Friday, December 20, 2013

Senior Residents speak about life in Potomac Gardens

Today in the Anacostia Community Museum Archives, I found photos of a museum exhibition put together by senior citizens living in Potomac Gardens public housing in 1994. Potomac Gardens is bordered by G and I Streets between 12th and 13th Streets, SE.

The exhibit was based on the fascinating video, "In Search of Common Ground," produced with funds from the DC Humanities Council. (You can see the entire video here. It is just 14 minutes long.) These residents went on to testify before Congress in support of National Endowment for the Humanities funding. Here is part of the text from one of the placards in the exhibit. The quotations from the residents are particularly interesting.

The Potomac Gardens Community

Life in Washington has presented a variety of opportunities and challenges. Changes in marital status, shifts in earning power, and dispersion of family members has led many people to public housing developments. Communities such as Potomac Gardens were conceived as environments that would encourage social networks. In the 1950s these developments were seen as points of transition to improved rental housing and homeownership. In the late 1960s, however, the perception of public housing  and those who lived in developments began to change. Some members of the Senior Resident Council began their relationship with public housing just as it was beginning to face enormous challenges.

Members of the Senior Resident Council are all vibrant, active people who care deeply for the community in which they live. While aware of their own advancing age and the limitations of a fixed income, they are rediscovering the joys of life and community-supported independence. They are concerned about their children and grandchildren. They volunteer. They travel. They speak up about crime and the physical condition of their residence. They are fulfilling lifelong dreams and creating new roles for themselves. They do not live in the past. They allow the objects and photographs from the past to inform and inspire their current activities. Their life's journeys have been filled with faith.

"My whole life has changed since I've been here at Potomac Gardens. I wasn't able to win nothing, but since I've been here everything has opened up for me.

Everything that ever happened to me would always make me stronger...The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want. I am one that knows that I don't need, don't want for nothing. He makes a way for me all the time."
--Barbara Davis

"When we first came to live here in 1986, it really wasn't a good place to live. It was crime ridden. Now, since they put up the fence [in 1992], it cut down on the running back and forth. The manager that we had, Mr. Taylor, calmed down a lot of the crime by talking to the kids. Then it got so we felt good to go outside and sit.

If it's a bus, a train, or wheel barrel with a top on it -- I'm gone. I've been to St. Louis, Atlanta, Atlantic City, Canada, Florida. I just enjoy life because I don't have all that worry, and the thing of keeping busy all day long is like adrenaline, flowing through your body.

I was baptized a an early age, but I never stayed in church like I was supposed to. But I knew the rights and wrongs of things...but as far as having a spiritual thing, I didn't. I've grown more spiritual in the past four years that Johnny's been gone...It was like something had been taken from me because I never been taken care of the way he took he took care of me...I had to realized, 'Girl, you're on your own,'...and it was like a breath of fresh air...

After that I've been in more things since he died...Now that he's gone I have my nose in everything just like I did at eight."
--Thelma Russell

"Before I moved to Potomac Gardens I was living in Minnesota for eight or nine months with my son. I lost my youngest brother, and it took a total loss on me...I went out there to get peace of mind for a while, and then my sister got sick, I came back because she had cancer. She died in 1991, so I came  back here.

I always wanted to be involved in community work...Being a worker for Friendship House, I like talking to people...I like counseling and mingling with people. Lots of times you learn a lot from people older than you...I never knew my parents, so I love to listen to what seniors have to say. I just does something for me."
--Wilma Gregory

"I had a dog that would eat you up; her name was Whitey. That was Larry's dog -- Larry got killed. My son Willie got hit by a car. All this horrible stuff that's going on in the city...that's all you hear...nothin' I can do about it but pray about it...I don't watch the news that much because I don't want to hear. I've got children that were killed--can't deal with it. Too much pressure.

I ain't got time."
--Emma Johnson

1. Anacostia Community Museum Archives, ACM Records, Photographic Film Series, C11D3F25.