Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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If one theme binds the 21 Washingtonians in City Paper’s 2018 People Issue, it’s that each of them is sure about their purpose in life. Some of them discovered what their life’s work would be as children. Others made an enduring commitment to finding their purpose, even as they waded through personal setbacks and faced obstacles beyond their control.  

Neal Henderson, who was born in 1937 on the island of St. Croix, fell in love with ice hockey during a childhood trip to Canada. Pamela Ferrell has spent four decades braiding, caring for, and comprehending hair—specifically “circle hair”—becoming a force in policy-making and art alike. “I want to heal the world using hair,” she says. “Everything else I’ve done has led me to this.” 

The People Issue is an annual exercise at City Paper. Every fall we generate a list of people who have something important to say about this moment in D.C. A few of them are in the process of making their mark on the city right now. Robin Bell is one of those. He casts critical images and texts onto the facades of buildings nearly every night of the week. Some have found themselves in the center of the news. Indira Henard has been advocating for survivors of sexual violence for two decades, but this year, she did so under the spotlight of the #MeToo movement. Still others are local institutions, people who could lead our People Issue any year, for years on end. Kojo Nnamdi is one of those. 

We hope that in these pages someone’s life experience—their joys, mistakes, and efforts to comprehend the world—will inform your own. —Alexa Mills

Kojo Nnamdi

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The Voice

Kojo Nnamdi is celebrating his 20th year as host of the popular Kojo Nnamdi Show, airing weekdays at noon on WAMU. Kojo is a native of Guyana who emigrated in 1967 to attend college. A naturalized U.S. citizen, he began his career in 1973 at Howard University’s WHUR-FM radio and later hosted Evening Exchange, a public affairs program that aired on Howard’s WHUT-TV. —Tom Sherwood

You have such a cool name. Can you tell us how you got it? 

Rex Orville Montague Paul was never seen as a very cool name, and that is my real name. I took the name Kojo Nnamdi when I entered professional radio because, one, it was a time when a lot of black people were seeking to reclaim our African heritage and, two, in those days quite a few people in broadcasting used to choose pseudonyms. I picked Kojo, which means “born on Monday,” and Nnamdi I picked because I was a great admirer of Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first [president] of independent Nigeria. Nnamdi is not usually used as a surname in Nigeria, it usually is used as a first name, a Christian name, but not being intimately familiar in those days with how these things were done, I chose it as a last name and it stuck ever since then.

Is that name [Kojo] on your passport?

Nope. As we used to call it back in the day, my slave name is on my passport. My parents got a little carried away.

You are in your 20th year at WAMU. The media world has fractured with social media. But you consistently have an audience. Do you have any idea why?

Terrestrial radio had a certain longevity and stability that people respect, but even that is slowly fading away. But I think what our show does and what I have come to present is a sense of place. It was fortunate for me two years ago that the station decided the show should no longer cover national and international affairs but focus on local affairs because the media that had been suffering the most is local media. Our show is able to give people in this region, whether they live in Maryland, Virginia, or the District, a sense of place and I think that is what is responsible for my own staying power.

You have a distinctive voice and manner. 

I don’t know where the voice came from. Before I ever left my native country [in 1967] I applied for a job at the local radio station. I was roundly rejected in the first round. I wasn’t even considered. I think the voice has to do more with my longevity than its timbre. There’s something about voice that still captures the imagination [of listeners]. You invariably never look like what they expect you to look like. There’s that level of intrigue that people find fascinating.

A mutual friend said that you are seen as a wise, thoughtful person … but your youth “was a little bit different,” more radical.

That’s true. I first got involved in radio not as a professional but as an amateur because I was a radical activist. In those days, from the late 1960s to early 1970s, I went from being a Black Nationalist, to being a Pan-Africanist, to studying Marxism and considered myself an activist, [part of] the Baby Boom generation that wanted to change the world. [When] … I was able to get my first professional job at Howard University, I began to realize that even as an activist, one would have more credibility if one were perceived to be fair. I realized more and more that being able to leave my personal opinions at the door … would gain credibility for me … and that has stuck with me to this day. 

You will be 74 in January. Do you have a sense of how long you want to do this?

The ironic part is that under normal circumstances I should be considering retiring at this point. But for reasons that I cannot explain, the popularity of the show, and my own, seem to be higher than it’s ever been. And I must admit, that is a motivating factor to keep on doing it.

Pamela Ferrell

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The Hair Fixer

Pamela Ferrell has spent the better part of 40 years staring at other people’s heads. Her long career in hair began with the founding of her D.C. hair braiding company Cornrows & Co. in 1980. After being slapped with fines for operating without a cosmetology license, even though there was no instruction on natural hair braiding included in cosmetology curricula, she and her husband Taalib-Din Uqdah fought the city. In 1992, D.C. created a separate license for braiders. Ferrell has remained active in the politics of hair, filing EEOC claims and lawsuits against businesses that discriminate against women with certain natural hair styles, and even convinced the U.S. Navy to change its hair policy in 1993. The majority of her business today centers on designing custom hairpieces for women experiencing hair loss. An exhibit about her work is currently on display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. —Laura Hayes

You’ve transitioned from hair stylist to hair activist to hair scientist. What is your latest project? 

The Grow Hair Project is about teaching women how to use their hair and scalp as a tool for keeping track of their health status. Strands of hair give us a three-month imprint of what your health status is. It tells us what your mineral content is, like iron, sodium, and potassium. It will also tell us what toxic minerals you have, like lead and mercury. I’ve developed this way of looking at the scalp, and based on patterns of hair loss, I can determine what health problems someone has. For example, the top crown of the head is your blood circulation and cardiovascular system. I’ve followed women for 30, 40 years. I have files of photographs of them over the years. I even keep my files of deceased clients. Many of them had crown hair loss and died of heart attacks, young women. I want to heal the world using hair. That will be my lasting impact. Everything else I’ve done has led me to this. 

You began your TED talk by asking the audience what would happen if blonde, redhead, and straight hairstyles were banned in the workplace. How are you still fighting the battle to convince employers to stop discriminating against workers based on their hair?

Circle hair and straight hair have different characteristics. One grows up, one grows down. If it rains and your hair gets wet, your hair is going to hang down, mine is going to expand up. I’ve used these characteristics to fight hair discrimination in the workplace. The most recent case I did was with the U.S. Army. In 2014, I got a call from one of my clients. She’s in a panic because she had been wearing her natural hair twisted for years. The Army had just changed the grooming policy saying you could not wear twists or locks. I had already done this with the Navy. I had a letter I sent to the Secretary of the Army in May 2014.  They called me back in. I put together a presentation in four days that I gave to 24 senior officials. I just talked about hair shape. I didn’t talk about black people, white people, skin color, none of that because at the end of the day, that gets old. They totally got it. They changed the policy. This was in May. They were honoring me at the Pentagon in September. They said a policy had never been changed that quickly. 

Looking back at your career what was your proudest moment? 

Being called by Diana Ross to do the hair for the movie Out of Darkness. Of course, it was in California. The producers thought, “Why don’t we get someone here? It’ll be less expensive.” Diana was like “Well, I want her. I want to interview her.” I went out and interviewed and when I came back she told me I got the job. I was on location for two months. Then I worked with her for four years after that. I toured with her. 

Robin Bell

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The Artist by Night

Almost nightly, video artist Robin Bell uses a projector to cast critical images and texts onto the facades of buildings. The D.C. native first earned headlines in 2015 for projecting poop emojis onto the side of a new Subway in his Mount Pleasant neighborhood. Since his shitposting days, Bell has set his sights on the Trump administration, and specifically the Trump International Hotel. From reviving a D.C. protest from the Reagan era (“Experts Agree! Ed Meese Is a Pig”) to broadcasting blunt objections (“Brett Kavanaugh Is a Sexual Predator”), Bell is working at the intersection of text art and the op-ed page. —Kriston Capps

Where are you projecting tonight? 

