Rev. Anthony J. Motley
Our spotlight for the month of March, 2010 is Rev. Anthony J. Motley, a pastor, an activist and an educator who has served the citizens of Washington, D.C., especially those who are less fortunate, in numerous capacities. We will talk with him about his endeavors and about his overall life’s journey.
Destiny – Pride: Good afternoon, Rev. Motley. Destiny – Pride, Incorporated is honored to have you as its Spotlight of the Month for the Month of March 2010. Our visitors are interested in knowing what’s going on in our city and the individuals who have made, and who are making, a difference here. First, please tell us a little bit about yourself – where you’re from and your family background. What in your upbringing has helped to shape you into the person you are today?
Rev. Motley: Well, good afternoon, Mr. Mayfield. It is indeed an honor for me to be sitting here with you and to be interviewed by you. As a child I watched you from afar and admired your work and the things you did back in the ‘60s for the people and our city, so I appreciate being here with you.
I’ve always said that I’m a product of Southeast Washington, D.C. Actually, I was born in Detroit, Michigan and I was raised here in D.C., in Southeast in particular; grew up on Stanton Road. My brother and sister, they also grew up here. We all attended D.C. public schools – elementary all the way through high school. I graduated from Anacostia High School and went on from there to work at the Postal Service as a letter carrier – I was eighteen – and then enlisted in the Army at the age of nineteen.
I served two tours in the Army, from ’69 to ’73. I was a paratrooper. I jumped out of airplanes – a combat engineer by training. So I’m a pioneer. I went through the pioneer training to become a combat engineer. I stayed in the military until ’73; went to Panama. I was stationed there in Fort Clayton, Panama. I then came back to the United States through Fort Jackson, and then got out at Fort Jackson.
I came back here after getting out and I began some schooling at Federal City College using my GI benefits. I found myself taking classes there and I think I stayed there a semester – got credit hours. My uncle – it was interesting – in, I think it was ’74, was running to be the first Black County Commissioner in Charlotte – Mecklenburg County. And so I moved down there to help him with his campaign.
Destiny – Pride: Where is Mecklenburg County?
Rev. Motley: North Carolina. And so I moved there and actually stayed there two years. He did get elected. That’s when I learned a little bit about politics and the things that were going on. I then came back to Washington and I stayed here ’76 to ’77, and then I went to Detroit. I wanted to complete my college education and I had never really known my grandparents who lived there. So I went there to actually get to know them and to also get my college education. I stayed there for three years and then received a degree from the University of Detroit in Communications with a concentration in African American studies. Then I came back to Washington and found a place on Capitol Hill, where I actually moved in and lived there. I stayed there for six years, and then moved into Ward 8. I’ve been back in Ward 8 ever since, because that’s where I grew up.
I think that the “sojourn” or as you call it “the journey,” took maybe different twists and turns. There were times when I really didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I needed to do something. And there were times when I just said I’m going to go somewhere else and live and work. But it was something about Washington that, when I came home, I just said I have to fix some of the problems that have existed for too long. And so I just made a commitment that I was going to do that.
While I was trained in working as a video producer and director – and I was doing that; I worked for one of the largest cable companies in the city, and in the country, Video Production and Direction – I decided that what I was going to do was volunteer work. That’s where I started, I started doing volunteer work. My first volunteer effort was with the late Wilhelmina Rolark, working with her and around the Martin Luther King Day Parade that she did every year. I found myself several years ongoing, working with her on that. That was my volunteer commitment. Then around ’82, someone – I’ve forgotten who it was – asked me if I would serve on the Board of Directors of the Southeast Neighborhood House, which is one of the oldest settlement houses in D.C., started by Dr. Dorothy Ferebee. It was actually started on Virginia Avenue, over in Southeast before the freeway came. When they took the freeway, they tore down a lot of houses over there, and hers was one of them, where she actually was helping children and helping adults. The Arch Diocese gave her land over here, where Southeast House stills resides. It’s now the Children of Mine Center, and I’m working with Ms. Hawkins at this point. I was on the Board of Directors of the Southeast House; served two years on the Board.
