- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 15, 2010

Marion Barry opens the passenger door for his visitor, seats himself behind the wheel and slowly merges into the evening rush on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Southeast Washington.

The irony of what hasn’t happened along this major artery isn’t lost on Mr. Barry, who has spent his adult life with the words “content of their character, not the color of their skin” ringing in his ears.

“I did a lot, but I didn’t do enough,” Mr. Barry says.

The former mayor and current D.C. Council member is talking about recreation centers for youths in Ward 8, where, for generations, he has been the chosen one.

On this evening, Mr. Barry traverses neighborhoods to point out areas that urban renewal has forgotten.

First up: Congress Heights West. A handful of young people make do with a free-standing basketball hoop.

“It’s all they’ve got,” Mr. Barry says as he chats up the boys about their schooling.

“Friendship Tech [charter],” says DeMarco. “Thurgood Marshall [charter],” says Malik.

“Study hard. Math and science are important,” says Mr. Barry, who then pulls around the corner from Newcomb Street, where, hard by Interstate 295, federal land that could be used for park and recreation needs sits idle.

Next up, Congress Heights East, where, a few blocks off King Avenue, a small, aging building of cinder blocks, a tennis court and a basketball court are tucked off an alleyway as if an afterthought.

“Look at the bald spots,” Mr. Barry points out. “If it rains, they have to play in and track mud.”

Then Mr. Barry, once a keen player, turns to the ragged tennis court. “It’s unsafe,” he says. “You can’t play for getting tripped up.”

Building and maintaining facilities is an “uphill battle,” the councilman says as we head toward Barry Farms.

“The new [parks and recreation] director has been great. I work close with [council member] Harry Thomas [Jr.]. But childhood obesity, health disparities and thousands of new housing units mean we need to do more.”

He also gives credit to William C. Smith Cos., which partners to build housing, school and community projects.

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