I’m not exactly sure. I might be doing the Trump Hotel again and a few other spots around town. I’m working with a few people on an idea at the moment. We did similar projections last night on immigration.

How responsive are you to the news cycle?

Right now, I’m waiting to see what the day’s like by 4:00 and then I’m going to start fine-tuning some things. Some projections, we spend months working on just a simple sentence or two. Other times, we’re figuring out something insanely last minute.

Who are your partners in this?

Two or three years ago, I could do it with one or two people, maybe helping move the equipment. Now I have a team of people who work with me on everything from film to photo to documentation. Sometimes, depending on the projection, I might work with an advocacy group. Or I’ll work with either another artist or filmmakers. Two and a half weeks ago, I did a gig with Assia Boundaoui, who did a movie called The Feeling of Being Watched. She had figured out that her family home and her community had been under FBI surveillance for over 20 years without any convictions. She went through the process of getting [Freedom of Information Act requests] to talk about the surveillance program. She wanted to project images from the FOIAs and her home videos from that time period on the FBI Building. To flip the imagery and research back on the building where that went on.

What buildings have you projected on in D.C.?

I should have a list. The Trump Hotel. We’ve done the Department of Justice, the FBI. We’ve projected on the Department of Education, Health and Human Services, the EPA, Department of Energy—not that one yet, actually, we might do that tonight. I’m saving that for something special. It’s a really big wall. Department of Interior, World Bank, IMF, Supreme Court, the Jamaican Embassy—

—the Jamaican Embassy?

That was another one working with a photographer, about a UNESCO World Heritage site in Jamaica being turned into a shipping port for Chinese shippers. 

What font do you use?

There are 15 that I use. I won’t give away my fonts. Forever, I felt like every single activist poster used Impact. Fucking Impact, everywhere. It’s such a great font, but I try not to use that one.

Do you have any copycats?

I’m not the first or hopefully the last projection artist. There’s a group that’s very like-minded that I work with in New York called The Illuminator. We work with each other from time to time, but then we also challenge each other with getting better at projections and locations. This technology, it’s been there. Jenny Holzer did it. Barbara Kruger did it. Krzysztof Wodiczko, he’s a legend at what he does.

Do you draw inspiration from memes? Do you think of your work in the context of memes?

I definitely don’t think, “I’m going to create a meme,” and that’s the inspiration for a projection. We’ve played around with memes. We did the Left Shark once. We animated the Left Shark and made the Left Shark dance on the Trump Hotel. That was when Stormy Daniels said that Donald Trump was scared of sharks.

Will you keep doing this under, say, a Liz Warren administration?

Oh yeah. We were doing the same projections under Obama. We were doing projections on the EPA. That was the first time I did an EPA projection, over the Keystone pipeline. We do more now—you can’t make up this news. What used to happen in a month happens in a day or two.

Michael Twitty

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

The Culinary Historian

Michael Twitty grew up in D.C., had internships at the Smithsonian Institution, and has gone on to make a career of studying culinary traditions and what they mean. His narrative cookbook, The Cooking Gene, won two James Beard Awards this year, and he has no plans of slowing down. —Stephanie Rudig

You were born and raised in D.C. What food memories do you have from growing up?

I’ll start with my mom. When she came from Cincinnati, one of the things she noticed was the prevalence of seafood. They had never had so much crab. And of course the half smoke, nobody had a half smoke in the Midwest. The food was much closer to the food of the South, where her parents had come from. For my father, who was born and raised in the city, he has a long memory of what it was like to be in these communities of people who had come up from the South who were still living under segregation, and formed their own restaurants and communities in Washington that spoke to where they came from. Everybody had a garden. People ate out of those gardens. Growing up in the city, during the summertime people had barbecues and cookouts. You could literally go from household to household and just pick up a plate and be kind of full. 

For your research for The Cooking Gene, you actually went and worked in fields and produced food the way enslaved people did, the way that people did historically. What was it like to spend so many years of your life doing that?

It was my way out of a rut. I taught 14 years of Hebrew school in this area, and I had a routine, and I hate routines. I felt as a historian that it’s kind of thrilling to place yourself in the history. It’s one thing to say, “Those people over there, this is what happened to them.” But when you know your own story is actually tied up in the history that you teach and write about, it’s incredibly personal. It’s almost as if you never learned anything.

Was there anything that particularly surprised you during this process?

The number of white people who I was related to. It’s happened to me so often. The other night I was in Norfolk, Virginia. The family who the lecture series was named after, his son gets up and says, “I have to call you cousin, because I did some research and you and my mother shared an ancestor.” This happens to me all the time. 

A lot of people first came to know you through your open letter to Paula Deen after her racist comments. You invited her to come cook with you. She never responded, but does that offer stand?

It does, but until she does, I’m like Mariah Carey: “I don’t know her.” I was disappointed, but I was cool. Honestly, had she shown up to that dinner in North Carolina, we might not be talking right now. It would be a completely different narrative. 

I hear that you want to do a book about Jewish culinary traditions, and also one about your experiences as a gay man working in kitchens. 

Kosher Soul is in the process of being written now. Kosher Soul is about Jewish food and Jewish culture, but through the lens of African-American Jews and Jews of African descent. Jewish cookbooks are an extension of the way Jewish culture uniquely inculcates its culture. The next one doesn’t have a name yet. For gay men in the kitchen, and LGBT people period, the kitchen is both a sanctuary and a war ground. All these people in the food world, James Beard, Craig Claiborne, all these gay men who shaped the contours of American food as we know it. You have to ask yourself, what is it about men who sleep with men that makes them so profoundly central to the history of global gastronomy? 

Where do you like to eat around here?

It’s going to get me killed. I will say this. Andy Shallal, if you’re listening, please reboot Eatonville slash Mulebone. It was really good, and I don’t like to eat Southern food and soul food out. They always mess it up.

Joe Gutierrez

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The Bonsai Master

Just like his dad, Joe Gutierrez went into medicine. He’s a surgeon and has practiced at several regional hospitals, including Doctors Hospital, Georgetown, and Sibley, with his longest stint at the now-shuttered Columbia Hospital for Women. But as a hobby, he started cultivating bonsai trees decades ago and is a long-serving volunteer at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum. —Stephanie Rudig

How did you get involved in bonsai?

My uncle was a photographer, that was his hobby. He liked to photograph old buildings and old doors, and I liked to photograph trees. I liked trees that were crooked with a lot of movement to them. Then we came to the states from the Philippines, and we stopped in Japan, and that’s when I saw my first bonsai. That kind of sat at the back burner of the brain. I was up late one night in the recovery room waiting for a patient to wake up. We had a nurse who had a book on chrysanthemums. The first half of the book was how to take care of chrysanthemums, and the second half was how to make bonsai out of chrysanthemums. I thought I’d give it a try. 

I can’t tell you how many chrysanthemums I killed. I didn’t have the patience, and I didn’t really know what I was doing. I bought every book I could for bonsai and had a little bit of success. Brooklyn Botanic Garden had a Japanese master there, so every month I’d pack up my tools and go to Brooklyn and spend a day there. Usually I’d go on Friday, then I’d have the rest of the weekend to play with the trees. 

It’s interesting that you say you didn’t have the patience, because you’ve now stuck with it for several decades. 

When I first went into practice, my dad said, “All you need is some patients.” He was playing with the term. You really need patience in bonsai, you can’t do everything all at once. There’s times when you should prune, and times when you shouldn’t prune. 

I’ve heard that you use surgical tools in your bonsai practice.

I have some old tools. Tools wear out, so I have tools that were discarded, beyond repair. They’re stainless steel, so they don’t rust. 

Are there other similarities between the two interests?

