Winner: Two Washingtonians

by Emilie Karrick Surrusco

Emilie Karrick Surrusco

Jewel Hall is my neighbor. Our rowhouses are separated by the two walls of the house in between. Oftentimes, Jewel and I will spend an hour trading neighborhood gossip or talking about our kids. We both are lulled to sleep by the recorded announcement of the Metro bus screeching to a stop on our street ("D4 Ivy City") or the throngs of teenagers laughing, cursing, shouting, fighting outside our windows. We both worry about the muggings and shootings and assaults that happen too close to home.

This is our shared Washington.

Jewel and I were both born and raised in D.C., but our lives were shaped by two very different cities. I grew up riding my bike down the wide, shady streets of Spring Valley in upper Northwest. I went to a school that catered to the sons and daughters of senators, where we were all groomed for the Ivy League.

Jewel grew up around the corner from where we live now in Northeast, just beyond Capitol Hill. She had her children early and stayed at home to take care of them and her husband. By the time she became a young grandmother, she found a job cleaning the Dirksen Senate Office Building, where she still works.

When I go to Dirksen, it's to attend a hearing or to meet with a staffer. My grade school classmates are the young political appointees and high-powered lawyers that will become the decision makers of tomorrow.

Jewel and I grew up in a city defined as the nexus of our nation's power. In different ways, that power has been part of our daily lives. For us, though, Washington is much more -- it's home.

To read about John Kelly's choices, visit Kelly's Commons. Join John Kelly in a live online discussion at noon to talk about what it means to be a Washingtonian.

By editors  |  January 27, 2009; 5:00 AM ET  | Category:  John Kelly's Picks
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I don't get it. Does the author live in the ghetto---with a young son---by choice? Why? This essay is particularly unsatisfying.

Posted by: _virginian_ | February 27, 2009 8:55 AM

She lives in Washington. That's the point. I'm guessing you don't live in DC, or you wouldn't refer to our home as "the ghetto."

Posted by: hperkinson | February 27, 2009 9:03 AM

If this is the winner....I don't want to read the rest. Washington is so much more! She didn't even begin to talk about the REAL Washington. Hecht's basement...the Blue Mirror....Miles Long...Hot Shoppes (with the speakers and the girls on skates).....real shoe stores and furniture stores downtown....too many things to talk about.

Posted by: onlyghost | February 27, 2009 9:29 AM

There are too many things to recognize about the 'real' DC, and Washingtonians all know those. But the dichotomy of our city overlies it all. That's why this essay deserves the win. I love it.

Posted by: DC_Grrl | February 27, 2009 10:18 AM

pherkinson wrote:
She lives in Washington. That's the point. I'm guessing you don't live in DC, or you wouldn't refer to our home as "the ghetto."


I live in Arlington and work in DC. But that's not the point.

The point is that there are plenty of nice areas of DC, and it seems that she has the means to choose to live in one of those places. Yet, it appears she is living in the ghetto of SE with a young son. The point of my first comment was to wonder why she did not answer the question of why she has made this choice.

Despite why she's punishing herself like that, I'd put a lot of money on the proposition that when her son is of the age to enter kindergarten, she won't be sending him to that neighborhood school (unlike her neighbor Jewel, who likely does not have the means to make a choice about a private school education).

Posted by: _virginian_ | February 27, 2009 10:46 AM

This winner sounds racist; only wants to show that she lives next door to blacks who can't afford the life she lives. This is not what DC is about.

Posted by: bbb222 | February 27, 2009 11:14 AM

Moral of story - if you're white you go to Ivy league school and became a powerful appointee for a senator. If you're black, you drop out of school and became a janitor for the senator.

Posted by: August30 | February 27, 2009 11:19 AM

As a proud FOURTH GENERATION WASHINGTONIAN born in Garfield Hospital, I thoroughly agree with "Onlyghost" about the winning essay. It doesn't capture the essence or depth of the Love, that we,the "Indigneous People" truly have for our home. To have selected someone that bear testimony to having witnessed, first hand, life in DC, is appalling to me.

I don't blame Ms. Surrussco for wanting the best for her children, we all do. It's called "Survival of the Fittest". But, Ms. Surrossco, how many people do you know that were so consumed with grief when Dr. King was assasinated, that they reacted by rioting on 7th, 14th or H St.? Did you vote for the people's champions Marion Barry or Eleanor Norton Holmes? Have you ever buried a child? How many funerals have you attended for someone who fell prey to drugs, or gangs, or domestic violence, or even an innocent victim of a drive-by? Do you know anyone who has been driven enough by living with roaches and rats, in squalor, to escape from Condon Terrace, Mayfair, Potomac Gardens or any other DC public housing project, to a better life? Do you have friends or family incarcerated in the DC or Federal penal system, for merely trying to make a way for their family?

