Photo by Danny Harris
Danny Harris is a DC-based photographer, DJ, and collector of stories. In September, he launched People’s District, a blog that tells a people’s history of DC by sharing the stories and images of its residents. Every day, People’s District presents a different Washingtonian sharing his or her insights on everything from Go Go music to homelessness to fashion to politics. You can read his previous columns here.
“I have been carrying my city swag since I was 8. To me, that is walking with purpose and not showing fear. I went to John Eaton Elementary School in Cleveland Park. My Mom and I were living in Shaw, but she had a friend who lived near the school and we used her address so I could go there. As everyone knows, D.C. does not have the best schools. In the 80’s, they were even worse, especially in Shaw. I come from a family of teachers and my Mom was insistent that I get a good education. John Eaton was a diverse school and most of the kids that I knew at school did not live in the neighborhood. I don’t know if everyone was using someone else’s address to go there. After school, a bunch of the latch key kids would trek across town after school by ourselves. Every day, I took a metro and two buses to get home.
“Ironically, my Mom is a social worker and worked in the child protection section of Children’s Hospital. Because she had strange hours, I ended up on my own a lot and had to grow up very quickly. After I made the trip from school to home, I was to stay in the house until she got home. I could not go out, so I would just look out the window at the street outside. Because of that, I was not really able to develop relationships with kids in my neighborhood. Shaw was a very drastic change from Cleveland Park. There was a lot of PCP, or Love Boat as it was called, in the neighborhood. I always thought that the name was interesting because I watched the Love Boat and I never saw people stripping off their clothes and running down the middle of the street naked and high on drugs. And I certainly never saw Captain Stubing, Isaac, and Julie around our neighborhood.
“When I was 10, I got a babysitter from around my way who was 16. I was so excited because she would meet me at my house after school and I could hang out with her. She would take me everywhere she was going. Through her, I learned what boys on my block were hustling and saw people go to jail. I used to think that jail was like a gym because when the boys would come back, they’d be full of muscles. I probably saw a whole bunch of stuff I was not supposed to see. At the same time, I used to go to my friend’s houses from school who lived this very sheltered life on the other side of town. Their Moms would always be home with snacks and they had lots of bedrooms and yards. It was very fairytailish and the kids seemed kind of naive to me. Continues after the jump.
“Even though I felt more comfortable and safe in Cleveland Park, I never felt a part of it. The level of privilege I encountered there, especially when I went to National Cathedral School, was unlike anything I had ever seen. The kids had stuff that was exorbitant to me. I remember going off to my Mom once because some girl in my class spent $8 on a pair of socks. I couldn’t believe it. I felt like this was their world and I was just passing through it. What I did not envy, though, was the family dynamics that I saw in a lot of households. I didn’t see a lot of loving homes. Even though we had to make a lot of sacrifices, my parents were very loving and attentive. In around 8th grade, kids started drinking in school. The big thing was screwdrivers in water bottles. What kind of situation is a child coming out of where they feel like they need to drink a screwdriver at 1pm?
“After high school, I didn’t spend any time around Cleveland Park. I was very rebellious and kind of turned away from those experiences. About ten years ago, I got frustrated about something and went on a long walk. I didn’t know where I was going, but I ended up coming back to the National Cathedral. I knew the path here so well from all of my trips as a kid. Coming back helped me to recognize how important this place was for me and my development. Now, it is like home and I don’t look at myself as being an ‘outsider’ anymore. This place is a part of me.
“Now, several of my closest adult friends are friends from my time at Cathedral. In addition to rediscovering the place, I reconnected with the people just like I did with the grounds. We come from different worlds, in many ways, but the foundation laid from our adolescent years makes for a very close bond. It is the place, for sure, but the people are the marrow of my connection to that place. I love it mostly because I love them. Most people that know me will tell you that they have been here at some point because this is where I drag people to hang out or to sit and work. I look around and my footprints are all over this place. I now realize how much a part of me this place is.”