Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Melvin Deal Appears in People's District

Dancing Griot Discusses His Work With Community Youth

People's District founder, Danny, travels from ward to ward, neighborhood to neighborhood seeking stories. His findings, pieced together in his blog, form a living portrait of humanity, as poignant as it is raw. He doesn't look for subjects, but for friends, and fellow citizens. He does not ask questions; he listens and reports. The stories do not always glisten and shine, but they serve as a reminder that DC is populated by regular, everyday, unique, multi-dimensional characters. People's District lets readers get to know the city without giving them so much that they are not encouraged to go out and see it for themselves. 

Humanities Council honoree Melvin Deal was recently featured on the blog, discussing his work as a community youth leader, dance teacher, and cultural anthropologist. Deal, from his African Heritage Dance Center in Anacostia (formerly located in Deanwood), has helped countless children care escape neglect and self-doubt, encouraging them, through the performing arts, to be successful in all aspects of their lives. Click here for more information of the film, Dancing Griot: The Life and Legacy of Melvin Deal, funded, in part, through a Humanities Council of Washington, DC 30th Anniversary Special Grant. And check out the story and images captured by People's District inside Deal's Southeast dance studio.

As he continues to seek-out the agents of grassroots history, heritage, and culture in Washington, DC, Danny will doubtless encounter many individuals who have been affiliated with the Humanities Council. The People's District is an impressive digital humanities project and we applaud the effort to preserve the District's collective memory.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Exploring Congress Heights

Pick Up a Copy of this Informative DC Community Heritage Project Brochure

The Congress Heights Community Association, and the Anacostia Coordinating Council recently showcased their DC Community Heritage Project, Exploring Congress Heights, and the distribution campaign for the informative brochure is well underway.

The group printed an initial run of 6,000 copies for distribution throughout the city, and a second edition is due to follow. The pamphlet provides a timeline of the community, and describes some of the unique cultural landmarks which still connect residents and visitors to the history of the community. The brochure highlights Henson's farm, a tract of land belonging to a manumitted slave who purchased his own freedom and that of his family in 1813. Though the demographics of the neighborhood would fluctuate in subsequent decades, Henson and his extended family were such a strong early presence in the community that his descendants are still in the neighborhood today.

The brochure also features: St. Elizabeth's Hospital, Old Congress Heights School, the First Post Office building, and homes designed by noted African-American architect Lewis W. Giles, Sr. Look for physical copies of the brochure to be distributed in a public library, school, or business near you soon, or if you've lost your copy, visit the Humanities Council's DC Digital Museum to download it in PDF format.

Project Director: Phillip Pannel and
Project Scholar: Dr. Joy Kinard
The second run of the brochure will incorporate additional feedback from the community regarding the accepted borders of the neighborhood - a subject that causes contention in all communities with a strong sense of history. As you review the brochure, drop back by this blog post and leave comments. Where are the boundaries of Congress Heights? What are the significant historical moments? Who were the community leaders? How do we use this heritage to continue improving the community.

For more information on Congress Heights, check out these sources:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Fifteen Minutes with Beverly Lindsay-Johnson

HCWDC Intern Ashley Portillo Interviews A Champion of DC's Native Dance

Visit to learn about Hand Dance, the officially recognized dance of Washington, DC. Find out more about Ms. Lindsay-Johnson's most recent project, "Hand Dance: A Capitol Swing," at our 4th Annual DC Community Heritage Project Showcase on Wednesday, December 8. You are guaranteed to learn something new about DC at this FREE program and reception! RSVP today!. 

Image Courtesy: National Hand Dance
Q: For someone unfamiliar with the Hand Dance, could you explain what it is and why it is important to DC culture and history?

A: Hand Dance is a contemporary swing-style-partner dance with roots in Lindy Hop and Jitterbug. It has been almost a 60-year social dance form. It has gone through a series of evolutions per generation, but started out as more of a swing-style dance rooted on the ground. Then, in the 1950s, because of the more up-tempo music, the foot dance evolved to a faster pace. Then, in the 60s, the style cooled itself out with the advent of Blues music. The footwork was a cooler style- more “cool”, I guess you could say. Then, during the disco era, the dancing was more freestyle. And in the early 90s, Hand Dance made a comeback. Actually, in 1993 the Smithsonian Institution recognized Hand Dance as an American Art Form. This support really helped revive this type of dance because all of a sudden it just started to explode! Because back then in the 50s and 60s, everyone was doing it- mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, kids and grandparents alike. But then, in the 1990s, a revival started to occur. Yet, this time it was a clash between a more freestyle 90s dance with the more structured form the older generations had learned. The dance that we had in the 90s was all about presentation and choreography and you began to see a clash between the two styles of Hand Dance. This is all very important because it is the official dance of the nation’s capital, which is still practiced today in the swing-dance clubs. In the Hand Dance clubs today, you see an improvised type of Hand Dancing. You see a similar structure, but not as much choreography.

Q: Is the improvised form more difficult than the choreographed Hand Dance?

A: Absolutely not. Once you master the man-to-woman indication by way of the movements he makes with his hand or arm, the woman just has to know what those non-verbal communications indicate. She needs to know what those body movements and motions indicate; but all of these styles, whether choreographed and structured or improvised in the clubs, carry the same rule of thumb.

Q: What are some of the challenges you face in trying to preserve or archive the Hand Dance?

