The Oct. 4 edition of Street Sense had a short mention of the groundbreaking ceremony for the Ward 6 affordable housing project. I’m sure it means a lot to Mayor Muriel Bowser and Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen for political preservation purposes. It will also mean a lot to the incoming 33 tenants and leaseholders. I expect not so much to the gentrified surrounding community or even most of the latter generations of residents in the neighborhoods connected.
Yes, it will mean a lot to some, perhaps, but not as much as it does to me. You see, 1300 H Street NE has very special meaning to me. As the article states, it was once home to the Robert L. Christian Community Library. The library was named for teacher, family man and community activist Robert Lee Christian, whose tireless efforts to improve life in our neighborhood brought determination to people struggling to maintain their status and progress toward upward mobility. It soon became a neighborhood hub.
Before its opening it was the Trinidad Library on Montello Avenue NE. I know because I helped pack the books for the move with Sherry Hardy, the newly appointed community librarian. Mrs. Hardy was a wonderful, kind-hearted, unsung individual, a dedicated inspiration in that community, mother of Terry and a person some neighborhood kids called “Ma.”
Shortly after the library opened, I helped form a “friends of the library” group. We received a grant donation from the Georgetown Library Friends Group to use as seed money for fundraising and held a few annual events each year to raise money for children’s activities and books. We supplemented the shelves with purchases and donations to maintain and eventually increase readership. The family of Robert L. Christian was always there to support our efforts, and the library was a source of community pride.
The library was the place where I met a Benning Library desk supervisor, displaced by a fire, who would become my wife and another significant participant in library and H Street activities. Her ties to that community dated back to her birth, as her family resided across the road on Wylie Street.
It means a lot to me as an advocate for the homeless because the Robert L. Christian Library was among the first in D.C. to embrace the homeless and create accommodations to encourage inclusion at a time when many patrons found homeless folk offensive. Mrs. Hardy would provide toiletries and even storage for plastic bag luggage for homeless patrons during their visit. She later created rules about size of packages because things eventually got difficult to contain. After all, it was only a kiosk sandwiched between Pierce and Blair School shelters and later Wheatley, with a host of halfway houses nearby.
The Robert L. Christian Library provided clients of the McKenna House transitional program their third piece of identification. For many of these men, it was their first ever adult library card. The welcoming atmosphere and access to resources was invaluable.
The library was also the information source for Near Northeast. You could find details there on any event that affected the community. And if there wasn’t a flyer, staffers Sherry Hardy, Herbert Dean, Matilda Nedab, or Lisa Hook could give you the lowdown.
Robert L. Christian Library is deeply engraved in my memory and my heart! I truly hope that this mention stimulates enough interest to consider the significant contributions of Sherry Hardy, and that they might house a small library within their retail space. I am thankful that the powers that be remembered that the modest but significant structure demolished to create housing (and offer some affordable units), was originally built as a monument for a man who wanted housing for all, and will renew his name at a new community memorial.
Ken Martin is a Street Sense vendor and advocate for people experiencing homelessness.