Photo by Elizabeth Dranitzke

Anwar Saleem

Anwar Saleem was a teenager when the 1968 riots devastated the thriving and diverse commercial and social hub of H Street NE.

Having bought his first pair of jeans at McBride’s on H street in the early 60s, and having found his first job on H Street shortly thereafter, he knew all too well what a loss this damage signified to the community and to the city of Washington. Thirty years later, first as the head of the H Street Merchants Association and later as the Executive Director of H Street Main Street, Saleem worked tirelessly and imaginatively to bring thousands of new jobs and hundreds of new businesses back to a revitalized and award-winning H Street corridor. In this interview with Stephanie Deutsch, done shortly before the Capitol Hill Community Achievement Awards event honoring him for distinguished service to the community, Saleem describes the huge coordinated effort of H Street Main Street, city officials, developers, businesses, and local residents to restore the H Street corridor to its historic place in the vibrant life of our city.

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Interview Date
February 14, 2015
Stephanie Deutsch
Louise Fenner
Elizabeth Lewis

Full Directory

Interview with Anwar Saleem
Interview Date: February 14, 2015
Interviewer: Stephanie Deutsch
Transcriber: Louise Fenner
Editor: Elizabeth Lewis

photo by Elizabeth Dranitzke

This interview transcript is the property of the Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project.
Not to be reproduced without permission.

DEUTSCH: Yeah. It was too hot even outdoors? Testing. I’m going to test. This is Stephanie Deutsch.
SALEEM: Anwar Saleem.
DEUTSCH: OK, that looks good. Let’s go.
SALEEM: OK. All right.
DEUTSCH: Anwar, tell me where you grew up.
SALEEM: Washington, DC. 714 E Street NE, Washington, DC. Right here on Capitol Hill. [chuckles]
DEUTSCH: That does surprise me. So, long-time Washington family or people came from elsewhere?
SALEEM: My grandmother came up from North Carolina. My mother came with her, and she met my father. She met my father at an event here in DC and they married. And we grew up here at …
DEUTSCH: And where was your father from?
SALEEM: My father lived in Baltimore when she met him. In Lakeland, north of Lakeland, Maryland. His family was pretty much involved in the growth of the Lakeland area, believe it or not.
DEUTSCH: Lincoln?
SALEEM: Lakeland. Lakeland, Maryland. Right. It’s right outside of College Park.
DEUTSCH: So you grew up right here.
SALEEM: I grew up right here.
DEUTSCH: Where did you go to school?
SALEEM: Stuart Junior High School, Golden Elementary, and McKinley High School.
DEUTSCH: Which was Goding?
SALEEM: Golden was Tenth and G Street. Golden School.
DEUTSCH: And McKinley High?
SALEEM: McKinley High. Stuart Junior High.
DEUTSCH: And I suppose those schools were all black then?
SALEEM: Yes. Correct. About 95 percent.
DEUTSCH: And what do you remember about the neighborhood then?
SALEEM: The neighborhood was vibrant. It was a vibrant neighborhood. It was an exciting neighborhood. I loved it. I grew up. We didn’t have a well-off family, but we didn’t know it. We were fortunate enough to go down to Union Station all the time, and the Capitol, and right here we grew up right amongst many, many important buildings, historical buildings.
DEUTSCH: Did you used to hang out around here?
SALEEM: Oh yeah, I did. I did. I remember H Street was very vibrant. I remember when the streetcars were running. I bought my first pair of jeans at McBride’s at Seventh and H Street [700 H Street NE].
DEUTSCH: What was the name of the store?
SALEEM: McBride’s. Was Fashion One, it’s now a vacant building. We frequented Morton’s [Department Store at 653 H Street] pretty often, and Florsheim Shoes on H Street. We had music stores, we had—you name it—jewelry stores. You name it, we had it. Everything you wanted you could get right here off of H Street.
DEUTSCH: What did your parents do?
SALEEM: My father worked for the Post Office and he was a pharmacist. He was military. He worked for Navy Bethesda Hospital [Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, formerly known as the National Naval Medical Center] as a pharmacist. When he retired, he was a cab driver, and he also did some guard work at the Smithsonian Institute.
DEUTSCH: Guard work at the Smithsonian?
SALEEM: Smithsonian. Yes.
DEUTSCH: And what about your mom?
SALEEM: My mother basically was a housewife. You know, she worked here and there, but she basically was a housewife.
DEUTSCH: Did you have brothers and sisters?
SALEEM: I had two brothers, three sisters. I’m the middle child. I had an older brother, who is now deceased, older sister, myself, and a younger sister and brother.
DEUTSCH: Are any of them still around here?
SALEEM: They’re still around. Most of them live in Maryland, but they’re still around.
DEUTSCH: I hope some of them will come to the dinner.
SALEEM: I reached out to them. My sister’s pretty sick, though, but I have another one that might make it.
DEUTSCH: And your parents probably not.
SALEEM: My mother is—she probably could. I’m reaching out to her. She probably could. She’s not in the best of health, but she tries to get around when she can.
DEUTSCH: So, fond memories of H Street as a vibrant … That was where you went shopping …
SALEEM: Oh, yes. Shopping, my first job, everything else was basically H Street.
DEUTSCH: What was your first job?
SALEEM: I worked in a store called Kelsey’s at the time, and they owned a delicatessen and they owned a photography store right across the street.
DEUTSCH: Kelsey’s. How do you spell that?
SALEEM: Kelsey’s. Oh, I think it was Kresge’s.
DEUTSCH: Oh, Kresge’s.
SALEEM: Kresge’s, yeah.
DEUTSCH: Like we had here.
SALEEM: That’s right.
DEUTSCH: Remember when Kresge’s was …?
SALEEM: I remember.
DEUTSCH: So your first job was at Kresge’s.
SALEEM: That’s Kresge’s. I basically learned how to cook. I learned how to flip hot dogs and burgers. [chuckles] Dealt with customer service, the cash register, dealt with the people. I also did some tutoring work after school. I had a job at the school and I did some tutoring work. Young kids.
DEUTSCH: Who was that for? Working for a program?
SALEEM: DC Government. DC Government had a program and I could do some tutoring work.
DEUTSCH: Tutoring kids at a local school?
SALEEM: Local school.
DEUTSCH: Wow. So you must have been a good student.
SALEEM: I was pretty good. I was OK.
DEUTSCH: Was that because … Did your parents put a big emphasis on education? Was that something they cared about?
SALEEM: Well, I hung out at the library. I hung out at the Northeast Library. It was right around the corner from me, and my mother, instead of hanging out most of the time, she asked me to go to a lot of community meetings. So I would sit up at community meetings. I didn’t understand what was going on half the time. But eventually, later on, it paid off.
DEUTSCH: Was that because she was involved with the community meetings?
SALEEM: No, she was not. She wanted me to stay out of trouble and she wanted me to do whatever I could. I don’t know if that worked half the time, but she wanted me to do whatever I could. She wanted me to learn something about the neighborhood, just do something different than what everyone else was doing.
When other folks would get in fights and I started running toward the fights, she would always tell me to sit still or go the other way, and I learned that. Not to engage. These are early things I learned earlier. You know, you get mad, you say, "I want to see what’s going on." No. You can get hurt.
DEUTSCH: Well, especially the boys. They want to mix it up.
SALEEM: That’s right, we do. [Laughs]
DEUTSCH: Gosh, that’s interesting. OK, what did you do in high school? Did you have any particular interests?
SALEEM: In junior high school … Let me go back to junior high school. I was involved in the Glee Club, I was involved in the band. Mr. Pine was my bandmaster.
DEUTSCH: What did you play?
SALEEM: I played drums. I was a percussionist. I had a good time with that. I was active in the Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts during that same time. Another job, I worked at the point—what’s the point up in Southwest?
DEUTSCH: Haines?
SALEEM: No, not Haines Point. I did some work at Haines Point. But right where they were going to put the soccer stadium.
DEUTSCH: Yeah, what is that? [ed: Buzzard Point]
SALEEM: It’s some type of point. I can’t think of the name of it. It’ll come to me, I think of it all the time. And I worked up there, I was part of the Sea Explorers. I would take kids from the point up here to Marshall Hall [amusement park]  and Mt. Vernon. That was my job, to steer them on a little boat.
SALEEM: That’s one of the jobs I had. I also worked on a ship in the Navy Yard during the summer, basically cleaning up the ship and learning more about the ship—the starboard side, the port side and the forward side and all the rest. Basically how a ship runs. I had some pretty decent summer jobs as a kid and I think that helped also influence my life quite a bit.
DEUTSCH: So that was junior high. Anything special about high school?
SALEEM: High school, I played football, loved music. I got a little interested more in—I did this also in junior high school too—I got involved in more of history. I wanted to learn more about my history. That’s one of the things I advocated much, because during the times when things began to change, quite often, right before the riots, you had Stokely Carmichael and all the rest of these guys out here, and I basically wanted to learn more about my history—you know, what contributions did we have in strengthening and shaping the country. And you couldn’t get a lot of that back then. It just wasn’t in the books. It just wasn’t part of American history.
DEUTSCH: No it wasn’t.
SALEEM: That’s something that I would advocate back then, in talking. I would speak up and, you know, [say] “We need to know more about our history.” I think during that time, during that point, that the Board of Education became more aware of some of the wishes of the students.
DEUTSCH: Did you go to college?
SALEEM: I didn’t. Well, for a brief point [I went] down to Bethune-Cookman [University in Daytona Beach, Florida], but I didn’t stay. It was a football scholarship, and they were more …
SALEEM: Bethune-Cookman, but they were not interested in my academics and I came straight home. I didn’t last the summer. I came straight home. So did I really stay in college? No I didn’t.
DEUTSCH: Because there was no academic …?
SALEEM: They weren’t focused on my academics. They were focused on me playing ball. That was it. So that was very short. I came back home and worked for the Post Office.
DEUTSCH: What year … Are we getting close to 1968 here?
SALEEM: No, this is ’73. I graduated in ’73. I can go back a little bit too.
DEUTSCH: Let’s go back. The [1968] riots were a big deal.
