At the end of May, the District of Columbia’s Committee on Housing and Community Development held a public hearing on the “Rent Control Hardship Petition Limitation Amendment Act of 2015.” Hardship petitions allow building owners to claim before the court that they don’t have enough money to maintain their buildings and so need a waiver to raise rent on rent-controlled buildings. All too often these requests are rubber-stamped by an administrative judge without ever examining whether the financial need is real.
The 2724 11th Street NW Tenants Association around the corner from my house in Columbia Heights has spent the last four years fighting two of these hardship petition and default rent increases by owners who do not qualify as hardship cases.–Rose Marie Berger
Ms. Archie spoke eloquently at the public hearing. See her testimony below:
The Importance of Affordable Rent and a Decent Place to Live In D.C.
My name is Rosetta Archie and my son lan Archie and I have been living at 2724 11th Street, NW, for 25 years this December 28, 2015. We are citizens of this country and feel everyone should have affordable and a decent place to live. Here in Washington, DC, the rent has sky-rocketed to ridiculous amounts and it is just not fair nor reasonable.
About four years ago, we received notice that our landlords, the Parker family, had filed a petition, and that our rents would go up by 31.5% I thought they were trying to get us to move out of the building – there was no way we could afford to pay that. I think that they wanted tenants to leave so they could turn the building into condos, like they did with a building they own on T Street. Our property manager said we could have a nice building like that one if we paid the rent increase, but of the low-income tenants who used to live there could afford to stay! Continue reading “Ms. Rosetta Archie: ‘We Are Citizens of This Country’”
Catholic peace leader Jim Douglass once told me: “Location is vocation.”
The above photo was taken last Thursday night in Columbia Heights at the Fountain (across from the Sojourners offices and about 5 blocks from my house). Sojourners intern Ben Sutter, myself, and Sojourners intern Becca Kraybill are holding our hands up — with about 200 others — for the now emblematic chant: “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!”
Through social media the community was asked to gather in support of the people of Ferguson and to send a clear message that we are fed up with police violence. When you don’t know what else to do, show up.
History in our neighborhood of Columbia Heights. We are remembering the life and work of Bob Moore, who oversaw the redevelopment and gentrification of Columbia Heights. Moore’s is a mixed – but unmistakable – legacy. Without his work Sojourners would not have been able to gain nonprofit space in the new Tivoli building and could not have afforded to remain in Columbia Heights. Here’s an excerpt from Jose Suiero’s article:
“New residents to the Columbia Heights (CH) neighborhood of Washington DC have no idea the conditions of the area after the 1969 riots through the crack epidemic of the late 80’s and downturns of the 90’s, but it was a far cry from the prosperous, bustling, relatively secure, upscale neighborhood it has become. To his eternal credit, the late Robert L. Moore, longtime leader of the Development Corporation of Columbia Heights (DCCH) who just passed away, was the chief architect and promoter of this transformation. We owe him credit for rebuilding Columbia Heights into the thriving, multi-cultural urban village it has become. He need not worry about his legacy. It is everywhere.
When Bob took over the fledgling community development organization there were burned out vacant lots virtually on every side street of the 14th St. corridor from U all the way up to Spring Road. The Target shopping mall remained an empty lot for close to 20 years with the infamous Waffle Shop anchoring the corner at 14th & Park Rd. The Tivoli stood empty for decades, a hollowed out empty shell. The 1400 block of Park Road was a drug bazaar and Lincoln Jr. High one of the most violence prone schools in the city.
During the Barry years when the urgency of renewing the city core was a top priority the government reached out to Moore to help spur economic development in the ‘Heights’. With an extensive affordable housing background and experience in DC government as head of the DC Housing Authority, Bob took the lead in acquiring boarded up row houses, repairing them and selling them as affordable homes keeping long term residents in their neighborhood. Under his leadership DCCH designed and built a small strip mall along 14th St. at Belmont Rd. The Nehemiah Shopping Center was eventually demolished to build housing, but this first attempt at bringing retail back to CH was the precursor to the DC/USA mall. …” —Jose Sueiro
A shout out to John Muller who published a piece in today’s Washington Informer about Donte Manning’s murder. His killing 7 years ago was the provocation to and lens through which I wrote my book “Who Killed Donte Manning? The Story of an American Neighborhood.” Thanks to John for keeping Donte’s memory alive. Here’s an excerpt from his article:
“More than seven years has passed since the shooting and subsequent death of 9-year-old Donte Manning but the Metropolitan Police Department is still seeking information that will lead to an arrest in the case.
