Monday, August 31st, 2009
“A modern-day Studs Terkel.” – The Washington Post
People’s District was my way of meeting the people I saw every day, but never stopped to introduce myself to: Carolyn, the crossing guard on my street; Cedric, who ran by my office most days, spinning in circles while yelling ‘HOOT, HOOT’; Dave, who rides his bike up and down my street in a finely tailored suit and fedora; and Josh, who checks my ID at the 9:30 Club. I saw these people more often than I saw my own family, yet I had never exchanged more than a ‘good morning’ or ‘thank you’ with them.
During one of those proverbial wake-up moments in July 2009, I stopped my first person to ask, ‘So, what’s your story?’ Joe, my first interviewee, spoke passionately about growing up on U Street and his first experience of going downtown after the end of segregation. After Joe came Andrew, talking about overcoming homelessness, then Eric and Maddie, discussing the D.C. hardcore music scene. Each story shed light on a new slice of D.C. life and brought me into the world of a complete stranger who was kind enough to share his or her story with me.
While I came to D.C. to be a civil servant in September 2006, it was People’s District that really exposed me to the beautiful, and, at times, tortured soul of this city. I would spend my days as a suit-wearing, ID-around–the-neck-trotting, turf-battling, NW-loving, Treasury Department terrorist financing policy analyst, who used words like ‘lessons learned’ and ‘value added.’ After work and on the weekends, I would shed my suit and travel to all corners of the city to learn about go-go music, the D.C. Summer Youth Employment Program, why D.C. is a great town for a dominatrix, and how people were working to make D.C. a more livable city. In February 2010, I left the government to pursue People’s District full-time and have since brought People’s District into the classroom and worked with local businesses, non-profits, and neighborhood associations to help them tell their stories.
I thank everyone who’s made the time to talk to me, a complete stranger holding a camera and audio recorder, and share some wisdom on life in the District. I also thank my family for their love and support. A special thank you to my grandmother, who proofreads all of my stories between the hours of 1 and 6 a.m. every day. Hopefully, if I keep sharing enough stories about how great D.C. is, they will all move here.
I hope that, through sharing these stories, others will be encouraged to stop those people they see every day, but have never met and ask, ‘So, what’s your story?’ As you’ll see from the site, the responses can be pretty remarkable.
Want to suggest someone for People’s District to interview? Nominate his or her story here.