SALEEM: Let’s go back. The riots took place. It was a big deal.
DEUTSCH: So you were in high school …
SALEEM: I was in junior high school when the riots took place.
DEUTSCH: Junior high school.
SALEEM: I was in junior high school. I was in band practice with Mr. Pine. Miss Pettigrew was the principal at the time.
DEUTSCH: So you were at Stuart?
SALEEM: At Stuart Junior High. I remember them getting on the loudspeaker. I remember Dr. King [Martin Luther King, Jr.] was shot.
DEUTSCH: Did they announce that?
SALEEM: They announced that.
DEUTSCH: What time was that?
SALEEM: It was in the morning.
DEUTSCH: Um hm. But I thought it was 6:00 in the evening.
SALEEM: No, that happened at 6:00 in the evening, but we went to school in the morning.
DEUTSCH: Oh, so the next morning.
SALEEM: Right, that’s correct. We went to school the next morning, and they said a loud disturbance was taking place, they were sending us home, and that we need to go straight home. As a kid did I go straight home? No. [Both laugh] Or maybe I did and threw my books down, and then I went back out. We looked at what was going on. A lot of looting taking place. Riots taking place. In the beginning—and I tell this all the time—it was looting, not just African Americans—looting of both black and white. You saw a little bit of both in the beginning. And then afterwards …
DEUTSCH: Is this up on H Street?
SALEEM: On H Street.
SALEEM: And then later on it became more African Americans because it became more of a race thing than anything else. Because, if you remember back during that time you had just as many, or quite a few, white people who supported Dr. King also. So it wasn’t just African American. Then I remember going near Morton’s, because we had Chuck Levin’s, we had other music stores, a couple of music stores, we had Morton’s … we had quite a few stores down there. It was beautiful, comparing to downtown—H Street just was as beautiful as downtown. I remember that. And just as downtown had become hustling and bustling, a lot of people on the weekends, H Street had just as many. I remember my friend in the riots, he went into a store and the store was burning, because many of the stores began to burn, and he didn’t come out.
DEUTSCH: He died?
SALEEM: He died. He died in the store. And his remains stayed there for about ten years.
DEUTSCH: [Gasps]
SALEEM: And I remember going to the police department, and nobody really … nobody really cared. They said, “OK, are you sure he’s there?” He was there and I said “Yeah, I’m sure. He didn’t come out of the store.” I remember later on that his parents said he wasn’t found, that he never showed back up. Some people thought he had run away, some people though he had gotten kidnapped, but I told folks he was in that store. And I remember when they decided to build. The bricks laid there for many years, smoking—the smoke came up for many, many years—and then when they did remove the bricks, that they did find some remains over there.
DEUTSCH: They did?
SALEEM: They did find remains, but they never identified it as him. And I will always say, “Look, that was him. I know it was him.” And I’ve been saying it for many years. And so, you know, that was something that really stuck in mind in reference to the riots.
DEUTSCH: Were there a lot of people killed in those riots?
SALEEM: On H Street, not too many. I think we didn’t have but four or five people that probably got killed, maybe about four or five.
DEUTSCH: So, the National Guard came in.
SALEEM: The National Guard came in with their bayonets and all the rest, and they came in in [the] back of trucks, I mean these open big-bed trucks. They would come up just like they were going in the military in war. They would all come out. They let the truck down and they would all walk out and disperse along, along H Street. [unintelligible] some order, asked people to move, come off of H Street. I remember leaving H Street and looking up, looking down from Maryland Avenue, Eighth and H Street, and looking down Eighth and H Street and you could see nothing but smoke. Nothing but clouds of smoke. I mean it looked like a war zone. And, you know, it was something, it was a new experience for me.
DEUTSCH: Yeah. Do you remember how you felt? Were you scared, were you kind of excited because you …?
SALEEM: You know something, I was excited to a certain degree. Fear really never came. For some reason, fear never came. Concern, yes, but fear, no. To watch what was going on, you were concerned, you were sympathetic. I remember when, in the beginning, you had people who were confrontational against other cultures or people during that time, a lot of us would really gather around those people and protect them and make sure they were OK.
SALEEM: Make sure they were protected. We’d take people out of their cars and take them in the house because they weren’t going to make it in the cars. If they kept driving, they weren’t going to make it.
DEUTSCH: So they came in your house?
SALEEM: They came in the house. That was really important. We would talk, we would really talk. I remember a lot of the Asian communities that had the Asian dry cleaners down there on H Street, and they had businesses. They would put up “Me Soul Brother Too.” And they didn’t really bother the Asian businesses.
DEUTSCH: Really. They put up signs that said …
SALEEM: … “Me Soul Brother Too.” And they didn’t really bother the Asian businesses. They didn’t. Usually a lot of the dry cleaners and all, they survived untouched.
DEUTSCH: So it was the white-owned businesses …
SALEEM: It was more the white-owned businesses. And then not only that, you would hear—because I was pretty much close with other businesses, and you just didn’t have during that time—the riots tore up some of these businesses. You could hear business owners saying that, you know, “Mr. So-and-So burned their own store, they burned their store down.” And then you listened to it and you start to register, like “They burned their own store down? Why they burned their store down?” And you learned later on it was from the insurances, and all the rest of those that had insurances, who got the opportunity to take their own store down. So it wasn’t just the riots. It was a combination of some of the store owners who found their way out. I guess they saw some[how] that they really weren’t going to make it, “I have insurance, I guess I’ll burn my own store down.” You hear owners talk about that. I’m like, “Mr. So-and-So burned their store down. Wow.” And it didn’t register, it didn’t register that they don’t …
DEUTSCH: I hadn’t heard that.
SALEEM: See but I’m down there, because I was closer to a lot of business owners. When you work in the stores, and you hear people talking, I was like …
DEUTSCH: One thing that someone told me was that certain businesses were targeted by the rioters—either they didn’t like the owners or they didn’t like the way that business was …
SALEEM: Exactly. You’re exactly right.
SALEEM: You’re exactly right. You’re exactly right. I mean, it was a combination of many things that took place.
DEUTSCH: How did your parents feel about everything?
SALEEM: They were concerned. They were concerned. We couldn’t go nowhere. We were in the neighborhood. The whole thing was to, my mother, was to protect the family.
DEUTSCH: Of course.
SALEEM: And talk to us, and try as much as she could to keep us out of trouble.
SALEEM: Because during that time the dynamics, the mentality of folks had changed so fast. Life wasn’t the same again. You know, that was a big difference. It just wasn’t the same again.
DEUTSCH: It wasn’t the same because people were more wary?
SALEEM: They were more wary. People were more uncertain. You still had a lot of movement where … The Black Power Movement began to rise during that time, and people were more vocal. People wanted more during that time. They would stand up for what they wanted, and if they were disenfranchised they would speak out against that disenfranchisement. Sometimes things didn’t take place as quick as you wanted, and you had more confrontation between police officers at the time. Because if I can remember, during the time you had a lot of Italian police officers on the force during that time.
DEUTSCH: You had a lot of what?
SALEEM: Italian police officers on the force during that time. And we didn’t have many … You could name a handful of African-American police officers during the time. So to discuss something that was going on, they didn’t want to hear it. “Now move on, we don’t care what you say.” This was on and on. And that’s the way it was. So it was a lot of disrespect to a certain degree. But you had some that was respectful and cared also. So it was a combination of both. So anyone ... You can’t say all police officers were disrespectful because it wasn’t just that way. You had some that was just equally …
DEUTSCH: There was a sense.
SALEEM: That’s right. Yeah, some that was equally concerned and cared. I ran into some I know, you know. [Chuckles] So I had a chance to see both sides.
DEUTSCH: Wow. OK, so you go to high school, you go to college, you come back …
SALEEM: Yeah, I went to McKinley high school and I played in the band. I was very active in Black Studies.
DEUTSCH: So they were just probably starting Black Studies.
SALEEM: Right at the time, right. It was, I had Miss Mitchell. She was very good. And that was one class I really listened quite a bit. I was trying to really find …
DEUTSCH: Was this history?
SALEEM: It was history. I was really trying to find my way, you know, what was important, what was not important. Is math really important? Is this really important? Why you all teaching this? Why you all teaching that? Then you ask a lot of questions.
DEUTSCH: You must have been an annoying child! [Chuckles]
SALEEM: “Oh my goodness, you asked a lot of questions!” Because you’re really trying to find your way. What am I learning now that’ll be useful for me when I walk out these doors?
SALEEM: And the things that you felt some time wasn’t useful, you’d like [say], “I’m not putting too many emphasis on this, you know, unless you’re able to explain it to me.” And if you wasn’t able to explain it to me, I’m going onto something else.” [chuckles] And that’s what was there. So if you didn’t have a teacher that could really explain the importance of certain things, you didn’t put too many emphasis on it, you know, and …
DEUTSCH: It sounds like you had a good … Miss Mitchell was a good teacher.
SALEEM: Miss Mitchell was a good teacher. She was a very good teacher. She was a very good teacher. I think of Miss Mitchell all the time. I had good teachers. I had good teachers at Golden, Stuart and McKinley. My teachers, they cared. And it’s different. It’s different now. It begin to change during my later years in high school, but early on my teachers cared.
DEUTSCH: So when you came back after you were down in Florida, you worked for the Post Office?
SALEEM: I worked for the post office. I got a job at the post office. And I left the Post Office, and I went to Metro. I worked at Metro for 27 years and retired as a diesel mechanic. During that time, I got hurt on the job. My back hurt, and it was so bad I could barely walk.
DEUTSCH: Like an accident or …?
SALEEM: Accident. I got hurt on the job. It would take me literally 15 minutes to get out of my car and walk to the front part of my car, to the bumper.
DEUTSCH: So this must have been just when Metro opened.
SALEEM: Right. Because I … They was transferring between DC Transit and Metro at the time.
SALEEM: And I came a few years after that. I messed my back up years later. I started off as a bus cleaner, and I worked my way up to …
DEUTSCH: Diesel mechanic.
