Your cover story “The Stoop at 1701 Euclid” (12/3), about a few small-minded residents and their equally small-minded councilmember using every dirty trick in the book to displace an extended family of less advantaged homeowners in Adams Morgan, has left us outraged, embarrassed, sickened, and saddened.
We are outraged at the unbridled hostility, with its undercurrents (or, maybe more accurately, tidal waves) of racism and economic elitism, of the newly arrived, affluent neighbors of the Bennetts and their unholy alliance with Ward 1 D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham’s office. We are embarrassed that such blatant class and ethnic discrimination is happening today, not just in our nation’s capital, but in our neighborhood, Adams Morgan, which has always prided itself as a shining example of racial, cultural, and economic diversity. We are sickened by the knowledge that, when a wrong is done by our elected officials, as is the case here with Councilmember Graham, that wrong is done in all of our names, and we all share in the responsibility of any ill-intentioned consequences. We are saddened because when we look at the faces of those children on the stoop, we see the innocence, the hope, and (with a little less hate and little more help) the promise that can be their future. It is disheartening to realize that there are those among us who would rather look away than to see that promise.
We know those kids in the photo; those kids are “our” kids also. We have seen the troubling scene at that corner for years. But we approached the situation much differently from Graham & Co. We saw that as the neighborhood became more and more gentrified, the Bennetts, the Williamses, and the other less affluent families felt more and more isolated and less a part of Adams Morgan as the Ben Franklin’s 5&10 and the mom-and-pop delis were replaced by more upscale shops and restaurants. The children of the neighborhood came to be looked on as a bother or a threat to the store and restaurant owners. They and their families were from an Adams Morgan of the past; they no longer belonged.
As Hillary Clinton told us in her book It Takes a Village, we all share in the responsibilities of raising not just our own, but all of the children around us. At Madam’s Organ, we decided that perhaps we could do a little to help the kids from 17th and Euclid, those same kids pictured on your front page. For the past seven years, Madam’s employees and a growing circle of friends and like-minded people have taken those kids and about 40 others to Dewey Beach, Del., for four days each summer. We all have busy lives and limited time and resources, but we feel privileged to be able to give something back and make these kids’ summers something that they look forward to. We (along with the 3rd District police and Katie Davis’ Urban Rangers) have held a Christmas party each year for those kids and their families, and we almost daily welcome some of the kids into Madam’s for wings or a soda after school. We’ve reached out to the kids and their families so we can get to know them and they can get to know us.
Why do we do these things? Because we believe that creating a neighborhood—and being a good neighbor—entails more than just living in close proximity. Because we believe that we all benefit if we can help even one child overcome some of the adversities that they all inevitably will encounter. We want them to believe that someone cares. And we do care.
Do some of these kids misbehave or seem to easily find trouble? Yes, without a doubt. But they are still kids, and we don’t merely hope for improvement—we try to create opportunities for it to happen. Very honestly, it is even more gratifying when we can see progress in some of the kids we initially thought of as troubled. The lure of street life is an ever-present danger for these kids. They need our support. We want these kids, and their families, to feel they are loved and that they are a part—an important part—of our neighborhood.
No one who knows Adams Morgan can dispute that there are problems around the corner of 17th and Euclid and that they have been there for many, many years. Jason Cherkis has done a fine job of chronicling just how not to go about solving these problems. If what he has written is true, then the new neighbors refuse to meet openly with the families living at 1701 and 1703 to address their differences, and they have instead sought to displace these less fortunate families and their children from the homes that they worked for decades to buy. And, most despicably, these neighbors were able to enlist the offices of Graham, who used (and apparently continues to use) his influence with police, prosecutors, and city agencies to persecute and prosecute these families in attempts to force them to sell their homes or risk having their homes seized and their children removed from their care. Even when told by police, prosecutors, and city agencies that these families are not committing any crimes and are, and have been, making good progress toward being good neighbors, Graham and his small group of co-conspirators continue to seek a way to remove these families from their neighborhood. If all of this is true (and Cherkis seems to have found a good paper trail proving this to be the case), then these neighbors and Graham should be shamed, and Graham should understand that this episode will not be forgotten and, absent a sincere apology to these families and his constituents for misusing the power of his office, will definitely come back to haunt him when he runs for citywide office in the future, as he has indicated is his intention. This city is divided enough. It does not need nor deserve public servants who widen that divide.
How ironic it is that in this, the season of giving and love, when we have been taught since childhood to look out for the less fortunate among us, we here in Adams Morgan are witness to a story that could have been lifted straight out of a dark Charles Dickens tale.
However, Dickens always delivered a happy ending. We all need to try to work out a happy ending to this sad, sordid tale and show these families that ideals of this holiday season still hold true.
We encourage all to call or e-mail Graham’s office at (202) 724-8181 or email@example.com to express their opinions.
Latisha R. Atkins
Sarah Benjamin Bardin