I like to work with my hands, and I like to do meticulous work. It takes meticulous work to wire all the little different branches and make the wiring look neat. It’s the same way when you do surgery. People don’t really see what your suture technique looks like, but if you take pride in what you do, it’s gotta look nice.

You’ve earned the nickname “The Magician” [from the Northern Virginia Bonsai Society].

You bend branches and make them bend a different way, people think it’s magic, but it’s not magic. You have to know exactly where the breaking point is. You bend the branch until you think it might break if you move it a quarter inch, then you stop. 

What’s the oldest tree you’ve trained? Have any survived from your early days?

My oldest trees are collected trees. I have some trees that are 15, 20, 30 years old. If you start with a nursery plant, that’s pretty old. I have trees that are a couple hundred years old, but those are trees I dug up in Colorado. 

How long have you been volunteering at the museum?

Twelve or 13 years. Since shortly after I retired. When the Japanese pavilion opened in 1976, I was there. 

How has it changed over the years?

Some of the trees look better now. 

Really? Why is that?

They’re that much older, so there’s a lot more foliage. They get good care here. We photograph the trees so we can see that they really do look better. Some of them have died. Every curator says “I don’t want any trees to die on my watch.” But it’s just like patients. They have a life expectancy.

Alisha Ramos

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The Self-Care Purveyor

Alisha Ramos started her career in tech, working at Vox Media and as a design lead on healthcare.gov. Now, she helms Girls’ Night In, which publishes a weekly newsletter on self-care to over 100,000 subscribers, and hosts live book club events in nine cities. —Stephanie Rudig

What prompted you to quit your career in the tech sector and launch Girls’ Night In?

I actually think Girls’ Night In is very much in line with technology. I built our website from scratch, and designed and coded it. From figuring out how to grow the newsletter to publishing content to harnessing our community, a lot of it is very technology driven. I launched the Girls’ Night In newsletter in the middle of all this political upheaval and amid a very overwhelming news cycle. I wanted to create something that was fun and gives you a chance to take a breather. The decision to quit didn’t come until six months after launching the newsletter. I put 100 percent of myself into everything I do, and at that point I was one foot in, one foot out, and I decided I wanted to be 100 percent in. 

Self-care is very big right now, but you’ve managed to gain a really huge following. What sets you apart from other people who are covering the same thing?

When we first launched, self-care wasn’t really a force like it is now. I made a point to not use the phrase “self-care,” because I felt that it could be co-opted. But now we embrace it, because it is a simple encapsulation of what we stand for, which is to help women relax, recharge, and build more meaningful community. I wanted to capture the sense that I get whenever I host my friends for a night in. It’s really the time for me to connect on a deeper level with my friends and deepen those relationships. We are trying to put a deeper focus on a sense of mental wellness, emotional wellness, and social wellness. Those are all a part of how we live our lives as humans. 

I keep hearing that millennials crave “experiences,” but it kind of seems like that’s just another thing that’s burning people out. How can staying in be its own experience?

The really fun thing about Girls’ Night In is a lot of people will tag us on Instagram while they’re staying in alone on a Friday or Saturday night. We’ll usually repost those, and we’ve gotten messages from people who say, “Even though I’m staying in, I still feel like I’m part of something, and I feel less alone.” Another favorite part for me is our monthly book club gatherings we have offline. We created those to balance the need to stay in and the need to go out and experience the world. There’s usually around 20 or 25 women. It’s a really great way to meet other people in a not overwhelming way. 

Can we expect to see more events from Girls’ Night In?

You can expect to see us expanding into different types of event formats. In New York we’re hosting an expanded version of our book club. There are more social elements involved, so we’re having a book swap, teaching people how to press flowers in their books, we have fun icebreakers. We look to our community for everything. Even the book club came organically from our community from people saying “I love reading the newsletter, but I want a book club, because when I stay in, I read books.” 

What does an average night in look like for you?

Cooking is definitely one version of my self-care. I usually go through my favorite recipe sites. I’ll try to find one that’s a little complex or something I’ve never cooked before. It gives me a little bit of a challenge, which as a type-A person, I love. That’s my time to reflect and relax, and at the end of it I get a delicious meal. And the usual stuff that others probably do like watch Netflix.

Gregory Dean

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The Fire Chief

Gregory Dean is the stoic face of D.C.’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services department, responsible for coordinating the District’s response to everything from house fires to the Women’s March. In 2015, Mayor Muriel Bowser tapped the Seattle native to run FEMS, after a decade of helming Seattle’s fire department. In the past few months alone, a string of over 1,500 overdoses from synthetic cannabinoid K2, along with a major fire at a seniors’ apartment building called Arthur Capper tested the department’s organizational muscle. And five days after that fire began, a 74-year-old male resident was found (largely unharmed) in his apartment. Dean’s philosophy for each new event? “We’ll go back out and ask different questions, more penetrating questions.” —Morgan Baskin

Tell me a little bit about your career path, and how you ended up where you are.

I was in college, and I was getting ready to get drafted to go to Vietnam. They had a lottery system; my number was high, which means, I wasn’t going to Vietnam. So I took a part-time job at the Seattle fire department. I mean, I took a job, I just assumed it was part-time. And I was going to go back and finish up [school] and be a history teacher. But when I got there, I found out that I loved the adrenaline highs of never doing the same thing every day, the unexpected. So since then, that’s all I’ve done. 

When I first started, we worked 10-hour days and 14-hour nights. And then in the ’80s we switched to 24-hour shifts. And then as an administrator you work seven days a week, eight hours a day, or so. 

What kind of history did you want to teach?

It was just going to be high school—so just general history. 

How is working at the department in D.C. different than working in Seattle?

We’re the nation’s capital. And there’s great pride in being the nation’s capital and being innovative and doing things—for example, the number of first amendment marches, and preparing for the inauguration, for being prepared for the host of things that go on in the District. 500,000 people show up and we’re expected to not only manage the day-to-day business [of FEMS], but all those [protestors] that come to the District at the same time. 

You know, you take great pride in being able to take care of people. For the inauguration for the president … at 2 in the morning we went home, at 7 in the morning we started the Women’s March. And just having all of your resources available and ready to go. The marches we’ve had, the things that go on—you know, it’s interesting. 

What’s your planning strategy when you know big protests or demonstrations are coming down the pipeline?

With the inauguration, we took a year. We worked with all the different police agencies, we worked with the military, we worked with the Secret Service, a number of different fire departments—because, big events like that, you have to use your mutual aid, to be able to make sure you can cover all the different aspects. So each one is a little different, but based on the type of event and based on security, it determines how far out you have to prepare for these types of things. 

On a personal level, how do you deal with public health crises like the K2 overdoses? Do you approach it clinically at this point?

So, I think everyone is always affected. We do better by training. Training allows us to actually manage the types of events that we deal with. But it’s not just one person—I think if it’s one person you feel totally responsible. We work as a team, and so we talk about events, and train for events—I always look at fire departments like football teams. You want to go out and utilize your skills so when events come in, it’s exciting times. We get to manage and see how well our training matches up with what we’re seeing. So we look forward to those type of events. And trying to manage all the different things that go on.

Neal Henderson

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The Hockey Ambassador

Born July 9, 1937 on the island of St. Croix, Neal Henderson fell in love with hockey at a young age, when he visited his father in Canada. He moved around the United States before settling in D.C. in the 1960s, and in 1978, founded the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club to give local kids the opportunity to play organized ice hockey. It’s now the oldest minority hockey program in North America, according to the NHL, and Henderson remains actively involved four decades later. In May, the league announced that Henderson was one of the finalists for the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award, which is “presented to the person who best utilizes hockey as a platform for participants to build character and develop important life skills for a more positive family experience.” —Kelyn Soong

Hockey is still a predominantly white sport, especially in the NHL. How did you get into the sport?

