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Danny on People’s District

Monday, August 31st, 2009

Photo Credit: Lloyd Wolf

“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.

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75 Comments »

  1. I can’t remember how I came across your site, but really the only important thing is, is that I did. Your site is interesting, and wonder how it is impacting the people that are telling their stories. Love it!

    Comment by K. Bryant — June 30, 2010 @ 5:04 pm

  2. i just discovered your site this morning through prince of petworth. this is very interesting and unique. i’m really enjoying “meeting” the different people you’ve featured on here. it brings dc closer to one another and gives everyone a chance to see through the different lens of life.

    Comment by dieu — July 13, 2010 @ 11:35 am

  3. This is by far the best DC site that I have found in the city. Thank you so much for doing this. I feel like the city is so much cozier thanks to you.

    Comment by Dr. J — September 17, 2010 @ 10:05 am

  4. Danny, I am a former Washingtonian who know lives in Bulgaria. I miss the city so much, but your site helps me remember the street corners and faces (and even the smells!) that I used to see during my eight years in the District. Please keep at it. You do us all (even those in Bulgaria!) an amazing service.

    Comment by Claire S. — September 21, 2010 @ 1:07 am

  5. Thank you for doing this. This reminds me of why I love DC so much.

    Comment by Walter Monroe — September 21, 2010 @ 11:36 am

  6. I just found your site through PoP. It’s an incredible service to all those who live in or are interested in this city. Please, please keep it up.

    Comment by RCM — September 23, 2010 @ 12:10 am

  7. I also just found your site through PoP. I have spent the last two hours reading stories. This is so addictive!

    Comment by Justine — September 23, 2010 @ 12:29 am

  8. This is just like reading Studs Turkel’s stuff. Do you take requests? If so, go interview the ‘Black Cat Black Cat’ guy outside of the Black Cat. I’ve always wanted to know his story.

    Comment by Quincy — September 23, 2010 @ 10:38 am

  9. Thanks for all of the positive feedback. While I find most of the people on the site by approaching strangers on the street, I welcome your ideas on who should be featured on People’s District. Please feel free to post your ideas here or email me at danny@peoplesdistrict.com.

    Comment by People's District — September 24, 2010 @ 10:54 am

  10. Love, love this site. Thanks.

    Comment by Stephanie — September 28, 2010 @ 11:46 am

  11. Danny – when we talk, do our interview, please remind me to forward you Jaime Grant’s love letter to DC piece. She wrote it on FB last month when she and her family moved to take a job in Kalamazoo. It’s beautiful. You should have it. Righ now i just can’t remember the link. I’ll find it. – Loraine

    Comment by Loraine Hutchins — October 1, 2010 @ 12:28 pm

  12. thank you for doing this. so many times I pass people on the streets and wonder what their story is. your photos and words are beautiful.

    Comment by Rachel — October 6, 2010 @ 11:55 am

  13. Just found your site through your tweets on Brookland, I love what you’re doing with this thing. There is so much history on every page. I love it! Please keep doing it and also you need to write a book!!!

    Comment by Leonard — October 6, 2010 @ 1:00 pm

  14. Hello from Korea. I read your site all the time. When will you come and do your site here? We have a lot of interesting people also. Thank you. Kim Park

    Comment by Kim Park — October 12, 2010 @ 11:36 pm

  15. Leonard is right, a book done right would be awesome. I just found your site on Prince of Petworth, he posted the the piece about Michael (Canadian/Algonquin). If you do write a book, please include photos. Great work and thanks for this site, and your time.

    Comment by Kwes — October 13, 2010 @ 12:32 pm

  16. God bless you for doing this. We need more people like you to break down the walls this society places in front of us and allow us to see the beauty in strangers.

    Comment by Sister Nancy — October 25, 2010 @ 11:33 pm

  17. Thank you for doing this. This site will forever be a wonderful resource for people to know what life was like in Washington. All of the other things will come and go, but stories and folklore are a necessary thing to collect and treasure. It is through these stories that we really know people and places. Keep sharing stories for all of us to read and for future generations to treasure.
    Ron Landers

    Comment by Ron — November 4, 2010 @ 1:29 am

  18. I spent a summer in Washington during law school and never liked the city. I am from Chicago and was not really impressed by much of the city. The people were lame, the food sucked and the city was less than impressive. I did my ‘time’ here, as I like to call it, and then moved back. I never gave the city much thought after that until one of my colleagues in DC sent me your site to try and convince me DC wasn’t so bad. I read story after story and feel badly that I was so quick to judge the place without really giving the people a chance. I spent my days around lawyers and the other transient types like me who just complained about things in the city and never invested in the place or people. I became one of those people, also, and regret not having taken the time or effort to see the beautiful Washington that is portrayed on this site. I am still convinced that the food sucks and the city is boring, but it is at least nice to know about all of the incredible people there who are not lawyers, civil servants, and lobbyists. Thank you for helping me see that.

