Posts Tagged ‘President Barack Obama’

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Mama Ayesha and the Presidents

During this lunchtime bike ride as I was riding across the Duke Ellington Memorial Bridge in northwest D.C.’s Adam’s Morgan neighborhood, I saw a mural on the side of a building on the eastern end of the bridge.  So I rode over to get a better look at the mural.  I discovered it was on the side of Mama Ayesha’s Restaurant, located at 1967 Calvert Street (MAP), and depicts the restaurant’s namesake standing in front of the White House.  She is flanked on either side by eleven different presidents standing in chronological order, starting with Dwight D. Eisenhower and ending with Barack Obama. The content of the public artwork is so unusual that I just had to find out more about it.

The mural was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and private donors.  It was created in 2009 by Karla Rodas, also known as Karlísima, who is a native of El Salvador but moved with her family as a child to nearby Alexandria.  After graduating from Annandale High School and Washington University, she returned to D.C. and has since become one of the capital city’s most well-known and respected muralists.

The initial concept for the mural was planned by Mama Ayesha’s family members, who have run the restaurant since its opening in 1960. However, the original plan did not have Mama Ayesha as the centerpiece of the work. Instead, the family wanted Helen Thomas, a renowned White House reporter and regular customer at the restaurant, to be at the center of the mural. She was envisioned to be seated at a desk with pen and paper in her hand. However, Thomas politely declined the family’s request, opining that Mama Ayesha should be portrayed instead.

The final design depicts Mama Ayesha in traditional Palestinian garb standing in front of the White House. With six presidents on her right and five on her left, she stands in the middle between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, with their arms interlocked. Interspersed throughout the mural are other symbols and additional scenes and landmarks from the national capital city. They include a bald eagle, the city’s famous cherry blossoms, as well as the Lincoln Memorial and its Reflecting Pool, the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument and the United States Capitol Building.  And representations of the U.S. flag appear on the sides of the painting.

With President Obama’s successor to be determined in tomorrow’s election, I hope the mural will be updated.  There is sufficient space in front of the Reflecting Pool for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.  I very much look forward to the election being over.  And I also look forward to being able to come back to see the updated mural at some point in the near future.

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Police Protecting Protestors Protesting the Police

We’re in the middle of a heat wave here in D.C.  And it has been so hot in the afternoons lately that for today’s bike ride I decided to go earlier in the day when the heat was a little less oppressive.  In fact, I went for my daily ride shortly after arriving at work this morning.  And since I usually begin my workday relatively early, rush hour was still ongoing while I left to go out on this ride.  This is important because the timing played a part in what I saw during today’s ride.

During my ride, I decided to ride Julius, my orange recumbent bike, around the tree-lined, shaded streets of northeast D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.  As I was riding down Massachusetts Avenue approaching the local Fraternal Order of Police lodge, located at 328 Massachusetts Avenue (MAP), I saw a crowd gathered near the building and at the end of the block near Stanton Park.  So I rode closer to investigate.  And it turns out that it was a protest by the group which calls itself Black Lives Matter, along with others affiliated with Black Youth Project 100.

The Fraternal Order of Police District of Columbia Lodge #1 is one of the largest lodges in the United States. Its membership consists of approximately 10,000 members from over 114 various District and Federal agencies. The lodge also houses the organization’s national legislative office, which in the wake of the recent killings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, is calling for Federal legislation classifying the intentional targeting of police officers as a hate crime.  And the organization’s position seems to have gained additional momentum when President Obama stated that the black sniper who killed the white officers in Dallas should have been prosecuted for a hate crime if he were still alive.

Today’s Black Lives Matter protestors were gathered in the street in front of the lodge, joining arms to block rush hour traffic at the intersection of 4th Street and Massachusetts Avenue.  I heard some of the protesters shout to the commuters who were simply trying to get to work, “If this is your normal way to work, please go around. The FOP protects killer cops.”  Others said to at least one pedestrian on the sidewalk, “Use your white privilege to walk around.” (See video below.)  Some protestors were also blocking the gateways and access to the building, while others had chained themselves to stair railings and fixtures at the entrance to the lodge.  At one point they even hoisted a Black Lives Matter flag atop a flagpole in front of the building.

In response, Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police’s D.C. office, said he supports the protesters right to assemble. But because of the disruptive influence of the protestors attempting to block access to both the street and the building, he had decided to close the lodge for the day said they would continue their work from other locations.

