At the Spice Suite in the District’s Takoma neighborhood, owner Angel Anderson sells herbs, spices and honey, along with a zesty, fresh-squeezed lemonade-of-the-week. There’s one she makes with strawberries and rosemary, another from lavender and blueberry and a refreshingly tart pomegranate and thyme concoction.
“I’ll use lemons with another fruit and an herb to make something sweet and savory that you’d never expect in a lemonade,” said Anderson, 30.
That recipe might also apply to how she has dealt with those figurative lemons that life has a way of handing to us. And Anderson has had some whoppers: a family devastated by the illegal drug trade; a father in and out of jail; three brothers becoming repeat offenders, two of whom are doing long stretches in a Texas prison for murder.
She ended up living with her grandmother in Brightwood. But that was no shield from the heartache. When Angel was 15, her 1-year-old sister, Kimberly Anderson, disappeared. Family members gave conflicting information about her whereabouts, with some saying she had been adopted. But Anderson said no record of her adoption has been found, and she does not believe a police report was filed at the time of her sister’s disappearance.
Remarkably, Anderson not only persevered but managed to convert her pain and disappointments into a joyful embrace of life. She graduated from Banneker High School, one of the District’s top public high schools, and worked various jobs to help pay her way through Howard University, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology.
One of those jobs was as a teacher at the District’s Oak Hill Youth Center in Laurel, Md. “I was devoted to the job because any of those boys could have been my brother,” Anderson recalled. “So I treated them all with compassion and I hoped that, wherever my sister was, that she’d meet someone like me along her path.”
She eventually left Oak Hill to become a counselor and later an assistant principal at the Cesar Chavez Public Charter School in the District.
Noticing a rise in property values due to gentrification, Anderson began using her savings to invest in residential property. She bought a house, converted it into a rental and used the proceeds to buy another. When she saw a building for lease at 6902 Fourth St. NW in August last year, she decided — almost on the spur of the moment — to open a spice store.
“I love to cook,” Anderson said, smiling unabashedly. “It’s like my therapy. Even after a long day at work, I can take refuge in my kitchen.”
But there was more to why she wanted to own a business and a couple of houses.
“If and when my sister returns, she will need a bed, and I will have one for her,” Anderson said. “If my brothers ever get out of prison, they will need a job. They won’t have to complain about people not hiring returning citizens.”
“My brothers and I are so much alike,” Anderson said. “We have the same grit, same hustle, the same ‘oppositional defiance disorder.’ Being the baby sister, they protected me. But there was no one to protect them.”
Coincidentally, I wrote a column about her oldest brother, Harrell Hagans, in 1993 — when he was 13.
Harrell was a wonderful kid. And yet, just 10 years later, he was sentenced to life in prison for the shooting death of a woman hit by a stray bullet.
“I was committed to staying out of the criminal justice system so that I could do everything possible to pull my brothers out,” Anderson said.
The two brothers incarcerated for murder have appealed to have either their convictions overturned or their sentences reduced, so far to no avail.
Meanwhile, Anderson is working on plans for her another business venture — a farmers market. The brothers could work there, too, she says.
Anderson also has a “dinner date” cooking service; she’ll come to your home and cook a meal for two.
Of course, the meal she’d love most to prepare would be for her siblings. Helping her troubled family — turns out that has been a driving force in her life since childhood, the source of her phenomenal resilience.
How sweet it would be for her to have them together again, turning lemons into lemonade.
To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/milloy.