SALEEM: Diesel mechanic. And at times I was a supervisor of the line of inspected buses. My job was to inspect the buses and repair the buses, those things that were easy to fix, repair those buses. So I had a chance to do quite a bit with Metro.
DEUTSCH: And so when did you get involved on H Street? Were you still living in the neighborhood?
SALEEM: I was still living in the neighbor—well, no, by that time I think I’d moved to first, Eastern Avenue, then I moved. I purchased a house when I was 21.
SALEEM: And over in Shaw. And I lived in Shaw, and I got involved in community activity over there, with Shaw Project Area Community Investment—I mean Shaw Project Area Community—Shaw PAC. I got involved in them, and I ran for the Board of Education when I was 20, 21. [Chuckles].
DEUTSCH: Did you get elected?
SALEEM: I came in third. I came in third. And I ran for the ANC [Advisory Neighborhood Commission] at the same time, and I became the ANC commissioner. I was an ANC Commissioner for six years. I was the chair …
DEUTSCH: When you were in your twenties?
SALEEM: In my twenties. I was the chair of ANC Commission 1B for five years. We were very active. It’s a lot, it took years for many ANC Commissioners to catch up. We were more active in dealing with issues of people in the neighborhood and making sure those issues were addressed. I became very active in Ward 1 Democrats. I ran against Jerry Cooper at the time. I was a young guy. And it was a closed organization at the time—kind of closed, to a certain degree—and we decided we wanted to run.
DEUTSCH: What were you running for, for City Council?
SALEEM: No, this is for the chair of …
DEUTSCH: For chair of the ANC?
SALEEM: No, this was for the chair … I’d been the chair of the ANC, but this is for the chair of Ward 1 Democrats. I ran for Ward 1 Democrats. And we got a bunch of kids—we got a bunch of kids and strollers and people who really never was part of the electoral process, and we took them to the polls to vote. And they were so upset because they had never seen nothing like this in their life. They had never seen nothing like it, because [they] hadn’t been running the city the way it is now.
SALEEM: We literally had won. And they looked … It was Jerry Cooper. Jerry Cooper was the—no, it was Dave Clark. Dave Clark was the Ward 1 council member. Good friend. And Jerry Cooper was the chairman of Ward 1 Democrats. And they looked and they said, “Where did this man come from all of a sudden?” Because I would go to the meetings and listen, but to me it was more ran as a social club than a Democratic organization to a certain degree. I’m like, “They’re not addressing issues of people,” and this and that, and all the rest. So we thought we had won. But they said that we didn’t register, do something ahead of time, and when they counted the tally, the vote, it came back where Jerry Cooper won. I said “OK.” We didn’t challenge it, we didn’t do anything. We left it alone.
For the next year, we organized and we had voters literally coming down the block. And we won. We won. And Dave Clark and I became very good friends. We’d address issues of the community. We had precinct captains, we ran people. It was a different, it was a whole different outlook at what folks are doing now; we did back then. We really organized the different precinct captains, we ran people, and we got a lot of things done.
SALEEM: I ended up being the chair of the—[unintelligible] chairs on the Democratic State Committee. You had Harry Thomas, you had Jack Evans, and quite a few other folks who were chairmen of their Democratic parties at the time. And I was a chair over all those guys. I was the youngest chair. But we got a lot done, and I would really challenge the Democratic Party to do more regarding social issues. At a point, I got involved. At a point I just got fed up. When they took vocational training out of schools, we testified against it, and I thought it was the worst thing they could ever do. I said, “You know, you guys are really tearing up your future. You really don’t care about these kids the way you should.”
DEUTSCH: What year was that, do you remember?
SALEEM: I don’t remember what year it was, but it was quite a long time ago.
DEUTSCSH: In the 70s?
SALEEM: Yeah, it was the 70s. No, a better time it was in the 80s. It was in the 80s. Late 80s, probably. You know, I got to a point where I just said the Democratic Party as I know it was a social club, and I wanted out. [Chuckles] So I didn’t run any more. People said, “You sure you don’t want to run?” Because a lot of people said I was going to run for City Council, do other things like that. That was something I wasn’t interested in. I was more interested in education. I was more interested in probably economics and stuff like that. But there was nothing for me to grab hold to in reference to economics. I was more interested in taking a neighborhood that was really just screwed up and just sitting and trying to do something with it.
And so I said I’m going to open up a business. I opened up a business on H Street. It was called Hair Rage.
DEUTSCH: Wait a minute. What was it called?
SALEEM: Hair Rage. H-A-I-R , then R-A-G-E.
DEUTSCH: OK. So what year was that?
SALEEM: In 1989.
DEUTSCH: 1989. Must have been pretty lonely having a business on H Street in 1989.
SALEEM: Yeah, quite a few other businesses on H Street. You did. But it was also a lot of vacancies on H Street. And it wasn’t the best look, at all. So, my whole thing was to turn H Street—do what I could to play my part in strengthening my business and taking care of my family. Because by the time I had …  I wasn’t getting much money from Metro because I was hurt, and I wanted to do something different. So what I did…
DEUTSCH: You had a family …?
SALEEM: I had a family. I got married when I was 20 … How old when I got married? 19 to 20, 21 … 19 to 21, something like that. I got married at 19.
SALEEM: Young.
SALEEM: Kids. Two kids. I got four now, but—two kids.
DEUTSCH: We’ll get back to that.
SALEEM: OK. And I pushed, I pushed real hard to make that business great.
DEUTSCH: It was like a barbershop, or a …?
SALEEM: A beauty shop.
DEUTSCH: A beauty shop.
SALEEM: It was a beauty shop. What I did, I went to school, because when I got hurt, instead of just sitting around, I decided to go to school. I wanted to learn skin care, but during that time, in order to get a skin care license, I had to go through the whole cosmetology regimen just to get a skin care license. And I thought it was so unfair. “I’m not interested in hair, I’m interested in skin care!” [Chuckles]. And that’s another story also—we ended up changing that.
SALEEM: But what I did, I opened up a salon and I really began to train people. When I was in school I became the chairman, the president of my class.
DEUTSCH: What was the school?
SALEEM: Scanners. Scanners Beauty School—Beauty Academy.
SALEEM: Yes. Scanners Beauty Academy was on K Street NW. I was president of my class, and they would take us around and I would travel and I learned quite a bit. Not just skin care, I learned more the nails and hair and everything else. I also learned everything. The next thing you know, I starred in a competition. Someone one day said, “Anwar, why don’t you enter a competition?” And I did, and I won. [laughs]
DEUTSCH: Competition for …
SALEEM: For hair. For Total Look. Fantasy Look and Total Look.
SALEEM: And I won. The first couple of times I came in second place, the next times I came in first place. When I was in Philadelphia. We traveled to Philadelphia and [unintelligible].
SALEEM: So one of the competitions was SoftSheen, which is the largest African-American hair product company in the world.
DEUTSCH: What’s the name of the company?
SALEEM: It was SoftSheen at the time. SoftSheen. S-H-E-E-N.
SALEEM: They also had Lasani. They branched off to Lasani. So when I won, they hired me, they wanted to hire me. And so I went and started off as a demonstrator. I started off as a demonstrator, demo products and all the rest in stores. I remember going in stores. You had a buyer’s program, I guess they came back, SoftSheen came back and said “You got the highest score of all the salesmen and you weren’t a salesman. What is going on?” [laughs] You know, I just had fun interacting with people.
SALEEM: You know, you only have but so much time in a day, and if you can help people within that time you do whatever you can to help people. Because time is time, you know, you get the most out of it. That’s the way I look at it.
Then from that I went to work for SoftSheen, I opened my shop and …
DEUTSCH: So you sold those SoftSheen products in your shop?
SALEEM: I sold the SoftSheen product. I also showed them because I ended up being the distributor, and this was my area to sell the product in all the shops in this area. I did pretty well with that, I did pretty well with it, and then I began to train my operators. So when someone come out of school, I would bring them to my shop and I would train them. We would win all types of national awards. Eventually I won the … Well, I decided to rehab my salon. And it was the first one on H Street to go through a rehab, any business to go through a rehab. I won Salon of the Year through Modern Salon magazine. I looked at a salon one day in a magazine and I said, "You know something? I could win this award. I can design a shop better than this shop right here.” And I did. And I won.
DEUTSCH: So you won the award as the Salon of the Year?
SALEEM: Salon of the Year through Modern Salon magazine.
DEUTSCH: What year was that?
SALEEM: That was back in 1996, I think. Back in 1996.
DEUTSCH: And that was for the salon on H Street?
SALEEM: The salon on H Street. Because I reshaped it, and you look at it now, it still looks so modern. It had this Roman-type feel and all the rest. I said, “I’m going to win this. I’m going to win this.” I kept saying, “I’m going to win it, because no one has a salon like this in the country,” you know. And a lot of people spend millions of dollars because the Lion Salon [spelling ?] is trying to win this award. I spent under $107,000 and did it and won. And I designed it myself. I picked all the furniture out myself and had my friends to come do the work, and contractors who was doing houses, and that would be the commercial project. And I begged him, I said, “Look, if you can do this work, I need you to do it.” Because other folks I went to wanted $200,000 [and] some to get it done, and I think I did the whole salon for about $75,000. I had marble floors, I had columns. I remember going into [furniture store] Marlo’s and asking the owner of Marlo’s, “Look, can I have these columns? You’re not doing nothing with them.” And he sold them to me for $50 apiece.
DEUTSCH: Is it still like that?
SALEEM: It’s still like that.
DEUTSCH: I’ve got to come in and see it.
SALEEM: Oh yeah. And then I had a skylight. I had a skylight that I put up there because I remember wanting to be outside, but H Street couldn’t have a skylight, so I wanted to build in a skylight. I just did a lot of great things to that place. And we won. We won Salon of the Year. They came down from Chicago and everywhere else, and they took pictures. Then they ended up using my pictures all over the country to sell the chairs and all the rest.
SALEEM: So it was, it was a great experience. You know, I learned that anything that you really want to do, if you put your time in it, and if you don’t mind doing the work, that you can make anything that you really want happen. If you don’t mind doing it. But you have to put the time in. You have to be willing to out-work everyone else. That’s what I really believe. And you have to have a vision. You have to have a vision, where do you want to go? Once you’re able to do that … You know, you get people, a lot of people who have the idea about doing things, but most people are not going to work hard to make it happen.
