July 6, 2007
First broadcast in January 2004, "Endangered Species" tells a story of urban blight and community faith. One of America's gleaming symbols of freedom and prosperity, Washington, DC is also home to one of the most impoverished and polluted neighborhoods in America. On the banks of the Anacostia River, the Southeast section of the nation's capital has been an environmental disaster area and a home for violence. But now a non-profit group called the Earth Conservation Corps (ECC), composed of young adults from under-resourced communities, is bringing hope to this neighborhood under siege.
The Earth Conservation Corps (ECC) was founded in 1989 and takes as its mission "providing hands-on environmental education, job training and community service programs for people of all ages from diverse backgrounds, with an emphasis on serving at-risk youth from the inner-city neighborhoods of Washington D.C."
ECC members give 1700 hours to cleaning up the environment, protecting endangered wildlife and providing community service to their neighbors and peers. This earns Corps members a stipend, health insurance and child care benefits as well as a nearly $5,000 scholarship. To date, almost 400 young people have graduated from the Earth Conservation Corps - and through their community outreach programs they have taught 34,000 area residents about a part of their "heritage" - as one member called it - the land and water that bind them together.
In 2006 alone, Corp members led 64,917 hours of service replanting wetlands and restoring river habitats in their Riverkeeper program. But the ECC programs have expanded into many additional areas. Among the ECC's programs are environmental education, raptor research, and "Dumps to Parks."
The "River of Hope" is a five-year program in partnership with the Mayor's Office and City Council and others that will provide unemployed youth with job skills in the process of revitalizing the Anacostia waterfront. The ECC is also initiating a program entitled Civic Justice Corps a special career and life skills program for court-involved youth.
The ECC has also continued its Youth Media Arts program. Their inaugural program "Endangered Species" is now a full-length film and you can view many more video clips from the Corps on their YouTube page.
The Southeastern Washington D.C. neighborhood known as Anacostia has a long history. Frederick Douglass broke race barriers became one of the first African-Americans to buy a home in the neighborhood adjacent to the Capitol in 1877. However, in the 1930s, depression-era images of slum dwelling in the shadow of the capitol building reflected the hard lives of those who lived there. In recent years statistics show the poverty rate is 38 percent, up from 32 percent in 1980. The 2000 unemployment rate was 22 percent. Fifty percent of the neighborhood's children live in poverty. The Wards which cover Anacostia have accounted for more than half the city's homicides in 2004 and 2005.
As documented in "Endangered Species," this area has also suffered greatly in environmental terms. The image to the above is one of a series taken by the Environmental Protection Agency in the 1970s. The EPA was concerned with the quality of the air and water flowing in the Anacostia River the river remains one of the most polluted in America.
The ECC has lost a number of members to violence. Since this project began, an average of one Corps member has been murdered almost every year. According to the Corps' records, one of their members was beaten to death. One was raped and killed. Another was riding his bike when he got caught in the middle of a shootout. Three were shot execution-style.
One such loss was that of Diamond Teague, who had completed seven months in the Corps and was about to head off to college on the scholarship he'd earned helping clean up the environment. Diamond was 19. He'd been shot in the head on his front stoop. His murder remains unsolved. The Corps dedicated its reality television series to Teague's memory and the group constructed the Diamond Teague Memorial Park. The city has now appropriated the land for a new ballpark but they have allocated more land for a new Diamond Teague Memorial.
When NOW WITH BILL MOYERS first told the story of the ECC in 2004, Corps member Jerome Scott was leading groups of children on a nature boat trip of the Anacostia River. Scott said of his goals: "I want to be a zoologist, a marine biologist, anything that has to do with animals. I love it." Scott had also just lost his best friend, fellow Corps member Diamond Teague.
Scott continued on in the Corps. He graduated and obtained a job Chesapeake Bay Foundation, lobbying for the Anacostia river in Washington, DC. He'd also so impressed some visiting officials from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock that he'd been offered a full-ride scholarship.
But Scott died of leukemia. With no health insurance, and no regular doctor, several visits to emergency rooms had failed to detect what was wrong. The disease was finally discovered, but it was too late. In his memory, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock has now established the Jerome Scott Memorial Scholarship. Its first recipient: Corps member Dereck Oshin. He is studying electronics and computer engineering technology and works in the UALR Center for Nanotechnology as an undergraduate research assistant.
Violence has claimed the lives of more members of the Earth Conservation Corps.
Nineteen-year-old Aaron was a budding filmmaker when he was gunned down near his family's home last April. Aaron was what the pros call a kid at risk a high school dropout who did time in juvenile detention for dealing drugs.
But when he joined the Earth Conservation Corps his life began to turn around. Journalism hooked him, and instead of hanging out in the streets, Aaron began producing stories about school conditions, detention centers, and efforts to keep teens out of jail. He was working on a documentary about guns when he was shot dead. Two suspects have been charged with Aaron's death and are now awaiting trial.
The ECC has many more success stories. In 2006, 95 percent of graduates went on to college or careers. When she was featured in the 2004 broadcast, LaShauntya Moore had just moved out of a homeless shelter. She'd had her first baby when she was in high school and at 24 was trying to get off welfare. LaShauntya got married in January 2005. She and her husband have two children on the honor roll and a growing family. LaShauntya now works full-time for the ECC as the Career Training Program Coordinator.
THE PAST AND FUTURE
One of the Earth Conservation Corps' success stories is the reintroduction of the national symbol, the bald eagle, to the nation's capital. The project, which relocated fledglings from Wisconsin, has been a great success. The ECC is now helping other urban areas reintroduce eagles. In 2002, when four fledgling bald eagles were relocated from Wisconsin to Inwood Hill Park in northern Manhattan two ECC Eagle Program veterans were there to help the project get on its feet. In July 2007, the bald eagle was removed from the endangered species life.
"The most amazing thing I've seen? Oh, yeah, the bald eagle. My first bald eagle. Last year we were doing the Anacostia Explorers program and I got a chance to see a bald eagle, my first...We were out with the kids. And I just happened to look up and I was like, 'That's a bald eagle.' And the kids are like, 'Look, look, look.' They were just looking around and pointing and stuff. That really made me feel good. So that was basically my best moment right there. --ECC Corps Member Jerome Scott
Last year the Earth Conservation Corps partnered with National Geographic Education Foundation to set up an Osprey Cam, which provided a real-time view of an osprey nest location. The nest, which looks like a huge pile of sticks, is on a pier under the Frederick Douglass Bridge and was occupied by two chicks and their parents. The webcam is part of an on-going, five-year study of birds of prey on the river.