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This is in response to “Punching In” (9/7), penned by reporter Elissa Silverman. It is evident from this article’s onset that its purpose was, once again, to shed a negative light on yet another District agency program—the Department of Employment Services’ (DOES) Passport to Work Summer youth-employment program. And, if the “journalistic” arrow may have purposely been aimed at the DOES, what it really managed was to pierce the hearts and lives of our city’s

youth and the employees of the U.S. State Department.

Specifically, members of the State Department’s staff were mocked for the sake of a sensational article. Unfortunately, this article’s repercussions could jeopardize future federal programs that pay the salaries of many young workers. Let us hope that the article’s misguided intentions will not discourage the involvement of other public- and private-sector organizations at a time when the city needs them most.

Silverman was supposed to “shadow” the State Department’s three summer participants at work. She was given a golden opportunity to motivate other city youth, had she positively approached the assignment. Instead, she took the opposite approach. Passport to Work and the U.S. State Department’s summer youth program are often the first steppingstones toward employment for thousands of young people in the District. This past summer, Passport to Work found employment for more than 5,000 youth, ages 14 to 17, and the State Department hired 12 young workers.

Silverman’s unfortunate zeal for sensationalism, lack of sensitivity to cultural diversity, and characterizations of African-American teenagers in the District were far too damaging. She took seven pages to intricately weave impressions that the young workers communicated in slang, listened to rap music, used their paychecks on hair and nails, spent time doing drudgery work, skipped work, made personal calls, smart-talked their supervisors, and took two to three hours for lunch at the Pentagon City Mall.

And what was her motive to insidiously assault Selwyn Brown’s character? Brown is co-overseer to the State Department’s summer youth program. He and his boss, Christopher Flaggs, are deeply committed to the program and take pride in helping young people prepare for civil-service careers. Surely Silverman’s efforts could have been better served had she just stated the facts and avoided misleading snippets and personal perceptions.

Silverman offered seven “dubious” lessons that youth could learn from her. Too bad she was not forthright enough to include one more: Lesson No. 8: Beware of seemingly friendly reporters!

Today, this article is yesterday’s news. Silverman will probably pounce on her next assignment, unaffected by the damage she is causing. However, the targets of her cynicism must now deal with the pain, humiliation, and consequences of her writing, and try to rise above it. The role of the journalist is to inform and educate the public—compassion and integrity should be paramount. Similarly, we all have a responsibility to nourish our youth, not tear them down. After all, they are still children.


Department of Employment Services