SALEEM: They’re not going to work hard to make it happen. So if you have an idea, it’s a gift. I see it all the time, I tell people this all the time. Some people ask me, “Well, Anwar, where do you get all these ideas? Where do you get this energy?” When I go to sleep at night, I think of things. And I think we all do. Talking to people—we all do. And we dream things. Many times we get up the next morning and we say, “I had this idea I was thinking about, but now I can’t remember.”
DEUTSCH: Uh huh.
SALEEM: So what I started doing, is when I have these dreams I would get up, I would write them down. And once I started writing, it became this thing and the next thing I knew it was daylight. I would take these ideas I would have and begin to implement these ideas. One of the ideas was, basically with H Street, is that when I won Salon of the Year, the product company, the magazine, didn’t want to put the address of the salon in the magazine because H Street was terrible. I mean, you look next door, people had defecated next door, they had this and that, and they like “It’s in Washington DC.” They wouldn’t say where it was, just it’s in Washington DC. All the rest of the salons had their address, mine didn’t. And I looked then, I said, “You know something?”
DEUTSCH: “This is wrong.”
SALEEM: “This is wrong.” I said, “Not only is it wrong …” But I didn’t look at them more so than I looked at myself. Because I’m not the type of person who will blame somebody else. They did it, but why did they do it? I have to analyze this. Why did they do it? And I said, “You know, you really look at H Street, H Street’s bad. H Street is real bad, and you have to do something about it.”
And so I challenged the H Street CDC, who was controlling the merchant association at the time, and in challenging them I said, “You know something, we have to do something to help these businesses out here. We have to change the look of H Street.”
DEUTSCH: You challenged who?
SALEEM: H Street CDC. Community Development Corporation.
SALEEM: And it was just [that] the feedback I got was wrong. It just was wrong. They didn’t have that compassion, I thought, for a Community Development Corporation that’s called H Street to help change the neighborhood.
DEUTSCH: They probably just thought, “It’s like that, it’s always going to be like that.”
SALEEM: That’s right. That’s what they said. “It’s going to be that way. And it’s going to take a lot of work to make it happen, and people wouldn’t want to do the work.” And I said, “You know, we can make a difference.” So I started off with the merchants association, and I did whatever I could to try to bring the businesses together. But businesses were struggling so much. I tried to get banks to do things and the banks didn’t want to come on H Street. They literally did not understand what redlining was all about.
SALEEM: Then I had, I went to the media because we would try to really publicize H Street. We started doing ads, little things, you know, flyers, to help push H Street. But every time we would do an ad when the holiday came or a [unintelligible] they would come back and say, “This is the fifth year or the sixth year or the seventh year of [unintelligible] murders, or the riots, and we would try to move forward and they would take us backwards. And I’m like, “Wow, why is the media …?”
DEUTSCH: They would do feature articles about the riots.
SALEEM: Right. They …
DEUTSCH: “And here’s this place that’s still a mess.”
SALEEM: Right. Keeping people away. I said, “We’re fighting real hard trying to do this, and they undoing everything we’re doing.”
SALEEM: It became really frustrating. So I think I remember talking to Angela Owens and someone else, it may have been—not Bruce Johnson, what’s the other guy’s name? Angela Owens and … he still is a commentator right now. He lives out in Potomac, Maryland. And I said, “Look, can they stop this?”
DEUTSCH: Not Jim Vance?
SALEEM: Jim Vance [long-time news anchor for WRC-TV in Washington, DC].
SALEEM: And I said, “Can they stop this?” And we had a conversation and he said, “Well, it’s more of the editors, the managers, and so forth who want to do these features, but I agree with you. It’s making news.” And I said, “It’s making news, but it’s hurting us also.” And so we had to do what we could to really stop it. So we stepped up our campaign. And the merchants didn’t think we were going anywhere with it. So I said, “Well, we have to do another step to really change H Street. We have to do something else.” And I think during that time an officer had gotten killed down there. I’m not sure it was Officer White or someone else, but he had gotten killed.
DEUTSCH: Oh, I remember that.
SALEEM: Yeah. And it just set …
DEUTSCH: Did he get killed on H Street?
SALEEM: Yeah, he got shot on H Street and killed.
DEUTSCH: Yes, Jason White.
SALEEM: I think it was Jason White or another officer, because I remember a guy … He stopped, a guy walked up and walked behind him and shot him. And I’m like, “Man, what are we going to do?” So you just had to begin to think, think of something that was something different to do. It sent you really into a trance-type mode, you know: What do you do to change things? I realized that the CDC wasn’t going to help much, so I asked, I think it was—he used to be the PNC, he used to be the chairman of the PNC, vice-president of the PNC Bank—Russ Simmons. And asked Russ Simmons, “Could I get on the board?”
DEUTSCH: Russ Simmons?
SALEEM: Yeah. Russell Simmons. And I asked him, “Could I get on the board?” Because they had a space for the merchants association to be on the board. And he said, “OK, go ahead. I’m going to make sure you’re on the board.” Then I really wanted to shake things up, and that was on the CDC, and I would challenge them. I would challenge them. And we became sort of like this [he makes a hand gesture] because a lot of things … I said, “Well look, we need to come up with a plan for H Street. We need to do something that’s different.” He said, “That’s not our job. That’s not our job to do a plan.” I said, “What is the job of the CDC then?” [Both laugh]
SALEEM: And so I would fight, man. I would just get so frustrated. And I said, “OK. All you have to do is tell me that one time, it’s not your job. If you tell me it’s not your job, then I know you don’t want to do it and I know it’s not going to get done.” So the thing now: Who’s going to do it? So I have to find a way to get it done. So the whole thing was I began to invite residents and other folks from the merchants’ association. And it was for the merchants professionals, and my merchants would get pissed off because now I’m getting things done. Now I’ve got residents involved, I have some of the merchants involved who cared, the police department involved, that can be doing all this stuff. And my merchants really wanted to walk away because they said, “It’s no longer a merchants’ association. You’re involved with those other folks.” I said, “You all can’t get it done. I need this talent over here to come here and to help.” I said, “I can’t do it. You guys don’t have the time. By the time you guys get finished working, you all want to go home.”
SALEEM: And so I got other folks involved. We made some things work. And then I had to look and I said, “Well, they’re really right. I’m being unfair to them to a certain degree because of the way it’s structured. I have to go out here and find something else that would really make H Street work. So I began to search. I looked at LISC, and I looked at the National Main Street. I really liked LISC better because during that time, LISC had a program. I went through this program in Philadelphia that they had in reference to small businesses.
DEUTSCH: Who had the program?
SALEEM: LISC. You know, Roddy Mallick and all those guys, well somebody else was involved back then, I said, “You know something, this is good. If I can bring this to H Street.” Then I went and studied a little more, they really wasn’t grounded. You know, they was hitting here and there. They really wasn’t grounded in where they really wanted to go. And Main Streets was pretty much grounded and had been around for a while.
DEUTSCH: And Main Streets was a national program.
SALEEM: It was a national program. I looked at them, I looked at what they had. But LISC was more exciting, because it was …
SALEEM: It was Local Area Initiative—Local Initiative—I can’t think the acronym. [Local Initiatives Support Corporation]
SALEEM: Right. L-I-S-C.
SALEEM: So I looked at the Main Street approach, and I saw they had a four-point approach, but the challenge with Main Street, it was that they was more suburban, more rural than anything else. I said, “They don’t really have an urban model.” I looked later on, I said, “OK, they do have an urban model. They’re here,” which was Boston. But there really wasn’t what we really wanted. Boston was pretty much progressive, but H Street is totally different where we needed to come from. So I figured we had to do it ourselves, we had to change this ourselves.
So what happened when Anthony Williams became mayor was key. And I remember him walking us down H Street. We walked him down H Street. And we told him we needed a change. He, at the end of the conversational walk, he said, “You know, I believe in H Street. I believe H Street has good bones, that we’re going to put something over here.” But he said, “But first I have to blow up the Office of Planning and I have to get a whole new staff over there, because the people in there can’t get it done. They’re not going to get it done.” So he eventually, eventually Andy Altman came in.
DEUTSCH: Who came in?
SALEEM: Andy Altman.
SALEEM: Andy Altman.
SALEEM: A-L-T… Yes. He became the director.
DEUTSCH: Director of the Office of Planning?
SALEEM: Office of Planning. And he was very much progressive. He did the Waterfront, started off that and a few other things, and he really was progressive, I thought. And they brought in Derrick Woody and Karina Ricks. They became, they were assigned to H Street. I remember us walking Anthony Williams down again, I think a month later, and he looked in the corner—because I remember him putting a potato chip bag in the corner—and that potato chip bag was still there. He picked it up, he said, “Well, despite all this, you probably are not getting city services either.” [Chuckles] This is a month later. I’ll never forget it.
DEUTSCH: A potato chip bag that he had dropped?
SALEEM: No, he put a soda can in a potato chip bag and he put it on the corner. A month later it was still there. And he said, “Apparently you’re not getting city services either.” So then the energy came. We got Derrick Woody, Karina Ricks, they worked for the Office of Planning, and they helped us put together a charrette. Because he asked, “What is the one thing, the one most thing you want more than anything else:” I said, “Mr. Mayor, we need a charrette. We need a plan. We need something that people can believe in, they can feel, they can touch. And we need to find a way where anybody can get involved in the process.” And that’s when we began to have our planning. I think you came to some of those meetings with us before.
SALEEM: And they invited all the community. He said, “Who, who should be invited?” I said, “Everybody.” “How do you get everybody out to a meeting? How do you get everybody?” I said, “Everybody needs to be part of this. I don’t care if you like H Street, if you have personality problems, whatever. Everybody in the community need to get out and be part of this and feel they have some type of input.”
And that was the greatest thing that ever happened. We had over 700 people that participated in the process. You began to get people from all over the city. A buzz took place.
DEUTSCH: So now in the early … What year are we now?