Although Donte’s memory may have faded from the public consciousness, it still looms large to police and local writer Rose Marie Berger, 48, who authored the book, “Who Killed Donte Manning?” two years ago.
“Donte still haunts me,” said Berger of Columbia Heights in Northwest Washington. “Not as a ghost, but as an angel of conscience. His young life and his murder pricks our conscience as a city just like the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida has turned a mirror to the violence at the soul of our nation.”
“The fact that his killer remains free means two things: the first is that there is a young man out there who lives with the murder of a child on his conscience, and he has not made amends to Donte’s family or to society for his actions. The second is that violence is so endemic that police are not able or not willing in some cases to pursue justice,” Berger said.”–John Muller, Donte Manning’s Death Remains a Mystery
While the answer could be complicated, it’s actually very simple. In Catholic teaching there are the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. One of the corporal works is to “bury the dead.” One of the spiritual works is to “pray for the living and the dead.” Through my writing, I’m trying to practice my faith.
Attending to the works of mercy can lead one into some strange places. Over the past few months I’ve been talking with Laura Amico who runs a blog called Homicide Watch DC. Today’s Washington Post ran a feature article on her work and included a short quote from me. See an excerpt below:
On the morning of Nov. 15, Laura Norton Amico found herself penned inside a scrum of journalists who had packed a room at D.C. Superior Court for a glimpse of the lead suspect in one of Washington’s highest-profile murder cases: the 2001 killing of federal intern Chandra Levy.
But while everyone around her was jockeying for the best view of Ingmar Guandique, the man who would later be convicted of Levy’s murder, Amico waited patiently for the clerk to call the unheralded case of Vernon McRae, a 22-year-old Southeast man charged with fatally wounding Michael Washington, 63, during an argument in October.
Amico, 29, a former police reporter from Santa Rosa, Calif., has quietly carved out a role for herself as the District’s most comprehensive chronicler of the unlawful taking of human life. Since October, she has documented her efforts on a blog called Homicide Watch D.C. Her mission sounds simple: “Mark every death. Remember every victim. Follow every case.” …
Rose Berger, 47, turned to Homicide Watch D.C. to follow the case of Ebony Franklin, a teenager whose body was found just before Christmas stuffed in a garbage can in an alley near Berger’s Columbia Heights home. A slaying leaves “a hole the community,” Berger said. And to be able to follow the case “allows for healing to happen.” Blogger Aims to Chronicle Every D.C. Homicide
Benedictine monastics have understood since the Middle Ages that in times of great social upheaval, economic distress, and environmental disasters that tear apart families and communties, the church can offer a very particular gift: stability. As Gerald Schlabach writes, “Precisely because it contrasts so sharply with the fragility of most commitments in our hypermodern society, the Benedictine vow of stability may speak more directly to our age and churches than anything else in the Rule.”
When I came to the Columbia Heights neighborhood to join Sojourners intentional Christian community (as it existed then), I had no idea how long I would stay. Now, 25 years later, much of that original community has moved away. However, new communities grows up in the shell of the old, discipled by the witness of those who experimented with the gospel before them. And the Christian work of honoring the dead carries on in an new way.
Pacifica radio is playing speeches from Dr. King all day. It’s the best tribute I can think of. It’s like an all day seminar on the very best of American history and religious nonviolence.
