Anacostia Voices – Background of an 800+ Kid


Anacostia High School

Anacostia Voices is written by Paul Penniman. In 2003, Paul founded Resources for Inner city CHildren, RICH, which provides tutoring and mentoring services to Anacostia High School and the Cesar Chavez Public Charter School-Capitol Hill.

Hi everyone,

Thank you for your interesting comments about “Number 1 and “Number 2”. To give you a sense of how much our kids in Anacostia are learning, three “home-grown” students, those of whom have gone to Anacostia neighborhood schools throughout childhood, have scored 800 or higher on the SAT (math + reading, or math + verbal for us old folks). “Number 2” is one of those students. There are eight other kids who transferred to Anacostia High School in the eleventh or twelfth grade who also have that distinction. “Number 1” is one of those students. The good news about this gap is our kids can do a lot of catching up freshman year. Paul Tough addresses this issue toward the end of his excellent book, “How Children Succeed.”

To all the Spelman alums who have expressed interest: Your alum support system is phenomenal, and we will continue to make good use of it!

Some of you have wondered about ensuring the success of these kids when they get to college. We do have a dedicated budget for this, but if you would like to enhance it, or donate for any other of our programs, click here and in the comment section you can specify your donation (or not). Thank you in advance, and I hope all in PoPville have a relaxing and fulfilling holiday season.

Below is an interesting essay written by one of the other two home-grown 800+ kids. I hope you enjoy it although it is a little disturbing:

I’m from Southeast Washington DC, perhaps one of the worst places to live in the U.S. The crime here is phenomenal, and to experience drug dealing and murders first hand is unbearable. When you compare this side of the city to the other quadrants like NE or NW geographically it’s so different, I mean the culture changes, the way people treat each other is different. Once you cross into Ancostia it’s a whole new world, the increase of Black/African Americans sky rockets. There are abandoned houses and buildings everywhere, trash all over the place, and a good amount of homeless folk. It’s like the rest of the city literally drew a line between us and them saying “We don’t want anything to do with those people”. It’s almost like they just don’t care.

When I travel to the wealthier places here, I become almost unwanted like someone is telling they don’t want me here. I would get this certain look from certain people, and I could tell that they feel some type of superiority over me because of my skin color and where I’m from. Those types of people are so quick to judge, and all I can say to myself is that just because I’m from a bad neighborhood and that people around me are drug dealers and convicted felons, does not mean I’m one as well. I was born into that and the only way that I can change it is to do my best in school and leave. This is an obstacle in my life because people will always base the type of person you are from where you come from. As a human and a U.S. citizen I have the right to the pursuit of happiness, but it’s up to me to actually pursue happiness and do something positive and productive.

I had a stepfather who was like my biological father; he was there when I needed him at all times. He had three children by my mother, but he chose to take care of all us as if we were his also. He had this unforgettable look on his face once he became serious, mad or annoyed by someone or something, a look that will penetrate the minds of others as if he was reading it. A lot of words came from that look. That look told my siblings and me that the world we live in is cold, that there is always someone waiting to just stab you in the back. There are going to be people who smile in your face when you’re doing your upmost to show they support you but at the same time those are the same people that will laugh at you and look down on you when you fall and not doing so well. Pay close attention to your surroundings and the people you call friends because most of the time your enemy isn’t always the one to bring you down. My household was once a two parent home, they both loved us dearly, until that one unfaithful night when my mom got a visit from my uncle and a couple of my stepfather’s friends. They were there to deliver an unwanted message that would just break our hearts into a billion pieces. That message was that my stepfather was shot and that he may not make it.

That early morning on September 14th 2007 at approximately 1:55am he was pronounced dead. This was by far the worst thing that could happen to my family and me. I couldn’t believe he was gone; some selfish person took away my mentor and my role model. I no longer had anyone to look up to and up to now I don’t look up to anyone else. He wasn’t innocent, not at all, he did sell drugs but at the same time he was employed. The job he had just wasn’t paying enough so he had to find another way to make ends meet. The way he chose was the wrong way, it caused him his life, he figured there was no other way when you’re from this side of D.C. It’s like they force us to do wrong because they don’t provide us with the tools we need. He got set up by a close friend who was jealous of the way he handled business, which is ironic because he always talked about watching your back and the people you hang with but he was the one who got caught slipping.

This is an obstacle in my life because I have to put together all the things he taught me and use it to single out individuals I want on my boat that’ll help me reach the top. This may be something that’ll hold me down in the long run but I have to be man and overcome it in order to become someone great, and someone with ambition.

A lot of people would say that I overcame my struggle, I would say that too because when you look at it, I had literally two options. Those options were I could either stay in school and make it the right way or hit the streets and sell drugs to make my money. I chose to stay in school, if I have not chosen that option I would’ve been another soul that was captured by the streets of Southeast or even in jail. Since I made that commitment to stay in school I’ve done the unthinkable. In 9th grade I went the whole year without glasses which I needed more than anything and made honor roll the whole year finishing near the top of my class. Three years later, I’m in the 12th grade. My accumulative GPA is currently a 3.2, I’m ranked 8th out of all 147 seniors that will graduate in the fall of 2014. I think I’ve become more aware of what I’m capable of and will do anything in my power to ensure that I become successful.

18 Comment

  • I hope that this is his college admission’s essay!

  • Great read, thank you for posting. I found it incredibly valuable.

    I have plenty of opinions and feelings on the income/crime/race/education/housing issues in this city, but so rarely hear perspectives like this one.

  • I sincerely hope that this person makes it, and never again has to go without.

  • Thank you for posting this and please keep us updated.

  • Thanks for this. A post about how to get involved in mentoring/tutoring some of these kids would also be very helpful.

  • Hear hear to all of the positive comments – it’s sad to read about terrible things happening to someone so young, but it’s also stunning to hear a mature, frank-yet-hopeful tone in the words. I definitely also hope that this is his or her college admission essay.

  • I’m so grateful to see this perspective posted after weeks of feeling disheartened by comments on how to deal with low income youth in this city. Really, just, thank you for posting this. For those interested in volunteering, I can recommend the long-running Higher Achievement Program ( ) as a way to get involved and give a boost to young people with promise.

  • All teary eyed, nice work kid! Keep it up, be the leader you are meant to be, and bring it home for us all, in your finest glory.

  • This is clearly a smart kid deserving of support.

    I found the paragraph starting with “When I travel to the wealthier places here,” troubling, because I think this kid needs to reconsider his own stereotypes for his own good. I grew up in a poor area, too, and came to realize that most people aren’t seeing the poverty in you that you think they are. In other words, you have to get over your own insecurities and not project them onto others. Also, it’s just as wrong to blanket ascribe to the “wealhier places” a certain value system as it is to do the same to poorer places. He needs to understand for his own good and peace of mind that it’s inaccurate to assume that someone who lives in a nice house in the wealthy part of town must have grown up with a silver spoon in his mouth and judges people just because they are poor. If he clings to these views without giving each person a chance, he’s going to alienate people who would be interested in helping him and he’s not going to learn that some of them can serve as role models.

    • So he should be completely delusional for his own sanity? How can you read the comments on this blog, with its consensus on black teens, and then claim that the dismissiveness he senses from others is all in his head?

      And if your issue is that you’ve misread some generalization into his observation, he clearly specifies: “certain look from certain people”.

  • Love this.

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