A:  Well, they have old-school Hand Dance of the 50s and 60s and there is the contemporary Hand Dance of now. Washington, though, is so unique that you have the older generations at 50 to 60 years old and 70 to 80 years old dancing the Hand Dance. And now, our sociology is so much different than ever before, so the youth is doing it too and they have so much movement. They add to it with their hip-hop twist. The music has changed and the older generation doesn’t always agree with it. But this has taken place in all types of artistic cultures. There’s a pull from the older generation trying to preserve the original Hand Dance. The National Hand Dance Association tries the best that it can to fuse the two together because the older generation understands that change is inevitable. And it respectfully accepts this in order for the dance to continue and not die out. I always say that there has to be change. There has to be an evolution because the music changes and music is what fuels the dance.

Q: Your programs at NHDA have a dual focus: hand dancing as an art form and as a community service. What are some ways in which it is seen as a community service?

A: Well, we’re educating the public on the history of the District of Columbia and African American history and dance. Also, we are teaching the etiquette that comes with the dance and not only that but the cosmic resolution. You have so many young people that have learned it, mastered it, and immersed themselves in the dance. Many have said that this dance has changed their lives completely. I think there has been a social breakdown in contemporary dances- something is missing in them. So we try hard to introduce the Hand Dance to the youth, which is why we have a Youth Chapter.

Q: How did you become interested in and involved with the Hand Dance? 

A: Well… (laughs), I’m originally from New York City and have been in DC since 1977. In the 90s, I was introduced to the Hand Dance when I saw it for the first time. I went to this popular Hand Dance club, Eclipse, and saw this dance form I wasn’t familiar with. I was an oldies and boogie fanatic. Not a fan- a FANATIC (laughs)! I saw this dance and noticed it wasn’t just a dance. I was watching the people and it was amazing to see the dancers smiling to each other. The men were asking the women to dance with them, and then they were taking these women back to their seats (when the dance was over)! These clubs are the safest to be at because it’s a community. So I decided to produce a documentary and I featured the Hand Dance. I became ingratiated in the culture. The more you’re in it, the more you see it as a family. This was back in 1996 when I started as a historian for the NHDA and then became vice president. I’ve been with the NHDA ever since and now I am the president (laughs).

All of the 2010 DCCHP grantees will be recognized at a special showcase held at the Tifereth Israel Congregation in Northwest on December 8th. The Council produced three videos, each combining a collection of grantee interviews or documentary clips that will describe the grantee projects and explain how they were developed. These videos will be shown at the Grantee Showcase, and each organization will have the opportunity to set up a display, to further explain their projects to the attendees. The DCCHP Grantee Showcase is a free, public event. Click here to register.

DCCHP project sponsors and partners include: the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service Office of Historic Preservation, the D.C. Office of Planning and Historic Preservation, the DC Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, DC Historic Preservation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fifteen Minutes with Cindy Janke of the Franklin School Exhibition


Visit to learn about the Franklin School Exhibition which was held at the Historical Society of Washington, DC. Visit the Franklin School at 13th and K Streets, NW in downtown DC.  Find out more about this project at our 4th Annual DC Community Heritage Project Showcase on Wednesday, December 8. You are guaranteed to learn something new about DC at this FREE program and reception! RSVP today!. 

Q: How did you become involved in preservation?

A: Oh my God it has been thousands of years (laughs)! As a child, I remember looking at people fixing up their houses. Then when we moved to Capitol Hill in 1969 and bought an old house, I got interested in the history of my own house and those of my neighbors.

Q: Did you grow up in DC?

A: No, I grew up in upstate New York, but I’ve lived here (in DC) since 1965. So I have some views of the past and present (laughs).

Q: Tell me a little bit about the significance of the Franklin School.

A: As I worked on the exhibition, Capitol Funding, I realized its significance for this city. It is an architectural landmark and educational landmark, as far as classroom design and educational programs. It made 19th century public schools respectable when they hadn’t been. Then, I got into 20th century history and I found that a lot of civil rights battles took place at the Franklin School. I knew it was a landmark but not one where the civil rights movement had taken place.

Image Courtesy
Q: What challenges do you face on this quest to salvage the Franklin School?

A: Well, it used to be a homeless shelter. Some people want to reopen the Franklin School as a homeless shelter again. But that doesn’t solve the plight of the homeless. It’s available, it’s space, but it doesn’t solve the problem. It’s not suitable. In reopening the space, they could find something better if they tried. Things have to move along, you can’t just freeze everything. But this is a landmark- a National Historic Landmark.

Q: What is your vision for reviving this historical landmark?

A: There’s been talk about converting it into an adult graduate school or as a UDC Law School because these don’t require gyms and ball courts like a regular school does. And the rules prohibit the construction of gyms and courts. I would like to see the Franklin School serve some sort of cultural or educational function, maybe as a non-profit. We have two headquarter schools in DC. I mean, the Sumner School is great, but what about the Franklin School? We just can’t get rid of it. Sometimes you need to put your foot down.    

All of the 2010 DCCHP grantees will be recognized at a special showcase held at the Tifereth Israel Congregation in Northwest on December 8th. The Council produced three videos, each combining a collection of grantee interviews or documentary clips that will describe the grantee projects and explain how they were developed. These videos will be shown at the Grantee Showcase, and each organization will have the opportunity to set up a display, to further explain their projects to the attendees. The DCCHP Grantee Showcase is a free, public event. Click here to register.

