As a senior in high school I knew where I was going to college the moment I received the acceptance letter: American University. A school that most people I grew up with, including teachers and family, had never heard of. But, I wanted to do politics. I wanted to get the opportunity to experience what the fast-paced world of politics, the politics I saw on The West Wing, was really about.
Coming from a small town in the middle of nowhere Colorado the closest I’d ever come to being in a city were the occasional visits my mom, sister and I would take up to Denver during school holidays or family trips to Blake Street for a Rockies game. I was sheltered from the sheer reality that most cities face; the strict segregation that exists between rich and poor, black and white. It’s a fact that even in your earliest hours of living in DC, even in one of the wealthiest areas of the city, you can’t escape.
The beauty of the fast paced political life only remains as an after thought for me on most days, save for the few unique days when politics really does define the city: President Obama’s inauguration, political protests, the city shutting down with the close of the federal government, having the ability to see a famous political face as you’re walking down the street. On any regular day that doesn’t define my life in DC though. What defines my life other than school is that the city is a city of contradictions.
You’d expect living in the nation’s capital, where the country’s laws are made, that the city would be one of the cleanest, one of the most socially progressive, one of the safest. That’s not what you get in DC though. It’s a city with one of the highest murder rates, with one of the highest poverty rates, with a population that is basically segregated. Any where you turn in the city its striking. On the same street where you have high end restaurants, you have people sleeping in garbage bags. What makes the equation even more apparent, even more devastating, is of those I see sleeping on benches, holding tin cans, pushing grocery carts with their remaining belongings, I rarely see a white face. Poverty is a reality, it’s a horrible, sickening reality, but it’s something in which if it is going to exist, you wish didn’t overwhelming affect one race over another.
As you move east into the city, the metro trains and the buses, the population as whole, gets blacker. The buildings become less and less updated. More and more broken windows appear. More and more people sleeping in garbage bags and on benches crop into your picture of the city. For 8 months little under a year ago, I’d make the trek 3 to 5 times a week from the comfort of American University and Tenleytown in Northwest, DC over to my Amnesty International cubicle at Eastern Market just on the edge of Southeast, DC. Eastern Market: Close enough to the Capitol Building and far enough from the treacherous streets of Anacostia to feel safe. As I’d ride the metro each morning I’d watch the change in the crowd. The shift in the appearance of my fellow commuters. Stuffed into overcrowded cars on the Red Line from Tenleytown to Metro Center, you’d hardly notice a single person not dressed in business attire, not heading to a job or an internship on or near Capitol Hill. But, between Metro Center and Eastern Market the crowd shifted. Once we’d pass the Capitol, I’d be the only white face on the metro. I’d be the only one dressed in business clothes. I’d often be the only one getting off. I often asked myself how can an area so close to the Capitol Building have so many homeless people? But, that’s DC. A complete contradiction.
After almost 4 years of living in this city I’ve taken countless photographs from all across the city. I’ll share them with you, along with the defining personalities of the areas they were taken.