SALEEM: This is, whoo, early 90s. Whoo, I’ll have to go back and look. He was, this is the early, when he first became mayor, first couple of years.
SALEEM: So I can’t think of the year.
DEUTSCH: I’ll check the dates. [Anthony Williams served two terms as DC mayor, from 1999 to 2007.]
SALEEM: Yeah, I can’t think of the years. But what’s amazing that took place before then. He had a meeting at UDC [University of the District of Columbia] and downtown at the Convention Center. I don’t know if you remember that meeting, where he had people from all over the city—I’m going to come back to this—but he had people from all over the city to come and talk about their neighborhoods. I don’t know if you remember those meetings.
SALEEM: OK. And what happened, they had all these computer-type things, and what neighborhoods was important and this and that, and I looked up on the screen and they had nothing about H Street. You had Capitol Hill, you had Stanton Park, you had every neighborhood. I’m like, “There’s nothing about H Street up here!” So immediately, I got about four people together and we wrote in a paper, “Out of all the neighborhoods you all picked. I need you all to add in H Street Northeast.” So when they went back, they went back and all of a sudden, now you look up on the screen and say, “This is a prize.” All of a sudden they said, “H Street is one of the priorities that need to be taken care of.” And that hit. So that went along with what we wanted to do. So he came back and he said, “Anwar, we’re going to spend time on H Street. I need you to be patient.”
DEUTSCH: The mayor said that?
SALEEM: The mayor said that. He did, and I was impatient. And I kept bugging him. And I kept bugging him. And I kept bugging him. And eventually things clicked with Derrick Woody and Karina Ricks.
DEUTSCH: Derrick Woody?
SALEEM: Derrick Woody and Karina Ricks. We did the charrette, we did a plan, then right after that we did a transportation plan. And I always challenged them about the plan about Third and H Street. I told them the intersection was too small, that “We need to do something, because I think that Third and H Street is going to be more active than you think once we do something with it.” With that, we did a plan, and I think we had about 500 units worth of housing. We have the urban living … We divided the things up, the Urban Living District from Third to Seventh Street; the central retail district from Seventh Street to 12th Street; and from 12th Street to 15th was our arts and entertainment. And we had to take things that we had, the assets that we had, and we had to reshape them. If we could have taken … If they had put it down by Third and H Street, that would have been perfect for us because it was right down by Union Station, the connection, it would have been perfect. But we had to work with what we had to work with, and we dealt with that.
SALEEM: At the same time, Jane Lang was pushing to add the theater. [In 2001, Jane Lang, a philanthropist and lawyer, began the effort that resulted in the renovation of the former Atlas movie theater at 1333 H Street NE.]
DEUTSCH: Was she already starting?
SALEEM: She was just starting at the time. That was 2002, around 2002. I thought it was the most beautiful thing that could happen. 2002, 2003.
DEUTSCH: Did you have any personal contact with her at the point?
SALEEM: Oh yeah.
DEUTSCH: Did she get in touch with you?
SALEEM: Oh yeah, oh yeah., oh yeah. Definitely. We were feeding off each other and making some things happen. She eventually started that project, and I thought it was going to be one of the catalysts to help push H Street. You had Jim Abdo, who had the Children’s Museum, and Sharon Ambrose was on that board and they sold to Jim Abdo. And I thought that was so strong, because I thought it would take, the wind would blow us in there, we can anchor this here. The wind would begin to blow eastward in regards to the development.
DEUTSCH: So Abdo bought the Children’s Museum?
SALEEM: He bought the Children’s Museum.
DEUTSCH: For redevelopment?
SALEEM: For redevelopment. That’s the place we had all the meetings.
SALEEM: And then you had Guy Stewart, which was a funny story. Guy Stewart, they want to do a block-long gas station at … I don’t know if you remember that, when they wanted to put that block-long gas station at Third and H Street. I said, “You know what’s going to be ready to be built over here? Why would you put a gas station over here when you have this over here? It’s just wrong, it’s totally wrong. You have people over here, there’s going to be 500 and something units—or I think it was 200 and something units—over here, and you’re going to put a gas station in front of all this new development? It’s wrong.” I said, “This should be something else. It should be housing, it should be something else.” And he said, “Are you serious? You’re going to tell me this property right here is going to be more valuable than my property downtown?” I said, “I bet you.”
SALEEM: And we challenged and he challenged, and eventually we worked and ended up with a BP, because BP had bought another portion of it, the Fourth Street side of that corner. I said, ”You need to buy all of it back.” “I can’t buy it, they be doing the gas station, we haven’t agreed on this.” I said, “I think you’re wrong. I think you’re making the biggest mistake.” And he just thought I was out of my mind. [Both chuckle]
SALEEM: Then he came back. He said, “You know, let’s talk.” I said, “OK.” I said, “You need a grocery store.” At that time I was trying to push for a Trader Joe’s. I thought a Trader Joe’s—we got 8,000 something signatures for a Trader Joe’s. And I was talking to Brent Sherrick at Trader Joe’s, to come. We had ICSC [International Council of Shopping Centers] during that time, and the city missed a meeting. We set up a meeting and the city missed a meeting. I think … Who was the Office of Planning then? I can’t think of his name. I can see his face, but I can’t think of his name. And he came back and he said, “Look, we need to find an anchor. We need to find an anchor to put on the bottom floor to make this work.”
DEUTSCH: You’re talking about the space at Fourth and H?
SALEEM: Fourth and H.
SALEEM: Harris Teeter had signed a letter of intent. I thought it was the most beautiful thing. I said, “We’re going to get a Harris Teeter!” I thought it was the most beautiful thing. “It’s going to happen, there will be a grocery store on H Street!” You could have sold me for a dime. [laughs]
And then, later on, NoMa [North of Massachusetts Avenue neighborhood] was building at the same time, and NoMa had—well, Harris Teeter had offered them a better deal. And they could build quicker, and they did. We lost Harris Teeter.
So we’re back to the drawing board. So we had to keep everything close to our chest. We had quite a few people who were interested.
DEUTSCH: There has always been so much gossip about what’s going to happen. You know, “It’s going to be the Giant. It’s going to be Harris Teeter. It’s going to be … “ You know.”
SALEEM: Yeah. So we had to shut our mouth. And I knew what was going on—it was the Giant—and I couldn’t say anything. That was the hardest thing, when you want to make things happen real quick. I just couldn’t open my mouth. And we pushed for that Giant, and the development of the 215 units worth of housing. I think, well I know, Tommy Wells was the City Council president [Ward 6 Council member] then, because Sharon had just transitioned out. And Guy, when he had the groundbreaking, he invited me. And he said, “You know something? What I want you to do, I want you to sit on the stage. I want you to sit on the stage.” I said, “Do I have to say anything? Because I really don’t like talking. I want to get the work done.” He said, “No, you don’t have to say anything. I just want you to sit on the stage. I want you to sit next to Tommy Wells, because he don’t believe you did all this.” [Both laugh]
DEUTSCH: “I want you to sit next to Tommy Wells.”
SALEEM: “I want you to sit right next to Tommy Wells. I want you to sit next to Tommy. Because he don’t believe you was working hard to do a lot of this.” And I just sit there, I sit next to Tommy. I shook his hand, “How’re you doing?” Because were kind of like, you know, Tommy wasn’t sure about me at the time. He thought that I was this radical doing something totally different. I was working with the other businesses, trying to do this, dealing with the newer businesses. But he had to understand I had a job to do. And my job was difficult. I had a lot of friends who were merchants, who needed help, and I had a lot of new businesses I was trying to attract at the same time. Because my philosophy was strengthen the businesses you currently have, because it’s easier to strengthen those businesses and to change their model, than to have them close down.
DEUTSCH: Right. But also to attract, bring in new people.
SALEEM: To attract new businesses. So new people was hollering that I’m not spending enough time with them, and then the other businesses was hollering that I’m not spending enough time with them. I’m like, “I can’t win. I can’t win. I just can’t win.” [laughs] So I had to really try to really keep that balance. It was a tough job. So the newer businesses would go to Tommy and holler, and the older businesses would say something at the same time, and I’m like, “I can’t win this one.” So I had to keep pushing. The whole thing was to keep pushing.
And eventually, things began to gel. There were some that still feel the same way, but things began to gel. You start promoting both the new and old. And with the Giant, the Giant finally went in the ground. And before then, we had arts things and all the rest, and we were trying to make some things happen. But that was a good piece for us. That was a …
DEUTSCH: The Giant.
SALEEM: … great catalyst for us to really push H Street forward.
DEUTSCH: Well, the Giant at one end and the Atlas at the other was kind of …
SALEEM: Oh, those anchors were just great. You know, we wanted to do something with the Auto Zone, but the CDC had a terrible deal with Auto Zone to really make things happen. I thought they should have done more, something different. They didn’t. They could have been a better partner for us for H Street. I’m on their board, and I tell them all the time, “You could be a better partner.”
DEUTSCH: Who? Who’s this?
SALEEM: The CDC. H Street CDC. [H Street Community Development Corporation]. And later on, we began to push the streetcar. I remember the streetcar was another one that I thought was huge for H Street. That if we can get the businesses on H Street, or the city, to allow the streetcar to come onto H Street—because Southeast was pushing back—that it would be a win for us, I thought. And I looked at it this way. I know history pretty well. Cornelius Vanderbilt used to have ships that were up here from Europe to America, and one day he woke up and said, “I’m going to sell my shipyard, my ships and the shipyard.” And people thought he was out of his mind. “I’m going to buy trains. I’m going into the train business.” And he bought trains, and trains revolutionized America.
And looking at the high gas prices back then, I felt the same thing. One, you have clean emissions. Two, it’s going to be cheaper. Three, the streetcars will move more people around at one time than a bus, and that it was the right thing to do. I also looked at Ward 8 and I though Marion [Barry] and the City Council representative—it wasn’t Marion at the time, it was someone else—Sandy. Sandy Allen? It was Sandy Allen. And I thought they made a mistake by not really accepting the streetcars. But right now if you look at Ward 8, the deep part of Ward 8, it will take you two hours on rush hour, to leave from Ward 8. I tried it myself. From Ward 8 to get to Chevy Chase, DC, in the morning, it will take you two hours in rush hour traffic. If you do it right, and you build it right, it can take you 45 minutes.