The earliest recorded speech in the Pacifica archives is from June 4, 1957, when Dr. King delivered a speech to students at the University of California at Berkeley at the invitation of the Young Men’s Christian Association and Young Women’s Christian Association. His topic was “The Power of Nonviolence”, and in relatively few words King movingly described the principle of nonviolent resistance and the ideals he sought to uphold by using it in his movement. The speech’s conclusion has a famous section on the biblical prophets and “maladjustment.” He says:
Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word. It is the word “maladjusted.” Now we all should seek to live a well—adjusted life in order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities. But there are some things within our social order to which I am proud to be maladjusted and to which I call upon you to be maladjusted. I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to mob rule. I never intend to adjust myself to the tragic effects of the methods of physical violence and to tragic militarism. I call upon you to be maladjusted to such things. I call upon you to be as maladjusted to such things. I call upon you to be as maladjusted as Amos who in the midst of the injustices of his day cried out in words that echo across the generation, “Let judgment run down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
My community e-list today for the Columbia Heights neighborhood has a reflection by one of our local heroes, Kenneth Barnes, founder of ROOT Inc,dedicated to ending gun violence, recalling segregated D.C. He writes:
I was born and raised in northeast Washington, DC, in a section known as Trinidad. I grew up on Owen Place, a street between Montello Ave and Trinidad Ave, NE. My family moved to Owen Place in 1945, and, ironically, was the first African American family to move onto the block.
I attended Wilson elementary school on the corner of 6th and K St, NE. Wheatley Elementary is on the corner of Neal St. and Montello Ave, NE, within two blocks walking distance of my family home. Yet I had to catch a bus to go to Wilson Elementary over a mile from home and by pass Wheatley every morning.
As a child, I would wonder why but it was one of those mysteries not clearly defined by my family to me and it seemed as a child to be no big deal. My family was from the south and shielded the inequities of segregation and the evils of racism from my brother, my sister, and me. Racism and segregation was a part of everyday life accepted by families like mine from the south as part of their existence.
I remember being in the first integrated class of Wheatley when I entered the 5th grade and still was not totally aware of the segregated society that I had been a part of. I remember studying history and not really seeing or being able to identify with Black people, because all history at that time being taught consisted of the history of western civilization and culture or American (White) history. We learned about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, Davey Crockett and Wyatt Earp were big frontier heroes. Even God was a white man with a flowing white beard and hair to match, and Jesus Christ was a younger white man with a darker beard and long hair down to his shoulders.
I succinctly remember one black person being taught as being a hero during the American Revolution, and his name was Crispus Attacks. I remember wondering at the time what made him a hero and why was he singled out. He happened to be in a crowd of people that were shot by English soldiers and he happened to be black. I never could figure out what was heroic about that nor, at the time, did I understand the significance of why he, of all the heroic Black people throughout history, was singled out and given to us (Black children) as being a hero.
This naivete of thinking remained with me up until my high school years. I remember about a black lady refusing to give up her seat on a bus. I remember about sit-ins and protests, about Medgar Evars being murdered, about a bombing of a church, and civil rights workers being killed. Even with all that atrocity my most vivid memory is of a remarkable man, a preacher, who began to become prominent as a spokesperson against all of the evils entwined with bigotry, segregation, and racism. He spoke eloquently yet forcefully and firmly. He spoke with a gentleness of conviction, and his powerful message of non violent confrontation as a means of battling racism began to resonate throughout America.
He stood up for us as African Americans perhaps as no other before him. He was, to me, our savior, our Christ. He led marches and protests against racist and segregation against some of the vilest and most ruthless people in this county. He was beaten, stabbed, locked up, attacked by dogs, and water hosed. Yet he seemed to rise, larger than life, above it all.
And he became my first hero. He opened my eyes like no one before me had. I began to listen to his speeches, enthralled by his every word.
I remember this great man being able to call a march on Washington and give perhaps the most magnificent speech ever delivered in the history of mankind, with the entire nation as well as the entire world enthralled. …
I encourage you to spend some time today being discipled by the essays and speeches of Dr. King. Listen to just one today and let the words take root in your mind and heart.
