>Anacostia is a lower income predominantly African-American community in SE Washington, D.C. I and a team of seven college students from CF arrived here late Fiday night after a 12 hour drive. We landed at St. Teresa’s of Avila church at the corner of 13th and U. Without going into all the minutiae of details, we slept at the parish life center, then met the other groups on Sat morning.
There were a few students from George Washington University, St. Mary’s college in MD, a group of 5 from Stevens Inst. Of Technology in NJ, and a group from Arcadia in Philly (they are divided on who has the best cheesesteaks on Philly). The group is so diverse. We have several Asians, African-Americans, Africans, Caucasians, and Indians. What a sweet opportunity to engage other cultures within even our own team!
The formal part of the trip started with a scavenger hunt of sorts. We divided up in pairs, and each person was given a bus card, $7, and a slip of paper with the name of a neighborhood in DC. Without any directions, we were to find our way there, find out some facts about the neighborhood, and eat food at a local place. So we set out. I was a little nervous because they gave me a place I had never heard of. So Samantha (student from Stevens)and I set out. It was amazing the kind of hospitality we received. We stopped and asked people for directions and people were so helpful and friendly. They told which bus to get on, where to get off, what to see, and where to go. We ran into Jimmy outside a liquor store, who gave us a rundown of our neighborhood, Deanwood. Deanwood borders MD and is a place in transition. Aside from the gentrification going on there, there is a lot of criminal activity as DC and MD duke out their jurisdiction disputes. We noticed that in this entire neighborhood, there were no restaurants, only one fast food joint, one liquor store, and a “grocery market”. It put that in quotes because it was more of a convenience store with a gallon of milk going for somewhere in the $8 range. Across a four lane highway were the projects. I learned so much about the systemic injustice of why supermarkets refuse to enter into a community like this. Residents have to travel ~2 miles to the nearest big chain grocery store! That’s a long way by bus.
I don’t have space to write about everything I’ve seen, so I’ll reflect on some of my biggest learnings. I’ll do it in the form of questions.
1. Who’s the really poor one here? As I wandered about in SE/NE DC, in places that are self-described by residents as the hood, I was humbled by the welcome and hospitality that Sam and I received. Compare this with the cold shoulders and ignoring you that many of the groups got in NW DC (an affluent part of town), and I was angered and hurt. The wealthy were less likely to help you, less likely to engage in a conversation, less likely to even acknowledge your presence. And knowing the people whom they chose to ignore (my students), I know they missed out. Could it be that all of our stuff, our status, and our pride has actually isolated us and severed community? Isn’t relationships where wealth is found?
2. Where in the world am I? For lunch, we ate near Minn Ave and Penn because there were no places to eat in Deanwood (can you imagine that?) we stopped at a fried chicken joint where I had a 3 piece chicken (with Mambo sauce!!!) It was owned by an Afghani immigrant who’d been here for 14 years. As I and Sam (who is 2nd Gen Indian American) ate, the owner introduced us to his Ethiopian friend who worked next door. So there we were (a Korean-American and Indian-American) eating fried chicken in a predominantly African-American hood owned by an Afghani next to his Ethiopian friend. That’s all I have to say about that.
3. How do you define success? This was the topic of the night posed by the evening speaker. It sparked a great discussion amongst our team.
4. what will tomorrow bring? That’s the subject of my next post. Ryan and Sean will be guest blogging as they share about filling the streets of SE with spontaneous worship, attending an African-American Catholic mass, and I’ll post something about a multi-ethnic church with the most balanced exegetical preaching I’ve ever heard (oh, and running into a friend at that church whom I haven’t seen in 15 years. Stay tuned a keep praying for us!