Interact with as many people as possible, every race, every background
Alvin Brown, Jr.
WHEN: 29 August 2015
WHERE: home of the interviewer
INTERVIEWER: Carl Lankowski
Q: Let’s start with when and where you were born.
AB: My father already had a name for me…his! So I am Alvin Brown, Jr. I was born at Howard University Hospital in Washington DC at 6:55 a.m. It took 42 hours for me to come out. It was July 20th, 1988.
Q: Where was the family living at that time?
AB: We had just purchased a house at 6th and L Streets, NE in the Trinidad, now called NoMA area. That is just south of Union Market and east of Union Station. Renovations were required, so we lived with my grandmother intermittently while they were undertaken.
Q: Trinidad has a storied past as a center of Washington’s black bourgeoisie, I think.
AB: Right. But by the time I came along, it was in the midst of a crack cocaine epidemic. Rayful Edmond lived maybe two blocks from us. I hadn’t really gone outside until I moved. To this day, I have never seen that back yard, because it fed right into the alley, where the rats were and all the crack deals were doing down.
AB: Yeah. It was pretty much an open air market for drugs. We were there for about five years. I went to JO Wilson Elementary School for Kindergarten at the corner of 5th and K Streets. It was around the corner from our house. My mother taught first grade in that school for 25 years. We moved right before I was to enter first grade.
Q: It sounds like you moved again around 1993.
AB: My parents tell me the story all the time. We were very close to my grandparents. We would go over there every Sunday. One particular Sunday I reenacted a moment when my told me go to the floor for cover because bullets were flying through the house. That never happened; the incident was embellished for effect. But this scene motivated my grandfather to declare that we needed to move and that he was going to help us find another house. He was a real estate agent at that point, having retired from a career in mechanical engineering. So, he found us a house on 19th Place, NE. It was a much nicer area, not far from South Dakota and Eastern Avenues. It was called bungalow lands, not only because of the predominant housing types there, but also because it seemed a bit out of the way.
Q: Where did your grandfather earn his degree in mechanical engineering?
AB: At South Carolina State University. He and my grandmother are from South Carolina. My grandfather, David is from the town of Seneca. My grandmother, Ola, went to another college. They married a few months after they met. They had their first child, my uncle David III , in South Carolina, before they decided to move to DC.
Q: When did they move?
AB: It must have been 1954.
Q: A headline year! Did they move for work?
AB: Yes. My grandmother was also an educator and worked in several schools in and around DC, mainly Emery Elementary School. By the time I arrived, she was headed to retirement.
Q: Let’s go to your mom’s side for a moment.
AB: My mom, Lisa Charms, is from Brooklyn, New York. She was an only child. They lived in an apartment in the Crown Heights section. Her parents divorced when she was 12 and lived alternatively for a while. Her mother died when my mom was 21.
Q: How did your mom come to DC?
AB: She attended Howard University and majored in Education. She was a very good student. Her first teaching job was at a private school in Virginia.
Q: How did your mom and dad meet?
AB: Oh wow. My grandparents on my father’s side moved to Quincy Place in NE DC, about two blocks from our house on 19th Place. They then moved to Portal Drive in Shepherd Park. As it turned out, my mom was living in a house next door. Her house-mate set her up for a date one day with my dad. The three of them went bowling. Then my dad took her to Rehoboth Beach for their first official date.
Q: What year was that?
AB: I think it was 1984. It was the year the movie, “Purple Rain” was released, one of the first movies they saw together.
Q: Do you have siblings?
AB: I have one sister, named Laurene, after my mom’s mom, who was born in 1992.
Q: How did you come to Western Avenue?
AB: In 1999 my parents were looking for a better area for schools. The goal was always to get closer to upper Northwest DC, where we could end up going to Deal Junior High and Wilson High School. My dad told me this many times over the years—they wanted to keep us in public schools, but they wanted us to go to the best ones. So we moved to Western Avenue in the Hawthorne section of Chevy Chase DC.
Q: Close to Rock Creek Park?
AB: Just two blocks away. I take hikes through the trails frequently.
Q: Before we leave the NE house, share with us any memories you had of growing up there, when you were 7, 8, 9 years old.
AB: I was always into the outdoors. I always wanted to be on my bike. It was a relatively safe neighborhood, so my parents were fine with me riding around the neighborhood by myself. I can remember getting my first set of roller-blades for Christmas. I immediately wanted to go outside. My mother made sure I had all the elbow pads, knee pads, and shin guards, because I was very accident-prone. There’s a picture of me in my winter coat with all these pads on, snow pants because there was snow on the ground.
Q: Do you remember your school?
AB: Sure. I would bike to Bunker Hill Elementary School. Some of my favorite times of my life were spent there. It was predominantly black, probably 99% black. I had a lot of fun there. Our class trips were unlike any I have ever heard of. We went to Toronto one year, Chicago another year. Toronto via Niagara Falls was when I was in the 4th grade. We did Chicago when I was in the 5th grade for four or five days.
Q: How many kids took part in the trips?
AB: Probably around 60.
Q: Where did they all stay?
AB: We stayed in hotels. A whole block of rooms had been reserved. We had chaperones of course. We were always supervised.
Q: What sorts of activities were scheduled?
AB: We visited museums. I can remember visiting the Sears Tower in Chicago. You can see the whole city from the observation floor. They don’t tell you that there will be a sudden drop as the elevator descends the first 40-50 floors. That was a rush. We thought we were going to die. There were tours of the city. We ate deep-dish pizza. Experiencing Canadian bacon was a highlight of the Toronto trip.
Q: Who organized those trips?
AB: It was the school. Bunker Hill organized a trip of that magnitude every year.
Q: Were parents involved?
AB: They helped out with the logistics. Some also came along as chaperones. There were around fifteen of them—about one chaperone for every three or four kids.
Q: It sounds like a community effort.
AB: There was much participation of the community in many ways, keeping it safe, keeping the children happy. It was a great place to grow up.
Q: And then it all changed.
AB: Right. I was ten, right before the summer, when my parents told me we were moving. That came as a shock. I was not happy. And I had no idea where we would be moving to. I just knew that the house would be bigger and that we would be closer to Rock Creek Park. I had never really been to the park before moving over here. I can remember just not being happy at all, because I was leaving all of my friends behind and having to start over.
Q: Where did you transfer?