SALEEM: And so if you’re responsible about building it and putting it strategically in the right places, I thought the streetcar could be a real plus for us in the city. So they balked on it, we got it. Karina Ricks and the mayor said, “OK, you all can have it on H Street.”
DEUTSCH: When is it going to be up and running?
SALEEM: It’s a whole safety thing right now. Because, remember, you have five directors that’s been in place since the streetcar started. A lot came and went, and you had a lot of staff changes, so some things fell through the cracks. Safety and the fare card system was the two. So did they collaborate with the city in reference to getting the safety element together? They’re still trying to put that in place. So that’s the holdup. And I’d rather for the city … I think [Mayor] Muriel[Bowser] did the right thing about holding it up, making sure that it’s safe …
SALEEM: … and then getting it right. Because we if we push the streetcar and something happens, it’s going to take us years backwards instead of forward. So no, we didn’t come this far to screw up. Let’s take our time and get it right. I think she’s doing the right thing with that, and we support it.
And the fare card system … You know they don’t have a fare card system in place. I think it would be wrong to have it free. You’d like it free, but looking at the element on H Street right now, you would get a lot of homeless that would get on the streetcar and they would ride back and forth …
DEUTSCH: They’d just stay.
SALEEM: … all day long. So you have to have some type of fare card system. You could give the money away later on, but have something in place where people have to give something. I think those two things are needed. We tried that, we did the pedi-cab ride in place of the streetcar a few weekends, and we had homeless get on the pedi-cabs and everybody gets off.
DEUTSCH: “Man, this is great!”
SALEEM: I said, “This is the same thing that would happen to the streetcar. I’m glad we did this.”
So no, that was wonderful. So the whole thing is to really push H Street, attracting businesses, and we’ve done a great job. We have attracted over 287 new businesses along H Street. We have created over 2,600 new jobs along H Street. We have a lot of new development that’s taking place. Some of it that’s going to happen, it still need to be managed. We still have some western development, we got [real estate developer] Jair Lynch, attracted him to H Street because …
SALEEM: Jair Lynch.
SALEEM: The 600 block of H Street. Because those are old office buildings. So we were able to get him to come to H Street. I went to him, I said, “Jair, when are you coming on H Street?” He said, “Find me a project.” And we talked about it. He looked at the project at the 600 block and he paid like $57 million for that project.
DEUTSCH: What’s his first name?
SALEEM: Jair. He used to be a tumbler, he used to be a USA tumbler.
SALEEM: He was a gold … He won a gold in the Olympics. [ed: he won a silver medal in the parallel bars at the 1996 Summer Olympics]
DEUTSCH: Wow. I think I met him.
SALEEM: Yeah, he grew up in the neighborhood. He grew up in the city.
DEUTSCH: Tell me how you spell his first name?
SALEEM: J-a-i r. Lynch.
DEUTSCH: Yeah. I met him years ago.
SALEEM: Yeah. Good guy. And then we got Trent Smith to purchase where the storage was. That’s a …
DEUTSCH: Um hm. So what’s going in where the storage was?
SALEEM: Well, you’re going to have Whole Foods. Whole Foods in coming. And you have quite a few others. You’re going to have 80,000 square feet worth of mixed-used development on the first floor. We would like to have a hotel there. They’re naming it after the Apollo, because the Apollo use to be on that block, the theater.
They’re naming it after the Apollo. It’s going to be called The Apollo. So you’re going to have those two mirror projects—not looking the same, but coming at the same time, they complement each other. And that’s what you build, your larger projects to help with the critical mass that’s needed. You know, I believe the designs have to be complementary to what’s already there. They have a strength on H Street.
So those projects are working, and then now we are pushing hard, because H Street is happening, the whole thing now has to be managed, and we expanded our boundaries to Bladensburg Road.
DEUTSCH: You what?
SALEEM: Expanded our boundaries to Bladensburg Road and Benning. First was Bladensburg Road, and we met with business owners and the property owners. We’ve been meeting with them and we have a draft plan. That plan looks very well. We met with—oh my, I’m going to come back to this to show you how it ties into something else. We met with the Arboretum, and we want to find a way to bring Arboretum interests to Bladensburg Road. We want to call the Bladensburg Road plan the Garden District. We want to have nice buildings that’s unique, that’s different, unlike anything else in the city, and try to have a lot of things. We don’t want to duplicate H Street at all, we want to have something totally different from H Street—to have, give people something different to go to. And the same thing on Benning Road.
DEUTSCH: Testing. Hello? Yeah, there we go.
DEUTSCH: Continuing with Anwar Saleem. This is Tape 2.
SALEEM: OK, we expand both Bladensburg Road and Benning Road. And I think that if we look at Kingman Park and the amenities over there, we look at the golf course, and if we look at the schools—I think the schools should be a school of entrepreneurship. You don’t have no entrepreneurship schools in DC. I think they should change the whole cluster and keep it in tune with what’s being done, what it’s really all about. They should turn it into an entrepreneurship campus and deal with business. Because to me, I think that a lot of kids are not being addressed education-wise in reference to what we can pull out of them. You know, should you have to go to school in this day and time for marketing [in] college? No, you should get it in high school. Should you have to go for bookkeeping? No, you should get that in high school. It’s a lot of things. For flooring … You can learn flooring at three months, become a professional in seven months. You should get that in high school so you come out job-ready.
DEUTSCH: You come out job-ready.
SALEEM: You come out job-ready. The same thing with streetcars. I asked [DC Council member] Kwame Brown years ago to please introduce a bill—because I work for Metro—where Phelps [Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School, at 724 26th Street NE] can train these kids how to fix a trolley, how to fix a streetcar. They should get that in high school, you know. If you make that a strong entrepreneur campus, and you can deal with fashion, you can deal with hair, you can deal with so many things that will actually make people job-ready. Everyone is not going to college. It costs you, by the time they come out now it may cost them a half-million dollars’ worth of debt. You owe half your life away before you get out. So we have to begin to find something. And then you have internships along H Street. You have internships along Bladensburg Road, Benning Road, with these kids that are coming to work. And they can have business experience. They should learn how to open up a business while they’re in high school.
It mirrors what my grandmother did years ago on the farm in North Carolina, where they prepared them with agriculture and other things. When they came out of high school they were job-ready. When the kids come out now, they can barely run a cash register at McDonald’s.
DEUTSCH: It’s tragic.
SALEEM: They can’t add, they can’t subtract, because there’s numbers are pictures on the cash register that tell them what to do, so they don’t have to worry about thinking and processing. It’s scary. That’s why I think strongly that we need to have schools of entrepreneurship. Bladensburg Road, I love the idea of the Garden District and bringing it out and bringing some synergy to the National Arboretum.
DEUTSCH: I like that too.
SALEEM: The National Arboretum is a jewel, is a jewel. We need more transportation up there, we’ve been advocating to [unintelligible] to get the Connector up there. It would have been great if the streetcar could go up there and help create more economic development and move people around. But we have to find a way to tie all that in. I recently, dealing with the festival, attracted REI [Recreational Equipment Incorporated, a large retail chain sporting goods and outdoor gear]. REI came down a few years ago and we took them on a trip all around the area and said, “You all need to open up a store in DC.” I had just come back from …
DEUTSCH: They don’t have any store in DC, do they?
SALEEM: They don’t have any store in DC. I had just come back from Denver and I saw their flagship store, their store in Denver, and I was like, “We need this here. We need something like this here.” They do training with canoeing and running and all the rest. And so I took them down to Kingman Park, the Arboretum, and showed them all the natural assets that we have. I said, “You guys can train over here, you all can do this and that.” And so they participated in the festival two years ago and they began to look, and so they decided to come to—they couldn’t find nothing on Bladensburg Road or Benning Road, so now they’re going into Uline Arena.
DEUTSCH: Really?
DEUTSCH: Where are they going to be?
SALEEM: Uline Arena.
DEUTSCH: And where’s that?
SALEEM: That’s at Third and I Street—Third and H, I, M—L—H, I, J, K, L. L. [1140 Third Street NE]
DEUTSCH: Really. When is that? That’s way in the future?
SALEEM: No, they’re in the ground now. They’re in the ground.
DEUTSCH: Really! That’s huge. So that’s public. That’s known.
SALEEM: That’s public.
SALEEM: So the idea, and my idea—this is what I was thinking—is that REI could help connect all the neighborhoods through running trails, walking trails, biking trails. They can help connect neighborhoods from NOMA to H Street to Capitol Hill to Bladensburg Road to Benning Road. And if they get involved with Kingman Park, which they invested in Kingman Park already, it would help them fix up the canoeing area. They put money over there already. And we could do the same thing with the National Arboretum, that we can connect neighborhoods. It’s not about just H Street. You know just like we’re going from H Street to Bladensburg Road to Benning Road, then we need to find a way to how do we break this and …
SALEEM: … widen it. And I think at the end of the day that we will have a stronger neighborhood than downtown. H Street area will be vibrant—listen to what I’m saying—it will be more vibrant and more exciting than downtown. When you have Union Station—because you know what’s happened with Union Station—you take all of that and you connect it together, you’ll want to be over here.
DEUTSCH: Yeah. Wow. Well, it’s really exciting.
SALEEM: Oh yeah. And the [H Street] festival—you know, I didn’t say anything about the festival, but I use the festival as an economic development tool. When I first came on, when I became executive director, I stopped the festival for a year or two, and the business were mad. They were really mad. And [they] said, “Why are you stopping the festival?” I said, “We don’t have nothing to celebrate. A lot of crime. No goodness. No growth. You know, we have a great big party. You know, we spend this money for a party, I don’t believe in this. We have to have something to celebrate.”
And so we, once we started the festival again …
DEUTSCH: And what year was that?
SALEEM: This was back in 19–2002, 2003. 2003, 2004.
DEUTSCH: 2004 you started it again.
SALEEM: 2004. Yeah, we started it again. We’re getting ready to celebrate our 10th year.