DCCHP project sponsors and partners include: the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service Office of Historic Preservation, the D.C. Office of Planning and Historic Preservation, the DC Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, DC Historic Preservation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving and the Humanities

A Holiday Steeped in Tradition, Characterized by Acts of Compassion, Serving as a Waypoint in Time and Memory

In the United States, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, and it's an occasion typically marked by poultry feasts, team sports, and frenetic shopping sprees. In the District of Columbia, there are many opportunities to take part in these holiday customs, but certainly there has to be something different about the way such a unique city celebrates Turkey Day. It's likely that many will dispense with their typical holiday traditions to distribute food to the less fortunate; some will shepherd out-of-town family and friends to perpetually open museums and attractions, and many will find themselves at work celebrating in spirit.

The First Thanksgiving, Jean Leon Gerome Ferris
At the HCWDC, our staff, board, grantees, and project partners will likely be participating in some of these universal or DC specific activities, but chances are, we will also be considering how the humanities relate to this beloved holiday. A holiday complicated by the blurring of historical narrative and literary trope. A holiday that paradoxically encourages gluttony and sharing. It is a secular holiday, but it draws heavily on the religious traditions and philosophies shared by a multitude of cultures from around the world. Perhaps the closest link between the Thanksgiving holiday and the Humanities is in collective memory derived from tradition, remembrance, and commemoration.

Oral history narrators almost always describe community celebrations in their interviews because, no less than an historic building or landmark, the dining rooms of parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, can serve as sites of memory, that anchor people's perceptions of the past. Thanksgiving is often a time for family and friends to recite what they are thankful for, and share a memorable meal. For many it may be a rare opportunity for dispersed relatives to come together and remember old times, loved ones who have passed, and to speculate about the future of succeeding generations. It is these powerfully emotional and widely practiced traditions that make Thanksgiving a place-in-time around which shared heritage develops.

The Humanities Council would like to thank everyone who has helped promote the humanities in DC this year. The study of the humanities is not simply an enriching or edifying pursuit of knowledge – though it is that as well - but it has the power to be transformative on a large scale. Even Thanksgiving takes on a new meaning when viewed through the lens of history and memory. Are you thankful for the humanities in DC? Let us know how the humanities have affected your life by commenting on this post or emailing Jasper Collier, the HCWDC Curator of the DC Digital Museum at jcollier[at]wdchumanities[dot]com.

Monday, November 22, 2010

DC Community Heritage Project Showcase on December 8th

Grantees Will Display New Contributions to Local History and Culture

In June, the Humanities Council awarded 18 DC Community Heritage Project grants to an outstanding group of organizations which worked throughout the Summer to produce a diverse collection of projects that document the history and culture of Washington, DC's neighborhoods and landmarks. The groups produced brochures, oral histories, documentary films, exhibits, and other materials and are now distributing them to the public. Each will be cataloged and digitized for the Humanities Council's DC Digital Museum, but hard copies of many of the projects will be available throughout the city.

E.B. Henderson and History of
Black Basketball in DC Brochure
The Capitol View Civic Association, and the Congress Heights Community Association each produced brochures on the history and heritage of their neighborhoods. The documents combine interviews with long-time residents, and archival research to tell the story of these two unique and ever-changing communities. Both brochures are available through the DC Digital Museum, and will be distributed on a large scale in hard copy. The Woodlawn Cemetery Perpetual Care Association created three large banners that will be exhibited throughout the city. The displays are meant to draw attention to the historic Southeast cemetery, and the notable historic figures buried there. The Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation received a grant to support The Emergence and Legacy of African American Basketball National Conference. The conference, held on November 12-13, introduced young people to Washington, DC's rich African-American basketball lineage. In 1904, Dr. E.B. Henderson, the “Godfather of Black Basketball,” returned to the District from physical education training at Harvard and introduced the relatively new sport to Washington's African-American youth. Eventually, his team, which played at the 12th Street YMCA, became the foundation for Howard University's varsity squad. The Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation produced a full color brochure for the conference which will be available in the DC Digital Museum catalog.

Capitol View Project Participants
Interviewed at the Humanities Council
All of the 2010 DCCHP grantees will be recognized at a special showcase held at the Tifereth Israel Congregation in Northwest on December 8th. The Council produced three videos, each combining a collection of grantee interviews or documentary clips that will describe the grantee projects and explain how they were developed. These videos will be shown at the Grantee Showcase, and each organization will have the opportunity to set up a display, to further explain their projects to the attendees. The DCCHP Grantee Showcase is a free, public event. Click here to register.

DCCHP project sponsors and partners include: the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service Office of Historic Preservation, the D.C. Office of Planning and Historic Preservation, the DC Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, DC Historic Preservation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Your History of Mount Pleasant

Commercial Corridor Database Available for Public Interpretation

Image Credit: M.V. Jantzen, Flickr Mount Pleasant, DC Group Pool
Learn more about this project at our 4th Annual DC Community Heritage Project Showcase on Wednesday, December 8. You are guaranteed to learn something new about DC at this FREE program and reception! RSVP today

Mt. Pleasant's cheerful collection of bodegas, bars, and beauty salons along its main commercial thoroughfare cut a striking contrast to the national chains just two blocks east in Columbia Heights. Like the apartments and houses in the residential areas of Mt. Pleasant, the commercial corridor and the progression of businesses that have occupied its storefronts are part of a narrative of cultural change and population shift.