AB: I was enrolled in Lafayette Elementary School. It was another shock walking into that place. I am about 5’10” in height now. When I was 11 years old I was already 5’8”, making me the largest kid by far in the sixth and final grade at Lafayette. I towered over the other kids. On my first day there a kid came up and asked me how many years I had been left back. As it turned out, he was actually older than I. Despite all that, I had a good time there.
Q: Describe how you took the scene in when you first arrived. How did your parents prepare you for your debut at Lafayette?
AB: My grandparents took me to school that first day. Historically, I had always been a nervous kid, especially on the first day of school. I can remember in first grade my dad took me, because, again I was in a new school. I remember sitting on my carpet square, so nervous that I threw up all over the rug. Kids recoiled from this on all sides. My dad, sitting in the corner watching, was thinking to himself “please don’t let it be my kid.” When the proverbial smoke cleared, I was sitting there alone. He took me home, changed my clothes and brought me back. I was definitely going to school on that day: “you’ve got to tough it out.” It wasn’t as hard in sixth grade. I think maybe my mom had talked to the teachers before; everyone welcomed me with open arms. All the rest knew each other already. I was one of two new kids in the grade.
Q: There were 25-30 kids?
AB: It was more like 50. Lafayette had a different way of teaching. The grade was shared among three teachers. My primary teacher taught Math; there were two others: one for reading and one for Social Studies. We were all in one huge room and rotated middle-school and high-school style, the classes separated by cubicle-type partitions.
Q: Where was that?
AB: Behind the cafeteria. Bunker Hill was a much larger school, so this was one of the things that surprised me about Lafayette. At Bunker Hill there was a separate lunch room and auditorium.
Q: What else struck you about Lafayette?
AB: I was really into sports. Particularly, I loved football, but no one at Lafayette was interested. I played basketball that first day and got to know a few kids that way. I remember the atmosphere being mostly warm at Lafayette. See from Bunker Hill, there was always a negative connotation about this area. We would race them in track. It was “we’re going to race the white kids.” Now I had to adjust to being on the Lafayette team.
Q: Were you a runner?
AB: Oh yeah—I was very big in sprinting. The first day of gym at Lafayette, they had us run a mile. I thought I could sprint the whole distance. My time ended up being around nine minutes; I just ran out of gas so many times. But when we had to run a mile again at year’s end, my time was five minutes 40 seconds. I spent most of that year running—indoors and outdoor track. I did it all.
Q: So, you transitioned from being part of the overwhelming majority population to being nearly a singular minority.
AB: That’s right. I was one of six minority students in Lafayette’s 6th grade class and the only one who lived in a house in the school district. The others came from other part of the city, out-of-bounds kids. There were two Hispanics and four, including me, that were African Americans. They all wanted to opt in because they thought Lafayette would provide a better education. I believe one of them had a mom who worked at Lafayette.
Q: What kind of impact did the changed circumstances have on you?
AB: At the time, I don’t think it particularly affected me. It didn’t matter to me at all. These were nice kids. They were nice to me; their parents were nice to me. There was no issue at all. I didn’t have any friction until middle school, when everybody started going to Deal.
Q: It sounds like Lafayette was pretty unproblematic. What was your experience in the neighborhood early on?
AB: My parents would drop me off in the morning with my grandparents across the park on Portal Drive in Shepherd Park. My grandparents the drove me to school.
Q: Did you interact with the neighbors?
AB: Not so much at first. The neighbors were a lot older than us. There weren’t a whole lot of kids in our immediate vicinity. The family across Western Avenue had two kids around my sister’s age, so she played with them a lot. It was only in middle school that I realized there was someone only two doors down from us that was one year older than I. I regrettably never talked to her the first year we were on Western Avenue. We are good friends now.
Q: What did you do in your free time?
AB: Since moving over here, there were even more places to roam and bike and run and do outdoorsy things. I roamed through Rock Creek Park by myself and hung out with friends. Lafayette parents let my friends come to my house and I visited theirs. We all went trick or treating.
Q: Where were your parents working?
AB: He may already have been with Pre-trial Services by then—across from the Archives. My mom was still working at JO Wilson Elementary School—both in an entirely different part of town.
Q: What sort of work does your dad do?
AB: He started in computer programming. But he was also a hardware guy. He loved putting computers together. In his youth, he was always that kid who would take everything apart and put it back together. That is sort of how he got into computers. Consequently, computers were part of my environment as long as I can remember. He worked for a series of companies that have probably been bought and absorbed by others by now through the dot.com boom and bust: PRC, Tetratech, Comso, and he did work at Verizon for a little while.
Q: What sort of education did your dad get?
AB: He got a Masters in Business Administration and a Bachelors in Computer Science.
Q: Where did he do that?
AB: He also went to South Carolina State. His Masters was from Howard University, which is also where he got his first job. That’s how he paid for grad school.
Q: You have been describing the prototype of a middle class family.
AB: It’s funny. A lot of my friends would call us “the Cosbys.”
Q: Shall we focus on your experience at Deal Junior High School now? I am anticipating that Deal was rather different from Lafayette, a contrast.
AB: Deal was more of a mix. There were probably 50 per cent black people and a much lower percentage of white kids. We all tended to retreat into our own areas. We were all integrated in the school, but pretty segregated socially.
The 7th graders received a letter before the school year began. One of the topics was the dress code. All shirts had to be tucked in. No sweat pants. No shorts. No T-shirts. All of the sudden it was very rigid. I can remember the first day of school, waiting outside to file into the building. I was with my mom’s father, my grandfather, Vernon Charms, who had taken me to school that day. I was excited to see some friends from my elementary school before Lafayette, from Bunker Hill, for the first time in maybe a year.
Q: A long commute.
AB: Well, Deal was the best public junior high school in the city at that time. Everybody wanted to go to Deal. The few kids that won the school lottery and had good enough grades to get into Deal were happy to be there.
Q: So, you could reconnect.
AB: That’s exactly what we did. One consequence is that I drifted away from the friends I made at Lafayette. They started drifting away from me, too. Everybody just went back to how they were before. We didn’t really talk too much after that. It was very weird.
Q: Was that a color thing?
AB: I think it was more of a comfortability thing than anything else. We were back with more familiar folk. I reconnected with people I had known for years, rather than with people we had known for a few months in 6th grade.
Q: Hypothetically, then, if you had been at Lafayette for three years rather than one, the outcome would have been different?
