What is leadership?

I saw a young man – about 30 years old – in the middle of 16th Street.  He was in his wheelchair, trying to cross the street.  He was wearing an old, torn shirt and his pants were old and dirty, as well.  His face was pained as he stopped and started a few times, just trying to get to the other side of the street.

If we continue to build additions to museums, pay thousands of taxpayer dollars so elected officials can attend dinners or ballgames, and we do not tend to the needs of our most vulnerable citizens, well, I just wonder where the leadership is in all of that.

A Wider Circle provides a wide range of services at a low-income DC middle school where MORE THAN EIGHT OF EVERY TEN CHILDREN fail the standardized tests.  When I walked into the boys bathroom on my first day at the school, the urinals did not work.  Yellow water was all you could see in each urinal.  The principal showed me the girls bathroom – a bathroom where the windows were broken so the temperature in that bathroom was the same 30 degrees it was outside.  This was where parents sent their kids to give them a chance to learn, grow, and thrive.  Hard to do any of that in those conditions – conditions that kids everywhere in our nation’s capital endure daily – for their entire childhood.  Their neighborhoods are worse, especially at night.

The demands of leadership are great, but I wonder, no, I am sure that current priorities and efforts are not enough.  Anyone elected to serve ought to be ready to give everything they’ve got to make sure those most in need are at the forefront of every decision to spend our tax money, at the forefront of every decision on our collective wellbeing.  Thousands of lost lives, that is what I see every day.  The desperation of mothers calling by the hundreds every week, that is what I hear.

I also see amazing leaders every day – the college students who intern and volunteer all over the region, giving incredible effort to right the wrongs they see.  We have 30 of these interns each semester, and they work so hard, it makes you cry.  To each of them we owe more leadership, we owe more effort.  On the backs of interns and young professionals, A Wider Circle has served more than 50,000 people.  These individuals help me to be an optimistic being, forever optimistic.

I just hope we can all raise our level of leadership and make sure that our schools have urinals that work, that mothers have less desperation each day and night, and that young men confined to a wheelchair have clean clothes and more support getting to the other side of the street.

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