Long after whites had fled to white-only suburbs, the black middle class remained in black neighborhoods, quietly doing the job without fanfare. Its members worked quietly and without recognition to set up beautification committees. They organized safety walks. My late LeDroit Park neighbor Barbara Best used to say that when she and the old-timers would hear about all these “new” ideas for cleaning up the neighborhood, they’d just laugh: “Everything they are doing, we already did.”
Long before teachers were lionized in documentaries, or D.C. superintendents were hailed as heroes on Oprah, it was black middle-class teachers and administrators who were doing the unsung work of educating society’s most vulnerable students. It was black middle-class parents who accepted the burden of integrating schools by sending their children across town to white neighborhood schools because they valued diversity. It is almost unheard of for white families to do the same.
During D.C.’s murder-capital days especially, when white faces were scarce, black administrators kept the doors to raggedy school buildings open all over the city. All of this while knowing that whatever privilege they might have earned for their children could collapse at any moment in a hail of gunfire. Where is their gold star?