In ’84, the Board asked if I would serve as its Executive Director, and I accepted that responsibility. I left my job, where I was working in the private sector. It was interesting, my supervisor’s supervisor communicated with him, but when they got my letter of resignation, the Vice President called me to his office – I’m still in contact with him today – but he called me to his office and he wanted to know why I was leaving. I told him that I had a calling and I needed to go back into the community. He asked, “Do you really have to do that?,” and I said “I’ve got to do it; they’ve asked me to come.” This was in ’84. So I did, and do you know within about a month, he wanted to come out to where I was working. So I had a lunch prepared for him and he came out and we had a very interesting meeting.
So that began my work in the community. I met people like John Kinard; I met people like James Banks; Dr. Quarles; Mr. Williams; C&W Florist; Renae, his daughter, took over and now calls it Renae’s Florist. So I met a lot of people in the community – the Grays, Bernard and Carolyn (and then found out that Carolyn’s brother and sister and I grew up together and went to elementary, junior high and high school together, and I didn’t even know that). So that pretty much has been my journey to where I am today.
Destiny – Pride: At what point did you begin your inner-personal family structure? You got married …
Rev. Motley: Actually, I got married at a young age. I got married when I was eighteen and that marriage produced two children, my two daughters, Lisa and Tracie. Then I married a young lady I grew up with. And then a third wife – I just got married again. So my marriage journey has been quite interesting [laughter]. It’s been quite an experience.
Destiny – Pride: You talk about your calling for the community, but at some other point you had a higher spiritual calling. When did that epiphany, or bell, go off in your head?
Rev. Motley: Actually it started when I was a young kid, back when the Poor People’s Campaign was here in D.C.
Destiny – Pride: Tell our visitors a little bit about the Poor People’s campaign.
Rev. Motley: This was a campaign that was started by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ralph Abernathy and Walter Fauntroy back in ’67, when they actually started the process, and in ’68 it culminated in Washington with poor people coming from all over the country – from everywhere– gathering here in Washington. Being poor, the people couldn’t stay in hotels – they didn’t have money to stay anywhere. What they did was they set up what was called “Resurrection City” down by the mall in West Potomac Park. It was interesting how it was crafted. They showed that, as a people, we can “make brick without straw,” because there were actually houses all throughout [laughter] – it was a “shanty town.” Here we were in the Nation’s Capital with Resurrection City, with people coming to protest. Martin Luther King had done something that no one else had dared to do, and that was to draw a parallel between the war in Vietnam and poverty and the fact that we were spending all of these billions of dollars to fight this war in Vietnam and people were going without food and shelter here in this country. He wanted to bring attention to the people and to Congress and the President, that there was some hypocrisy here, and they needed to get it straight. So what happened is a friend of my mother’s, who attended Allen AME Church on Alabama Avenue – we lived in the same apartment building down on Stanton Road – says, “I need you to go with me.” I said, “What do you need me to do?” She says, “I’m going to do some work!” I said, “We’re going to work where?”, and she says “We’re going down on the mall, going to Resurrection City.” So we got on the bus and we went down to Resurrection City. And they had me picking up boxes and moving stuff. It was interesting. We did that for a number of days, day in and day out, going down there. Then the rains came – you know what I’m talking about – it was rainy and muddy and they had put cardboard and other kinds of things in the way so you could walk on stuff because it was so soggy. But we were moving everyday – moving stuff, moving boxes, moving food in, moving water – everything we were doing to help.
One day, this old woman came by me and tapped me on my forehead and said “You been touched by God.” I was 18, and I said “Wow!” And she went on – she didn’t even stop, there wasn’t a conversation. She just tapped me on my forehead and says “You’ve been touched by God.”
So I went on with my life after t hat experience. As a matter of fact, it was in ’69 I think, when they tore down Resurrection City. But I wasn’t here; I was in the military. I had gone into the Army when I got word that they had done that. That began, I guess, a process of being sensitive to the Spirit, because it always stayed with me.
I had a situation during the military where a group of us were hanging out, doing things that we shouldn’t have been doing – servicemen, soldiers. So one morning I woke up and I was sick and I had to go to the infirmary. I got up before reveille [military wake-up call] and went to the infirmary on my own. I told the guy that was there in charge – he was like a platoon leader – I said “ I’m going to the infirmary, man. I stayed out all night and I just wasn’t making it.” Actually, I had a bug; I had a virus or something because they kept me. Well, the guy that I told that I was going to go, didn’t tell anybody that I told him that I was going to the infirmary.