If you haven't bled, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally, in at least one of the DC wars, then you don't deserve our Purple Heart medal. There are too many other Soldiers in line ahead of you who have.

Being a Native Washingtonian is not merely a birthright, it's a love and pride in your heart, for a city that's in your blood. It's sacred, amidst a city full of camouflagued Washingtonian "wanna-bees".

You do not deserve to be the winner of this contest. I wanted you, and who ever selected you.... to know, and to understand why. You haven't paid your dues.

Posted by: dcnative11 | February 27, 2009 11:28 AM

Wow! The posts from those that assume that because the writer has an African American neighbor, who she seems to know well, that she must live in the ghetto are breathtaking. Perhaps the real "Washingtonians" know that African-American does not necessarily equal poor. Trust me, that is not a lesson easily learned in Stamford, CT or Annapolis, MD.

Posted by: flabbergast | February 27, 2009 11:50 AM

I've re-read the essay several times, and I'm still trying to figure out how the other posters determined that the writer's neighbor is African American. I thought the point was generational and socio-economic differences. I didn't see a reference to race. Did I miss something?

Posted by: SingleMom2 | February 27, 2009 12:17 PM

So many assumptions. No where in the essay did she mention that the neighbor was black. Nor did it say that Jewel lived in Southeast. The essay addresses the dynamics of DC and Washington. DC is what those of us who grew up here may know it to be, while Washington is what others refer to; the political side. She shows how these two although different, are one.

Posted by: Nick20 | February 27, 2009 12:25 PM

Buried for being depressing, thats not what Washington means to me

Posted by: e10hssanamai | February 27, 2009 12:39 PM

PLEASE PLEASE. do this contest again. because there is now way this story should be the winner.
there is no soul to this article. I was born and raised on Columbia and 18th street and I DEMAND A NEW CONTEST!

Posted by: sfred20 | February 27, 2009 12:54 PM

To all of you who are questioning how I know that this author lives in the ghetto---did you read the essay?

Try this: "We both are lulled to sleep by . . . the throngs of teenagers laughing, cursing, shouting, fighting outside our windows.We both worry about the muggings and shootings and assaults that happen too close to home."

This kind of stuff doesn't happen in the non-ghetto.

For the record, I never assumed the neighbor was black. But an educated guess says that she is.

Posted by: _virginian_ | February 27, 2009 1:07 PM

I'd rather live where the author does than trapped in the bubble that is Upper Northwest. There are worse things than getting mugged. The author is protecting her soul from being robbed by closing herself and her family off from what this city really is and who lives here.

Posted by: RedPepper87 | February 27, 2009 1:27 PM

that is, she isn't closing herself off

Posted by: RedPepper87 | February 27, 2009 1:28 PM

I think the point of the article is that both women grew up in different parts of DC, with different backgrounds and experiences, however they have come together despite this because they are now sharing a new/similar DC by being neighbors.

Posted by: linds2 | February 27, 2009 2:32 PM

Yikes, RedPepper87. I grew up in the "bubble" that is Upper Northwest and am fairly confident I made it out with my soul intact. And much like the other people I grew up with, my family and friends often dared venture into lower NW, NE and even - *gasp* - over the Anacostia without so much as holding our noses.
Stereotyping an entire neighborhood is silly whether it's a richer or poorer one. Upper NW is a part of "what this city really is and who lives here", too, whether you like it or not.

Posted by: beijinho | February 27, 2009 2:32 PM

RedPepper wrote:
"I'd rather live where the author does than trapped in the bubble that is Upper Northwest. There are worse things than getting mugged."


You're right. There are worse things than getting mugged---like getting raped and murdered. And those things happen with unsettling frequency in DC's neighborhoods with "soul."

Posted by: _virginian_ | February 27, 2009 3:29 PM

I love it. Some of the whining comments are longer than the essay word limit. Nice work Emilie, from one Gopher to another.

Posted by: isthisajoke | February 27, 2009 6:23 PM

Nice work, Emile. Congratulations.

Posted by: dogfaceboy | February 27, 2009 6:42 PM

If only I could spell Emilie. :-) Sorry.

Posted by: dogfaceboy | February 27, 2009 6:43 PM

Nice work Emilie.


Posted by: C_Lucas | February 27, 2009 9:18 PM

Congrats, Emilie! You've highlighted the glaring socio-economic disparities in DC.

Sounds like you have a great paying job, too. Can you send some of your winnings to some of us losers? : )

Posted by: kgotthardt | February 28, 2009 9:34 PM

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