When I was a child, my dad was in the Merchant Marines, and his port of call was St. Catherines in Canada. At the time, I was an only child along with my mom, so I had the opportunity to travel to Canada during the Second World War, and I learned to do what the kids in the neighborhood did. I enjoyed the game. I enjoyed playing hockey, and it stuck with me from then on.

What did you enjoy about the sport? What drew you to it?

Well, the hypnotism of the stick and puck. You had a language different from any other sport to play. You don’t even have to speak but you understand the language of stick and puck.

What is the language of stick and puck?

The way you pass the puck to your partner. The way the puck sounds hitting the stick. The way the puck feels when it touches your stick. The way you control the puck and the different areas of the blade of the stick that touches the puck. [How it] feels in your hand.

What’s the mission of your youth hockey program?

It’s to teach people of all colors and ages to work together, to understand each other, to form a more perfect union of understanding each individual by means of communication through playing ice hockey.

What kind of impact has the Capitals winning the Stanley Cup had on your program?

It’s given us a greater feeling of importance, that even though it’s a game, it means so much as a part of life to strive for something, to want to be on top with something in mind. And that’s a part of life. You want to do what you can in life to be not only the best you can be, but to be able to do something that you can be admired for.

How do you think we can get more people of color in hockey and playing at a high level?

I think you have to express that by showing more people, letting more people see that. I think more commercials, more people being involved as far as conversation … to enlighten people about this sport.

How important is it to have an ice rink in Southeast, where kids aren’t normally exposed to ice hockey?

I think it’s important because it’s another avenue to travel. You have the basketball courts, you have the football fields, you have the baseball fields. Why not have an ice rink?

What are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of the fact that I’ve helped so many kids go to college, become respectable, have positions in many different operations of our society that they can be happy and honored to be in. They’re good citizens for the country and they are well worth the strides that they have made to be where they are.

Dian Holton

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The Do-It-All Designer

Dian Holton is eternally hustling, whether dressing store windows at Gap in the wee hours, whipping up designs for her day job as an art director at AARP The Magazine, or planning big things with the D.C. chapter of American Institute of Graphic Arts. In everything she does, she gleans inspiration from her own world, whether she’s seeking input from her family members who have served in the military for a service-focused shoe collection, or building numbers out of all different kinds of materials and photographing them—her Daily Digits project. —Stephanie Rudig

You work at AARP, and people may have a preconceived notion of what that’s like, but your design is hip and young looking. A lot of people expect something different from AARP. How do you bring your design to the organization?

It’s a team, and I want to give credit to the entire team. We have people who have a wealth of experience and knowledge. I try to get outside of my 9 to 5 to glean inspiration so I can bring it back in and fuel those projects. I’ve got the keys to the car and I’m driving 100 miles an hour. I can hire whichever illustrators I want to hire. I like colors and patterns and textures, so I try evoke that energy in that content. 

You work in fashion quite a bit, and recently did your first shoe collaboration with Nike. Tell me about that.

They reached out in January and they said, “You have like 11 days.” I was like, I can bitch and whine about the timeline, or I can just do it. You know, like Nike, right? This is really a promotion of the NIKEiD customization program. I wanted to tell a story. My brother had just come back from Syria the previous year, my dad is retired military, my cousins and uncles on my dad’s side, most of them have served, all branches. I know it’s materialist, but I thought this might be a good way to pay homage to them. I wanted it to be intergenerational and be appealing to people my dad’s age and people my brother’s age. The reception was amazing. I did not expect people to be as excited and to foster the conversations we had. People were reaching out from abroad. I donated proceeds to Veterans on the Rise, which is a nonprofit here in D.C. that supports homeless vets, and to Purple Heart Foundation. 

How did you manage to consistently stick with your Daily Digits project?

It started in February 2015. I wanted something where I could control the medium, the time I post, if I just don’t want to do it anymore. I started with Rolos. It took off and became really easy. I did 30 days and it just kept going and going. HP reached out and asked, “Would you be interested in using that body of work to do a collaboration with us?” We did two small books, almost like coffee table books. They wanted me to highlight their new inks. The books are all printed with those inks. That was a fun project, and it turned into a commercial. 

You’ve had a lot of clients and dabbled in a lot of areas. Do you have any dream projects?

There’s so many things. All the things. I’m looking to have an exhibit with [Daily Digits]. I would also like to make a book, like a bound book. So Random House, Chronicle, hello. Also I want to do a calendar. With that project I would love to see it in a tactile form, because it’s just digital. I’ve always had the goal of working corporate at a fashion company. One of the reasons I’ve stayed at the Gap is I want to do corporate store designs and campaigns. Beyond that, I don’t know. I’m content for the most part. I want to work on fun projects that are meaningful and impactful.

Fiona Lewis

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

The District Fishwife

Fiona Lewis brings Aussie charm to Union Market, where she operates District Fishwife—a small and mighty fish market and made-to-order seafood stall. The Melbourne-born fishmonger studied chemical science at university before “going adventuring.” She visited, lived, and worked in various countries including Vietnam, Myanmar, and Afghanistan. She met her future husband, Ben Friedman, at an expat party in Kabul where she was helping to open a friend’s restaurant. She agreed to come back to the U.S. with him. That was nine years ago. —Laura Hayes

Why did you decide to open District Fishwife in 2014?

Coming from Kabul, I was so excited to come to D.C. and be an hour and a half from the ocean. Afghanistan is landlocked and a war zone. What was coming in, even to a couple of high-end restaurants, wasn’t amazing. I was so excited to come here and go to great fish markets and buy all this amazing fish. Then I got to D.C. and was like, “Huh?’” I felt the city was lacking in the quality of seafood that we enjoy everywhere in Australia. 

How has the business evolved over the past five years? Your kitchen seems to crank out poke bowls and shrimp bánh mì sandwiches? 

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When we opened we didn’t have as much [prepared] food as we do now. When we signed the contract we were told [Union Market] would be a market, not a food hall, but that’s what it is. We sell a little more food than fish, but that’s not surprising. We do have a whole bunch of loyal, amazing supporters for our fish. 

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

Educating customers. A passion of mine is sustainability. How can we continue eating wild fish forever? Part of that is learning about, embracing, and understanding aquaculture [farmed fish]. There are good and bad practices. Customers will walk past my case seeing that some products are farm-raised, yet they’ll go to the butcher next door where almost everything is from a farm. I’m trying to change the perception in America that farmed is bad. Aquaculture is the thing of the future. With it we can support our wild fisheries, our fishermen, and our industry. Our Cape d’Or salmon is farmed in Nova Scotia in seawater. Hopefully in the next 40 years we’ll be eating fish raised in a tank somewhere, done exceptionally well. It’s only just starting. The technology is only 10 years old.

What makes a bad day a bad day in the fish world? 

Hurricanes. That means no fishing. No fishing means no fish. This year there have been a huge amount of hurricanes and storms and crazy weather from the Gulf to the East Coast and we try to be as regional as possible. 

You say your customers have come to trust that the seafood displayed in your case is sustainable. What fish should we be eating more of? 

We don’t want to just eat cod, tuna, and salmon. It’s about broadening horizons and eating lesser-known fish. If you haven’t heard of a fish in our case, ask us about it and we’ll tell you how to cook it. Try the smaller fish. They reproduce faster from a wild perspective. The other thing to remember is that the shellfish we cook are filter feeders. Mussels, oysters, scallops, and clams. They’re not just sustainable, they’re restorative. They’re cleaning the ocean. 

What do you think of the plastic straw ban craze? Are there other, even more impactful plastics we should do away with?

I don’t think we’re at a place yet where we can stop using all plastic, but we’re at a place where people can bring their own bags to grocery shop. All those boring, simple things. But more importantly the water [bottle] thing kills me. Sometimes you need a transportable thing of water, but think about it consciously every time before you do it so you’re using two bottles a week instead of 30.

