's Roving Leader Program, attempting to work with scores of youths involved in street gangs during the late 1950s and 1960s - gangs like the Untouchables of Northeast, the Red Shirts of Southwest, the dakotas of South Dakota Avenue, the Downtowners the Up and Crosstowners and the Riggs and Mount Pleasant Gangs. Then Dews was an officer with the city police department's youth division.
After the talk with Dews the other day, Jordan went on to a Department of Human Resources Community Care Center, which works with delinquent youths. Nancy McAllister, acting lead of the center, greeted Jordan with a friendly sigh. Things were fine, she said, except for the fact that the staff had been cut back and some of the centers were closed. But most of all, she told him, many of the kids needed jobs.
"oh, baby, baby," Jordan sighed.
"Where is Carter when you need him?"
Jordan headed toward Southwest Washington, occasionally stopping and pointing to neighborhoods that had changed in the city. "Living here really gets confusing," he said. "Working here is so frustrating." [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
Jordan's father was a factory worker and his mother a teacher in Petersburg, Va., where he was born in 1936. He had been a Boy Scout and later a basketball star at West Virginia State before coming Washington in 1953. He was hired by the D.C. Recreation Department but was drafted by the Army a few years later.
He returned to Washington in 1960, and went back to the recreation department. Soon he was thrust into the role of young gang troubleshooter. In time, he went to seminars at the University of Miami and Michigan State to study crisis intervention. At nights, he went to Federal City College and earned a master's degree in public administration.
"So much has changed in Washington in the last 20 years," Jordan said as he drove around town. But the problems of the poor, he said, are the same.
"You got blacks in this city with money," he said, "But hell, people move up and out and don't look back." He laughed ruefully wondered aloud what else one could realistically expect.
"Look at this," he said, aiming his cigar butt at a row of recently renovated row houses, deep rich cream-colored brick homes with shiny black trim, ordered and angular window sills with hanging plants inside. "They didn't let the riots come up here," he chuckled. No way. Pretty soon, just watch, people will be able to leave their doors unlocked around here.
Without interruption, his stream of thought continued.
"You know when you're just a couple of bucks short for gas or some lunch and you can always come up with some friend to ask to borrow it from? Man, if you live in some of these projects and ask a neighbor for $2 it would be a very unfunny joke."
Turning onto K Street SE from 4th Street, Jordan spotted a familiar face. "Hey, brother man," he yelled, waving frantically at the man. "Hi, Sam," came a less than enthusiastic reply.
With one foot on the accelerator, and the other pumping the brake, Jordan decided to drive on. "Damn," he said. "Now take that dude right there. He was destined to be a helluva ball player. The best I'd seen. He just wouln't go to high school. Shi-i-i, man. Started making babies and missing class and finally dropped out. Lives up in a housing project with the girl's family. What can you? What can I say?"
"A federal city, that's what it is. Our kids aren't any different from any other city. But the funding system is so inflexible. Everytime the Council wants to spend money for the youth, the Congress zaps it out. People need so many things, and if you ever saw what a family had to go through to ge tfood stamps or Medicaid you'd wonder why they wouldn't rather starve."
"Carter. Man, I just don't know. I think we've been had. I know people who believed. Some friends quit their jobs to campaign for him, thinking he was sincere about the doing the basic stuff - get jobs and reform the welfare. Now they're still unemployed can't even get a job with him. Passed off, man, I'll tell you.
"Don't get me wrong. He got me, too. I was for him heavy telling people about him. Now some of these same young people are gonna be looking at me real funny and I feel like I've had enough. I know I'm getting hard-nosed about it but I've been around a long time, too."
The tour with Sam Jordan was about to end. "Hey, Sam," a voice called out. He hit the brake. " Natural Bone," sam yelled back as the man ran up to the car.
"You'd never guess, Sam, but I got myself a business," the man said, beaming. I remodel basements, I put in titles. I do plumbing. I do electrical work. I put up paneling. I'm in a rowdy neighborhood and it's just a piece of a shop but it's mine, brother," he said proudly.
"I'll be a . . ." Sam said."This cat used to be one of my boys. He was with the Red Shirt Gang. I'll be a . . ."
"When I first came to Washington, it was really fascinating," Jordan said, as he headed back to the District Building. "Being from Petersburg, this was some city.
"Now you talk about welfare, but you can't get off welfare unless you got a way to get money. The only way for them to get money is for Congress to appropriate it," he said.
"Seriously," Jordan continued, "People have a way of forgetting how others vent their frustrations in situations like this. I have a feeling that it will be our boys in blue who will catch the brunt of it all."