    Comment by Kira — November 7, 2010 @ 10:09 am

  19. Nice to see that Studs Turkel’s legacy is alive and strong in D.C. He would be proud of you.

    Comment by Patrick — November 20, 2010 @ 8:42 am

  20. I am impressed with these stories! They definitely give a voice and face to those who don’t fit that DC stereotype (i.e., rude, standoffish, and obsessed with who they work for and what they do). How do you go about finding subjects to interview? Do you just walk around looking for that special someone to interview, or do those people come to you?

    Comment by Golden Silence — December 3, 2010 @ 3:00 pm

  21. Oops…just read your September 24 response. That is cool. You just strike up convos and get these people talking…wow. Maybe this city would be less cold and more friendly if more people followed your lead.

    Comment by Golden Silence — December 3, 2010 @ 3:02 pm

  22. Danny, I have been reading your site for some time. As a 9-5′er I often get jaded and annoyed by the people around me as I go to and from my daily commute. It’s nice to read something so inspiring about “ordinary” washingtonians who have such interesting lives. Your site makes me a lot happier to live in this city.

    Comment by Alisha — December 6, 2010 @ 1:47 pm

  23. [...] night, I finally met and had a fantastic conversation with Danny Harris, the man behind the popular local website,”People’s District“. Danny is a [...]

    Pingback by A People’s History of Washington, D.C. | DCentric — December 7, 2010 @ 6:35 pm

  24. You had a mention on NPR, so I found your site, and it’s impressive. I have been wrestling with the idea of whether DC is a town to live in for years to come – your work here is food for thought.

    Comment by Jess — December 7, 2010 @ 9:38 pm

  25. Heard about you on NPR. This is such a great site. Reading this I feel like I live in a different city than I see everyday on my way to my gov job in NW. Thanks for opening all our eyes to this stuff. God bless.

    Comment by Danny — December 8, 2010 @ 10:30 am

  26. I feel like i learn more about my city through this than I would reading themainstream media for a whole year.

    Comment by Michael — December 8, 2010 @ 11:15 am

  27. Great work. Please keep it up. You provide such a positive and healing experience for the city by doing this.

    Comment by Joe — December 12, 2010 @ 3:18 pm

  28. +100 to what everyone else says. Site is amazing.

    Comment by Reefer Madness — December 29, 2010 @ 12:37 am

  29. The city doesn’t need more complicated projects to solve the race issues in this city, they need more People’s Districts. Amazing how compelling the power of narratives can be.

    Comment by Sara Jane — December 29, 2010 @ 4:07 pm

  30. Hello Danny, I live for 3 months in DC during university in 2008. I really like the city and always want to come back. Now I home in Peru but a friend pass me your site to stay connecting with my other city and people.Thank you from Lima for making me feel DC is so close! One day I will come back I hope. Besos, Gaby

    Comment by Gaby — December 29, 2010 @ 4:57 pm

  31. Danny,

    Comment by Adele Hutchins — January 1, 2011 @ 11:37 am

  32. My daughter in DC sent me your website and tells me to read it so I know about her new city. Sometimes, the stories make a father a little nervous and sometimes they make me hopeful that she is in the right place. Just wanted to sent a little note from Dallas and tell you that you have fans here. Thanks for helping me feel a little closer to my daughter. Just don’t let the site get her too comfortable there, she needs to come back to Texas! – Lew

    Comment by Lew — January 3, 2011 @ 4:11 pm

  33. Love the site. Any plans to create podcasts? I’d love to listen to these stories while walking around town.

    Comment by Yasmin Fodil — January 10, 2011 @ 10:47 am

  34. @Yasmin Thanks for the kind words. Working to bring more audio to the site and hopefully, some podcasts, in the near future. – Danny

    Comment by People's District — January 18, 2011 @ 1:07 pm

  35. This site makes me see the people around me differently. I now like to tell friends that I walk down the street with my “People’s District” goggles on, knowing that everyone has a story – some more amazing than others. I do my best to talk to the people around me. Sometimes, it is more successful than others. Most of the time though, I just feel happier that I am trying to expand my universe and feel close to the people around me. I don’t like to think of them as strangers, just friends that I haven’t met yet.

    Comment by Karen — January 18, 2011 @ 3:06 pm

  36. Just saw you on TV. Nice to see you getting the attention you deserve. Love this site.

    Comment by Vincent — January 24, 2011 @ 2:39 pm

  37. After living in DC for most of my life, I am now in Kenya doing development work. I don’t remember how I found your site, but I think a friend sent it to me when I told her that I missed our group house and life in Mt. Pleasant. I love seeing the personalities from the city and feeling connected to my home. Just wanted you to know that you bring light to those DC refugees around the world!