AB: Yes. I think my sister’s experience is proof of that. She attended Lafayette a lot longer than I did, from 2nd through 6th grades. She still has quite a few friends from that period. That’s why I say it was never a racial thing; just greater or lesser familiarity.
Q: When did you meet Von and Kenny?
AB: Those are two different stories. I met Kenny in 2nd grade. He was in Bunker Hill with me and we had been friends since the 2nd grade. He was one of the people I hadn’t seen since the last day of 5th grade. We hadn’t even talked on the phone. He didn’t come over to my house. It was like we did not exist for each other for two years, since he didn’t show up at Deal until 8th grade. I remember sitting in the cafeteria and in he walks, taking a seat all by himself on the other side of the huge room. I remember my best friend of 24 years, Roland, who also went to Deal. I commented to him: “that’s Kenny, that’s definitely Kenny.” We went over there and as I caught his eye, we embraced. It was a great moment. And we have been inseparable ever since.
Q: And Von?
AB: Von was a different story. We had known of each other since the 7th grade. But in 8th grade, he really got to know Kenny first. Kenny was the bridge that brought me and Von together. It’s funny. I don’t even think I really liked Von at first. Over time we have grown to be great friends. He’s definitely a brother to me now.
Q: Where was Von from?
AB: I believe he was born in Germany. His mom eventually brought him to New Jersey. After finishing 6th grade there, he and his mom moved to DC and Von started Deal in 7th grade.
Q: You were at Deal for the full three years. How would you characterize the experience?
AB: The first thing that comes to mind is the long list of rules we had to follow.
Q: The principal was Mr. Reginald Moss, right?
AB: Yes. Mr. Moss for the whole time I was at Deal. There was a story about how he stood up to President Clinton one day. Chelsea was there for all of one day. They had to pull her out and send her to Sidwell Friends instead. The Secret Service was just making everybody too nervous.
But my first impression was the blizzard of rules. I had come from Lafayette, where you could wear whatever you wanted. I think I wore the same pair of shorts every day. At Deal, everything was regulated. You had to wear certain types of pants; you had to have a belt and shirts that you could tuck in. I had to figure out how to dress.
Q: Do you think the rules were a response to the diversity of the student population?
AB: I took it as a reflection of Mr. Moss’s personality. He was very straight-laced.
Q: Did the regimen seem oppressive?
AB: Yeah, for sure! Having to ask to go to the bathroom was a big change. Before, when you had to go, you just got up and went. Having to get a hall pass and all that. If you were caught in the hall at a certain time, you could get detention or cafeteria duty. I remember one year—it must have been 9th grade—one of the kids staged a walk-out. I forget now what we were protesting. Word of the walk-out had gotten around; it was to happen at 11:00 o’clock. For me that was right in the middle of Biology class. The teachers were telling us: “if you get up and leave the school, you will be suspended.” So, 11:00 o’clock rolled around. Three kids got up and started walking out, but only one kid actually succeeded in making it out of the school. He ran. But he was suspended.
Q: Do you recall what was being protested?
AB: I think it was Palestine-related.
Q: Was that in the wake of the 9/11 attacks?
AB: I think so. But 9/11 itself was quite a day. Quite a day. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was sitting in Physical Science class that morning. We were transfixed, watching the events live on TV. “That’s no movie,” we thought. My friend Marisol is sitting next to me and Von is sitting in front of me. We’re just 13 years old and thinking “wow, what’s going on?” “Do we get to go home early?” Foolishly, that was all we were thinking.
Q: How did the day unfold?
AB: I was one of the first to be picked up. My uncle had driven all the way from his tire shop. He was a mechanic. He picked my sister up at Lafayette first, and then came for me. He took me over to my grandparents place. It wasn’t too scary. I think the DC sniper was definitely a lot scarier. We were all on the lookout for the white van allegedly used by the sniper. Waiting at the bus stop on the corner of Broad Branch Road and McKinley Street was nerve-wracking. The appearance of any white van would cause us to scatter. That was a very scary time.
Q: How did you get to school?
AB: Deal was the first time that my parents allowed me to go to school on my own. At Lafayette, my grandparents drove me to school every day and picked me up. They had given me a key to the house. I lost that key the first day on the bus. They had to change the locks. The solution was to dispense with the key and install a keypad and electronic lock on the garage door instead. I just had to remember the code. As for my route, I would get on the E6 Metrobus from my house to Pinehurst Circle and then catch the M4 all the way to Deal. All the neighborhood kids used it. It was great. I was always the first person on the bus—I had my pick of seats.
Q: Was there a special rate for school kids?
AB: It was perfect. Back then, Metro still operated with tokens during my first year at Deal. Then came the monthly passes that cost $20 and allowed you to go anywhere on the system within DC borders. There were some exceptions like Silver Spring and Friendship Heights. It was the greatest thing ever. The passes were sold at school and were meant only for DC public school kids. There was a fare increase the first year of high school to $30 per month. There was a huge outcry. “How could they raise rates by 50%!?” Of course, I’d kill for that price now.
Q: What did you do for extracurriculars at Deal?
AB: It was sort of funny. I was still interested in track, but as a 7th grader I was no longer the fastest, but languished in the middle of the pack, with 9th graders who were just much faster. I don’t know, I kind of fell out of love with it. But the track coach, Mr. Jenkins, who was also a Physical Education teacher, was on me a lot. He really wanted me to run track. But I resisted in every way I could. He called the house one day, with the message: “I really think you’re good. I know you are in 7th grade now, but just think about it. In 9th grade you could be going to the Penn Relays.” But I begged off, telling him that I wanted to do other things.
It was then that I just started hanging out with friends after school: me, Kenny, Von, and Kenny’s sister, Kendra and (your daughter) Hailey, started to get to know each other. We became close, hanging out at your former residence. My house was a pretty big draw at that time, too. I remember people hanging out there often.
Q: You are the first of your generation whom we are interviewing for our oral history project, so we are naturally curious about the texture of your lives. Give us a sense of the texture of your world then, your daily activities.
AB: Frequently we would go to Lafayette to play basketball after school. I finally got into basketball and asked for a basketball hoop in my back yard. That is when people started coming over to my house to play basketball. Other than that, we would go to people’s houses and listen to music, watch movies…
Q: Did everyone have computers then?
Q: How many of you had phones?
AB: At Deal I think I had my first, a pre-paid phone at the end of 9th grade. I probably would have lost it, if I had been given one earlier. I couldn’t even keep a key, so there was no way I was getting a phone.