So as Mr. Pasco and the other employees departed, they left behind a number of on-duty Metropolitan Police Department Officers. Those officers, who were most likely also members of the lodge itself, blocked and rerouted the vehicular traffic to protect the protestors themselves, and remained on the scene to protect their right to free speech. All of the police officers there remained calm throughout, and continued to act in a professional way to the protestors who were there to protest against them.

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The White House Gingerbread House Exhibit

I don’t like it when retailers start focusing on Christmas well before Thanksgiving.  And if it were up to me, I would have all stores be closed on Thanksgiving to allow employees to spend the day with their families.  I’d even be okay with stores staying closed on Black Friday.  However, I don’t mind when some early signs of the holiday, such as the many Christmas decorations that adorn the city during the holiday season, start appearing in November.  For example, as I was riding through Lafayette Square Park on this lunchtime bike ride, I was happy to see a sign advertising a Christmas exhibit of gingerbread houses was already open.  So I decided to stop and check into itWhen I asked the very helpful lady at the entrance about the exhibit, she told me no one else was currently there.  So with the place all to myself, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take the self-guided tour right then.

The holiday exhibit is sponsored by the White House Historical Association, and is entitled “White House Gingerbread: Holiday Traditions.”  The exhibit celebrates the official national gingerbread house created each year by the White House’s executive chef, and explores the tradition of gingerbread at the White House dating back to the Nixon administration.  The main display features the largest gingerbread White House ever designed by the chef.  And surrounding it are gingerbread panels illustrating many of the White House’s neighboring buildings, such as the Old Executive Office Building, the U.S. Treasury Department Building, and St. John’s Episcopal Church, to name just a few.  The exhibit also incorporates examples of marzipan figures and sugar sculptures that have accompanied and accented many of the gingerbread houses over the years.

The exhibit also features photographs of the various types of gingerbread houses of different presidential administrations, including the Obama Administration’s version from last year, with historical information of each.  Along with the wide variety of gingerbread houses, many of the photographs also feature the inhabitants of the White House.  While I enjoyed each of the houses, I guess I am somewhat of a gingerbread house traditionalist, because I did not favor the more recent creations.  Dating back to the George W. Bush Administration, the most recent houses have been made out of white chocolate rather than gingerbread.  I hope this trend ends soon and they return to the old-fashioned gingerbread.

The “White House Gingerbread: Holiday Traditions” exhibit is on display at Decatur House on Lafayette Square, which is  located at 1610 H Street in northwest D.C. (MAP).  It is open from 10:00am – 3:00pm, Monday through Saturday, and will remain open and free to the public through December 22nd.  I highly recommend stopping by if you’re in the area, or even planning a specific trip to see it and the many other Christmas decorations throughout the national capital city during the upcoming holiday season.

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The Anacostia Riverwalk Trail

On this lunchtime bike ride I went for a leisurely ride on the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, which is located in southeast D.C. and runs along banks of both sides of the Anacostia River (MAP). Although the trail is not yet complete, extensive improvements and additions have been made to the trail in recent years, making it already one of the most scenic and enjoyable trails in the city. To date, 15 of the ultimate 28 miles of the trail are open for use. And completion of the remainder of the trail is a priority project under President Barack Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative.

In the past one of the trail’s biggest obstacles was the need to cross the CSX railroad tracks, which bisected the trail just north of the John Philip Sousa Bridge on both sides of the river. But that hurdle has been overcome with the relatively recent addition of two fiber-reinforced polymer, weathering steel bridges that allow trail users to cross over the railroad tracks.

The Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens segment of the trail was started in the spring of 2014 and is currently underway. This portion will extend from Benning Road in northeast D.C. to the Anacostia River Trail in Bladensburg, Maryland, and is expected to be completed by Summer 2016.  The other remaining segments to complete the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail are being constructed as part of the Buzzard Point Trail Project, South Capitol Street Trail Project, various partner development projects along Maryland and Virginia Avenues in southeast D.C., or, in the case of the National Arboretum segment, by the National Park Service.