Historic Mount Pleasant (HMP), the local organization dedicated to preserving the architectural heritage of the neighborhood, recently received a grant from the Humanities Council of Washington, DC to create an in-depth study of the Mt. Pleasant commercial corridor. Working with records from the National Archives and Records Administration, the Washingtoniana Collection at the DC Public Library, the DC Recorder of Deeds, and the Historical Society of Washington, DC, HMP developed databases of historic building permits, and “chain of title” for historic commercial properties. The “chain of title” report lists past owners of many commercial properties from their construction to the present day.

1919 Baist Map of the
Commercial Corridor
The narrative, which largely covers the years between 1904 and 1938, depicts a bustling streetcar suburb in which “over one-third of the spaces had housed grocery stores; another 8 delicatessens; 4 bakers or confectioners, and 3 restaurants.” An additional 20 storefronts housed clothing-related businesses. The database reveals that during the early 20th century, the commercial corridor of Mount Pleasant focused heavily on the immediate needs of neighborhood residents, and was the basis of a self-sufficient community. When Ward 1 experienced a large influx of immigrants from Central and South America after the 1960s, the character of the neighborhood changed, but the dedication to meeting the needs of a thriving urban neighborhood did not. The grocery stores and delicatessens became bodegas and tiendas latinas, and the commercial corridor reflected the diversity and dynamism of the neighborhood.

Even a brief glance at the raw data raises powerful questions about the history of the neighborhood, and about urban development in general. The largely quantitative study is available at Historic Mount Pleasant's website and the narrative is cataloged as part of the Humanities Council's DC Digital Museum. Examine the documents and let us know what questions, themes, patterns, and ideas seem to be begging for in-depth analysis. Leave a comment on the blog or write to Jasper Collier, Curator of the DC Digital Museum at, jcollier[at]wdchumanities[dot]org.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Fifteen Minutes with Erin Derge and Kristen Swenson of Ginger Root Design


Erin Derge and Kristen Swenson will preview their fall fashion line and answer your questions on Monday, November 15th at "Green is the New Black: Eco-Consciousness is in Style" at Ray's the Steaks at East River, 6:30 p.m. $30 for Dinner and Biodynamic Wine! Register now!
See photos from Ashley's visit on our Facebook page 

Q: How did you become interested in sewing and fashion?

Erin: I guess it goes back to when I was younger. My grandma taught me how to quilt. There’s actually a picture on that wall of me when I was seven years old, at a sewing machine.
Kristen: My grandma gave me a sewing machine when I was young. I grew up on a farm so there wasn’t much to do (laughs). I would spend most of my time tearing up old jeans and making new things out of them. I remember grabbing an old shower curtain and making a bag out of it with used CDs on the pockets!
Erin: Yeah, I got in trouble a lot for cutting up my brother’s clothes and making pieces for my Barbie dolls! And I would even go to school wearing some weird outfits that I had sewn stuff onto, without my mom knowing (laughs). 

Q: How did you find the space for Ginger Root Design?

Erin: Word of mouth. The business community is very supportive here on U Street.
Kristen: We were next door talking to our friends who own their own business and they suggested this space, which was available at the time. It’s like a big family. We’re in each other’s stores a lot; it’s really nice. Everyone pops in all the time (laughs).

Q: What does your clothing line ReVamp, ReWear mean to you?

Erin: Recycling and also finding a way of unique self expression.
Kristen: Looking in your closet and asking yourself, “What do I have in my closet that I can transform into something wearable again?” We were actually thinking about naming our line “Interchangeable Parts” because our philosophy is similar to an automobile, in which you can interchange the parts. The name was such a mouthful though, so we changed it to ReVamp ReWear (laughs).

Q: Why is it important to include men’s apparel in your line?

Erin: I was especially interested in including men’s clothing because in DC, men don’t have a lot of options. I think there are a lot of men who are trying to get away from the Capitol Hill reputation.
Kristen: I agree. I think men don’t have a lot of options here and it’s cool to bring something new to the table.
Erin: When we go to estate sales, we buy all the stuff that is in horrible condition- the stuff no one else wants - we rescue these damaged items.
Kristen: Completely rescuing items that you would never think would be wearable again. We rework our men’s ties and make them wearable again. 
Erin: We’ve been making a lot of clothing for women using menswear, especially men’s pants because the fabrics are great. But now, we’re creating men’s clothes from women’s clothes. Recently, we made men’s shorts for this weekend’s Tweed Ride from a skirt!

Q: What served as your inspiration for mixing fashion with green practices?

Kristen: We started to become aware of what a wasteful industry this is.
Erin: Like, you look at a shirt that costs ten dollars but, really, there are many more costs to the environment and the people who made that shirt.
Kristen: For me, it was when I found out polyester is the same material used to make water bottles. Thinking about all of that waste and where it’s ending up made me think, “There is no way I can be a part of that.” I had to make the choice between either finding a different field to work in or trying to change it.

Q: What is one thing that you have done in the past couple of years to become more ‘green’?

Erin: Opening this business! (laughs) Also, biking and eating from the farmer’s market. You buy food from the people who grew it, which is great. I also use public transportation, I walk everywhere, and I use reusable bags.
Kristen: I’d never been able to get into going to farmer’s markets regularly, but now that I’m in DC, I go all the time. I’m definitely more conscious about purchasing local food and supporting local farmers.

Q: Tell me about the Tweed Ride going on this Sunday.

