As I pondered whether to accept a job offer that would ask me to move 1,524 miles away from the comforts of Texas Life, I couldn’t help but to finally feel a sense of ownership over my future. If life was a movie, this would be the moment when the lead character chooses a path that is set to be a life defining journey – at least that’s how I felt. With this in mind, I pondered whether the work that I was to take on in this new city was something worthwhile (worth the move). Being that the offer was only for a yearlong assignment, I repeatedly questioned what will become of this opportunity. How will this enhance or take away from my future goals I wondered. With further self-assessment, the lure of answering a call to serve and live in Washington, D.C. trumped my doubts and hesitation. Subleasing my apartment, selling my car, I decided to take the plunge and turn the page in ‘Chocolate City.’
The Back Story
Being known as a transition city, many travel to and through D.C. for endless opportunities for work, along with other cultural and social callings. Amidst the hustle and bustle of interim residents, the locals that list the district as their permanent address make up an increasingly diverse and dynamic population. Sparing you the in-depth history of the city (NPR/NYTimes do it better); during the past few decades D.C. became nicknamed ‘Chocolate City’ in reference to the cities African-American majority. Most recently, the district has experienced developments that have enticed investments and white migration back into the inner-city, in turn increasing the cost-of-living while diminishing the black majority.
D.C.’s vibrant and resource-rich community however remains filled with talented and socially driven individuals from all walks of life. These new locals, that have sought to list the nation’s capitol as their permanent address, have begun to diversify the city’s urban culture. Just as the migration in the 1950’s captured a unique moment in national and local history – reigning in the era of ‘Chocolate City,’ this new wave of movement tells the story of a continuously changing America. The dynamics and pace of these recent shifts have also casted light on the socioeconomic disparities, that increasingly marginalize many in the local community.
Having completed a year of professional work involving partisan political campaigns and state government politics, I was eager to expand my exposure within the realm of nonpartisan advocacy work. The opportunity to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA-Volunteer in Service to America would mean, committing a year to combating poverty in the United States on a grassroots level. For me, that would entail accepting an assignment to work with Turning the Page, an educational support and parent engagement non-profit in D.C. This organization acts as a link between D.C. public schools, families and community partners, to ensure D.C. students receive valuable resources and high-quality public education.
A commitment to a year of service also meant agreeing to forgo any outside compensation, other than a $16,000 AmeriCorps stipend. This provision would allow me the opportunity to fully understand the struggle of living at the federal poverty level, while also gaining first hand perspective of the people conflicted with economic and educational inequity. Now 7 weeks into my assignment, my work is beginning to kick into full gear as the school year starts. As we begin to interact with families from the corners of Anacostia, an historic ghetto of ‘Chocolate City,’ and other low-income DC neighborhoods, I quietly observe the humanity and universal hopes shared by these parents. Their mutual hopes for improved economic opportunities, and an education system that legitimately breaks the cycle of poverty for their children and themselves goes unnoticed.
The March for Action
As our country reflects on the legacy of the March on Washington, I asked myself if I was to march today, as the brave men and women did 50 years ago, what would be my cause? What would drive me to hit the streets and protest institutions that perpetuate injustice in the land of liberty? I couldn’t help but to hear the call of Dr. King resonate, telling us that our faith for the full realization of the American Dream is a struggle we all must endure and stand for together. This is a call for why when we embrace the renewal of gentrification throughout our communities; we must also tirelessly work to combat the poverty that is brought on by displacement.
In the spirit of King, who called on America to honor the promissory note signed by the architects of our republic, we must fulfill the mission for what bounds us all as equals, and patriots to these ageless ideals. If I was to march for action today, I would walk to turn the page in the lives of those students, who are cast in the shadows of society, fed unpromising hope from a failing public school system. I’d advocate for those parents who look beyond their own struggle every day, in order to provide their child access to a future of achievement. I’d march to declare my commitment to social, political, and economic developments that truly transcend our neighborhoods into more holistic communities.
As the Story Goes
Though my choice of occupation may not be reigning in lucrative pay or eradicating severe poverty around the globe, I take on the call of Turning the Page in ‘Chocolate City’ with great depth. With my willingness to serve and pay it forward, I have sought out to empower others with the resources to transform their own disadvantage into potential. Joining the community, I have taken on their struggle in the hopes of answering a call on my life. With not one journey being identical, a commitment to improving and sustaining the world we live in, is a goal to be shared by all. As it goes, “the future belongs to the few of us still willing to get our hands dirty.”
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Mariel Kanene is Founder and Editor of TheArtOfPersptive.co and lead storyteller with a focus on people, place and purpose. His passion for storytelling was born in Kinshasa, Congo, groomed in Dallas, Texas, and cultivated in Washington, DC where he now resides. By day, Mariel spends his days slowly trying to change the world—one meaningful interaction at a time. When Mariel is not in the office, he spends his free time in athletic pursuits from weightlifting to yoga, swimming, and martial arts. He loves good conversations over good coffee and even better rum. He hates talking about himself in third person. Thanks for stopping by. Always appreciated. Twitter | Instagram | Linkedin .