Q: Other gadgets?
AB: I had a CD player. Technology was evolving quickly. In 7th grade you had a CD player that lacked skip protection. You had to hold it in your hand upright as you walked down the street. People still had cassette players, too, but CD players were the thing that everyone wanted to have. I remember having my first SONY Discman CD player, replete with all these scratched up CDs. Finally, SONY came out with a CD player with skip protection. There was a mini-disc player after that. That’s when MP3 started to take off. That was revolutionary for me, because I went from having a backpack full of CDs to having one disk with a bunch of music on it.
Q: Video games?
AB: Way into video games. That was another thing we did a lot of back in middle school. I remember always asking for the latest video games for Christmas: Playstation, Nintendo 64. That’s when I started being in the house more and not going outside and being as active, towards the end of middle school. My friend Roland, who I’ve known now for 24 years, since before we could even talk, used to live next door to my grandparents. So I would see him all the time and go over his house to play video games. We would gather there, since he had room to hang out. We had a lot of time on our hands then, so we would catch the red line from Tenleytown and go all the way around to Silver Spring. People lived along the way, so we could just sit and talk on the train. From Silver Spring it was a short walk to Roland’s house, in Shepherd Park. It was a nice little adventure.
Q: How would you like to sum up your experience at Deal?
AB: I will say that I received a great education at Deal. It was rigid; it was strict; there were a lot of rules. But the teachers were great. They were awesome. And I have a lot of friends from Deal to this very day. Overall, it was a good experience.
Q: Did you experience anything in those three years that had a racial tinge to it?
AB: I don’t think so. Especially towards 9th grade, people started interacting a lot more. Everybody was friends, whether you were white, black, Hispanic. And that really translated to Wilson, which was even more of a melting pot. You had people from all walks of life at Wilson, primarily because it was the only high school west of 16th Street in DC. The rule then was that you were in-bounds for Wilson if you lived west of 16th Street. That encompassed everybody from up here to people from DC’s SouthWest quadrant. The only other high school west of 16th Street was Duke Ellington High School of the Performing Arts, but you had to audition to get in there.
Q: A melting pot? Could you expand on that?
AB: Back at Deal, you had several different types of people, but they were all in the same social class. All middle-class, some lower middle-class. When you got to Wilson there were people from other parts of the city that were living in group homes, some people that were homeless. There were also some really rich kids. It was the entire spectrum. There were kids that came from private schools, some that had been home-schooled. But we definitely all got along. It was amazing, unlike the things you see in movies with racial tensions and all types of cliques. Everybody pretty much got along.
As far as freedom goes, we probably had too much. I remember that at 12:00 noon every day—I guess you couldn’t keep locks on the doors—if people felt like going, they would leave. Whether they had a reason to leave or not, they left. I had an early release pass in 12th grade, because I had a job. I worked at the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority down at Reagan National Airport. That’s how I got into Accounting. So, I can remember leaving and noticing 20 9th graders leaving right behind me. I thought to myself: “all this work to get this early release pass and they’re just leaving.”
Another shock was how many drugs were going through that school at that time. That’s really where you got to see the spectrum of Wilson’s make-up. All the sudden, you were running into kids who were actual drug dealers. You saw were the split was in terms of privilege. The rich kids, mostly white kids, were really into Cocaine. Kids in general were into Marijuana. Drug deals would go down in the bathrooms, because that was the only place without cameras. I guess it was like any high school. Drugs were very prevalent. And it started early. I can remember people dropping out of school in the 10th grade, because they thought they were making enough money that they didn’t need it anymore.
Q: Yes. One of the saddest moments I remember in watching Hailey’s experience there was the number of empty seats on graduation day.
AB: I think there were over 400 kids in my senior year, 2006, of which 268 graduated. That is in contrast to Deal, where, with one or two exceptions, everyone graduated. It was crazy to see that many kids give up so close to graduation. Then again, you really didn’t know how close they were.
Q: Do you have contact with any of the kids that were there that you knew that didn’t make it?
AB: Not now, no. Maybe within the first year of their departure. We didn’t really have that much in common with someone who decided they were done, while you were off to college. I also had trouble keeping contact with some friends who graduated from Wilson, but did not end up going to college or went to a different part of the country, because their life experience was just completely different.
Q: Were there Asians at Wilson?
AB: A very small Asian population at Deal and Wilson. It was mostly black and white, the next largest group, Hispanic.
Q: With that in mind, what is your impression of the size of the Hispanic population at Deal?
AB: They were pretty prevalent. I think I had the most Hispanic friends at Deal, more than any other place I have been. I got to meet quite a few people. They would come over to my house all the time. There was Julian, Abel, Ana, Didi, Vincente, quite a few. And I actually took two Hispanic girls to the 9th grade prom.
Q: You took TWO?
AB: Yeah. It was kind of a funny situation. I had asked one of them, she told me, “Well, I am already going with my friend, Maria, though I’d love to come with you.” I responded “well, you know, she could come, too.” So I ended up taking both and having two dates.
Q: Was it expensive?
AB: It actually was pretty expensive, paying $60 for corsages. We went all-out for that prom. We organized a Limo to take fifteen of us. That was a great day. So, I definitely got along with the Hispanic population.
Q: Were any of them from Chevy Chase?
AB: Most of them were from Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant. I also saw a few of them fall into Hispanic gang life toward the end of 9th grade.
Q: Were they from a particular country?
AB: Most of them were from El Salvador. Some from Honduras.
Q: Let’s talk about Wilson. Where would you like to start?
AB: Wilson was great. It was nearly the opposite of Deal. People wandered more or less at will. Skipping class seemed way too easy. But high school is when I really got serious about school and I didn’t skip very much at all. By the time I was accepted to college I wanted to be prepared for it. I got into my studies and arranged for an internship at the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority.
Q: How did you come to the MWAA?
AB: That’s a funny story. I was sitting in one of my elective classes, computer applications, I think. One of the guidance counselors, Ms. Thompson, entered, and asked: “Does anybody want a job?” No one raised their hand. I am hearing all the details: pay is $25/hour, a maximum of four hours a day. Sounded good to me! You could be making lots of money as a high school kid and had no expenses. So, I raised my hand and signed up for it. There was an interview process; I saw one or two kids from the high school. At the end of my interview, after I had finished asking him questions, he’s like “Well, you know, you got the job. Do you want to know why?” “Yes, tell me.” “Because you were the only person who asked me a question.” I was really happy about that. I enjoyed that time. The money was great. The work wasn’t that great. I was an intern, mostly scanning papers; it was a very boring job.