Kristen: Everyone dresses up in tweed and fall colors. It’s a very light-hearted event where everyone rides their bikes together. This year they’re showing bike-friendly fashion lines and we’ll be showcasing our new fall collection from ReVamp ReWear. (Pieces from their bike-friendly collection will be on view at Monday's "Green is the New Black" event)

Mingle with Erin Derge and Kristen Swenson on Monday, November 15 at thWorld House Series event, 
"Green is the New Black: Eco-Consciousness is in Style" at Ray's the Steaks at East River, 6:30 p.m. $30 for Dinner and Biodynamic Wine! Register now!

Also meet, Trayce McQuirter M.P.H., who will be signing copies of her book, "By Any Greens Necessary: A Revolutionary Guide for Black Women Who Want to Eat Great, Get Healthy, Lose Weight, and Look Phat." Mariessa Terrell, Esq., founder of Simone Butterfly will moderate the discussion.
For more information on the Humanities Council’s World House Series: The Philosophy of Green, visit

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Fifteen Minutes with Josh Tulkin, Environmental Activist and Jewish Community Leader

HCWDC INTERN ASHLEY PORTILLO INTERVIEWS Founding Member of thE Baltimore Jewish Environmental Network

Josh Tulkin will speak on Wednesday, November 10th at "A Moral Dilemma: Is Going Green a Choice Between Right and Wrong?" at THEARC, 6:30 p.m. FREE! Register now!
Q: Where did you grow up?

A: Oakland, California.

Q: Did growing up in Oakland, or your upbringing in general, influence you to become active in the environmental arena?

A: Well I spent a lot of time in the ocean and near the mountains so that definitely gave me a lot of appreciation for nature. And with my Jewish upbringing, I went to the synagogue a lot with my parents. In Hebrew there is a phrase that translates in English to “healing the world”. That was stressed a lot in my household and in my religion. My faith definitely made me become more socially active and aware of the need for environmental justice.

Q: Why do you think that is?

A: Great question. I think it has always resonated with me. It just felt right. I’m also drawn to complex questions, which I have found in social justice as well, but I’m attracted to the complexity of the human connection to nature.

Q: Do you have a mantra or any specific phrase that you live by?

A: My mantra is more in terms of my organizing and my activism. You always have to organize people where they’re at, not where you’re at. A lot of politics is about telling people what to think and talking to them. For me, I live by my organizing and belief that faith and environmental protection go hand in hand.

Q: Has it been difficult trying to get the faith community involved in becoming more environmentally active?

A:  That’s a hard question to ask so broadly, but I think we’ve made a lot of progress in environmental protection. Unfortunately, people still see it as economics and the environment- the costs. But there is a lot of opportunity and we have a long way to go to really establish it as a value rather than a political issue. We have politicized the environment and that’s a major impediment.  

Meet Josh Tulkin on Wednesday, November 10 at thWorld House Series event, "A Moral Dilemma: Is Going Green a Choice Between Right and Wrong?" with Reid Detchon, VP Energy and Climate, United Nations Foundation, former chair for the Environment Committee, Episcopal Diocese of Washington; Sarah Jawaid, Research Associate, Urban Land Institute, Coordinator, DC Green Muslims; and Carl Rollins, Member of the Advisory Board, DC Farm to School Network. FREE Panel Discussion and Reception at THEARC, 6:30 p.m. Register now! 
For more information on the Humanities Council’s World House Series: The Philosophy of Green, visit

Friday, November 5, 2010

Fifteen Minutes with Rhon Hayes of Green DMV

HCWDC Intern Ashley Portillo Interviews A Washingtonian Magazine "Green Giant"

Rhon Hayes, co-founder of GreenDMV will speak on Monday, November 8th at "Local Solutions to a Global Challenge" at the Capitol Skyline Hotel, 6:30 p.m. FREE! Register now!
Q: What was the very first job you ever held?
A: Wow my very first job?! I think my very first job was working in the grants office in the university. My job was to search for grant opportunities at our university.
Q: Did you like it?
A: Yeah, I mean I liked it but I was kind of restless and had to be out and about and this was more of a sit-down job at a desk in an office. So I definitely had a desire to be out there in the community, more actively involved.
Q: At what point in your life did you become aware that people like yourself needed to start taking care of the environment? Is there a moment that stands out in your memory?
A: Oh yeah, that’s easy. My sophomore year of college, out of the same grants office I was working in at the university, someone had found an EPA grant and decided to send four students out to several offices and I was elected to go to Texas. So I got to go to Texas and that really opened my eyes to environmental justice.
Q: Tell me a little bit about what you did after college? Did you know immediately what you wanted to do?
A: No, I didn’t. I was a biology major and where I’m from you either went to work at The Research Triangle Park in Raleigh, NC or you went to Washington, DC. So I went to DC.
Q: So those were your only two options?
A: Basically yes (laughs).
Q: Why did you decide on DC? Why not stay in North Carolina?
A: Well, my college roommate was actually from DC so he told me about it and it swayed me a little bit.
Q:  Which experiences in your life influenced your decision to help local communities, specifically small businesses and the education system?
A: It mostly came out of a desire to make sure folks were able to have opportunities. And with the resurgence of environmentalism and the birth of the green job movement, there was a different facet of environmentalism and a new space to provide a segue to folks who didn’t have access to opportunities like jobs. Environmentalism is no longer just tree huggers (laughs).  I saw that businesses could save money and green jobs seemed like a good way to help the struggling community come out of their struggles and debt. And for me that’s the sweet part, not only to be able to help people but to use that as a way to uplift these folks.
Q: How did you come up with the idea of tying-in the disadvantages in our local neighborhoods to the clean energy economy of the future and the green revolution that has really taken off in the past couple of years? Was it volunteering in college or earlier in your youth that gave you a desire to intertwine service with your EPA experience?
A: No, I hadn’t volunteered before. It wasn’t until I was working for the EPA that I was really out there in the community talking to folks and getting actively involved in community environmental projects. For me, growing up in a rural area, volunteerism wasn’t preached a lot so the EPA definitely opened my eyes to the service component as well.
Q: What have you done to be more green in the past few years?
A: I have cut out all plastic bags. Period. My wife and I decided to make that lifestyle change two years ago. Also, I’m reading more and becoming more aware. These changes are almost second nature to us now. It’s a cultural shift and that’s sort of what we do with our organization. It’s about creating a mind shift. We want it to be second-nature for our folks.   
Meet Rhon Hayes next Monday, November 8 at the World House Series event, “Local Solutions to a Global Challenge: Envisioning a Sustainable District” with Councilmember Tommy Wells and Cynthia Hartley of the Capitol Hill Energy Co-op. FREE Panel Discussion and Reception at the Capitol Skyline Hotel, 6:30 p.m. Register now! 
For more information on the Humanities Council’s World House Series: The Philosophy of Green, visit