Pops Mensah-Bonsu

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

The Team Builder

Local sports fans may remember Pops Mensah-Bonsu as the high-flying dunker on George Washington University’s men’s basketball team from 2002 until 2006. Since then, the 35-year-old north London native has lived and played basketball around the world. His nine-year professional career included stops in the NBA, high-level European leagues, and the NBA’s minor league, now known as the G League. After retiring from playing in 2015, Mensah-Bonsu worked for the National Basketball Players Association and as an advance pro scout for the San Antonio Spurs. Now he’s back in his “second home” as the general manager of the Wizards’ new G League affiliate, the Capital City Go-Go. —Kelyn Soong

Welcome back to D.C. How are you settling in?

Not settling in for me. I’ve been in the D.C. area since I left GW. Since I’ve retired, I’ve worked remotely from D.C. It just feels good to be fully based here as far as my day-to-day operations in the heart of D.C. So I’m pretty excited about that kind of relocation.

You’ve played professionally across the country and all over the world. What’s it like playing all those places?

It’s interesting because journeymen are usually looked at in a negative light. For me, it just made me the man I am today and it allows me to do my job a little bit better. I’ve played in the NBA. I’ve played high level Europe. I’ve played in the G League, and I have experience and success at every level. All the experiences that I’ve had have better served, or allowed me to better serve these players in the managerial position that I’m in today.

Did you expect to become a general manager?

No. I was always one of the players who thought about life after basketball. I always thought about going to law school. I thought about going to get my MBA. I always had a fascination with hotels. I wanted to get into the hospitality industry. I still have a weird fascination for hotels. I think playing basketball, it takes you all over the world and you see a number of different hotel rooms. … Hotel rooms always excited me for some reason, but I think when I retired early, I realized that my impact on the game was probably going to be more off the court. That’s when I realized the front office was going to be my path.

What do you hope to accomplish with the team?

Development, across the board. We want to be able to develop the players on and off the court. We want to be able to develop our staff. We have an assistant coach. Hopefully we develop him into an NBA assistant coach, maybe one day a head coach. If we have a head coach, we want to help propel him into an NBA head coach one day. If we have anybody else in our front office, if it’s a basketball ops assistant, we want to develop them into someone higher up in the front office. 

And the community. Ward 8, Congress Heights is one of the main reasons why we’re here and we want to make sure we embrace that community. Community development is a big thing for me. When I got the job I really wanted to make sure they felt a part of this and felt like this is a team they can call their own. We want to embody that Go-Go name and we’re not going to take that lightly.

What do you think of the team name?

I love it. I feel like we set the bar high with the name. Now we have to live it and we have to embody that name and make sure we embrace it. The players like to listen to music before practice starts or it gets going. Coach threw on some go-go and got the guys pretty excited, pretty hyped. Everybody out there who thinks it’s just a name, nah, we take it to an extreme when it comes to being the Go-Go. We even practice to the music, too.

Traci Hughes

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

The Government Watchdog

As the first director of D.C.’s Office of Open Government, Traci Hughes drew the blueprint for its mission. Some didn’t appreciate her effort to peel back the curtains on governmental operations, and earlier this year, the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability declined to appoint her to a second term. —Mitch Ryals

In your five years as director of the Office of Open Government, what violation of open government laws did you see most often?

The most common ones were that people were improperly closing meetings. We really had to work with the public bodies from the outset to make sure that everybody was properly trained.

We’re all human in these roles, so there was unfortunately a lot of push back. There were public bodies who felt they should be able to discuss certain things in a closed or private session that the law simply didn’t allow. 

Are there any cases that stand out in your mind?

There are two.

The first one being the United Medical Center opinion, in which I found that that public body wrongly entered into closed session and then voted to close the only maternity ward east of the river.

That has significant implications in many different areas, the least of which, in my opinion, was the violation of the Open Meetings Act. The response for that particular public body was “Well we’re going to sue the Office of Open Government.”

The second opinion I issued pertained to the Commission on the Selection and Tenure of Administrative Law Judges. That was also very unpopular with the executive because the opinion stated that not only were there numerous violations of the Open Meetings Act, but there was the potential that a couple of members were not properly seated when they took certain very high profile decisions. If you’ve got members of a public body who are not properly seated, and they take action, then potentially that action is null and void. I knew when it hit my desk: This is going to make me or break me. And this is a pivotal moment for me. Either I’m going to do my job and probably risk losing it, or sweep some stuff under the rug, where I’m not pointing out the violations of the law. I could not live with not treating that complaint the same way I would any other. I could not allow anyone else to fill the narrative or fill the gap on what happened.

In 2016, Mayor Bowser created the Mayor’s Open Government Office, which served a similar function to your office. Some saw that as a duplication of efforts.

Well, I think it is just what you said. I think it’s entirely redundant. The job description itself was an exact mirror of what I did. So the handwriting had been on the wall in terms of my fate for a year or two prior to my term ending.

Does anything with the Office of Open Government need to change?

I made this very clear to the Council: I think the Office of Open Government should be attached to its own public body to make sure the office maintains its independence. And we now see evidence of what could happen when it doesn’t have full independence. Any person who sits in the director’s seat will think, “Should I write this opinion? Should I not pursue this, because my job could potentially be in jeopardy?”

After you weren’t reappointed, you launched a campaign for D.C. Council, but got caught in the same signature-gathering controversy that disqualified other candidates. 

Running for office was a great learning experience. I’m a very deliberate public servant; I was an accidental politician, but it’s not in my constitution to play dirty. So I don’t know that I’ll ever do that again. It’s a nice little footnote to my life 50 years from now.

Ahmad Zaghal

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

The Concert Capturer

Ahmad Zaghal goes to a lot of concerts. In 2009, the year he won the 9:30 Club’s coveted raffle—in which one winner receives tickets to every concert in a calendar year—he attended 160 concerts, he estimates. In recent years, he’s made a name for himself through his concert photography, which is surprising considering he’s blind. What started out as a kind of joke—an Instagram account for a blind guy taking concert photos—has evolved into an artistic endeavor, he says, and his photos have been exhibited at the Phillips Collection. —Matt Cohen

How did you first get into music? What were the first concerts you attended? 

I guess it was access to whatever was on TV and, like, HFS. It was a lot of local radio and things like that. There wasn’t much access, really at all, to the internet at the time, which is weird to think about now. Nowadays everybody has access to pretty much whatever—all the music that’s ever been recorded and widely released. You know, you see teenagers who have this crazy wealth of knowledge. [Back then] it was pretty much MTV and local radio stations for the most part. I think one of my first shows—if not my first show—was one of those HFStivals in the ’90s.

For years, I’ve seen you at, it seems like, almost every show I’ve gone to. How many shows a week would you say you attend?

I think I’ve cut down lately. I don’t know, maybe two to three. I feel like I was probably up to about four or five at some point … I really didn’t start going to them regularly until I was well into my 20s.

When did you start taking pictures?

The fall of 2013. It started as a joke between myself and Valerie Paschall. I mentioned to her, “What if I started an Instagram page and started posting pictures?” She thought it was a funny idea. I really didn’t expect it to be more than just me and her, maybe a few other people looking at it, having a laugh over it for a couple weeks. Kind of thought it would die. But then [Washington Post Style Editor] Dave Malitz somehow found out about it, and then mentioned it to [Post Pop Music Critic] Chris Richards. Or maybe it was the other way around. That led to Chris doing a piece in The Post. It kind of became a thing after that, I guess. People seem to be into it still.

What’s that process like for you? I’ve seen you take pictures during shows and you’re pointing your phone where you hear the sound coming from.