Q: At Reagan National?
AB: It was right outside of the main building.
Q: It lasted a year?
AB: I actually stayed there for two and a half years. I would come back for the summer and over winter break from college. I worked a few hours here and there, just so I could have some money.
Q: Your folks must have been happy.
AB: Yes. They were really surprised that I had gotten a job in my senior year in high school and it was something that I seemed to be interested in. I was conflicted toward the end of my years at Wilson, because I had been in the play. Kenny, Von and I used to film skits we created using a Palm Pilot, one of the first that had a camera. We graduated to my father’s video camera. I began to think that maybe I wanted to be a director. Maybe I should go to college for film. I can remember telling my parents that the same day I was accepted at Temple. At orientation, they told us that since my group was signing up as business majors, there was going to be a lot of Math. I was intimidated by that. So I thought then that film might be a better option for me. I always really liked film, liked making skits. When I called my dad to tell him about this, his response was: “This is new. If you want to do film, maybe you should enroll in a community college in the area and then see whether you are interested in two years.” The outcome was that I rebelled a little that first year. I took two film courses as electives. After that, I really started to like Finance. And I chose it over Accounting, which I also had considered. I made the right choice. I will always argue that Finance is more useful in today's world than accounting because you have to use the numbers to tell the story. It's more of a marriage between history and accounting.
Q: What kind of role did your parents play as you were maturing in your Deal and Wilson years?
AB: I was always a pretty good student. They were somewhat relaxed in their approach and were going to let me create my own way socially, as long as the grades were what they were supposed to be. They trusted me to make good decisions, especially in high school. My parents came from two different backgrounds. My father is a native Washingtonian; he has lived here his whole life. He never wants to leave. My mom is from New York; she loves New York; New York is the best place on earth. Everything’s better in New York. They go back and forth on that a lot. As far as raising me was concerned, she always wanted to know what was going on: who are your friends, where are you going. My dad had to pull her back a little bit: “let the boy be a boy.” My sister was kind of the reverse. My dad definitely wanted to know where she was all the time. I think he still does.
Q: You said your grades were OK. How good were they?
AB: They were above average. They were not excellent by any stretch of the imagination. There was the occasional “C.” My most difficult class was Geometry, which was at Deal with Mr. Brandenberg. I had the toughest time in that class. I don’t think he liked me; I didn’t like him. I wasn’t really engaged. We didn’t help each other out. It was the first time in my life I got a “D.” It was in the first quarter of the school year. That’s when my parents started to reel things in. We got through it, though.
Another funny story comes from 9th grade. Deal made the unfortunate decision to put Kenny, Von and me in the same English class. They sat us all in the same row. That was a recipe for disaster. We paid no attention at all. They ended up separating us into different classes. We were good students, but together we couldn’t focus. It’s great that the school realized that the problem was not that were we were unmotivated kids. We were just best friends and sometimes it’s not a good idea when best friends are in the same class.
Doubling back to Wilson, I really buckled down in 11th and 12th grades. I got all As in 12th grade, because I was able to do all my work while I was at work at Reagan National. They didn’t give me a lot to do, so I did my homework there. And got paid for it!
Q: So you sprinted past the finish line.
AB: Definitely. And 11th grade was another tough time. It’s funny, because Hailey has a very different perspective on it. Mr. Jeffers taught Elementary Functions. He wanted me to succeed so badly that he would ride me hard. I didn’t do as well as I would have liked. I was resistant to the teaching. But in hindsight, he was probably one of my best teachers, because he had patience with me. At year’s end after the final class of one of the hardest classes in high school I told him: “thank you; I know it has been a tough year for both of us. I’m glad you had the patience to stick with me on this.” He appreciated that.
Q: Who were your favorite teachers?
AB: Jeffers was one. But my favorite was my Spanish teacher, Ms. Crawford. She really wanted me to go to Spanish-3. I was pretty good at Spanish at the time, but if she wasn’t teaching Spanish-3, I wanted no part of it. She was by far one of my favorite teachers from any school.
Q: What made her so good?
AB: Once again, she was very interested in us. She always appeared to come to work with the idea that “these kids are going to get it.” She was very hands-on. It you didn’t get something, she made you stay after class and write a note to your next teacher. She would help you with tutoring; she would invite you to lunch. I remember eating lunch with her quite a few times in 10th and 11th grade, getting close to her that way.
Another favorite teacher of mine was Mr. McDuffie. I was in his English class for a little while and he really got me into writing at that time. I remember writing an essay and presenting to the class, at the conclusion of which Mr. McDuffie asked “does anybody have any critiques for Alvin? Anything to improve? How did that essay make you feel?” The first person who raised his had said—I’ll never forget it: “it made me not want to read mine.” At that point, Mr. McDuffie pulled me aside and said “you know what? You should probably go to AP English.” That because I was intimidating some of my class-mates. I didn’t want to do it, but I’m glad he forced the issue, because I got to go to Mr. Reiner’s class. He was another one of my favorite teachers. He was one of the first teachers that really challenged you. One of our first assignments was to write a 15 page paper. It was the first time I had heard anything like that. But it got me ready for college. And I guess that was the point. So I was really appreciative.
Q: So you experienced yourself moving into the top tier academically.
AB: Yeah. Definitely toward the 11th and 12th grades. Despite that, for some reason I still thought I was shaky in Math. That’s why I was a little apprehensive going into college. But it ended up not being the case at all.
Q: Did you go out for sports?
I had all the sudden gotten into extra-curriculars all over again. I tried out for football and was finally around a lot of people who liked football as much as I did. So I tried out for the JV [junior varsity] football team. My dad was ecstatic about it, because he would finally be able to see me do that. He had played for Wilson.
Q: He did? Wow. What position did he play?
