Wednesday, May 20, 2015

"Keep Running, We're Going to Get You"

The aftermath of an Anacostia Watershed Society volunteer event along the Watts Branch Tributary System.  

I was en route to an Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS) volunteer event near the Deanwood Metro Stop to interview volunteers for my research paper. The metro was undergoing repairs (surprise) so I was running late. As I raced down one of the side streets leading to the Watts Branch Tributary, I passed a bunch of young men standing behind a fence. I heard their voices yell after me to keep running because they were going to get me. So I walked slower because I knew (mostly from the tone in their voices) that they were just kids being kids trying to get a reaction out of me, a white girl racing through their neighborhood.
When I got to the event I observed that no one from the surrounding community was participating, and I wanted to know why. The heaping piles of trash also concerned me. Especially when I realized that without the litter trap, the trash would have washed into the Anacostia River. I was, however, impressed with the work ethic of the volunteers who sacrificed their Saturday morning to tirelessly separate trash into piles of bottles, cans, Styrofoam, etc. AWS Water Quality Specialist Masaya Maeda led the event, and his contagious passion to clean the river, and knowledge of the litter trap, spread to all of us. 
On my walk back to the metro, I came across some wonderful gentleman sitting on their porch. I asked if I could talk with them, and they seemed eager to have someone listen to their stories about how the area used to be (before it was polluted), and their ideas about how to change this. I wished they had been at the event because their childhood stories of playing along the tributaries would have added an important historical and cultural perspective. They told me had they known of the event, they would have participated.

As I continued to walk to the metro, I saw the same young men I had run by that morning now staring at me dumbfounded. For me, this experience was a reminder that breaking stereotypes works both ways, and I think sometimes we forget how far a simple conversation can go. Simple conversations have led me to make Anacostia Unplugged because I don’t think I should be the only one listening to these stories.