Yeah, that’s definitely part of it. Also I get a little bit of feedback from the phone, as to whether there are faces in the frame or something. I can’t really hear it while it’s happening, but I turn the phone way up, so that the voice is loud enough, so I can actually feel it coming through the speaker on the phone. That gives me an idea as to whether or not I’m aimed in the right direction.

Nowadays the facial recognition thing has gotten so good that the voice-over app on the phone will actually tell me if there are faces in the frame, after the fact.

As someone who’s been going to shows in D.C. for almost 20 years, how have you noticed the music scene evolve in that time?

I do think that the local scene is sort of at a peak right now. As opposed to five or 10 years ago, where I’d be going to see mostly touring bands, nowadays I’m mostly just going to see friends’ bands. I’m still out pretty regularly, and I would say, 80 to 90 percent of the bands I go see are bands from around here. I feel like there’s a lot more happening, local music-wise. There’s been a lot more attention from national outlets being paid towards what’s going on here, which is very cool to watch unfold.

Rev. William Lamar

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

The Social Justice Preacher

Rev. William H. Lamar IV has been the pastor of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in the District of Columbia since 2014. And in that time, as pastor of the 179-year-old national cathedral of the 2.5 million-member AME denomination, Lamar has hosted nationally known speakers, presided over memorial services for people like former PBS anchor Gwen Ifill, and been at the vanguard of many social issues. Since President Donald Trump’s election, Lamar has been especially focused on social justice issues—taking part in numerous protests (he was even arrested for one of them), programs, and acts of civil disobedience. —Hamil R. Harris

You and your ministers have been involved in many protest and calls for social justice. Why has this been part of the mission of your church ?

We do what we do in Washington, D.C. and around the world because God is a God of abundance, beauty, justice, and peace. Where there is scarcity, human beings are hoarding God’s gifts and exploiting the vulnerable among us. Where there is ugliness, human beings are deciding who is worthy of human flourishing and who is not, based upon race, gender, language, religion, ethnicity or some other excuse to oppress and demonize. Where there is injustice, human beings have erected systems to economically and politically reward socio-historical mendacity and the commodification of human bodies and God’s good Earth. 

Can you talk about some of the causes you have been involved in since the election of President Trump? During a White House protest led by the Bishops of your church, some said President Trump’s son-in-law [Jared Kushner] wanted to have a meeting with African-American church leaders, like Trump did with Kanye West. Is this dialogue possible?

We have been involved in the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, the Washington Interfaith Network, the Sanctuary Movement, and many other collaborative movements that follow and fight alongside God, as God bends the world toward justice. I will meet with anyone. My ancestors taught me to acknowledge the humanity of all people. What I will not do is allow myself to be propagandized in the interest of empire, white supremacy, or kleptocratic capitalism. No photo ops. Only discussion grounded in history, not hagiography, and real solutions. 

In recent years we have witnessed an uptick of hatred turned into violence against houses of worship, from the killing of nine souls at Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston, to the shooting of 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. What is your message to your members and all people of faith at this time?

My message is that America is literally grounded in the destruction of First Nation bodies, black bodies, and bodies that continue to be dehumanized under the white heat of the white gaze under demographic duress. Nothing has happened in this nation to interrupt the narrative that certain bodies are expendable and the Earth is to be exploited. Houses of worship are not exempt from this carnage because theology in America has supported this destruction of human bodies and God’s good Earth. America’s god of empire, commerce, hate, and war must die. Churches and synagogues and mosques who know of God’s justice and peace must preside at the funeral. There is hope, but only if we bury America’s god and live together under the banner of the God who loves all and lifts all.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote a book years ago entitled Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? How would you answer that question?

Washington, D.C. has a choice. The United States has a choice. The world has a choice. Community is the result of shared resources, shared truth, and shared opportunities. Chaos is the result of greed, mendacity, and the hoarding of resources. You tell me what America seems to be choosing.

Nick Pyenson

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

The Ancient Whale Whisperer

As a paleontologist, whale-chaser, and Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History curator of fossil marine mammals, Nick Pyenson is something of a time traveling detective. This summer Penguin published his book, Spying on Whales, which is about his excursions across the oceans to learn more about whales—the biggest creatures on Earth. —Kayla Randall

What does paleontology entail?

We want to know about the history of life on Earth. What happened for most of the 3 billion years of life on this planet? Paleontologists have to be like detectives. You don’t get all the evidence; you’re trying to understand something you didn’t see and use tools of inference. More importantly, we are now agents of geological change on the planet. Our activities are directly influencing major Earth systems. We will see summers free of ice in the Arctic probably in the next 20 years, maybe 15 years, maybe sooner. Look at our carbon dioxide concentration: The last time it was 400 parts per million, which it is today, was 3 million years ago. So, to find examples of where the Earth is going in the future, we need to look to the past. It’s a very common thing for paleontologists to say, “Use the past to understand the present, and the present helps you understand the past.” That’s definitely super true now, more than any other time in human history.

What about your work with whales?

For whales, what’s cool is they have a fossil record. A lot of my job involves understanding the evolutionary past of whales. They have land ancestors. They once lived on land and they were the size of dogs. Some of them nowadays can weigh more than the largest dinosaurs and live in the ocean. That’s a pretty crazy amount of change. If you didn’t have the fossil record, you would not be able to understand how whales got to where they are. 

You learn so much. How do you make sense of the information that you get?

There’s no place that’s not interesting to me on the planet. We kind of think that everything is known because we have smartphones and Google. But, the fact is, we really don’t know that much about the planet we live on. And we especially don’t know everything about the past. We don’t know everything there is to know about the history of whales because the past is incomplete.

You can also slide the scale to historic time, and that’s where it gets really interesting because we hunted whales in the millions last century. Two to three million whales were killed during industrial whaling. That was an industry, that was for profit. So the world we live in today has far fewer whales than it did 100 years ago or 200 years ago. What are the consequences of that for ocean food webs? Nobody really knows, and that makes it a really interesting question.

Moving to the future, we are acidifying the oceans, we’re making them warmer. We also have major impacts just in our own activities directly, with shipping, with noise, with pollution. Military sonar has a big effect on whales, all kinds of whales. And the Navy knows that. But are they going to do anything about that? Probably not, because national security is a pretty big issue. 

Plastic is a part of our life, and all that ends up in the ocean … It stays forever and breaks down into smaller and smaller parts and eventually ends up in food webs. I don’t think any of us want to eat salmon that probably has plastics inside, but that’s the reality of the world we live in. We’re starting slowly to recognize the direct and indirect consequences of being several billion humans on the planet. The big question is what room is there for all the other species, including whales, on the planet?

Regina Aquino

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

The Activist Actor

Regina Aquino has wanted to perform since she was four years old. The Clinton, Maryland, native studied acting at Studio Theatre after college and appeared regularly on local stages before taking a hiatus to raise her family. Now Aquino, who has roles at the Folger and Woolly Mammoth in coming months, is focused on dismantling conventional notions about what theater should look like. —Caroline Jones

Did you see changes in the D.C. theater scene in the time you were away?

To be honest, not really. In terms of pushing the boundaries with regards to the stories that are told, it’s always the smaller theater companies that embrace stories written by people of color, diverse casting, stories that challenge the norm. When I started acting here, I was the only Filipina actor in the city and in the time that I was away up until now, there’s only been one other. I think the diversity and breadth of talent that is coming up from all different communities, that alone will demand change of the stories that are being told and hopefully will also force the larger theater companies to look at the entire talent pool. 

I understand that it’s very hard for a larger theater company to break away from that when you have some bills to pay. But at the same time, how are you growing your audience base and who are you making these stories for? How are D.C. theaters going to survive if they’re always trying to attract the same audience base when this city’s becoming more and more diverse, and those diverse populations also have funds and the desire to see plays?

What do you think about the leadership changes that are happening in D.C. theaters?

