Struggling D.C. Neighborhoods Look To Obama

As President-elect Barack Obama makes plans for change at the nation's capitol, communities closer to the center of power are hoping for some help. In Ward 8, one of the poorest communities in Washington, D.C., residents are optimistic.

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ALEX COHEN, host:

This is Day to Day. I'm Alex Cohen.

NOAH ADAMS, host:

And I'm Noah Adams.

COHEN: President-elect Barack Obama promised to bring change to Washington, and residents of the nation's capital are taking him at his word. He may have been talking about the Washington of Capitol Hill and K Street, but there's another side of the city that's also gearing up for the next president. Reporter Daniele Anastasion has more.

(Soundbite of restaurant)

DANIELE ANASTASION: It's lunchtime at Player's Lounge, and catfish sizzles in a deep fryer. Owner Georgene Thompson boasts some of the best soul food in southeast Washington.

Ms. GEORGENE THOMPSON (Co-owner, Player's Lounge): We have T-bones, smothered chops, chitlins, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, yams, stuffing. This place is the real D.C.

ANASTASION: Player's is in Ward 8 right on the Anacostia River. It's one of the only sit-down restaurants in a neighborhood that's become synonymous with poverty and crime. One in three residents in Ward 8 lives below the poverty line. Community organizer Philip Anel(ph) has been coming here for decades.

Mr. PHILIP ANEL (Community Organizer, Washington, D.C.): This is very much the other side of the tracks. This is the other side of the river. People do not come over here to sightsee. I mean, go and look at the conditions of our schools. Considering the fact that this is the nation's capital, and you see a community like this, it breaks your - sometimes want to cry.

ANASTASION: Ward 8 is a world away from the white marble monuments of northwest D.C. Schools here are in disrepair, and gun fights are commonplace. Activist Jeffrey Richardson calls Washington a city with a split personality.

Mr. JEFFREY RICHARDSON (Executive Director, Liberty Hill Foundation): I always tell people, I mean, there is - there's the nation's capital, and there's the District of Columbia, and often, the two never meet.

ANASTASION: Some hope an African-American, especially one who knows the underside of the city, will somehow integrate the two Washingtons. Obama has already given more attention to southeast D.C. than either Bush or Clinton. And on the campaign trail, he unveiled his urban economic agenda right here in Ward 8.

President-elect BARACK OBAMA: We stand now 10 miles from the seat of power in the most affluent nation on earth. And yet, here on the other side of the river, every other child in Anacostia lives below the poverty line.

ANASTASION: Activists like Richardson were ecstatic.

Mr. RICHARDSON: He can go anywhere in the country, any other city, but he did that right here in southeast D.C. So, that's the kind of, you know, this, again, sort of the tone - somebody sees us. Oh my God, you know, Barack Obama knows we're here.

ANASTASION: Obama got over 99 percent of the vote here. But Ward 8 has long been used as a backdrop for politicians promising change. Six days after being sworn into office, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty tore down a rundown housing complex in Anacostia. 47-year-old Kenny Nuraine(ph) argues that these cameo appearances don't change things.

Mr. KENNY NURAINE: D.C. upper Northwest still gets preferable treatment. Their streets are cleaned first. You know, the snow's being plowed first.

ANASTASION: At Player's Lounge, there's constant chatter about what an African-American president means for the city.

Mr. ANEL: He has to focus on the nation as a whole before he can really start focusing on communities.

ANASTASION: Most residents here are realistic that change won't come overnight. Towanda Sparrow(ph)...

Ms. TOWANDA SPARROW: You know, they're looking at him and saying, oh, he's an African-American. He's going to take care of us. No, we don't all want the same thing. I mean, it's about America coming back and being on top of things, being on top because at one point, we had everything together.

ANASTASION: Philip Anel is waiting for Obama to deliver.

Mr. ANEL: People, they like the symbolism, and they'll get a charge out of that for a good couple of weeks and months. But then, you know, like, they're going to be looking for something really tangible.

ANASTASION: For now, this predominantly African-American city is buzzing about welcoming Obama to town. Player's Lounge is catering two inaugural balls, and customers hope to lure the president here for some home cooking. Kenny Nuraine says he'll be waiting.

Mr. NURAINE: This is the right place to be. I'll buy him his first drink.

Unidentified Man: It's just like south-side Chicago.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ANASTASION: For NPR News, I'm Daniele Anastasion in Washington, D.C.

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Celebrating Big

Barack Obama's victory has spurred celebrations throughout D.C. Here, people congratulate one another, on 14th Street in NW D.C. Daniele Anastasion for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Daniele Anastasion for NPR

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