Once complete, the trail will provide seamless, scenic travel for cyclists, joggers and pedestrians along the Anacostia River, and access to a number of the city’s treasures along the way, including The Maine Avenue Fish Market, Nationals Park, The Yards Park, Diamond Teague Park, The Titanic MemorialThe Washington Navy Yard, Historic Anacostia, Anacostia Park, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, RFK Stadium, and The United States National Arboretum, as well as 16 different communities between the National Mall at the Tidal Basin and Bladensburg Marina Park in Maryland. The trail’s northern end will eventually connect to Maryland’s Anacostia Tributary Trail System for nearly 60 miles of contiguous pathway.

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The Embassy of Cuba

On December 17th of last year, President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced the beginning of a process of normalizing relations between Cuba and the U.S. Then on April 11th of this year, Presidents Obama and President Castro shook hands at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, marking the first meeting between a U.S. and Cuban head of state since the two countries severed their ties in 1961. And on July 1st, President Obama announced the formal restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries. So in recognition of this renewed relationship, often referred to as “The Cuban Thaw”, I decided on this lunchtime bike ride to ride to the diplomatic mission of Cuba to the United States – the newly reopened Cuban Embassy.

The Republic of Cuba actually had a diplomatic outpost in D.C. even before the country existed as an independent nation. In the 1890s, as Cubans mounted a war for independence from Spain, Gonzalo de Quesada established a legation at the fashionable Raleigh Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. After some rebel successes in this war for Cuba’s independence, U.S. President William McKinley in 1897 offered to buy Cuba for $300 million. It was the rejection of that offer, and an explosion in Havana harbor that sank the American battleship USS Maine, that led to the Spanish–American War. In Cuba the war became known as “the U.S. intervention in Cuba’s War of Independence”. On December 10, 1898, Spain and the United States signed the Treaty of Paris and, in accordance with the treaty, Spain renounced all rights to Cuba. The treaty put an end to the Spanish Empire in the Americas, and setting the stage for the birth of the independent Republic of Cuba.

Two decades later, in 1917, Cuba constructed an embassy in the United States, located just two miles north of the White House at 2630 16th Street (MAP) in the northwest D.C.’s Meridian Hill neighborhood. At that time Meridian Hill was home to many of the city’s finest embassies. Close by are the former Italian, Mexican, and Spanish embassies as well as the current embassies of Poland and Lithuania. The Cuban Embassy served in that capacity for the next 43 years, until newly-elected President John F. Kennedy severed diplomatic relations with Cuba following the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and that country’s subsequent decision to closely ally itself with the Soviet Union.

Later, beginning in the 1970s, the embassy building housed the Cuban Interests Section in the United States. The Cuban Interests Section and its counterpart, the United States Interests Section in Havana, were sections of the respective embassies of Switzerland, which acted as protecting power. However, they operated as embassies independently of the Swiss in virtually all but protocol respects.

The United States will be opening an embassy in Havana on Friday at a similar ceremony to be presided over by Secretary of State John Kerry.  I won’t be riding my bike there to see it, though, at least any time soon.

A number of differences and disputes between our two countries remain. These include Cuba’s request that the U.S. return its Naval base in Guantanamo Bay and lift the economic embargo, which Congress has shown little inclination to do anytime soon, as well as the U.S.’s concerns in regard to human rights abuses by the island nation. Whether the reopening of the embassies lead to resolution of these matters remains to be seen, but perhaps it may be a first step in that direction.

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The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial

With Memorial Day coming up next week, I decided for this bike ride to go to one of the city’s newest memorials, The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial. Located just a block off the National Mall at 150 Washington Avenue (MAP) in southwest D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, the memorial opened just this past September after a more than a dozen years in the making.

The origins of the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial date back to a chance meeting in 1995 at another D.C. memorial. A woman named Lois Pope, widow of National Enquirer owner Generoso Pope Jr., met a disabled American veteran at The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Realizing that there was not a memorial to honor disabled veterans, she attempted to call the office of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jesse Brown to plead for one. Unable to get through, she called again every day for six months until Brown’s secretary finally put her call through.  The Commemorative Works Act of 1986 prohibits the expenditure of Federal funds for memorials, but Secretary Brown agreed to support legislation to establish memorial.

On October 23, 2000, Congress adopted legislation authorizing the Disabled Veterans for Life Memorial Foundation, whose purpose was to design, raise funds for, and construct a memorial.  Almost a decade later the fundraising goal was reached. The groundbreaking for the memorial occurred on November 10, 2010.  And on October 5, 2014, President Barack Obama officially dedicated the memorial.