I think what Colin Hovde did—knowing that Theater Alliance is at a peak point in its existence and making space for a new leader to come in, hopefully a leader of color or somebody from the LGBTQ community, to really engage with that specific community in a different way than, you know, a cis het white man—is very self-aware and very intentional. 

Losing Howard [Shalwitz, former artistic director of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company] was, of course, devastating because he is the real deal. We were so lucky here to have that.

But to know that they brought in a woman of color [Maria Goyanes] who has worked very hard and made huge advancements at The Public … I mean, when I met her and she made her introductory speech to the board, I felt like she was speaking specifically to me. She was talking about inclusion and the power of storytelling and that America is more than what we have traditionally seen on stage and that we need, at this moment in time, in our history, to tell stories that bring us all together and show all of our common interests and struggles and how our genesis, our arrival here in this country, it’s all so similar, so how do we cross those boundaries? 

What excites you about living in D.C.?

D.C. is so unique in that there’s always been intense artistic subcultures. We have so many amazing artists who stay here, so many theater artists who stay here because of the opportunity to work at huge theaters and play huge roles and actually develop yourself and develop relationships. 

It seems like there are people, especially in the artistic community, who want to grow a D.C. that’s not the federal government.

There’s always been an opposite to what the world perceives D.C. as being. I think wherever there’s intense politics and conflict, there’s always art. There’s always going to be somebody who challenges that or who thrives in opposition to what the norm is, and that’s me. 

When I did The Arsonists at Woolly, we really leaned into me. That was the only time I’ve played a Filipino on stage and that’s not written into the play. I just really leaned into it because all of the ambassadors, everybody in Georgetown, all of their housekeeping staff, all of their nannies, they’re all Filipino. The thought that perhaps I might be challenging these affluent, progressive, “woke” white people makes me feel like I have done something for this specific community that no one else could have done and that fulfills me.

I’ve played a maid now. I don’t want to do that again because at some point, you start to reinforce that stereotype. It’s being constantly aware of the things that I don’t want to reinforce in this community because I don’t want people to become complacent. 

Indira M. Henard

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

The Survivor Advocate

Indira Henard is the executive director of the DC Rape Crisis Center. As an advocate for survivors of sexual violence for more than 20 years, the #MeToo movement has thrust her agency and her life’s mission into the national conversation this year. —Alexa Mills

When you started as a volunteer at the DC Rape Crisis Center 11 years ago, what was the work? 

I was a hotline advocate and I was a hospital advocate, and we would get called out for hospital advocacy to support survivors who had just been sexually assaulted. And we run a 24/7 hotline. So that was the work. 

What are your memories of doing that work?

My first hospital advocacy case, I’ll never forget it. It was at three in the morning. I was called to Greater Southeast Hospital—it has a different name now—and there was a woman who had been sexually assaulted. And when you walk into that exam room, you don’t know what’s going to be on the other side of that door. And so what I always tell people is that it’s about being able to connect with another human being. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like or what your background is. You are showing up for somebody in their most difficult time. They want to know that you are there to support them, that you are there to believe them, that you are there to do whatever it is you can to make a very tragic situation as comfortable as possible. 

Do you still have chances to do that in your executive director role? 

My role is quite different now, but I’m always on the ground. So for example, we sent a crisis team out to Capitol Hill to help support survivors who were being triggered by what was happening around the SCOTUS nomination, and to support Dr. Ford, and I led the team. I take hotline calls still. I meet with clients at least a couple times a quarter. 

What did your team do on Capitol Hill? 

We were in the Hart Senate Office Building for the most part, and we had advocates as well as licensed clinicians, and we partnered with other local agencies. If there were folks who needed to talk to us, we were there. Then our other team was also here at the office because clients were showing up in record numbers. We received a significant spike in our hotline, so we were in the trenches. It was all hands on deck. 

As someone who has dedicated your life to these issues, what has the #MeToo movement been like? 

The #MeToo movement has ignited a national conversation around sexual violence, which is a good thing. The challenge is that there is a lot that is not talked about within the #MeToo movement. There is this paradigm of what folks think sexual violence is, but sexual violence sits on a continuum. It’s incest, and childhood sexual abuse, and some of those things that we are not hearing about in the national spotlight. 

What do people need when they call the rape crisis hotline? 

When people call the hotline, and even when we showed up at the Hart Building, it’s for emotional support. Sometimes people call the hotline when they have just been assaulted, but more times than not, people call because sexual violence—when you have been sexually assaulted, you’re always going to be dealing with that on some level. Not in a bad way, but it’s just always going to impact you. You may have a trigger, it may be your anniversary, you may just be having a hard time. We see a spike in calls during the holidays. 

Why are the holidays a trigger? 

If you were assaulted by a family member, what does that mean to go back home, what does that mean to sit at the table with a person who possibly perpetrated against you? If you’ve never disclosed to your family, you may be showing up a particular type of way, but nobody knows why. If you don’t have family. All of those things. We always have special events for our clients during the holidays. 

Rev. Randy Hollerith

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

The Spiritual Leader

Rev. Randy Hollerith, dean of Washington National Cathedral, was born in the District and raised in Alexandria, but spent three decades away, leading Episcopal congregations in Savannah, Georgia, and Richmond, Virginia, before returning in 2016 to lead the Cathedral. In those two years, he’s had to grapple with major national issues, from gun violence to racism, but finds joy in connecting with the Cathedral’s many visitors. —Caroline Jones

How do you see the Cathedral’s role in D.C., in a time when people are asking a lot of questions about how humans relate to one another and treat each other?

When I arrived at the Cathedral, the focus of the Cathedral for recent years had been moving us into a place of financial stability, so I was really focused on continuing that work. And shortly after I got here, Trump was elected president, which sort of changed the whole dynamic of everything. It was a painful time for many people, we saw a lot of grief in the Cathedral the day after Trump was elected, but it’s a fascinating time as well. We occupy this interesting space at the intersection of the religious and the civic. I think the Cathedral has an important role to play in that, trying to bring those two together in some ways.

How do you do that?

The Cathedral has a great conevening platform. It has a wonderful ability to bring people together for some of the important conversations that need to happen. As I like to say, I’m trying to live into Lincoln’s language to call us to the better angels of our nature. 

One of the things I wanted to ask about was the “Seeing Deeper” program (an initiative that invited people of all faiths to visit the Cathedral when it was decked out in colorful lights). What is the goal of that?

The goal, on the one hand, we’re a Christian community. We’re committed to following the ways of Jesus. On the other hand, we’re also really committed to helping people find their own spiritual expressions and not saying you have to have our way as the only way. So “Seeing Deeper” was a way to say to people, “OK, here we are in the depths of winter. We want to create these very non-ideological opportunities to maybe experience something transcendent.” I thought we’d get 700, 800, maybe a thousand people who would be interested in that. I was blown away that last year in one night, 7,000 people signed up to come to the Cathedral just for that purpose. 

Where do you find the joy in your job, when your public statements often come at times of sadness?

The Cathedral is a nonpartisan place. We’re not Democrat or Republican, but the Gospel has some pretty serious implications, and so we find at times that it’s really important for us to speak up and speak out about things. And so we don’t shy away from that. 

At the same time, the heart of our faith is a thing of joy. It’s about joy and it’s about hope and it’s about human possibility and it’s about helping people to become the best that they can be, so I find great energy and great joy in lifting that up for people and trying to help people find that. We’ve got a lot of problems, a lot of issues, but there are a lot of wonderful people and wonderful things going on in our city and in our country that need to be lifted up. 

Have you found that people have come to the Cathedral in search of reminders of that?

We find that a lot. Michael Curry, our presiding bishop, preached the sermon at the Royal Wedding. It was the most simple sermon, it was about the God of love, but you could see across so many people that they needed to hear that very simple message. So we find people all the time that they come to the Cathedral and they’re looking for some hope and they’re looking for some greater sense of meaning or some way to lift up something deeper than the meanness that exists around us. 