AB: He played defensive end. So he was really happy about my choice. He would come to every practice right after work with his video camera. He filmed every practice. After practice I would be dead tired; I just wanted to go to sleep, but he would say: “no, no, no—we’ve got to sit down and look at it.” So we would look at the film. He was really into it. The first year was tough. We did not win one game. I was upset. They put me in so many places, because I was fast and still one of the biggest kids. And I had a little bit of talent, I feel. One of our games was with Friendship Edison Academy in Southeast. We had gotten on the bus on the way there; it was one of the last games of the season; the coach was trying to get us riled up: “Well, this team hasn’t won any games either, so somebody’s going to win today; hopefully us. It’s going to be us.” Meanwhile, I had finally been made captain of the defense. I had been practicing returning kicks that whole week. Me and Kenny in front of my house. He’d kick the ball; we’d probably hit twenty cars that day. So I felt confident going into the game. That first kickoff, I just remember getting the ball, looking up and every single person of the opposing team was in front of me. They had run over my entire team. They demolished me that first kickoff. I didn’t get two yards. But I didn’t let that get me down. They were then on offense and I was playing safety at that point and watched as their offensive line push everybody over. Running backs were running free, as if there were no defense at all. I was the only one back there making any tackles. My football career really sort of came to an end that day. One of my friends had broken his hand that day. On the subsequent kickoff someone hit me squarely in the knee. I was out and my speed wasn’t the same after that. I hadn’t torn an ACL or anything; it was just a really bad bruise. But my knee hasn’t been the same since. That was sort of the end. “Hmmm,” I thought, “I’d rather be able to walk than play football.” When 11th grade came around, my dad said “well, you know, you can get on varsity now. You’ll be better and they’ll be better than JV.” “No,” I said, “I don’t think so.” Truthfully, I think it made him a little upset. I don’t think he was happy about that at all. I asked him recently whether he had any of the practice tapes from JV 10th grade. “Huh, I don’t think so.”
Q: He’ll get over it.
AB: Yeah. 11th grade is also when I decided that I would rather be in theater. That’s where all the women were. It’s one thing to be tackling guys and getting hit all day, it was another to be in plays and look at all the pretty girls. I was not even actually in the play, but worked stage crew. It was less work and seemed like a much better idea to me. Kenny and Von picked up on that much earlier than I did. Kenny started in the 9th grade at Deal and continued at Wilson. Finally, in 12th grade, when we did Grease!, when I was doing stage crew and about to be designated stage crew manager, Ms. Bronstein, Wilson theatrics director (who lives on Western Avenue, too), approached me: “Alvin, you should try out this year, it’s your final year. Go up there and sing Happy Birthday or something.” I got up there and sang something that brought a standing ovation, as they weren’t expecting that at all. So she put me in the play and took away my stage manager position. I had a small part, so I was able to do both. That was fun.
Q: Other non-academic aspects of Wilson?
AB: By the 12th grade I started to rebel a little.
Q: In the meantime, you had to think about college.
AB: For sure. For the longest time, I had wanted to go to someplace in New York. Probably because my grandfather was there, I was obsessed with New York. I thought it would be really cool to live there and go to school there. My dad was really pushing for South Carolina State. I would have been the third generation there. He said: “You know, if you go to South Carolina State, I’ll buy you a car.” It’s funny, because I now know that he would have bought me a brand new car, because he wouldn’t have had to pay for college. My grandfather is actually president of the alumni association down there. I wouldn’t have had to pay to go. But I hate the heat and there is nothing really going on in South Carolina. Dad: “Well, that’s good, you can just stay on your studies. You won’t have any distractions.” “I think I need to go up north,” I responded. Von had already gotten into Temple University. I decided to apply there. Temple was a huge recruiter at Wilson. It was actually really hard for the women to get in, but they were letting guys in left and right. Kenny was admitted after Von. I was the last of us to get a letter of acceptance. I had all but given up and was ready to say yes to the University of Pittsburgh, where I had also applied and been accepted. One of my friends, Krystal, had already been accepted there. But I really didn’t want to go; I was waiting for Temple to accept me and I was just about to commit to Pittsburgh when I got a huge package in the mail from Temple. I have a vivid memory of sitting on the front porch opening it, then coming into the house, screaming “TEMPLE!!!!”
Q: He must have been happy for you.
AB: He wanted me to go to South Carolina State, but I think I made the right decision for sure. I had so much fun at Temple. It was a great experience. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Q: Did I tell you that my dad went there?
AB: No kidding!
Q: He attended in the mid-1930s. He had hoped to go on from there to Hahneman Medical College, but got sick and was forced to withdraw and ultimately finished his undergraduate degree in Physics at St. Thomas College, now the University of Scranton, in his home town.
AB: Back then, Temple drew its students mostly from the Philadelphia area and the tri-state area. Nowadays, Temple is buying up the neighborhood to accommodate expansion plans.
Q: Why was Temple so popular?
AB: In my case it was for the most ridiculous reason. Von had visited Temple with his mom and plied me with fantastic stories. “Alvin,” he told me, “they have all the ice cream you can eat. They have waffles in the shape of the Temple T and you get to have as many of them as you want.” Sounded good to me! Of course, I also looked it up and did some on-line research. It was a good school. When I visited, my first impression was Temple’s crazy neighborhood: a great school in the middle of a very dangerous neighborhood. So I asked whether it was safe. The response was that there hadn’t been incidents involving students in years.
Q: Did you live in a dorm?
AB: We stayed in a dorm for the first two years, but there were so many kids on campus that dorm space was scarce and people had to move off campus after that. That was interesting. That is when we got some real life experience.
Q: Before we continue with Temple, let’s go back to Chevy Chase and the neighborhood. What was it like to circulate in the neighborhood?
AB: It was definitely fun. At Deal the daily afternoon announcements through the PA system at 3:10 pm featured Mr. Moss’s warning not to stop at any establishment on the way home. “Go directly home; get directly on the train or bus.” That policy was actually enforced; a few of the teachers would walk with us to the train station or be looking at the bus stop to make sure we got on the bus. Once out of range, we did as we pleased. Normally we hung out at MacDonald’s at Mazza Galerie or the Chevy Chase Pavilion, which used to have a little eatery. Or we could go to the Cheesecake Factory for a slice of cake. We spent hours in that complex. It was the most boring mall, but it was the closest one. We also spent a lot of time at the American Diner on Connecticut Avenue. The first few times we went there we felt a little uncomfortable. We were the only black people in the establishment. We were also the youngest. At 3:30 or 4:00 o’clock there weren’t many young people. The clientele was mostly retirees sitting there having their early dinner.
We didn’t really go to the Avalon that much, because they were only showing one movie. But we loved going to the movies, so we would go to the movie theater that was down the street from Wilson, at 4000 Wisconsin Avenue.