The Memorial, located on a 1.72-acre parcel of Federally-owned land, consists of five distinct yet interconnected elements. The first element and centerpiece of the Memorial’s design is a 30 inches-tall black granite fountain in the shape of a five-pointed star, with a ceremonial eternal flame rising out of the water in the middle of the fountain. Extending south and southeast from the star-shaped fountain is the Memorial’s second element, a reflecting pool which, together with the fountain, are designed to reflect the nearby U.S. Capitol building. The third element is known as the “Wall of Gratitude”, and consists of two long, white granite walls which extend along the western edge of the site, and are inscribed with quotations from General George Washington and General Dwight Eisenhower, as well as the name of the memorial. The fourth element is the “Voices of Veterans” area, which forms the southern portion of the site and consists of three staggered glass walls made up of 49 panels. On the interior sheets of glass are inscribed photo-realistic images of veterans and quotations from veterans describing their devotion to duty, what it was like to be wounded, and how they came to terms with their disability. Four bronze panels, with silhouettes of soldiers cut from their center, stand behind some of the glass panels. The final element of the memorial consists of a grove of memorial trees. The “Voices of Veterans” element is set among the trees of the northern part of this grove.

The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial serves as a permanent national public tribute to veterans of the armed forces of the United States who were permanently disabled during the course of their national service.  This includes over four million veterans currently living with a disability, as well as countless others who subsequently passed away.  It is the only national memorial to not defined by service branch, military unit or specific conflict, but to simply honor those who veterans seriously injured in the line of duty as heroes.

Although the upcoming Memorial Day holiday is for remembering military personnel who died while serving, it is an opportune time to also remember those who served and survived, but continue to pay a price for that service, as well as all military veterans.  For as one of the inscriptions on the memorial reads, “In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.”

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Joseph Darlington Fountain

During today’s lunchtime bike ride I went by Judiciary Park, which is located at the corner of 5th and D Streets (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Judiciary Square neighborhood. A small park located between the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the focal point of the park is fountain featuring a gilded bronze statue. It is named the Darlington Memorial Fountain, and is a memorial to a lawyer named Joseph Darlington.

Joseph James Darlington was born on February 10, 1849, in Abbeville County, South Carolina, the third of four children born to Henry Dixson Darlington and Charlotte G. Blease. He came to D.C. as a young man to attend law school, where he lived for the rest of his life. He opened an office on 5th Street near where the memorial was later built, worked there for his entire career, eventually becoming known as a leader in the legal community, as well as a teacher and author.

Shortly after his death on June 24, 1920, friends and colleagues proposed to have a memorial built in his honor. Three years later, a committee was formed under Frank J. Hogan, who was named the head of the Darlington Memorial Committee. The duties of the committee, which consisted of approximately 100 people, some who were lawyers who had studied under Darlington was to take charge of the dedication of the memorial later that year.

The Darlington Memorial Fountain was designed by a German-born American sculptor named Carl Paul Jennewein. It was approved by the United States Commission of Fine Arts in 1921, and installed in November 1923. However, because it features a nude Greek nymph, the memorial’s statue caused a bit of public outrage when it was initially put on display. And that controversy has never really gone away. As late as July 3, 1988, a story in The Chicago Tribune reads, “The voluptuous nymph in Judiciary Square, honoring Joseph Darlington, one of Washington’s most prominent 19th Century lawyers, could easily grace the centerfold of Playboy.”

A prolific artist, Jennewein is also the sculptor responsible for a number of other statues in the D.C. area, including statues at the entrance to the Rayburn House Office Building, and monumental eagles at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, and another on the Arlington Memorial Bridge. He also created more than 50 separate sculptural elements of the Robert F. Kennedy Justice Department Building, as well as a statue in the building’s Great Hall, named the Spirit of Justice. Like the statue in the Darlington Memorial Fountain, the Spirit of Justice has also been the source of public controversy.

The Spirit of Justice is a semi-nude depicting Lady Justice, which stands on display along with its male counterpart, Majesty of Justice. The statue and the controversy surrounding it first became well known with the help of Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2002. It was then that the department spent $8,000 on curtains to hide the semi-nude statue from view during speeches and other events. Critics derided then-Attorney General Ashcroft, and President George W. Bush’s administration received widespread criticism for covering up the naked Lady Justice. Ashcroft’s successor as Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, removed the curtains in June 2005, making the statue visible again during public events.