    Comment by Missing DC — January 26, 2011 @ 1:06 am

  38. Finally another humane person in this world. Communication is a beautiful thing.Just being able to say hello to one another in passing is something we take for granted. You never know the impact we as people have each other.How many people you might come across in a day who just need a hug,a smile,thumbs up,support,love,hello,hang shake,re assurance and love in this crazy crazy beautiful cruel place we call earth. Thank you for your contribution to my WONDERFULLY DIVERSE CITY. You have made me proud to say I am a WASHINGTONIAN and not the only one who believes in hello.

    Comment by Crissy — January 27, 2011 @ 5:36 am

  39. This is the best blog in DC!

    Comment by China — February 4, 2011 @ 3:04 pm

  40. I been living here 60 years and still try and live like a tourist when I can. I like to see the sites and meet all kinds of people. My granddaughter told me about this site of yours and it makes me feel proud to be a Washingtonian. You doing good for all of us. Yours, Herman

    Comment by Herman — February 6, 2011 @ 5:47 pm

  41. Love this site! Good job at the Speakeasy DC event tonight.

    Comment by Rob — March 8, 2011 @ 10:31 pm

  42. Please come and do this in Toronto! We have so many amazing personalities. After so many stories in DC, you need to come here and share the wealth.

    Comment by Brianne — March 16, 2011 @ 8:42 am

  43. No, please don’t leave DC. There are so many more people I want you to interview still.

    Comment by Rachel — March 16, 2011 @ 1:38 pm

  44. No matter how many DC stories you tell this city is still boring as shit.

    Comment by Juan — March 17, 2011 @ 9:06 am

  45. Ummmmm I started reading this while I was getting ready to go out tonight – a friend sent me your story on Erica. Now its 3 hours later and am still stuck on the site. Guess I won;t make it out tonight but thanks for telling it like it still. Guess I need to start reading earlier next time.

    Comment by M. — March 18, 2011 @ 11:17 pm

  46. Please come and do this in Toronto! We have so many amazing personalities. After so many stories in DC, you need to come here and share the wealth.

    Wouldn’t it make more sense for someone who lives in Toronto to start up something akin to People’s District there? Maybe you can be the one to start it up, Brianne.

    Comment by Golden Silence — March 21, 2011 @ 11:52 am

  47. Ack…blockquote feature doesn’t work!

    “Please come and do this in Toronto! We have so many amazing personalities. After so many stories in DC, you need to come here and share the wealth.”

    Wouldn’t it make more sense for someone who lives in Toronto to start up something akin to People’s District there? Maybe you can be the one to start it up, Brianne.

    Comment by Golden Silence — March 21, 2011 @ 11:53 am

  48. Just found you through Julie Michelle of Iliveheresf.com. I love that you and Julie are doing the same kind of work across the country from each other. Keep it up. Best from the west (coast)!

    Comment by Quincy — March 24, 2011 @ 7:54 pm

  49. [...] Daniel Harris makes it a goal to meet one new person every single day. He blogs at The People’s District, and delivered a compelling presentation about how people – and their stories – make up another element of design. [...]

    Pingback by Let’s Redesign_DC. | Capital Comment — March 30, 2011 @ 10:24 pm

  50. You gave an amazing presentation at Redesign DC the other night. You are so dynamic and compelling in person. Nice to finally meet the person behind the blog.

    Comment by Alice — March 31, 2011 @ 6:40 pm

  51. Just saw your Burning Man photos at the Gibson. They are absolutely stunning. I love the boys on rollerskates.

    Comment by Jim — April 7, 2011 @ 11:56 pm

  52. Danny, so great to meet you today at the vH office :) Very inspiring to learn about what you’re doing. It definitely creates a sense of responsibility for the rest of us to follow your lead and appreciate those around us, no matter what city we call home. Looking forward to working together.

    Comment by Norma — May 2, 2011 @ 9:15 pm

  53. I am so happy to have find this blog. It is the best thing I read about Washington since moving here from Germany. I can’t wait to meet all these people.

    Comment by Jasper — May 19, 2011 @ 10:06 am

  54. Your #igniteDC talk was so inspiring last night. I love what you do and wish more people saw the city that way that you do. After living here, we should all be able to give that same tour of DC in 20 faces.

    Comment by John — June 3, 2011 @ 10:34 am

  55. I was born in DC area and now live back in Vietnam. I miss home a lot. Your site helps me feel like i am back skateboarding downtown or hanging out with my friends in Chinatown. Thanks for keeping DC close to home for me. Peace from Hanoi, Tran

    Comment by Tran — June 8, 2011 @ 12:12 am

  56. [...] Dan Harris over at People’s District spent DC Pride week interviewing some of the neatest queer folk in the Capital. TNG is proud to show off his work. [...]