So when they did the roll call, I wasn’t there. So what they wanted to charge me with was being absent without leave. I fought that because I knew I had followed the process, but the guy didn’t want to communicate to the people that I in fact had told him I was going to the infirmary.
So when I got out of the hospital, they charged me with that, and I felt very betrayed; I felt very alone; I felt like, “Okay, God; what’s going on with this?” So one day after meeting with my lawyer, a friend of mine and I were driving to the post. We had just come from the lawyer and it was raining. I heard this voice say “Stop the car and get out.” I turned to my friend, I said “Stop the car; I gotta get out.” I got out of the car and the voice said “Come here.” And I’m looking around – in the rain – and the voice said “Come here,” and I looked and there was a clump of trees. It sounded like the voice was coming from these trees. I went over into the trees and I heard this voice tell me that I was his son and that everything was going to be alright. “Don’t worry about it. Everything’s going to be a right.” I cried. I was up in there, and I just said, “Wow, there was this voice.”
I got back in the car and drove on. I went to trial. They had me for four charges, and they dismissed all of them except for one. The one they didn’t dismiss was that I didn’t report to my appointed place and time. But everything else they dismissed because I kind of went off on some folks and they wanted to get me for some other things, like insubordination. But I was upset, because I know I did what I was supposed to do. That was an experience I had with God, and I’ve never forgotten that.
I was a disabled Veteran because I got hurt in the Army. But my grandmother laid hands on me and prayed and told me that God had something more in store for me. I was ready to give up on life. The military had me on medications and a whole bunch of other stuff like they do – you know they put soldiers on medications real quick. But I fought against that. I said there’s got to be a better way. But I was delivered from it. When I started working in the community, I began to get a sense of peace. It was like, “OK, I’m doing the work; I’m working with people; I’m working in the community; I’m helping people and I’m helping to solve problems.” It was like a peace came over me and I had found my place.
Back in ‘85, I kept feeling this pull on my heart. I needed to do more studying and praying, which I began to do. I created an altar in my house. I found myself reading the Bible everyday, praying everyday; going to church almost everyday. And this just went on and on and on. So I talked to my pastor about it and he said to me, “I think you need to go to school.” And I said, “Yes, I’d love to.” I asked him “Where should I go?” and he wanted me to go to Howard. That’s how I got to Howard University School of Divinity: by my pastor, Ernest Gibson – who was a renowned man in this city – and Dean Lawrence Jones. I went to Howard, got a Masters of Divinity, came out and started doing ministry.
Destiny – Pride: At one point, you had your own church that you pastored. What was the name of that?
Rev. Motley: Redemption Ministry. It was a mission. We never formed it as a church. I kept leaning towards that – possibly doing a church – but we did a mission work. The mission was to evangelize – to do outreach, evangelism and a deliverance ministry. As a result of that, we created a worship and performing arts center that was open seven days a week here in Congress Heights.
Destiny – Pride: You have had a long and illustrious career. Let’s spend some time talking about some of your accomplishments.
Rev. Motley: You know, when you look at trying to help people and do things in the community, you find that a lot of problems need to be solved, and you try to identify ways to solve them. So, I began to look at things that I could be involved in. I was involved in HIV/AIDS ministry coming out of the seminary, where back in mid-‘80s, I was trying to raise the level of engagement of the church community in HIV/AIDS, promoting a program called Love in Action, and going in to talk with the pastors about the role of the church in addressing the problems with HIV/AIDS. Out of that experience, I remember very vividly there was a woman who I was trying to help. She was HIV positive. She had two children. I was trying to help her navigate resources through the government process. Back then, the government really didn’t know how to respond, so we were trying to navigate all of that. This was before there was a Ryan White bill, and all of that. Her dilemma was that she was homeless.
Destiny – Pride: Tell our visitors a little bit about the Ryan White grant money.
Rev. Motley: There was a young boy out in Florida who contracted AIDS. His school system discriminated against him – put him out of school; didn’t want him around children, and all of that. His mother fought that. It was discriminatory. He had contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion. They were very hurt about the situation. Eventually he died and because of his mother championing his issue, and even was a spokesperson to some degree, his congressmen from Florida put it on the docket up at the Congress and they created this bill – the Ryan White HIV/AIDS bill – which mandated certain things related to HIV/AIDS.