DEUTSCH: When is the festival?
SALEEM: September 19 this year.
And what we did, we began—because the festivals, as you know, festivals don’t help businesses in the city. You go to the Adams Morgan Day Festival, you go downtown, businesses don’t make no money. They have to close their doors most of the time. And I said, “No, we have to find a way to fix this, because it’s not good. If we have all these people come to a neighborhood and our businesses are not making money, something’s wrong with that picture.” So what I did, I found a way to bring the bars, the new bars and restaurants, out to the street.
How do we follow the rules, ABRA [Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration] rules? If they say you have to block it off, that you have to have security, well we’ll do that with each business. So we started to bring the businesses out to the street. We did it, followed all the rules they wanted. So you can’t walk up and down the streets with beer, but guess what. We could bring them out to the street and they can check each person in their patio. So we did that. We started drawing our festival for 500 people, until last year we had over 150,000 people at the festival.
SALEEM: So we grew every year from 25,000 or 35 [thousand]—35 [thousand] to 50 [thousand]—50 [thousand] to 75,000–75,000 to 100 [thousand]—100,000 to 125 [thousand]—and now 150 [thousand].
SALEEM: The average person stayed at the festival for like two, two and a half  to three hours. So we do pretty good with that.
DEUTSCH: So obviously, you have a lot to feel good about on H Street.
SALEEM: Oh yeah. I think all of us do. And I tell people all the time, someone can have a vision, but that vision cannot become a reality unless other people buy into it. So if the businesses don’t come take a chance on H Street, it can’t be successful. If people don’t come to those businesses or frequent those businesses, it can’t be successful.
SALEEM: So it’s a collective. You know, no one person can take all the credit. It’s a collective effort from everyone. First, you have to believe in something to do it.
DEUTSCH: There was something you said you were going to come back to.
SALEEM: That was the festival. I think it was the festival and REI. It was REI.
SALEEM: Yeah, I want to show how we tie REI in with everything else and strengthen the area. And we can do other stores like that too.
SALEEM: There’s other stores you get that you can do the same thing with. So REI can also tap into the school system and all the rest. You take all that and you get businesses to working with each other and showing people the strength of business. We have to begin to lead, to strengthen more small businesses in the city. The city I think has made a great mistake and put a lot of money in corporate, corporate business like [unintelligible] Target.
SALEEM: Columbia Heights is a good example.
You can strengthen small neighborhood businesses, and small neighborhood businesses employ more people than larger corporations.
DEUTSCH: And they build up more community …
SALEEM: Good will.
DEUTSCH: Good will.
SALEEM: And spirit and feeling. And the other thing is, I don’t believe that any neighborhood should look like another neighborhood.
SALEEM: And I don’t believe that every neighborhood should have the same stores. I have a real big problem with that—every neighborhood with a Starbucks. every neighborhood with something else. No, I have a problem with that. And if I wanted that, I could go down to the other neighborhood and stand in that neighborhood, stand in another neighborhood and get the same experience. You know, you look at Walmart, people beat me up for supporting Walmart. I believe that we have changed so much where people want certain products and they want it a lot cheaper, and the Walmarts are going to be there. They’re going to be there no matter what.
SALEEM: So Walmart is doing what Walmart’s going to get. We have to be more creative when it comes to small businesses and begin to create and open more creative small businesses—you know, your boutique [businesses]—and create those experiences that Walmart can’t create. The mom-and-pop store will never go away, to me. It will never go away because people are always going to want those amenities so close to them.
DEUTSCH: It’s kind of nice that you’re being honored at the same dinner with John [Foster] and Cynde [Titches-Foster, owners of Jimmy T’s diner], which is the definition of a mom-and-pop business. You know, not fancy, but lots of community good will.
SALEEM: That’s right. That’s right. That’s right. We have to do that. We have to grow and really support our small businesses. We have to do it.
DEUTSCH: Does your salon still exist?
SALEEM: I leased it out to a young lady because I was spending all my time on H Street and she didn’t pay the rent so I had to really close it down. But the building, you can see everything is still there. You come in and you'll see everything is still there. So I'm thinking about opening it again. I let a guy come in and do a daycare—he never got his stuff together so it didn’t happen—but everything is still there. You can still see it. So I would love for you to come down and take a look at what I was talking about. So I'm really thinking about really opening up again and finding some real good talented people to come in to work.
DEUTSCH: And the environment’s so—
SALEEM: Oh, it’s ready now. It’s really ready now.
DEUTSCH: Now tell me about your family, your wife, your children.
SALEEM: I have a wife, and I have …
DEUTSCH: What’s her name?
SALEEM: Monica. She'll be there. I have four children. I have a daughter and three boys.
My daughter’s going to be there. My youngest son’s going to be there.
DEUTSCH: And what’s your daughter’s name?
SALEEM: Khadijah. K-H-A-D-I-J-A-H.
And Rashad, Rashad is going to be there. R-A-S-H-A-D.
DEUTSCH: And do they live in Washington?
SALEEM: They live in Washington. My daughter purchased a house up on Fort Davis in Southeast, and my son lives across the street from me. As a matter of fact, he’s working for Amazon.
DEUTSCH: Oh. Talk about big business.
SALEEM: [Chuckles] Yeah. That’s what I was talking. I said, “You know, they’re going to get those businesses, but we have to find a way to strengthen things differently than where they going.” Because that’s gone. That’s gone.
DEUTSCH: Yeah. But you don’t live on the Hill? Where do you live?
SALEEM: I live in Shaw. 18th and H Street. I live in Shaw. I tried for so many times, so many times, trying to find something back over here. I look and I look and I look. And I’ll strike it one day. [Chuckles]
DEUTSCH: It’s gotten terribly expensive.
SALEEM: I know. You have to almost get raw land now to be able to cheaply build.
DEUTSCH: Tell me about your grandfather.
SALEEM: My grandfather was Jacob Brooks.
DEUTSCH: Jacob Brooks?
SALEEM: Right. He grew up between Baltimore and Lakeland [Maryland]. He was a brick mason, and he worked with his hands. He built a lot of homes in Georgetown, along Military Road, and deep in Georgetown. He built a lot of those homes. He used to take me there and show me the homes that he built—I used to be so proud looking at those homes, they were so beautiful—and say, “[I] did this.” You know, it’s nothing like the bricks now that you see out here now, it’s nothing like them. What he built was just something else. He did very well with it. But he used to talk to me so much. He always had a hearing aid. He had a problem with his hearing, and when he didn’t want to talk to nobody he put his hearing aid off and keep going, and just shake his head all the time.
But when he had something to say, he had something to say. It was always something that was very wise, you know. Another thing, he used to tell me about cleaning. He said, “Look, you know that if everybody clean in front of their house all the time … You clean in front of your house, and they clean in front of their house, and they clean in back of their house, and they clean in back of their house … The world would be clean overnight. Your property, just clean your property. And the world will be clean.” And that’s something I take to H Street: “Just clean your property!”
DEUTSCH: It’s such a simple …
SALEEM: It’s simple. It’s not hard. It’s not hard. I mean, little simple things. You know, I can think of so many things he used to say that, really, I can use it in my daily life now.
DEUTSCH: Did he grow up in North Carolina?
SALEEM: No. My grandfather grew up in Baltimore
DEUTSCH: Oh, Baltimore.
SALEEM: Baltimore and Lakeland, Maryland. My mother was from North Carolina.
SALEEM: You know, he was such a wise man. You look at it then, you know, you wonder, “What is he talking about?” But you remember these things. Because sometimes you wonder. Now I wonder the same things about my kids, too. Do they listen to you? They’re not listening to you. [Chuckles]
DEUTSCH: All parents wonder that.
SALEEM: But then you wake up one day and like, man, he’s doing OK. He must have heard.
DEUTSCH: Something sunk, sank in.
SALEEM: It sunk in. And so a lot sunk in. Because I stuttered for a long time. You know, I remember I couldn’t talk at all.
DEUTSCH: As a child?
SALEEM: As a child. I couldn’t talk. I stuttered. They tried to get me help in school. I couldn’t get the help. It would take me a long time to say something, but I would ball it up and get it all out at one time. I remember when I was advocating for schools in the city council, that it took me about 15 minutes to say something I could have said in probably about a minute.
DEUTSCH: What finally got you over the hump?
SALEEM: Determination. Determination. The schools didn’t do it. The therapy didn’t do it. What I started doing is, I would think about what I had to say and then I would get it out real fast. And then that’s what caused me to talk fast.
SALEEM: I would try to break myself out of it. You know I catch myself, I still stutter here and there, but I learned to slow down now because …
DEUTSCH: I certainly haven’t heard you stutter. You haven’t stuttered this morning.
SALEEM: [Laughs] Yeah. It was terrible.
DEUTSCH: Oh, it’s a terrible thing.
SALEEM: It was terrible.
DEUTSCH: So all through high school?
SALEEM: All through high school. I didn’t stop stuttering until I became an adult. It was a challenge. So I had a lot of challenges, you know. And I was a sick child coming up also.
DEUTSCH: Sick child?
SALEEM: Yeah, sick child. I was a sick child.
DEUTSCH: What did you have?
SALEEM: I had tuberculosis. I contracted it from my father when he was in the military. And so I was in a sanitarium for over a year and a half. I was in Glenn Dale, Glenn Dale Sanitarium.
DEUTSCH: Really. Is that in Maryland?
SALEEM: That’s in Maryland.
DEUTSCH: Wow. What was that like?
SALEEM: Just let it go. Just let it …
DEUTSCH: But you were by yourself, you weren’t …
SALEEM: No, my sister, my younger sister got sick also. She was sick also, so it was both of us. She healed before I did. So I always had challenges. You know, I’ve always had challenges, but you take it. You take it as a grain of salt. It’s part of life. You keep going. You don’t let these challenges stop you. You know, you set your goals and your vision of where you want to be and you keep pushing. If you see something that you think can become better, you push to make it better. You just keep going.
I used to work, work, work, work, work and get three hours, four hours of sleep, and I just learned to relax now.
DEUTSCH: Slow down a little bit?