    Pingback by The New Gay » Pride: People’s District: Imam Daayiee Abdullah on Pushing the Limits of Acceptance — June 10, 2011 @ 10:01 am

  57. [...] Dan Harris over at People’s District spent DC Pride week interviewing some of the neatest queer folk in the Capital. TNG is proud to show off his work. [...]

    Pingback by The New Gay » Pride: People’s District: Dan on Feeling Whole — June 10, 2011 @ 12:01 pm

  58. [...] Dan Harris over at People’s District spent DC Pride week interviewing some of the neatest queer folk in the Capital. TNG is proud to show off his work. [...]

    Pingback by The New Gay » Pride: People’s District: Annie aka dj vANNIETY Kills on Creating a Diverse Dance Floor — June 10, 2011 @ 1:01 pm

  59. Never been to DC, but feel closer to it everyday thanks to your blog. Nice to learn that DC is not just full of politicians and Weiners. Samuel from Seattle

    Comment by Samuel — June 10, 2011 @ 1:10 pm

  60. Haha! You should totally interview Anthony Weiner’s weiner for your blog!

    Comment by KeepItInThePants — June 10, 2011 @ 1:14 pm

  61. [...] Danny Harris over at People’s District spent DC Pride week interviewing some of the neatest queer folk in the Capital. TNG is proud to show off his work. [...]

    Pingback by The New Gay » Pride: People’s District: Toni on Feeling Like a Woman — June 10, 2011 @ 3:02 pm

  62. [...] Danny Harris over at People’s District spent DC Pride week interviewing some of the neatest queer folk in the Capital. TNG is proud to show off his work. [...]

    Pingback by The New Gay » Personal Narratives: Jim on Being a Witness to History — June 14, 2011 @ 4:01 pm

  63. Saw the Post article. Congrats, you are a star. So happy to see you finally recognized for your great work. Love and love, Q

    Comment by Q — July 21, 2011 @ 12:47 pm

  64. i want to jion in you.but my english is poor.iim a chinese girl.

    Comment by jiangshan — July 24, 2011 @ 4:45 am

  65. Hello from China. Saw you in my newspaper. Very nice man are you. I like to read you stories and thank you for people stories.

    Comment by Jackie — August 1, 2011 @ 2:53 pm

  66. Thank you for making the best website for our city. You make me see the beauty of Washington. You make the world see that we are more than those clowns who argue about debt ceilings and the silly tourists who only visit the Mall. We are a proud people in all four corners.

    Comment by Steph — August 2, 2011 @ 10:34 am

  67. Hello from Saudi Arabia. I like reading about Washington. Thank you

    Comment by Ahmed — August 9, 2011 @ 12:08 am

  68. Well done Mr. Harris. This is great service you do for all of us.

    Comment by Duane — September 13, 2011 @ 12:12 am

  69. Please come visit us in Wichita. My cousin, Ellen, from DC just passed along your work. What a lovely view into a city that I know and love. Once you finish with Washington, please come and bring your work here. We have so many great stories for you.

    Comment by Karen Josephs — September 16, 2011 @ 11:28 am

  70. I absolutely love your blog!! I came across it because I’m a supporter of Free Minds Book Club. What you are doing is something I’ve tried to incorporate in my daily life. Thank you for sharing in such a positive way!

    Comment by Emily — October 20, 2011 @ 9:40 am

  71. Thank you from Greece. I like to read about your work and people in Washington. One day, I hope to visit and maybe we can meet for a coffee. I hope so. :)

    Comment by Alex — November 5, 2011 @ 7:55 pm

  72. This is one of the best examples of the positive power of the internet. Reading this restores my faith in humanity amdist all the crap. Thank you Thank you; please keep going.

    Comment by Mar — November 11, 2011 @ 9:44 am

  73. [...] sad, happy and in-between. One of my favorite projects is The People’s District, run by Danny Harris. His niche has been recording and sharing the stories of average people all around him. In this [...]

    Pingback by This Year: Shut Up And Listen | Capital Comment — January 4, 2012 @ 8:11 am

  74. [...] thing. This lonely realization propelled him out of isolation and into his neighborhood. He started The People’s District, a blog dedicated to telling the stories of Washingtonians. Like many, he moved to DC for a [...]

    Pingback by Christians in the Capital | Capital Comment — September 21, 2012 @ 8:58 pm

  75. [...] thing. This lonely realization propelled him out of isolation and into his neighborhood. He started The People’s District, a blog dedicated to telling the stories of Washingtonians. Like many, he moved to DC for a [...]

    Pingback by Christians in the Capital — January 31, 2013 @ 3:37 pm

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