Q: How about the Chevy Chase neighborhood?
AB: We spent a lot of time playing basketball at Lafayette. But I guess we didn’t spend a whole lot of time in the residential parts of the neighborhood.
Q: Have you experienced any strange vibes directed at you walking through the neighborhood?
AB: That didn’t actually happen until recently. Until recently there were never strange vibes and never from any of the neighbors or people in the neighborhood, but from police.
Q: What happened?
AB: I don’t jog at night anymore. I would get harassed. Every single time. “Where are you going?” “I’m running.” I had my phone in my hand listening to music. I obviously had running shorts on. I mean, like, what do you think I am doing? I love running at night, because there is no one else on the road; it’s a pretty safe neighborhood, so it’s a perfect time to run. But I decided to stop.
Q: When did that start happening?
AB: Around the time of that extreme cold spell, the polar vortex, maybe two years ago. I really like running in the cold, so I would throw on my shorts and go out there and run in an air temperature of 13 degrees Fahrenheit. Built-in motivation to keep going—it was just too cold to stop. That’s when it first started. It was as recently as a few months ago I stopped running at night.
On one occasion, Hailey and I were just talking outside. I was about to get into my car when a cop rolled around the corner, shined a light on me, asked Hailey if she was OK. When I explained that we were just talking, he demanded to know where I lived. You learn to ramble off your address—xxxx Western Avenue, Washington DC 20015. Any other questions?
Q: Was that here?
AB: Yeah—right around the corner on Nevada Avenue.
Q: Oh dear. Well, I wanted to ask you some broader questions about race relations, but I also wanted to return to your Temple experience. Can we return there first? In light of your experience in DC, how different was the situation in Philadelphia for you, demographically, socioeconomic environment. You already mentioned a dodgy environment.
AB: It’s so funny how segregated Philly is. There’s a specific Hispanic neighborhood; there’s a specific black neighborhood; there are specific lower class white neighborhoods. You have your upper class white neighborhood in west Philadelphia. Center city is mostly white. It’s funny, because at that time, Temple was one of the most diverse schools in the country. But we were surprised at how cliquey Temple was, still very segregated within the school. The Indian kids hung out with the Indians; the Asians hung out with Asians. Mostly, white kids hung out only with white kids. I was something of an exception, having friends from all groups. I made sure of that. I felt that was the whole point of college: to meet different types of people.
Living in Philadelphia was very different. Coming from an area like Northwest DC, where everything is clean and public transportation is safe and reliable, and going to Philadelphia where it smells like urine most the time. We were given specific instructions the first day for the neighborhood that we were in: you don’t really have to worry about the adults in the neighborhood. They are not going to bother you, but you’ve got to worry about the droves of kids. If you see a group of more than ten of them and they are between the ages of 13 and 16, then you go the other way, because they were the most dangerous people in that area, because they had nothing to lose.
Q: The danger was that they mobbed people?
AB: Oh yeah. It’s funny—are you familiar with the idea of a flash mob?
Q: Yes, I am.
AB: OK, so the flash mobs you are familiar with have a positive connotation, right? People suddenly materialize to start dancing or playing a concert, or some such. But in Philadelphia it was an entirely different thing. A flash mob in Philly was about 30 or 40 kids all the sudden vandalizing a space. I remember South Street in Philadelphia was shut down one day because they vandalized something like ten stores. They were unstoppable for a while. They instituted a curfew for kids in Philadelphia starting at 9:30. Philadelphia had a really bad drop-out rate. I can remember seeing young kids on the street in the middle of the day and wondering, don’t you have somewhere to be? Then there was the rodent problem. It was crazy. We finally got a place off-campus, a nine bedroom house. We were really excited at the prospect to do what we wanted. I remember, two days after signing our lease, seeing at least ten rats scurrying down the street on our first day there. I thought, wow, we had made a huge mistake. So we had to deal with that. The rat problem was really bad, no matter how clean you were. Living in row-homes is not about how clean you are; it’s about your neighbors.
Q: What about the police there?
AB: We felt safe. There were campus police and regular Philadelphia police. We felt safe all the time, even though there were people dying all around us. Twelfth and Susquehanna was one of the deadliest corners in the country at that time. I lived on Park and Susquehanna, one block away. I never had any problems personally. Other than people breaking into my car, that is. They broke into my car four times in four weeks. The last time I decided I just had to bring my car home. At least that way, I wouldn’t have to pay for any more windows. It was tough having to physically remove my radio every time I got out of the car. The incessant crime was not violent. We didn’t hear about anything happening to students, other than house break-ins. There was a lot of theft. I remember an incident from our first day in the house. We had to buy our own trash cans in Philadelphia. So we bought our trash can and left it near the back of the building. Seeing that, our neighbors warned us that we should chain them. Why, we wondered. Who would steal a trash can? But the next day, leaving the house on my way to school I see a guy carrying away my trash can. Were we really going to call the police about a stolen trash can? No. We just bought another one and chained it to the building.
But we still had a lot of fun. Though dangerous, we were still off-campus and we were able to subsidize some of our living expenses by throwing parties.
Q: You graduated in 2010?
AB: Yes, in February, 2010 with a degree in Finance. Five months later, I got a job at the University of Maryland, specifically, at the Maryland Small Business Development Center. I started there as an intern and worked my way up.
Q: And that’s where you still are.
AB: Yep. I am a grant and financial coordinator there. And hopefully by next year or 2017 I can become the grant manager. That’s my next goal: to get the job that I have seen several people come in and fail at over the last five years. I am hoping to get that job and provide further stability to the organization.
Q: Good luck with that. And you have a side project as well, right? I think you mentioned an investment plan…
AB: I am looking forward to buying an apartment building, just a four-unit one to start off, live in one of the units for a while and rent the others out. Who knows, maybe a few years down the road I will be able to leverage that into something else. Who knows? I may be able to leave this regular job behind and become a land owner.
Q: Maybe you will become a nicer Trump…
AB: Sure. My goal is to provide moderate income housing in areas where people feel safe in DC. My vision is to support the middle class. Right now in DC, the middle class is the group that is left behind the most. There is plenty of low-income housing to apply for. There is a gap for the middle class, because there is not a lot of affordable housing for that segment. This area has one of the biggest housing markets in the country. That gap needs to be addressed.
Q: It sounds like you are on your way to sink deeper roots in DC.