Thursday, October 28, 2010

DC Office of the Chief of Technology Officer Digital Literacy Meeting

What Does it Mean for the Humanities?

The District of Columbia is poised to offer increased broadband internet access to underserved areas of the city. The infrastructure is largely in place, but so is the legislation that prevents the Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) from turning on the juice. At a digital literacy summit in Deanwood yesterday, the agency sought to encourage conversations between stakeholders in an effort to rollback these roadblocks and level the information technology playing field in DC. What does this mean for the humanities?

The humanities disciplines can give a voice to overlooked populations, but an idea without a medium for transmission is often extinguished before it has a chance to make a difference. Inexpensive broadband connections in underprivileged communities will allow a new segment of the population to send and receive creativity, intellect, and experience. The humanities can help people understand one another. Training Grounds Inc, a non-profit based in Southeast DC, seeks to connect economically disadvantaged young people with mentors via distance learning technology. The organization's founder Tom Brown believes that broadband technology used in this way can help people with bridge generational and socioeconomic gaps, improving the lives of youth participants and mentors alike. The humanities disciplines can help people take ownership of their history, heritage, and culture – a major goal of the Humanities Council of Washington, DC as exemplified in the DC Community Heritage Project and DC Digital Museum.

The DC Community Heritage Project, a partnership between the Humanities Council, the DC Historic Preservation Office, the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, provides grants to grassroots history and heritage preservation groups in the District. These small organizations have taken relatively small awards and done impressive work in the three years since the funds were first offered. Some have made professional quality documentary films, others have published neighborhood cultural guides, a few have staged moving oral history projects, but the projects rarely take the leap into the digital age. The DC Digital Museum, an evolution of the Humanities Council's Humanities Resource Center, is an effort to digitize as many of these grantee projects as possible, organize them in an online catalog, and use them to curate digital exhibitions. The ultimate goal is to allow former grantees, community historians, and others interested in DC culture to organize their own exhibitions and contribute to the collection digitally.

This ambitious project is already underway; the catalog, based on the George Mason University Center for History and New Media's Omeka program, is available at The DC Digital Museum's beta exhibit is based on the life of Flaxie Pinkett, a noted pillar of the DC community and pioneering business woman who advocated for improved housing conditions and education reform.

The city currently offers WIFI hotspots at all public buildings including schools, libraries, recreation centers, and fire stations, while the mobile technology lab (pictured at left) roams the District offering free computer and internet access. OCTO's efforts to improve broadband availability in all areas of the city are absolutely vital to the success of digital humanities projects like the DC Digital Museum. Perhaps the humanities can provide some of the compelling content that will maintain interest and motivation for the city's efforts to make IT universal.

Monday, October 25, 2010

30 Years of Women Making Films in Washington, DC

A Review of Women in Film and Video's New Oral History Project

Women in Film and Video (WIFV) is an organization that supports and networks women filmmakers in the DC area. Its membership features high profile documentary filmmakers, producers who have worked on Hollywood films, and young women just starting out in the business. Like the Humanities Council of Washington, DC, WIFV is celebrating over 30 years of service to their constituency. WIFV received one of the Council’s 30th Anniversary Grants earlier this year to help document their history through oral histories of some of their founders and notable members.  
Aviva Kempner
Many of the narrators for WIFV's oral history project are instantly recognizable to anyone interested in documentary film. Aviva Kempner, a Washington-area filmmaker known for her pieces on under-represented Jewish heroes, discussed her early life, and her circuitous path to the world of independent film. The daughter of a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor, it is clear that Kempner’s family had a strong influence on her career and creative path. She arrived in DC from Detroit as a young woman dedicated to studying law, but soon realized that filmmaking was more important to her than passing a grueling bar exam.

Pat Aufderhide
Each narrator addressed the challenges women face in the film industry including sexist discrimination, balancing family and work life, and finding mentors or sympathetic colleagues. Some like independent filmmaker, Marilyn Weiner and American University communications professor, Pat Aufderhide believe that the field has changed for the better, and that one is much more likely to see women in roles once reserved solely for men. Women directors and executive producers are no longer uncommon. Aufderhide credits the feminist movement and early affirmative action initiatives with some of her early success, but her impressive resume and extensive list of achievements suggest that her career has been based on the solid advice she now offers young filmmakers starting out in the business. She tells the future generation to approach everyone with a legitimate sense of self-confidence, and never go into a situation where you have to “wing-it.”