But the controversy resurfaced again last year when the Obama administration reversed that practice, and curtains are once again being used to hide the Spirit of Justice’s nudity from public view. So at this point in time, if you want to see one of Jennewein’s nude statues in D.C., your only current option is the Darlington Memorial Fountain.

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FBI Headquarters

FBI Headquarters

Tomorrow marks the 43rd anniversary of the death of J. Edgar Hoover.  After nearly five decades as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), his death left the powerful government agency without the administrator who had been largely responsible for its existence and shape. It was on May 2, 1972, as the Watergate affair was about to explode onto the national stage, that Hoover died of heart disease at the age of 77.  After laying in repose in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building, he was buried in a full state funeral on my 10th birthday.  And even though I was very young at the time, I remember this happening.

It was in recognition of this event that, as part of this bike ride, I rode from FBI Headquarters, which was named after him, back to Director Hoover’s final resting place in Historic Congressional Cemetery, just a mere three miles away. Hoover was born on New Year’s Day in 1895 in D.C., where he lived his entire life. In light of the recent controversy over President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, it is interesting to note that a birth certificate was not filed at the time Hoover was born, despite the fact that it was required.  His two siblings had birth certificates, but Hoover’s was not filed until 1938, when he was 43 years old.

Hoover then grew up near Eastern Market in D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood (where I stopped at one of my favorite places for lunch on my way back to my office today). Educated as a lawyer and a librarian at George Washington University in D.C., Hoover joined the Department of Justice in 1917 and within two years had become special assistant to the Attorney General.  Appointed in  1924 as the Director of The Bureau of Investigation – the predecessor to the FBI – he was instrumental in founding the FBI in 1935.  He then ran the FBI for an additional 37 years.

Because Hoover’s actions came to be seen by many in Congress as an abuse of power, FBI directors are now limited to one ten-year term, subject to extension by the U.S. Senate. Late in life, and especially after his death, Hoover became a controversial figure as evidence of his secretive actions became known.  His critics have accused him of exceeding the jurisdiction of the FBI.  Additionally, rumors have circulated that Hoover was homosexual, which had a distinctly different connotation during his lifetime.  Despite the criticisms and rumors, however, Hoover is credited with building the FBI into a large and efficient crime-fighting agency, and with instituting a number of modernizations to police technology, such as a centralized fingerprint file and forensic laboratories.

The J. Edgar Hoover FBI Headquarters building is located at 935 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), occupying a full city block of prestigious real estate approximately halfway between the White House and the U.S. Capitol Building in D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood. Unfortunately it has not been accessible to the public since 2001 when the Bureau immediately suspended public tours in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks. Among its many amenities the brutalist 2,800,876 square-foot structure contains, or has in the past contained: an auditorium and theater; three below-ground floors, which include a gymnasium and a two-story basketball court; an automobile repair shop, an eighth-floor cafeteria with outdoor rooftop patio dining; an indoor firing range;  a pneumatic tube system and a conveyor belt system for handling mail and files; a film library as well as developing laboratories for both still photography and motion pictures; a cryptographic vault; an amphitheater; jail holding cells; classrooms; 80,000 square feet of laboratory space; a printing plant; a medical clinic; a morgue, and; a gravel-filled dry moat which parallels the sides and back of the building.

Unfortunately, the public may never again get the chance to tour the building inasmuch as plans are being made to abandon it and move to a new headquarters building outside of the city.  Structural and safety issues with the building starting becoming apparent in approximately 2001 when it is rumored that a large chunk of cement broke off and fell within the interior of the building. It is said to have landed on and damaged an employee’s desk during the night, and was found the next morning when the employee arrived at work.  Chunks of falling concrete remain a danger, which is why many parts of the building are wrapped with netting, and scaffolding covers some sidewalk walkways. Later that year an engineering consultant found that the building was deteriorating due to deferred maintenance, and that many of the building’s systems such as heating and air conditioning, its elevators, etc. were nearing the end of their life-cycle. The consultant rated the building as in “poor condition” and said it was not at an “industry-acceptable level.” Four years later, another consultant reported that due to the building’s inefficient interior layout, it could no longer accommodate the FBI’s workforce, which by that time was scattered in 16 additional leased properties throughout the D.C. metropolitan area. This problem was compounded by the need for recommended security upgrades, building systems replacements, and other necessary renovations. At that time, the General Services Administration estimated that it would take three years to develop a replacement headquarters and identify a site, and another three years for design, construction, and to move-in. The FBI began studying the costs and logistics of moving its headquarters later that year. It has been a decade since the estimated six-year process was initiated, and current estimates are that it will take another ten years before the FBI will be able to move into a new headquarters building.