AB: I want to stay here as long as I can. I love everything about this city. The people are very nice. If there is one thing I would change, that would be the weather. It’s either too hot, or too cold, or raining. It’s only pleasant two months out of the year.
Q: Moving into the final phase of our conversation today, let me put some perception questions to you. We have talked about your personal experience and now I am interested in how you perceive situations and trends more broadly. Let’s start with the peopling of this neighborhood. Unless you are following an arcane interest, you might or might not consciously take notice of your surroundings. That’s normal. So, are you aware of people of color residing in Chevy Chase DC of national prominence and/or responsibility. I am thinking of people like Tuskegee airman, Lt. Col. George Haley, civil rights activist Julian Bond, who passed away just last week, PBS Newshour anchor, Gwen Ifill, or Jacqueline Days Serwer, Curator of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American Culture and History.
AB: I confess that I really had no idea, until you mentioned it during our preliminary conversation last week. It was very eye-opening and made me very interested. Now, I’d like to find out more. Kenny and I ran into Jim Vance, news anchor for NBC a couple of times in Chadwick’s.
Q: This probably speaks to the “after-work anonymity” that people may be seeking when they move into the neighborhood.
AB: That’s my experience for our immediate neighbors. People aren’t mean. They just want to be left to their own devices. Especially when we first moved here. The first day, the lady from across the street come over with a tray of cookies. We opened the door and started to invite her in. Maybe she realized that we were black. She beat what struck us as a precipitate retreat and that felt weird. We have been in our vicinity the longest now. There has been significant turnover.
Q: Are you aware of any other African-American neighbors other than your next door neighbor?
AB: Not any famous ones, but there are a few families that moved around the corner from us. We haven’t really gotten to know them yet.
Q: No block parties?
AB: No. Some people have kids around the same age that interact more. I am pretty close to the girl I mentioned before, living two doors down from me. She is engaged, but still living in that house.
Q: Do you have a neighborhood watch presence?
AB: There is a person for neighborhood watch. She walks her dog at all hours of the night. Her name is Ms. Martin. She’s African-American but lives across Western Avenue on the Maryland side. She is a constant presence. She talks to my mom about who she saw and what strange figures pop up. But we have one of the safest neighborhoods in the city. On the surface at least, not a whole lot is going on.
Q: Let’s turn, finally, to topics that, while not specifically neighborhood in scope, will give us a fuller sense of your experience. Let’s start with the election of an African-American president. How did you experience that?
AB : I voted for the first time in the 2008 presidential election. My circle of friends was very active, trying to sign up as many people as possible. My friends and I were going around campus with the message: do you realize what this could mean? This could be the first black president. It’s funny, because I recently talked to former Wilson classmate, Tim Murphy. One of his projects for his government major was to write on one of the presidential hopefuls. His professor told him explicitly that Obama should not be considered.
Q: Because he is African-American?
AB: Right. He was considered such a long-shot in the eyes of that professor that is would have been a waste of time to write about him. But when Obama won, Philadelphia erupted. It was joyous. Everybody walked or ran down to the center-city. We were chanting in the middle of center-city all night. We skipped class the next day.
Q: Were people coming from the different parts of the city?
AB: Oh, yeah. It was a very uniting moment. People of all races were in the middle of the city. That was a powerful moment.
Q: Give our readers a picture of the route you took.
AB: Temple is right along Broad Street, which goes through the middle of the city. Everyone was glued to their TVs. But when the state was called for him that gave him the electoral college majority, we threw everything down, and everyone ran out of their apartments. The streets immediately filled up with people walking the two and a half miles to central city. We chanted the whole way. There were no cars, so we were walking in the middle of the street.
Q: Chanting “Yes, we can”?
AB: Actually, at that point, the chant was “Yes, we DID!”
Q: Where did you end up?
AB: Near the corner of Market and Broad Streets: MapQuest Philadelphia ground zero. We walked around the square near the conjunction of the two streets. We were thinking about continuing our walk further to Phillies stadium, where a lot of other people were meeting. That would have been a very long walk, so we didn’t.
Q: A lot has transpired. Apparently, there was no post-racial Nirvana in America. Tensions exploded beginning with the killing of Trayvon Martin and have escalated since. The policing problem may have been a constant. What changed is increased media attention, fed by digital video technology widely diffused in the hands of the citizens.
AB: Definitely. But the media is getting only one side of the story. I was in Philadelphia when the Trayvon Martin verdict came down. I was with some friends, drinking and having a good time. The announcement of the verdict changed that: suddenly, there was silence. It was heart-breaking. Everyone was deflated. We could barely talk to one another, because we were so deep in reflection about it. More recently, after the Baltimore riots over Freddie Gray’s death in police custody, it was more of the same. I wasn’t around a group of friends at the time, but watching everything that is going on, just a few miles up the road, and knowing what a huge impact that can have on my future…My relationship with the police before wasn’t that great. And now…
Q: Do you have an opinion on the question of whether the media is just picking up a reality that has always existed.
AB: It’s a great question, but I just don’t know.
Q: Since Michael Brown’s death in the summer of 2014 a movement has congealed around the slogan, “Black Lives Matter,” Help me out: how has this affected your outlook over the past year?
AB: The main thing is that I have tried to temper my perceptions of our police in DC. I cannot proceed on the assumption that all policemen are bad. It’s just not the case. I know several officers. They are great people. But there are a few that are doing things unfairly to people of color. It is important to keep in mind that their jobs are really difficult. It’s hard to make those split-second decisions. It’s easy to stand in judgment if you are not in that position, to say “oh, I could have done this, I could have done that.” But you don’t know that, unless you are in the situation.
Q: Policing protocols are part of it, certainly. But the attitude you bring to the job is also important, though difficult to dissect, since it reflects the sum total of your development. I guess we are talking about the kinds of assumptions we make as we encounter people who we have learned to perceive as somehow different, based on ephemeral things like skin-tone.
Q: So, where do you think we are headed?
AB: It is actually interesting to look at this from a small business perspective. My center actually received a grant for $200,000 so that we could help some of those businesses that were affected by the Baltimore riots. Going up there and seeing how riots have affected a community in such a profound way is moving. This one business that goes from having lots of customers to having barely enough to survive because people are afraid to come there, is a sad testament. Unless we are more careful, we can become a more divisive community. People musn’t segregate themselves. This concerns me. I try to take the positive approach and interact with as many people as possible, every race, every background. I know what I do might be small, but every effort counts.
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