The students of Ballou High School know a different Washington, DC than do the more than 18 million tourists who visit our nation’s capital each year. They live in Southeast DC, across the Anacostia River, and the tour buses don’t go through their neighborhoods. Some travel guides explicitly call the communities East of the River “areas to avoid.” Even some residents of the District don’t often visit Wards 7 and 8, as the river acts as not only a literal boundary, but a metaphorical one. The bridge that should connect these two Washingtons is all too rarely crossed.
The statistics about poverty or crime or violence in this community tell such a limited story, and it’s not the only story to tell. Those statistics should not build a wall that hides the humanity on the other side. Young people grow up in these neighborhoods, often too quickly, facing adult challenges too young. But they also grow up as all young people do: with joy. With talent. With pride. With love for their families, both biological and chosen. With style and humor and ambition and charm. For them, Southeast DC, and their own Ballou High School, is more than the headlines that others write — it is home. And for the educators who work with these young people every day, they know that the stories we tell–and hear–about ourselves make all the difference.
Proceeds from book sales go to the Ballou Story Project Fund and to empower new authors.