Marilyn Weiner
Weiner, unlike several of the other women interviewed, regularly brought her children with her on location while shooting films. She claimed that the key to balancing work and family life is to avoid being a perfectionist; one must accept that things will not always be ideal, but must make them work anyway. Another independent filmmaker, Judy Hallet, remembered benefiting from a supportive family structure. Her mother-in-law was often available to take care of her son while Hallet and her husband were away shooting films. In retrospect however, Hallet believes recognized her dedication to making time for family. “If you know what you need, and you know what makes you sane, usually you can work it out.” Before accepting major positions at a PBS network in Utah and National Geographic TV in Washington, Hallet insisted on 6 weeks off each Summer to spend with her family.

Ginny Durrin
Several of the project narrators discussed the foundation of WIFV either because they were founders, early members, or because they benefited from the group’s network when they arrived in DC. Founder Ginny Durrin remembered having no grand visions when she called the first meetings; she was motivated by a simple desire for companions who could relate to her professional life. She was amazed at the rapid growth of the organization, and remembers how roles began to slowly develop among the members, and soon it became more than just a regular meeting of friends. Phylis Geller, who has been involved in WIFV in both LA and DC noted the organization’s strong efforts to encourage professional development within the field, build mentoring relationships, and conduct statistical studies to determine how many women are entering the film industry and what jobs they are taking. Geller was a former president of WIFV, and helped start the companion organization The WIFV Foundation which aims to help people outside the core organization’s membership.

Phylis Geller
This first round of oral history interviews is a wealth of information and collective memory about women making film in Washington, DC. Changes in the industry and the difficulties of being a woman in an often male dominated field are common themes discussed by all of the narrators, but each interview is unique, and offers narratives likely as vibrant as the subjects’ films. Students of the history of film and video, labor history, or women’s studies will assuredly find the archive of interviews held by Women in Film and Video, a remarkable resource not only for first-hand accounts of some extraordinary events, but also for records of the way real people remember their life works, and how they hope that information can best benefit the future of their industry.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Impressions From "Los Treinta"

HCWDC Intern Ashley Portillo Reports on a Remarkable Performance

Standing in front of a sold-out crowd on a Sunday night, Quique Aviles did something I have never seen done in my life. He performed a history lesson pouring out poetry from his heart and soul, acted out five “characters,” and infused his show with history – all the while, using musical cues to shift the show from one decade to the next. His compelling one-man performance called Los Treinta is the result of months of oral history research and a lifetime of personal experience. The project, directed by B. Stanley of the DC Community Arts Center was funded, in part, by the Humanities Council of Washington, DC.

Quique performed his bilingual show as if there were seven actors and a translator - but there was just Quique, on the stage by himself. In the corner, one light beam shining down on him, he flows through poetry, narration, drama and music. At center-stage he played the role of a pupusera, an older woman he interviewed so he could share her story. Quique is always interpreting.  Interpreting every monologue from Spanish to English and at times infusing both languages. His command of the spoken word in Spanish and English was solid and powerful even for the non-Spanish speakers in the diverse audience. But let me be clear: he did not translate his monologues; he interpreted them - a much harder task, but one which he did with great success. He interpreted the stories of those who directly experienced the changes that occurred in DC when many Salvadorans found refuge here in 1980.

Then there was the story of the young American man who had to help his Salvadoran mother sell salsa music cassette tapes at a local market’s parking lot. He didn’t understand the popularity behind those sappy love songs nor did he care for the “stupid lyrics” about el gato volador (the flying cat) or la vaca, la misma vaca (the cow, the same cow). He just knew those cassettes were selling like hot buns out of the oven in his Salvadoran community.

Finally, Aviles performed the story of another oral history narrator named Jumbo. This person wasn’t Salvadoran or Salvadoran-American; he was African.  Aviles acted out Jumbo’s persona and told the story of a couple that believed love has no color. Jumbo, an immigrant from Africa, married his Salvadoran girlfriend and they had children together at a time when tensions between blacks and latinos ran high in DC. The constant clash between the two groups has significantly died down and Aviles wanted to ensure his performance included a piece from an outside perspective.

 Upon arriving at the District of Columbia Arts Center, I was not sure what to expect. Yet, what I witnessed that evening was a compelling, and at times humorous, series of vignettes on the history of El Salvadoran migration to our nation’s capital, spanning the 30 years (Los Treinta) between 1980 and the present. Most in the audience were anxious to hear why so many from El Salvador chose DC as their destination of choice in the United States, but by the end of the performance the answer was seemingly even more elusive despite the simplicity of the apparent motives. During the question and answer period following the show, a woman asked Aviles to clarify why this massive influx of guanacos came to Washington, DC. She was still unsure, and frankly, so was I. A Salvadoran immigrant from the audience fielded the question stating that word-of-mouth was the primary reason. When a few people fled to D.C. because of the United States backed military violence in El Salvador, she added, they sent financial remittances to their families in El Salvador; others quickly followed suit and soon everyone was immigrating to D.C.

Quique agreed with this version of events. In fact, according to his performance, la pupusera left for DC to reunite with her mother who had already settled there to create a better life for her family. Soon, she founded her own catering business tailored for her Salvadoran community, and earned enough money to bring her children from El Salvador. Those Salvadoran-born children, but American-raised adults, then started their own families - American families.