SALEEM: I just learned to relax. I want to tell you something. I learned to relax just a few years ago, because in 2009 I was diagnosed with cancer.
SALEEM: Yeah. And my nephew came up to me, he said, “If anybody can beat this, it’s you.” [laughs] And that was inspiring. And he said, “You know, you can do anything you want to do. You can do anything you really want to do.”
And I began to study and look, and look and study, and fortunately I was able to get up to NIH [National Institutes of Health]. They allowed me to come in, and they did a study and found out I had cancer, and they wanted to cut parts out. I said, "No, we’re not going to do this. We’re going to wait. We’re going to see what’s what." I went to Georgetown [University Hospital], Georgetown wanted to operate. “No, we’re not going to operate right now. Let me see what we can do.” I always believed … I thought I had a pretty good diet, but apparently it wasn’t as good as it could have been, because you had some bad habits with sugar and greasy foods and all of that. “So OK, let me get rid of this.” So I begin to study, and I found the things that I thought I was doing wrong, the things I could improve right off.
DEUTSCH: In terms of your diet?
SALEEM: My diet. And I did. I went back last year, and now they said, “We can’t find anything.” And they spent over a million, a couple of a million dollars doing this whole research, my whole body. They even have these new machines, taking the machines out, and they can take my organs out and go around it and go through it and all the rest …
SALEEM: … and they can’t, they can’t find nothing. So I go now, I go once a year and they'll look to make sure things are right. Because I got to a point where I got so tired. And I’m like, “Why am I tired? What’s going on?”
SALEEM: But I was able to take care of that.
SALEEM: And they asked me, they said, “What are you doing?” And I said, “I'm doing this and that.” I eat more herbs in my food. I eat this type of food. I eat more wild fish.
[Short pause in tape]
SALEEM: … I wanted my name changed, and stuff like that.
DEUTSCH: Your name. Yeah.
SALEEM: In 2000, earlier, in 19-something, maybe, 1970s. It was in the 70s, early 80s,. When I was in high school … I told you I was a little bit more radical back then.
SALEEM: I joined the Nation of Islam.
DEUTSCH: You joined the Nation of Islam.
SALEEM: The Nation of Islam. I did because I liked Malcolm [X], I liked Muhammad Ali, and I ended up working for Muhammad Ali. I thought the things they had to say about doing something for self were so powerful—it was so powerful—that we need to educate our folks, that we need to go in business for ourselves, it was so powerful.
DEUTSCH: We need to take care of ourselves.
SALEEM: We need to take care of ourselves. You pull yourself up by your own bootstrap and so forth. You can’t blame nobody else. The only thing that I had a problem with was, at the time when they got away from the doctrine, when they just said the white man was the Devil, and I said, “You know, I’ve got a lot of white friends.” [Laughs] But I learned to take the good with the bad. And I said, “I can separate this, and I can learn from this.” And I did. My friends who were white, still friends, we never separated, and I was able to get a lot done.
And that philosophy helped me a lot until I got to mainstream Islam. Mainstream Islam says, “Everybody, we all are brothers. We all are sisters.” At the end of the day, religion is one. They’re all akin to each other.
SALEEM: And that’s where I look now. I’m like, “Why are they fighting each other? Why are we fighting each other? It shouldn’t be this. We’re all just the same.”
DEUTSCH: We all believe the same things.
SALEEM: It’s the same. We all believe the same thing. That really gave me such a freedom and a peace. And I'm like, “When are they going to learn this? When are they going to stop blaming other people?” The biggest war—and I learned it in religion—the biggest war in the world is the war within yourself. The biggest war in the world is the war within yourself. If you can solve that war, you’re at peace. It’s as simple as that. You know, we’ve got to stop blaming others.
DEUTSCH: Was your mother upset when you did that?
SALEEM: No. My mother wasn’t, my mother renamed me.
DEUTSCH: She did?
SALEEM: My mother renamed me. It was beautiful. My mother renamed me, and had a lot of names. She looked in some name books and all the rest. Her thing was, “You’re off the street. You’re not hurting nobody.” [Laughs]
DEUTSCH: It’s hard to argue with that.
SALEEM: Right. And she looked up the definitions of names. She looked at Bashir, she looked at quite a few names, and she said, “Anwar fits you.” Anwar means reflection of light. It means light. Reflection of light. Reflection of knowledge. She said, “That’s what you are.” My middle name is Shakir, which means one who is thankful, grateful and thankful.
DEUTSCH: It means what?
SALEEM: Grateful and thankful. To God. Grateful and thankful. And Saleem means peace.
DEUTSCH: Doesn’t get much better than that. So you worship, you go to a mosque?
SALEEM: Yeah, I still go. I still go. I follow mainstream Islam. I go to the White House, I go to the State Department, I go to the Small Business Administration. All of them know, and they look at what I'm doing as an example of what other folks should be doing. I went to South Africa, you have Muslims of South Africa. The South African ambassador came to H Street and they looked at what we were doing. He invited me over.
DEUTSCH: Really.
SALEEM: I went and I stayed for 10 days, and they gave me … He said, “You’ve got 30 days’ worth of exposure” in the time I was there. I met Ahmed Kathrada, who was locked up with [Nelson] Mandela. I was at his house for like three and one-half hours.
SALEEM: I met with three or four different chambers of commerce. I went to the museum and then went to Mandela’s house. I was in Cape Town. I went to the prisons. I went to the Human Rights Commission and the court systems. I'm in both Cape Town, Soweto, and Pretoria.
DEUTSCH: Wow. When was this that you went to …
SALEEM: It was April.
DEUTSCH: It was just this past year?
SALEEM: Just this past April. It was a great experience. They want me to come back down and help them with their community revitalization—to help shape. And I told them, I said, “Whatever you do, don’t change the history. Don’t change what happened to you. You hold onto that, because that’s history, and you want to be able to capture that history.” [Quoting the South Africans:] “But sometimes you want to get rid of it.” I said, “No, you can’t get rid of it. You hold onto that history. Don’t get rid of it.” History is always good. History has always been …
DEUTSCH: Well it is!
SALEEM: Always. It’s always good. And they, he really want me to come back. He emailed me the other day. He said he just got settled, because he was ambassador up until December …
DEUTSCH: This is the former South African ambassador …
SALEEM: Yeah. The South African ambassador, from South Africa. His term was up in December and he wanted me to come down. So if I find the time, I’ll do it. My first allegiance is H Street, Bladensburg Road, Benning. [Chuckles]
DEUTSCH: Your first allegiance is …
SALEEM: Allegiance. H Street, Bladensburg Road, Benning.
SALEEM: Yeah. It’s home first. Then I got invited to Puerto Rico. Clark Development is going to develop the old military base in Puerto Rico, and they going to build a whole community out there. They like the way I interacted with Clark to really build Bladensburg, to do the Bladensburg Road site. And so the Secretary of Commerce came down and he spoke to me, videoed, and asked me if I’d be willing to come to Puerto Rico and help.
SALEEM: I get a lot of offers. I was in Connecticut a few months ago—about a month and a half ago—right outside of Yale, and I spoke to three different communities. They invited me to speak and talk about H Street. I listened to them. I really like neighborhoods. I really like neighborhoods, I really look at the history and try to find folks to build around that in the old properties that you have. Because I believe in smaller, quicker, better. The older buildings is history—I really believe that—and anything else will complement what you already have. I spoke to that community and was telling them basically what we did. One of the young guys over there called his professor from Yale and he listened and he said, “You know, I’m amazed how you did this, how this happened so fast.” He was amazed. They really want me to come back over there. And I’m like, “It’s still H Street.” I was out at Atlanta, in Sweet Auburn [neighborhood]. That’s where Dr. King grew up.
DEUTSCH: Um hm. I’ve been there.
SALEEM: Mtamanika [Youngblood, Sweet Auburn’s Historic District Development Corporation board president] dealt with affordable housing. They did a great job with affordable housing. They needed help with the commercial revitalization, and I went down there. They did a national article when I was down there. They did a national article on me. Probably you can pull it up.
DEUTSCH: [Sneezes] Excuse me.
SALEEM: OK. Bless you. They did a national article on the things I told them about, I was telling them about. I went in one building, I remember going in one building, and I said, “This building right here should be a theater.” And they looked and they said, “Come here, tell so-and-so what you said.” I said, “I think this building should be a theater.” She said, “This was once a theater.”
SALEEM: “This was once a theater.” They had some buildings I thought they should put a boutique hotel down there. I think the churches own a lot of property down there and they really was selling their buildings off or long-term leases with the universities, which I thought was counterproductive of what they should do, the building they put up. Because they wanted to tear down things and build things up, these big monster structures. Because these are beautiful buildings. If you put people to work, you can build off of this. The boutique hotel … You have Dr. King’s site up here, you don’t have a hotel nowhere around here. Why can’t you turn this building into a hotel?
SALEEM: You could find the money, you can do this. You have the city council that’s going to support you. So when it was all said and done—and I was challenging the people, and I was challenging their elected officials, they were in the room—and they wanted me to stay down there. They said, “Every neighborhood should have an Anwar.” [Chuckles] It was so crazy. I’m going to send you that, I’m going to send you the link to that. []
DEUTSCH: Yes, do.
SALEEM: It was nice. It was an experience. I’m able to speak at quite a few … And the same thing with Connecticut. I’m able to speak—a lot of these communities, they invite me out to tell the story and try to give some inspiration to the people who want to do the same thing I’m doing. But the best gift to me, you know … It’s good to go out and talk to other people, but the best gift [is] if I can do that in my own city, to help strengthen neighborhoods in my city. I want to see Anacostia grow. I want to see parts of Ward 5 grow. I want to see this whole city grow, and I think it will become a lot better. We should be suffering nowhere in this city, when it comes to small businesses. There’s a lot of opportunity still out here. I take the strong sense that it’s our neighborhood, it’s our business. And if I live here, I should be concerned about every part of DC that’s not working and try to find a way to activate it again. We have to re-image those things that have fallen. As simple as that.

[BMcM1]File sent by Elizabeth Lewis on Sept. 1, 2020. Added photo, photo credit to page 1.