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A Striving Community Heals Itself While Re-birthing a Natural Wildlife Habitat
NPR recently reported on the story of youth at the Southeast D.C.’s Valley Green housing project, who started a project more than 20 years ago to clean up an Anacostia tributary and transformed their own lives in the process.
As reported by NPR, “‘Those were some serious times, rough times,’ recalls Burrell Duncan, who was among the first volunteers.
The choices facing kids in Valley Green in the early 1990s were stark. ‘You could be three things,’ Duncan says — ‘a drug dealer, a killer or you could play sports.'”
Between 1994 and 1998, members of the group, who dubbed themselves the Earth Conservation Corps, raised and released 16 bald eagles. They named the eagles in memory of their friends who had been killed in street and drug-related violence.
Said one, “We wasn’t supposed to live to see the age of 21 … We was just as endangered as this majestic bird.”
A cocaine dealer who found his way to the Earth Conservation Corps more than two decades ago is now a licensed falconer – one of only 30 African-American falconers in the entire U.S., as he tells to schoolchildren when he visits them in their classrooms. He teaches kids to face their fears as part of a D.C. police program called Youth Creating Change, which works with at-risk youth to help them get a job and get involved in community service.
At the same time that youth in the Earth Conservation Corp are being built up themselves, they are also helping to rebuild a historically polluted and overlooked wildlife habitat. On the day that NPR interviewed them, the group was building the bones of a new osprey nest – welded out of decommissioned firearms seized by the D.C. police.
My family and I recently took a trip down the Anacostia, where we spotted several bald eagles along the way. If you would like to take your own trip, contact the Anacostia Riverkeepers to arrange a free tour (supported by the D.C. 5-cent plastic bag tax), and enjoy the beauty of the emerging wildlife, and the hope inspired by the ongoing renewal of nature and community.