But then again, despite all the studies and money already spent, the move may not happen after all. In January of this year the U.S. Congress passed the “Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015.” In a brief and mostly overlooked portion in Section 517 of the Act, wording was slipped in which specifically states, “Any consolidation of the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation must result in a full consolidation.” In order to comply with this requirement of the new law, the FBI will have to consolidate all of the employees and functions that are currently located in the headquarters building as well as the other 16 leased properties into any new building. The problem is, plans for the new building are that it will be approximately 2.1 million square feet. So a new building is being pursued because the current building is inadequate for the size of the FBI workforce. But the proposed new building will be 700,000 square feet smaller than the current building.   I guess we will just have to wait and see whether or not the FBI will be able to move its headquarters.

On the bright side, though, if the Bureau is not relocated to a new headquarters building it will give them the chance to finally finish construction of the one they’re in.  The construction of FBI Headquarters was nearing completion at the time Director Hoover passed away. And in what some say was intended as a slight toward the former Director after his death, funding was never appropriated to finish construction on the exterior of the building that was to bear his name. As a result, the façade of the J. Edgar Hoover Building is riddled with hundreds of holes where sheets of polished granite or marble cladding were to have been attached, and the crude concrete exterior of the building has remained in an unfinished state ever since.

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Martha's Table

Martha’s Table

Two years ago today The Washington Post published a very interesting and uplifting article about Patty Stonesifer, former Chief Executive Officer of The Gates Foundation, who had agreed to lead a local food pantry here in D.C. named Martha’s Table.  Patty, who had previously overseen The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s endowment of $39 billion and a staff of more than 500 for nearly a decade, chose to manage Martha’s Table’s comparably small $6 million budget, 81 paid employees, three vans and a thrift shop.

Martha’s Table is a well-regarded but decidedly local food pantry and family-services nonprofit organization. Beginning with humble roots in 1980, Martha’s Table was originally a place for children to receive free sandwiches and food after school. It gradually grew to address the additional needs of the community by finding solutions to poverty in the short and long term. They also address emergency needs with food and clothing programs and break the long cycle of poverty with education and family support services. The organization impacts over 1,100 people a day with its programs, including those for children and youths from ages 3 months to 22 years old, and their families.

Anyway, after reading the newpaper article, I decided to ride to Martha’s Table to check it out on this lunchtime bike ride.  Their main office and their thrift store are located at 2114 14th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Shaw / Uptown neighborhood.  It is not very far from my office, so after riding there I had a some extra time before I had to be back at my office and decided to wander around a little on my way back.  As I was riding several blocks away I saw a commotion cause by a large number of people in a small alley. I paused to watch from a distance and, when it appeared to be benign, I rode down the alley to see what was going on.

I could barely believe the coincidence when I found out that the commotion was the result of food distribution of the Emergency Food Program of Martha’s Table. As I later found out from their web site, the last Thursday of every month is Pantry Day at Martha’s Table, when they offer emergency food to anyone.  The grocery bag give-away is held between noon and 1:00 pm only, and I just happened to be riding by when it was taking palce. As I stopped to watch what was going on, I noticed one of the volunteers because she looked oddly familiar. After watching for a little while it struck me that I recognized her from The Washington Post article.  It was Patty Stonesifer.  She was there, working on the front lines with the employee’s and volunteers, and handing out groceries to those in need.

It was near their closing time as I was standing around in the alley watching the activity when Patty noticed me dressed in several layers of old sweatshirts and sweatpants to brace myself against the cold during my ride.  I probably looked hungry too, since it was lunchtime and I hadn’t eaten yet.  So she thought I was there for some food but was too apprehensive to ask.  She came over to me and offered me a bag of groceries.  I declined but thanked her, and then I was able to talk with her for a few minutes.  I told her about my bike rides and how I had gone by their building on today’s ride because I had read about her in the newspaper.