Last week I watched the 2000 PBS documentary Duke Ellington’s Washington. It’s a great way to learn the history of D.C. at the turn of the century – especially the Columbia Heights, LeDroit Park, and Shaw neighborhoods around where I live. I highly recommend it for viewing! Here’s a short description of the video:
“Before the Harlem Renaissance, Duke Ellington’s Washington was the social and cultural capital of Black America. From 1900 to 1920, it was this country’s largest African American community. Anchored by Howard University and federal government jobs, this community became a magnet for African American intellectuals and sent a stream of shining talents to the nation for generations. It developed a prosperous black middle class which forged a strong society of churches, newspapers, businesses and civic institutions. Its businesses were black owned and run; its buildings, designed, built and financed by blacks; its entertainment, by and for African Americans. This was a proud and elegant community that flourished despite, or perhaps even because, of Jim Crow, the oppressive segregation that forced blacks to create their own separate destiny.”
“What we could not say openly, we expressed in music,” Ellington wrote in the British magazine Rhythm, in 1931, trying to explain the Negro musical tradition that had grown up in America, music “forged from the very white heat of our sorrows.” All his life, Ellington gave the impression of having been unscathed by racism, either in his early years—color, he said, was never even mentioned in his parents’ home—or during the long professional decades when it defined almost every move he made: where he could play his music, who could come to listen to it, whether he could stay in a hotel or attend another musician’s show, and where (or whether) he could find something to eat when the show was over. The orchestra made its first Southern tour just after its return from England, in 1933, travelling (thanks to Mills) in supremely insulated style: two private Pullman cars for sleeping and dining, and a separate baggage car for the elaborate wardrobe, scenery, and lights required to present a show more dazzling than any that most of the sleepy little towns where they made their stops had ever seen. Ellington made a special effort to perform for black audiences, even when it meant that the band added a midnight show in a place where it had performed earlier that night exclusively for whites. Reports from both racial groups were that the players outdid themselves; it is difficult to know where they felt they had more to prove.
Segregation was hardly peculiar to the South, of course, any more than it was limited, in New York, to the Cotton Club and its ilk. The down-and-dirty Kentucky Club had been no different: even without thugs at the door, there was an unspoken citywide dictate about where the different races belonged. The only exceptions were the “Black and Tans,” the few Harlem clubs that permitted casual racial mixing, and to which Ellington seems to have been paying tongue-in-cheek tribute with the not-quite-meshing themes of “Black and Tan Fantasy.” This was the first number played, after “The Star-Spangled Banner,” at Ellington’s landmark Carnegie Hall concert, in January, 1943, although the piece sounded very different from his twenties hit: taken at a slower tempo, with extended solos, it was twice its original length—so deliberative it seemed a kind of statement—and showed off the burnished power of Ellington’s forties band.
I’m happy to say that my book Who Killed Donte Manning? The Story of an American Neighborhood is finally back from the printer! For those of you who know the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C., I think you’ll enjoy reading about our neighborhood’s history–not to mention Washington, D.C., during the Bush era.
For those who are interested in urban ministry, urban mission, and the Judeo-Christian understanding of cities from the Bible’s Abraham and Sarah to the contemporary era, you’ll definitely find something of interest in Who Killed Donte Manning?
Here’s a snippet from the book’s foreword:
Rose Marie Berger has written a biblical essay on the neighborhood where she lives. I know the neighborhood well, because I live there too. Her provocative discourse is a theological reflection on “place,” which is a long-standing tradition in the Christian faith—a faith that is all about incarnation, the Word becoming flesh in place and time.
The particular “place” where this story begins is in Northwest Washington, D.C., on 13th Street between Euclid and Fairmont, on the sidewalk in front of the notorious Warner Apartments where a third grade boy named Donte Manning was caught in a crossfire of bullets and killed.
In 1993, the new First Lady had come to Washington. Hillary Rodham Clinton had invited a small group of people to her office at the White House to talk about the growing tragedy of youth violence in our cities, a situation of great concern to her. It was the first time I met Hillary Clinton. The meeting had an assortment of civil rights and religious leaders, urban and community activists, and heads of national organizations that cared about children at risk. I was impressed with Clinton’s understanding of the issues, her thoughtfulness and probing questions, and her clear desire to do something that would begin to address the problem.
