Saving Their Community

<B>Ed Bradley</B> Reports On Environmental Mission In Washington D.C.

Anacostia, which is just a few blocks from Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., has been called one of the worst neighborhoods in America. It is polluted by poverty, drugs and violent crime.

The murder rate there for African-American men is so high that some see themselves as an endangered species. It's cut off from the rest of Washington by the Anacostia River, which is as polluted as the neighborhood.

Saving both the river and the neighborhood is the goal of a group that teaches young people about the environment, and uses that experience in an effort to change the neighborhood and their lives. reports.
Anacostia is a neighborhood where unemployment is epidemic and 38 percent of its residents live below the poverty line.

Police say that so far this year, more than half the murders in Washington were committed here -- earning Anacostia a reputation as one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in America.

"Anacostia's always been a haven for the poorest people. This is where they dump their trash and dump the people, who I guess the city didn't want to see," says David Smith, who was born and raised in Anacostia.

"There was a statistic that we were told in elementary school. I'll never forget. In the third grade, we had a special person come in to tell us about the statistic that if you were a black man growing up in Washington D.C., you had a 1 in 21 chance of making it out of D.C. alive before you were 18."

That's still the perception, because most of those homicides are young African-American men.

"We're about three blocks from the capitol right now," says Smith. But in reality, he says, "It's like 10 miles, maybe 10 states."

That reality is something Smith is trying to change by recruiting young people from Anacostia to join the last thing most of them ever considered -- an environmental program. He showed 60 Minutes a work site where they're building a river walk.

Smith is the field director of the Earth Conservation Corps (ECC), a local environmental organization that puts young people to work cleaning up their neighborhood and their lives.

LaShauntaye Moore joined the ECC when she was 20, and a single mother living in a homeless shelter. She says joining seemed like a good opportunity: "Only job that I could get was working at McDonalds or something. And so, you know, I figure, why not do something where I can further my education and get money to go to school -- instead of just flipping burgers all day?"

Darius Phillips had already been shot four times, when Lashauntay told him about the ECC. His violent behavior had earned him a nickname, "The Big Hurt."

"I was Superman out on the street," says Phillips. "If somebody need protection, then they would call me. Or somebody wrong somebody. Or I needed to get my money, I was gonna get it. Because my name carried so much weight."

Bob Nixon, a Hollywood producer and environmentalist, started the Earth Conservation Corps. He came to Washington 13 years ago to do a TV special, and ended up staying.

"I came here because I thought, you know, point out the problem, and the cavalry would arrive and I'd go back to making feature films," says Nixon. "I'm still waiting for the cavalry, you know?"

Nixon had been looking for a place to start an environmental project and found it along the Anacostia River. "I was reading the New York Times and I saw a picture of a creek in the Anacostia River. It was just choked with tires and it was a national disaster," he says. "I was, like, that was like, 'OK, I'm calling those guys. And we're gonna take some of those kids that live near that creek and put them to work.'"

The money to get the ECC up and running came out of Nixon's pocket, and from a $50,000 grant from the Coors Foundation. From the beginning, there has been an emphasis on restoring the river, one of the dirtiest in America. Much of the pollution comes from sewage that flushes into the Anacostia after a heavy rain.

"So every time it rains half an inch, it's about 70 plus times a year, raw sewage comes boiling out of this overflow," says Nixon.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 2 billion gallons of raw sewage is dumped into the Anacostia every year.

"[The agenda of the Earth Conservation Corps is] to give young men and women from Anacostia the chance to reclaim their community and their own lives," says Nixon.

Each year, the ECC gives that chance to 20 young people, as long as they make a commitment to do 1,700 hours of environmental work over a year. They're paid just under $400 every two weeks – that's less than $5 dollars an hour, and below the minimum wage. If they fulfill their commitment they receive a $5,000 scholarship.

But Smith says the ECC is not about the money. It's about teamwork, responsibility and change.

"Do you think that you can change people here?" asks Bradley.

"Absolutely not. I can't change anybody," says Smith. "But what I can do is I can provide an opportunity for those that seek change."
  • Rebecca Leung

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