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First, I am again convinced that many of your articles are of a depth and caliber that far surpasses the daily dribble from the “standard press”; this article regarding Ward 8 (“When Hell Freezes Over,” 11/5) is certainly proof positive.
Yes, I agree with most of what was written about the well-founded fears and anxieties of many Ward 8 tenants. A District native, I am now a successful civil/corporate litigator on I Street. However, when first thumbing through the article, I stopped on Page 28, where I saw the photo of activist Brenda Graham of the Frederick Douglass Residents Council. I knew Brenda well and am both delighted and not surprised that she has “stuck it out” and become the true community bedrock that she has.
While students at other law schools were busy studying the abstracts or perfecting their debating skills, we at the District of Columbia School of Law were required to perform 700 hours of free legal service and 40 hours of community service to low-income residents. My partner and I spent the vast majority of our time off Alabama Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. In fact, it was we who drafted the articles and bylaws for the Frederick Douglass Residents Council. I remember Graham’s perseverance and boundless sense of energy. We helped the council to incorporate and thus to become “self-empowered.” Now they are officially a recognized nonprofit organization with 501(c)(3) status, which entitles them to numerous other federal programs.
There is no necessary connection between poverty and lack of power. The disconnect is between poverty and knowing how to get to the power. Ms. Graham (and all the Residents Council members) had more than enough ability to bring active change to their neighborhoods. They only needed a little help from those with the tools to do it. I will always be proud to have helped them help themselves.
We Jews believe that there are seven levels of tzadakah (charity). The lowest is when the giver and receiver know each other. The highest is the situation in which the receiver (a) does not receive money and (b) is able to change his own position so that he is not a receiver again. I would like to think that this is what DCSL students have helped to do for Frederick Douglass and other councils in Anacostia.
To be honest, even a very sweet win in front of most any judge does not match the satisfaction of helping a whole group of people take on the city and watch little gains turn to big ones. I cannot help but think that this city is continually clueless as to how many people DCSL continues to help help themselves.
Go for it, Brenda. Each one teach one.