When the meeting was finished, I came home to my house on 13th Street NW in Columbia Heights … to lots of yellow tape. Of course, I knew what yellow tape meant: Another crime had been committed here and the scene had been cordoned off by police. I learned that during the very hour we were meeting at the White House to discuss the problems of youth homicide, a young kid had been killed across the street from my house—on the sidewalk in front of the Warner Apartments.
I recall wondering at the time how many of the other participants in that meeting came home to yellow tape. It’s not that you know all the answers more easily just because you live there. It’s just that place yields perspective.
It is that biblical insight Rose illustrates in the story Who Killed Donte Manning?, a story that begins with yet another youth homicide on the 2600 block of 13th Street NW in Washington, D.C. Her biblical reflections on her place, and mine, stretch from Genesis to Revelation, and from Washington, D.C., to the coca fields of Colombia in South America. They describe what happens at the center of “empire” and the consequences at empire’s margins, which, in our city and neighborhood, is a journey of only about 2 miles.–Jim Wallis, Foreword, Who Killed Donte Manning? by Rose Marie Berger
I really want my urban D.C. row house to be as naturally powered as possible. But I’m lacking in both the finances and the DIY skills to make it so. This puts me in the position of a “beach-chair activist” when it comes to solar power. I read all the cool new solar developments with envy and dream of a day I can at least feel the sun in my shower.
I’m also hoping that my Columbia Heights neighborhood will start a solar panel cooperative (like they’ve done in Mount Pleasant, D.C.). And I want the U.S. to catch up at least with Europe in saving the planet. (I have a lot of desires.)
The harnessing of solar energy is expanding on every front as concerns about climate change and energy security escalate, as government incentives for harnessing solar energy expand, and as these costs decline while those of fossil fuels rise. One solar technology that is really beginning to take off is the use of solar thermal collectors to convert sunlight into heat that can be used to warm both water and space.
China, for example, is now home to 27 million rooftop solar water heaters. With nearly 4,000 Chinese companies manufacturing these devices, this relatively simple low-cost technology has leapfrogged into villages that do not yet have electricity. For as little as $200, villagers can have a rooftop solar collector installed and take their first hot shower. This technology is sweeping China like wildfire, already approaching market saturation in some communities. Beijing plans to boost the current 114 million square meters of rooftop solar collectors for heating water to 300 million by 2020.
The energy harnessed by these installations in China is equal to the electricity generated by 49 coal-fired power plants. Other developing countries such as India and Brazil may also soon see millions of households turning to this inexpensive water heating technology. This leapfrogging into rural areas without an electricity grid is similar to the way cell phones bypassed the traditional fixed-line grid, providing services to millions of people who would still be on waiting lists if they had relied on traditional phone lines. Once the initial installment cost of rooftop solar water heaters is paid, the hot water is essentially free.
More than 36 million people use the inconspicuous plastic cards issued by the government for “food stamps” to buy staples like milk, bread, and cheese. I see the cards all the time at the grocery store I use in Columbia Heights, D.C. Food stamp usage has increased by 22 percent in D.C. since 2007 and 36 percent of the District’s kids are on food stamps.
According to the New York Times, “virtually all have incomes near or below the federal poverty line, but their eclectic ranks testify to the range of people struggling with basic needs. They include single mothers and married couples, the newly jobless and the chronically poor, longtime recipients of welfare checks and workers whose reduced hours or slender wages leave pantries bare.”
The food stamp program is one way that through social institutions we answer God’s plea in Isaiah 58 to share our food with the hungry poor. Government programs should not perpetuate poverty, but they should provide a path of human dignity for those who are powerless in the culture.
Catholic social teaching reminds us: How we organize our society — in economics and politics, in law and policy — directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in community. The obligation to “love our neighbor” has an individual dimension, but it also requires a broader social commitment. Everyone has a responsibility to contribute to the good of the whole society, to the common good.
Check out the interactive map of “food stamp” usage around the country. Who’s hungry where YOU live? What does it mean?
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousnessa will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.”–Isaiah 58:6-8