columbia heights

From the Archives: November 1985

NATALIA61 / Shutterstock
NATALIA61 / Shutterstock 

AS A member of Sojourners Community, I make my home in Southern Columbia Heights—a place in which it’s all too easy to miss seeing the beauty and courage that lie alongside the suffering of low-income families. I see people crowded, pushed one against the other. Children are often afraid, preoccupied with fears of violence. I feel a wave of despair each time another ambulance screams past my bedroom window on its way to the hospital.

Our neighbors struggle to make ends meet, and we are trying to stand with them. But gradually my faith has worn thinner and thinner. All the old expressions of praise and faith no longer seem to hold much meaning.

Yet into the midst of this hopelessness has come a weekly hour when an entirely different side of the neighborhood comes before me. On Monday evenings a few of us from Sojourners gather with some of our neighbors at our neighborhood ministry center. We sing and pray a little, but most of all we study scripture together. ... Sometimes we sing “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarm. Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms. The words describe our total dependence on a God who wants to hold and carry us as a mother. In this world, and in this neighborhood, I need to trust that God. Thanks to my friends, I’m drawn more and more to do just that.

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#BlackLivesMatter Meet Stokely Carmichael

IN AN undistinguished apartment around the corner from my house in Columbia Heights, the Black Power revolutionary Stokely Carmichael honed his forceful, insistent rhetoric and organizing genius. His apartment effectively served as the Washington, D.C. headquarters for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Historian Peniel E. Joseph’s recently released Carmichael biography, Stokely: A Life, traces this complicated American revolutionary with nuance and freshness critical in our era of resurging black youth-led movements. Regarding Carmichael’s D.C. years, Joseph describes the intellectual crucible that was Howard University at the time.

The Caribbean-born, Harlem-raised Carmichael lived in D.C. from 1960, when he enrolled at Howard as a philosophy major, to 1965, when he relocated to Lowndes County, Ala., as a fulltime organizer for the black freedom struggle. For five critical years, Carmichael—who was raised Methodist and would later found the Black Panthers and become a leading anti-colonial, pan-Africanist living in Guinea (changing his name to Kwame Touré)—honed his organizing skills and revolutionary perspective from his student apartment on Euclid Street.

The fall of 1960 followed the culmination of the first wave of sit-ins sparked by the North Carolina A&T students in Greensboro. Ella Baker had encouraged students to break from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and form their own youth-led organization, which became SNCC. Black campuses, including Howard, were on fire with possibility. Carmichael’s freshman English teacher was future Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison. Poet Sterling Brown, called “the dean of Negro literature,” mentored Carmichael, urging him to pay “attention to the voices of not just the dignified but also the damned.”

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Afternoon Philosofail

2308371224_60e0cda6e8If you're anything like me, reading this brief entry from Ian Millhiser at ThinkProgress.org titled, "Scalia says there's nothing unconstitutional about executing the innocent," will no doubt do more to raise your blood pressure than the afternoon latte you were just contemplating.

Which Future Will We Choose?

In Oklahoma City, 168 people died because they were in the way of somebody's anger at the government. In Chicago, more than 500 people died from the intense heat because nobody paid enough attention to them. These two recent events are each signs of the times, to use the biblical language-and ominous ones at that.

Last spring, the home-grown terrorism that destroyed the Federal Building in Oklahoma City and injured and killed hundreds of people sent shivers throughout the country. Have we become so divided and angry that executing our neighbors (and their children) becomes a political act? Will our ideological passions, economic dislocations, racial polarization, culture wars, apocalyptic fears, and political scapegoating be too much for the fragile American social fabric?

New tribalisms are replacing notions of the common good. Who we are against has become the rallying cry of politics, instead of what we are for. Demagoguery threatens the spirit of democracy as the dialogues of old town meetings are replaced by the new "ditto-heads" of talk radio. When hate talk is the language of politics, violence always results.

THE DEATHS in Chicago this summer are another indication of our fraying social fabric. Most of the heat victims were elderly and poor; many lacked the family and community support systems that ensure elderly relatives and neighbors are checked on during such a stressful time.

Public support systems also failed. Insufficient numbers of medical and rescue workers resulted in inadequate responses to emergencies or busy firefighters trying to cope with health problems they were ill-equipped to handle.

Perhaps most distressing were the people who were afraid to go outside or even open their windows for fear of crime. Trapped and isolated, they died from the heat as prisoners in their own homes-both a horrible way to die and a frightening commentary on our relationship to each other.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1995
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