Julian Clement Chase was a quintessential D.C. kid: born at Columbia Hospital for Women, educated at public schools from Janney to Wilson, demanding of chocolate chip pancakes at Ben’s Chili Bowl on his birthday.
Julian spent hours in Rock Creek Park, too. In the will he prepared before deploying to Afghanistan with his Marine Corps buddies, he asked that his ashes be scattered there in the event of his death.
Sgt. Chase was killed in Helmand province on Memorial Day in 2012. He was 22.
“When something like this happens, one of the immediate concerns is how not to let that light go out,” said Julian’s mother, Bell Julian Clement, an adjunct professor at George Washington University.
Julian had applied to GW and was waiting to hear whether he’d been accepted and would be able to go after his Marine service ended. He was someone who loved his hometown, who, his mother said, “got down and rolled around in it.”
And so Julian’s family funded the Julian Clement Chase Memorial Prize, awarded annually since 2016 to a George Washington University student for exceptional research writing about the District of Columbia.
This year’s $1,000 prize will be awarded Thursday, shared by Lydia Francis and Xavier Adomatis.
Clement said she hopes her son’s namesake prize will stress to college students that they shouldn’t think of the world they study as something separate from the world they live in.
“Students get insulated; they get fishbowled,” she said. “They believe that their education is supposed to be about mastering disciplines and academic codes.”
She favors a different approach. “There’s this exciting prospect that we could get students to turn their education and their gathering intellectual strength onto their environment,” Clement said. “It allows them to see that history isn’t at a remove. It’s not about something in a textbook. History is about something you’re immersed in.”
In his paper, “Re-Segregate D.C. Schools: An Analysis of Gentrification’s Peculiar Consequences on Francis-Stevens Elementary School,” Xavier Adomatis explores how what was once a predominantly black school in a white neighborhood has seen its student body become more racially mixed.
But that’s come at a cost, he argues. Affluent white parents are eager to have their children attend pre-K and kindergarten there but then transfer them to private schools for the later grades. That’s had the effect of causing the school to lose government funding aimed at schools with students from lower-income families.
In “The Irony of Capital Development: A Critical History of the Origins of Meridian Hill Park from the Perspective of Washington Residents,” Lydia Francis highlights a group of people often lost in the reverie over one of the city’s handsomest green spaces.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the block that became Meridian Hill Park was full of modest dwellings. African Americans, including some who had been emancipated from slavery, chose the neighborhood because it was inexpensive — mainly wooden two-story rental houses and tenements — and close to downtown jobs.
Though there was a housing shortage — a “house famine,” in the memorable words of activist Charles Weller — supporters of the City Beautiful movement were willing to sacrifice the neighborhood for a European-style park. Eviction notices went out in June 1912.
Writes Francis: “As is often the case in Washington history, lofty ambition for the nation did not match up with reality of local residents in the backyard of their own democratic governance.”
Clement said that when her son was young, adults were his guides around Washington. As he grew older and began exploring on his own, he could share his experiences with them.
“He was getting to know parts of D.C. that I didn’t know,” Clement said. “I had access to another set of eyes on the city. If you love the city, there’s nothing more fascinating than listening or reading about it through the sensibility of someone else.”
The prizewinning scholars allow us to do the same thing.
Six months after Julian’s death, an envelope came in the mail from George Washington University. Clement had never told them her son had been killed.
“I’m very glad to have it,” she said of Julian’s acceptance letter.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.