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At-risk Children Of Se Won't Be So Easy To Save

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At-Risk Children Of SE Won't Be So Easy to Save


By Courtland Milloy

Wednesday, November 5, 2003; Page B01



A group of young people was hanging out Monday night on a street near Anacostia Senior High School in Southeast Washington, where District officials were meeting with parents to discuss school safety.




I called out to the youngsters from my car: "Anybody here go to Anacostia High? I'd like to talk about the community meeting going on at the school."


A young man who appeared to be of high school age stepped forward and, pretending that I'd asked a different question, replied, "Yeah, there's a meeting at the school."


I knew that; I had just come from the meeting, which was being held in response to the shooting death of an Anacostia High student at the school last week. Now I wanted to talk with the kinds of at-risk youngsters that everybody at the meeting had been talking about.


Billed as a "special parent community meeting," the gathering was held in the high school's auditorium, with a row of city officials stretched out before an audience of about 200 people.


"We're working on after-school programs, working with coaches, along with alliances, lots of things," D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) told the audience. "And we want to continue doing them, extend them, get traction on the action plan."


Exactly what that action plan was, no one seemed quite sure. Except, perhaps, the group of youngsters that I'd come upon. They were clearly school-age and should have been home at 8 p.m. instead of hanging out in the shadows, a mere gunshot from Anacostia High.


"You looking," the group spokesman mouthed silently. He glanced down at something in his hands. At the same time, a young woman emerged from the shadows, making herself visible just long enough to indicate that she, too, was for sale.


At the community meeting, D.C. Council member Sandy Allen (D-Ward 8) had chastised adults who referred to such youths as "those children," instead of "our children."


"What have you, as an individual, done for 'those' children?" she asked the audience. "When was the last time you took one of 'those' children to church, to a library, or put on your jeans and played football with them?"


The audience applauded, appreciating the sentiment.


But it will take more than a hug and a sermon to save those children. The number of District residents living in concentrated poverty tripled, to 60,000, during the 1990s, according to a report by the Fannie Mae Foundation, and 40 percent of them were now in a desperate struggle for survival in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.


Making matters worse, the homicide rate in the District is now twice that of Los Angeles and six times that of New York City, according to a recent FBI report. In the city's 7th Police District alone, which includes Anacostia, 52 homicides were reported last year, five more than in all of San Diego.


As if to show that all was not lost, Anacostia High's principal, James Wilson, proudly pointed to Peter Blue, a student government vice president and ROTC battalion commander. But even before the applause had ended, Blue launched into an impassioned critique of the meeting itself.


"Nobody knows what's going on at Anacostia High better than the students," he said. "But where are they? Why weren't they invited? And why do we always need a killing to occur before we come together to do the right thing?"


Carolyn N. Graham, deputy mayor for children, youth and families, sought to reassure the parents, noting that the Williams administration had invested more than $16 million in social services east of the river and that more would follow. D.C. School Superintendent Paul L. Vance had already expressed his regret for making "commitments that failed to materialize." So, he just sat, listening to more promises and looking depressed.


"Don't ask me what to do about it," Vance had told the audience. "What I thought I'd be part of that would work hasn't."


Not that it mattered back on the street.


Having determined that I was not interested in any of his wares, the young man waved goodbye.


"We can't help you," he said, turning to rejoin the group. "We all out of school."


E-mail: milloyc@washpost.com




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