As the lights came back on and Marc Anthony’s I Need to Know played in the background, I could not keep myself from smiling. In just one hour and fifteen minutes, I connected with real people I do not even know, but who I felt I understood. Quique Aviles- the poet, artist, interpreter, story-teller, and activist who tirelessly conducted extensive oral histories with the help of University of Maryland students gave us an illuminated glimpse at that research. In doing so, he also shed light on a slice of Latino history, integral to understanding Washington, DC.

(Above Image: Quique Aviles promotes Los Treinta on Youtube.)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

"You have got to lift others as you climb"

-Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole
Celebrating our 30th Anniversary with Peggy Cooper Cafritz, Dr. Johnnetta Cole, Michel Martin and Vincent Gray

On Thursday, September 23rd the Humanities Council continued its 30th anniversary festivities with a fascinating conversation featuring two prominent Washington scholars and our Distinguished Service to the Humanities honorees – Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole and Peggy Cooper Cafritz.  The discussion, held at Hogan and Lovell's law offices and moderated by NPR’s Michel Martin, focused heavily on issues of race, power, and education – not surprising given the course of this year’s Democratic primary in Washington. The evening included performances by students from the Duke Ellington School for the Arts (co-founded by Cafritz), African drummers from Soul in Motion, and dancers from the National Hand Dance Association.

A long-time advocate for education reform, Cafrtiz began the evening by discussing her reasons for founding the Duke Ellington School for the Arts, and how the humanities play a constant role in shaping the school's graduates whether or not they choose an arts career. When she and her co-founder, Mike Malone, first developed the idea for an arts school, the goal was to give DC youth the opportunity to use the arts in the same way that many use sports; as a safe and constructive medium through which to concentrate their talents and energies. Cafritz noted that all great artists have a strong foundation in the humanities; a prerequisite for making their work relevant and enjoyable for a wide audience.

Dr. Cole, who currently serves as the Director of the Smithsonian Museum of African Art, believes that the humanities are also a means of introspection; they allow us to know and understand ourselves, and how we relate to others. Cole stated that during gala openings at the museum she likes to begin by saying, “Welcome home.” The museum, is “a place that collects, conserves, exhibits, and educates about the visual arts that come from the only place on earth that birthed all of humanity.” Cole suggests that in this way, the arts and humanities can allow people to see themselves as part of a larger world community. Thus the Smithsonian Museum of African Art provides a tangible argument in favor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s “World House Concept” in which the civil rights leader outlined a global community that transcended racial, ethnic, and sociopolitical borders.

As moderator Michel Martin pointed out, both honored guests strayed from their assumed or early career paths to pursue lives devoted to the arts and humanities, and thus it is not surprising that both advocated strongly for the inclusion of these disciplines in the development of Washington, DC's youth. Cafritz earned a degree in political science before attending law school at George Washington University, but became famous for her devotion to education and her world-class art collection. Dr. Cole's family owned and operated a successful real estate business, but after attending Fisk and Oberlin Colleges, she decided to study anthropology, a path that was not easy for some of her family to accept. Cole reflected fondly however on her mother's insistence that she “follow her passion,” advice that she has since passed down to her students and proteges.

During a heated election season, it is perhaps not surprising that Martin eventually turned the discussion towards the recently decided mayoral race. Throughout the DC mayoral campaign, polling numbers have suggested that the election was fought largely along racial lines with Adrian Fenty  garnering support from white voters in upper Northwest, and African-American voters favoring Vincent Gray. Peggy Cooper Cafritz reassured the audience that this division is a “now moment,” and not “what truly defines our city.” She insisted that, despite the tensions, the singular focus should be on education. Education is what gives people identity, it is the “great liberator.” Cafritz also believes that improved local media coverage could remedy the District's latent racial divide. When communities of people begin reading about what is happening in one another's daily lives, they cannot help but become more interconnected  and mutually understanding.

Martin wrapped up the discussion by asking both of the honored guests to set the audience to a task aimed at bettering the city and its people. Dr. Cole, looking around the room of successful overachievers implored them each to “go ahead, climb, get more and more famous, but you have got to lift others as you climb.” Cafritz's similarly charged the audience to give the tools of advocacy to as many underprivileged families as possible. While recognizing the importance of education, the humanities, and mutual understanding, both women know there is no substitute for the human connection; people helping people directly.

Adding to the nights excitement was a surprise visit from DC's Democratic nominee for mayor, Vincent Gray. Like Cafritz and Cole, Gray, a long-time supporter of the Humanities Council of Washington, DC,  insisted that the arts and humanities have the ability to bring diverse peoples together, a necessity now more than ever in the District. Gray pledged continued support for the humanities and thanked both Cafritz and Cole for their contributions to quality of life in the city.
The Humanities Council will broadcast segments from the discussion on our Youtube channel over the next few weeks.

For more photos, check out our Facebook album!
For more information on our 30th Anniversary, please visit:
For press coverage and other links, please visit: 

(PHOTOS: The Humanities Council of Washington, DC was honored to be in the presence of our 2010 Distinguished Service to the Humanities Recipients: Peggy Cooper Cafritz and Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole, NPR's Michel Martin, and Chairman Vincent Gray who pledged to continue his support of the Council. Also pictured, Chairman of the Board, Marianne Scott, Executive Director, Joy Ford Austin and the amazing Soul in Motion African Drummers. Photos by LJ Creaations)