April Goggans

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

The Local Activist

As a core organizer of the D.C.-area chapter of Black Lives Matter, April Goggans has been at the forefront of community organizing against police brutality and harassment in the District. From marches through busy downtown streets in the middle of rush hour, to rallies in front of the Wilson Building, Goggans has made it her mission that, as D.C. sees a surge in national-level activism, outrage over local issues affecting longtime residents isn’t drowned out. —Matt Cohen

How did you get involved in activism and Black Lives Matter DC?

So I’ve been in D.C. for, I think, 12 years. I started doing tenant work, actually, at Marbury Plaza. After I did that whole rent strike and everything, I started noticing people thinking Anacostia was going to turn really quick with gentrification at that time. I noticed the increased police presence. But the thing that was unique, was people’s … their normalization of over-policing. 

I didn’t actually join BLM right off. My brother was involved for a while. Then I had taken off a year or two from activism in general because I was burnt out. But after, I went with him to the White House the night [Officer Darren Wilson] got off. It was mostly college students from Georgetown and GWU. People were taking selfies. I was just like, “I can’t.” I remember feeling like … this isn’t a place for us to mourn.

How do you think the work that you’ve done with Black Lives Matter DC has changed since you started to now? 

I think we were really fortunate that the people who founded our chapter very much founded it out of [a want] to be different than a lot of other groups that were doing Black Lives Matter work at the time. They thought that … police, over-policing, police murder was a symptom of a larger framework of looking at the world for black people.

People went really, really hard in the beginning, really fighting against things. Then the Charleston shooting happened. I remember that week, we had just as many meetings as we always did, but we couldn’t get through any of them. Everybody was just sobbing, just tired. You’re like, “Will it ever stop?” You just literally can’t go anywhere, which is when we started really focusing on healing trauma … trauma both suffered around the movement, but also things that we carry with us just as a result of the effects of white supremacy and microaggressions at work, all that kind of stuff.

Do you feel that your work on getting the NEAR Act (Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results, an effort to reduce violence in D.C.) fully implemented has gotten city officials to pay more attention to what you have to say?

I do. I think you see it in our social media interactions. They don’t like us to say that they’re not doing something, especially if it’s in their own ward, even though they’re not. Because I think the fact of the matter is that we have a track record of—we’re not just throwing [accusations] out there. Generally, if we’re calling you out, we’ve seen it. We have the receipts, and we’re not afraid to show them.   

Christian Oh

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

The Filmmaker

Christian Oh loves creativity. As the president of the DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival and board chair for DC Shorts, Oh—an IT trainer by day, and a producer and director at other times—is always thinking creatively for his next project. But beyond filmmaking, Oh says organizing events and looking for opportunities for Asian-American performers is his calling. —Diana Michele Yap

What drew you to film in the first place? 

I got into film back in high school. We were playing around with a VHS camcorder, and my friends and I shot a film about a weird sci-fi love story. I remember doing the in-camera edits of having people disappear and appear by turning the camera off and on again. I love film for the basic architecture of being able to tell any story. It’s that simple.

Why did local Asian-Americans want their own film festival?

Back in 2000, there was a desire to tell Asian-American diaspora stories. A few friends, before my time, decided to create a film festival centered on those stories. Being Asian-American and growing up here in the U.S. is very different from being an Asian in our motherlands. There are some cultural aspects that are somewhat universal, but our experiences are different.

How would you advise fellow creatives of Asian descent who may face family disapproval for pursuing arts careers?

All of our parents want their children to be successful. They rarely see artistic pursuits guaranteeing economic advantages. But I beg to differ: Success is not just about money. And I feel that the next generation of Asian-American parents is embracing that. I am truly thankful when I see parents who support their kids who pursue the arts or sports. It means we are letting our kids follow their dreams. Many of my friends have had those dreams torn away from them.

Where have you found your personal strength to become who you are?

Having been homeless and penniless at one time in my life has allowed me to build upon those harsh experiences and made me realize that true strength comes in your resolve and not giving up. We are here for a limited time on this earth, so do as much as you can to achieve as much as you can. You may not be able to get it all done, but look for those small wins and keep plugging away.

What are your ambitions for the Asian-American and D.C. film and creative communities?

To provide more channels of engagement, education, and distribution. Engagement: There should be Asian-American performers at ethnic festivals, but more important, representation at mainstream events and festivals. Education: more opportunities to have Asian-American youth be exposed to the creative arts—all forms of it. Singing, dancing, rapping, filmmaking. And distribution: more access to get creative content out there within the mainstream.

How can people get involved in D.C.-area film festivals?

There are over 65 different film festivals within the D.C. metro area. Find one that you are passionate about and become a volunteer. Learn from the directors, the actors, the festival planners and more. And most importantly, enjoy the films!

Twin Jude

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

The Outside Artist

There’s an arcadian quality to Twin Jude’s music. It’s intentional, and you can hear it on her excellent 2017 EP, MĒM—named after the Egyptian hieroglyphic symbol for water. Originally from San Diego, Twin Jude’s family has roots in the D.C. area and she officially moved here in the spring of 2017. Since then, she’s performed all over the region, establishing herself as one of the area’s most innovative experimental artists. —Matt Cohen

How did you get into music and art? What was your path into the creations that you’re making now?

Well, I grew up in the ’90s. I had a Walkman. My dad, he’s a musician. He’s actually a minister but he’s a musician inherently. His father, my grandfather, he was an orchestra instructor so it’s been passed down from generation to generation. I’m one of those jack-of-all-trades in terms of music and creating. I used to play around with Walkmans, record my own tapes and stuff like that. They were really shitty but it was fun.

What do you draw the most inspiration from?

For me, it’s the ocean. Growing up in San Diego, that’s where we went. We spent all of our time there, especially together as a family. Then even as an adult, that’s where I spent a lot of alone time. The ocean, and definitely film. I have a deep love for film. I really like how moving even the simplest ideas can be. Outside of art and music, real, genuine connection with people. I learn so much just by hearing people’s stories. I’m always open to learning something new, especially from the elders. They always got something to say.

One of the things that’s really striking to me about your music is the environmental influence. How do you draw your environment into the art that you make?

Well for me it’s connected to my spiritual beliefs. I feel like I’m the most at ease and at peace, and actually the most connected to the universe, when I’m outside. That’s why I love summer. Well, even though I’m more of a temperate person—I do love a nice early fall feeling. 

But I’m outside all the time. Even this week I was at Rock Creek Park, just enjoying it. Sometimes it will be an animal that will just decide to linger. It’s not afraid, which feels really cool because we get so desensitized and we’re so far away sometimes from the natural life. Sometimes I come out just to look at the stars, just to be present there. Just from that … I’ll channel that energy and create a song that personifies that feeling.

What has been your experience in the D.C. music community and how has that influenced you?

Honestly, it’s been such … I don’t even know how to describe it really, but it’s been really, really, really nice. Everyone’s so open and genuine. I feel like on the West Coast my music is a little bit more weird for them, unless you’re in L.A. or something … I really didn’t want to go there at all. Here I feel like I can just be myself. It feels really, really nice just to be accepted for who I am and what I create.

Is there a specific place that you would say is one of your favorite places—

To create or just to be?

Exactly! I feel like everyone has that one spot: outdoors somewhere that they always like to go and they can just feel completely at peace and at home.

Yes. For me that’s Sligo Creek Park. It’s the perfect place. It’s right between everywhere. I really love the Takoma Park area. That’s where my mom … Well, she’s from here, but that’s where she spent her time. I feel really connected to that area. There’s this one part that’s further down. I forgot what the cross street is, but you can find this little quiet area right by where the stream gets really loud. It’s hard to have a conversation but it’s nice if you want to go there by yourself.