She’s a very interesting woman, who is now leading a very worthwhile organization.  In addition to her previous position as the former chief executive of the largest philanthropic institution in the world, Patty has an impressive résumé. She was a senior vice president at Microsoft responsible for developing MSNBC, Encarta and Slate magazine. Patty was also asked by President Obama to chair the White House Council for Community Solutions, was the chairman of the Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents, and sits on the Board of Directors for Amazon.com.

So with what would have been a lot of corner-office options to sift through, including a university presidency and the top jobs at a national charity and an international development agency, why did she chose a shift in scale comparable to the coach of an NFL football team deciding to coach high school football instead? After moving to D.C., Patty began exploring the city by foot and Metro, much like I do by bike. During these explorations she was astounded by the level and extent of poverty and hunger, especially among children that she saw. So the answer is simple – she saw a need and decided to do something about it. I think that’s a lesson from which we can all learn.

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The March for Life

The March for Life

Occasionally the destination for my daily lunchtime bike ride is an event rather than a location. That was the case for this ride, as it is every January 22nd, when the “March for Life” takes place in D.C. The March for Life is an annual event which began as a small demonstration on the first anniversary of U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the cases known as Roe v Wade and Doe v Bolton, which were landmark decisions on the issue of abortion.  Over the years the March for Life has grown to include numerous other cities in the United States and throughout the world. The March in D.C., however, has become and remains the largest pro-life event in the world.

The first March for Life was founded by Nellie Gray, a lawyer and employee of the Federal government for 28 years, who after the Supreme Court decisions chose to retired and become a pro-life activist. The event was held on January 22, 1974, on the West Steps of the U.S. Capitol Building, with an estimated 20,000 supporters in attendance. Over the years, the attendance has increased substantially, with recent estimates of well in excess of a half a million participants. And it is estimated that about half of the marchers are under age 30, with many teenagers and college students attending the march each year, typically traveling with church and other youth groups.

The day’s events usually begin at noon with a rally on the National Mall, which features prominent activists, celebrities, and politicians. In some past years it has even including addresses by U.S. Presidents, including Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.  President Barack Obama has been invited, but chose instead to decline and issue a pro-abortion written statement.  The rally is followed by the march, which begins near Fourth Street and travels down Constitution Avenue, turns right at First Street and proceeds past the U.S. Capitol Building, before ending on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court Building.  Another rally is then held in front of the Supreme Court Building, which features accounts from women who regret their abortion, referred to as “Silent No More” testimonies.

Many other associated events also take place in D.C. each year during the week in which the March is held. Various pro-life organizations hold events such as a candlelight vigil at the Supreme Court building, church and prayer services, educational conferences, and visits to lobby Congressional representatives. A dinner is also held each year, hosted by The March for Life Education and Defense Fund, which is the primary organizer for the March. An organization named Students for Life of America, which is the largest association of pro-life groups or clubs on college campuses, also holds an annual conference in D.C. for pro-life youth on the week of the march.

In recent years, the March for Life has chosen to focus on a theme in order to bring attention to specific aspects of the issue. Coinciding with this year’s 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the March for Life 2015 theme is “Every Life is a Gift,” with a special focus on babies who are diagnosed in the womb with a disability or fetal abnormality. Statistics indicate that this population is at the greatest risk for abortion, with studies indicating that approximately 85% of these pregnancies are ended by abortion, compared with the national abortion average of approximately 20%.

During this week that began with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal holiday, I also found it noteworthy that his niece, Dr. Alveda King, was a prominent participant in the March for Life.  Dr. Alveda King is a civil rights advocate, NAACP member, author, and Christian minister.  In her capacity as a full-time Pastoral Associate of African-American Outreach for the Roman Catholic group, Priests for Life, she is also a staunch and outspoken pro-life advocate.

March for Life has received relatively little attention from the press or mainstream media over the years. So to counter the relative lack of coverage, one of the March for Life’s supporters, The Family Research Council, organized what it called a Blogs for Life conference several years ago, which took place in D.C. and was one of the March for Life week’s events in 2011. The main goal of the conference was to “bring pro-life bloggers together to discuss strategies for securing more effective media coverage and advancing anti-abortion issues. Such strategies include securing media coverage through legislative means or by tapping into the new media outlets of the future, such as blogging.

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