As postal truck drivers, DeLyon Gigger, Kevin Whitaker, and Brad Rorrer pick up mail from government buildings and deliver it to, as Gigger calls it, “Anthrax Brentwood.” After work, they drive trucks, too: As representatives of nonprofit Good Ground-Good Life, the men troll local neighborhoods, find at-risk youth, and entice them onto a truck with a microphone and sound system. Next comes a ride to the GGGL community center in Eckington.
Sound like kidnapping?
“It’s like a drive-by,” explains Gigger. “We’re going to come into your neighborhood and find you, and then we’re going to bring you back here and deal with you,” he says. “We get the kids to come over here so we can say, ‘You know what? Now we’ve got you! Stop stealing! Stop dealing drugs over at that house!’”
GGGL calls the initiative “Rock the Block,” and its trucks are a little different than the postal variety. A see-through Plexiglas back turns a big, yellow box truck into a mobile stage with VIP ropes, a couch, and a wireless microphone. A sound system follows in the form of a logo-painted Pontiac Aztek, windows down, loaded with speakers, blasting (this one isn’t exactly a truck, but Gigger calls it one anyway).
“You’ll be in this truck with the mic,” says Whitaker, indicating the Plexiglas unit. “And the sound will be pumping from this truck. So just imagine, you see this truck coming, and then you hear this other truck, and all of a sudden, the live people come by behind the glass. And the sound follows them.”
Good thing the D.C. Council bagged that noise-reduction bill!
Piling kids into the back of a moving truck with no seatbelts—indeed, with no seats—may compromise conventional road safety. But to GGGL, the truck keeps kids from the street on the right side of the Plexiglas window and offers the center, at 1915 5th St. NE, an opportunity to start conversations on drugs, street violence, and AIDS. This truck, at least, is an improvement on a prototype: Originally, Whitaker took a box truck, cut giant windows in the back, and loaded it with television monitors. The truck began swaying under its compromised support structure. “I destroyed that one,” Whitaker admits.
Since starting up Rock the Block last summer, the operational truck has become a platform for rap contests, poetry slams, games of musical chairs, spelling bees, read-alongs, fashion shows, and Sweet 16 birthday parties. But those are special events; mostly, GGGL “bum rushes,” staging an impromptu assault on neighborhood trouble. “We’ll see in the newspaper or on the news a certain neighborhood that’s had a lot of shootings in a couple days and say, ‘Whoa, it’s been wild over there,’” says Rorrer. “We’ll choose those neighborhoods to go out to.”
Last weekend, GGGL chose Shaw. At 4 p.m. on a Saturday at the intersection of Florida and Georgia Avenues, Whitaker, Gigger, and Rorrer drive the vehicles up to the CVS parking lot, open the back of the truck and roll down the car windows. Whitaker grabs the mic and jumps in the truck. The backing track of Snoop Dogg’s “Sexual Eruption” filters out from the car.
“Georgia Avenue! Florida Avenue! Seventh Street!” Whitaker announces. “We are on the block, rockin’ the block!”
For about an hour, Gigger, Whitaker, and Rorrer rock the block. Mostly, they attempt to entice passers-by into the truck. The majority walk on without looking. One man demands money. A few older guys monopolize the mic with strained singing; a kid raps a quiet Eminem before losing his breath and chasing after his bus. When a 19-year-old rapper who goes by the name Blacker Than Me—the afternoon’s one true talent—takes the mic, an older woman with a cigarette hanging from her mouth bends over, places her hands on her knees, and shakes her ass toward the truck. She flits around the operation until she gets her moment on the mic: “Tell me why somebody killed my dead son,” she says to Whitaker. His response booms across the block. “Somebody killed your dead son?”
“I’m gonna kill that white bitch when I catch her,” the woman says. “Wannabe black.”
“What happened with that?” says Whitaker. “She had HIV/AIDS,” the woman says. Her son died of the virus when he was 23 years old, she explains. It’s a main issue for GGGL, the reason these guys come out to the neighborhoods to try to engage youth.
No one gets in the truck today.
Still, says Gigger, “We’d never had an issue with a kid who didn’t want to get on a mic or didn’t want to come over. We’ve never encountered that. Every kid wants to do music, it seems like, in this area.” He adds, “We were out one night on Georgia Avenue, and one guy had us out there for 45 minutes rapping on the mic. We knew he was selling drugs, but he was on the mic for so long that eventually we had to say, Hey, it’s time for us to go!”
Back at the Good Ground-Good Life center, the operation is significantly less exciting than its roving unit. In a converted warehouse opposite a postal truck maintenance center, Gigger and Whitaker sit in semi-darkness. A plaque designating Gigger as 2006’s Foster Parent of the Year hangs on the wall with an oversize check from the Washington Redskins—the team has donated $20,000 to GGGL. Rorrer is nearby, playing with his 2-year-old daughter and wearing his postal uniform. “It just goes to show, you don’t have to look at the athletes to be your role models,” says Gigger. “You can look at the people in your community. Look at Brad. He’s a role model. Postman: role model.”
Gigger says about a dozen kids come back to the center every day. But after school on a Monday, Tom Adams, 18, is the only one there. He reads a book quietly. “At first, I didn’t want to come around,” he says. “My friend told me about Mr. Gigger, and I was like, ‘Who is this man?’” Often, the kids lured in by the trucks aren’t the ones who stick around. Adams has yet to get on the Rock the Block’s mic. “I’m too scared,” he admits.
Increasingly, the community center isn’t the focus of the nonprofit’s plans. Gigger’s newest idea is to use his mobile sound system to reduce truancy: “Look, I’ll roll up in a neighborhood, go in front of the kid’s house with my mic and say, ‘Hey! It’s 8:30! Wake up. You’re supposed to be in school.’”
Whitaker has also been working on more mobile entertainment ideas: “This carpet [in the truck] is coming out; we’re going to put a wooden floor in here, and we’re going to have skating,” he says. “So I’m going to be in here driving and the kids will be skating around up here in the back.” Maybe that will get kids to the center. “I know it’s going to work,” says Whitaker.
GGGL has a third truck, too: another yellow box truck. For now, its use is a secret. “You’ll want to see it, you’ll be like, ‘wow.’” Says Whitaker, “If everything go as planned, it’s going to take D.C. by storm.”
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