The young lady I spoke about, she was homeless, with two children, and the dilemma that she found herself in was that there were places that would take her, but they wouldn’t take the children. As a result of that, we created a program called R.I.G.H.T. Incorporated – Residing in Group Housing Together – where I facilitated bringing several organizations together – the Max Robinson Center, the Whitman Walker Clinic, D.C. General Hospital, Greater Southeast Hospital at the time, now the United Medical Center – working with community activists and AIDS activists, bringing people together to talk about this conversation.
Also, bringing four churches together – Faith Tabernacle, Emmanuel Baptist, Young’s Memorial and Allen AME – they formed this organization called R.I.G.H.T. to provide support, including housing, to women who were HIV positive with children.
That was my first big collaboration. After that, I did a piece called, “The Economics of Violence,” where we actually looked at the impact that violence was having on the healthcare delivery system. This was back in the late ‘80s, where we were experiencing a lot of homicides on our streets, due to the crack epidemic that hit our cities in ’84, ’85, ’86. As a result of that, the violence escalated, and you know for yourself, the numbers were astronomical. In one year 525 people were killed on the streets of D.C.
One of the concerns that I had was the fact that Greater Southeast Hospital had closed down its trauma unit, which left us over here vulnerable where, if there was any kind of accident, or anything that required trauma services, we didn’t have it. So I picked up the phone and called the Vice President of the hospital. I wanted to have a meeting because I wanted to find out why we didn’t have a trauma unit over here in Southeast. So I had my meeting. They met with me. We talked, and they told me that the problem that we were having was that a lot of these young kids were getting shot on the streets without insurance, but yet they had to be treated. They were bringing them the Greater Southeast because it was the closest hospital, and it was overwhelming the cost factors at the hospital. They weren’t able to recover those funds from those young people because they didn’t have insurance. They were dealers – drug dealers – out here on the streets, not connected to anything in particular.
The sad part is, they told me that the ones that they “could” save and get them back together again, six months later, they were back gain – shot up. It was a drain on that system, so I created what we called “The Economics of Violence Forum,” and for about three years, every year, we had a forum to talk about the economics of violence on the healthcare delivery system. We brought people and experts in. We used the hospital auditorium. So that was something that stood out with me.
Then I started looking at the need to create a vehicle by which young people could get better educated and those who had dropped out could have a place to come where we could work with them and nurture them. That’s how we actually started Redemption Ministry – we started with a Bible study and went from there, and eventually a larger facility, the Worship and Performance Art Center. We started some job readiness stuff; we started some GED things; we did summer camping; we did summer enrichment programs. We had a program called “Healthy Bodies Make Healthy Minds,” and we ran that every summer. We were one of the first ones that took over one of the local recreation centers and ran that center for the whole summer as a nonprofit. So we’ve done a lot to address some of the issues.
Two of the latest things that really stand out:
(1) The formation of the East of the River Clergy Police Community Partnership, and that came about as a result of a phone call from the Chief of Police, Ramsey, who called because we were experiencing too many young people getting killed under the age of eighteen. The question was, “How do we stop it?” I met with his Assistant Chief and we sat down and talked about all of the particulars, and looked at all of the things that were going on. They gave me the data. When I looked at the data, I was astonished, because when you’re sitting in your little world, you’re only aware of what’s going on around you. But when you look at the data, it shows you what’s going on, not just around you, but around everybody else; then it really opens up yo ur eyes and you begin to see there’s a problem.
And that’s how we got started with the East of the River Clergy. I told them, “ You know, this problem is bigger than me, and we need to bring other clergy members in.” We convened a meeting. I gave him a list of clergy that needed to be invited. The question was “Where do we have it?” I said “Don’t have it in a church. Have it at the police station. Bring them to the police station.” Many ministers, they don’t go to the police station. They don’t have a reason or are willing to go there, unless they go for one of the members.
So we met at the police station, but even before that, I went to Boston and looked at the Boston model that they had up there, and looked at some other things that were going on in the country as far as clergy being involved in inner city kinds of things. So when we brought the ministers there [to the 7th District Police Station], we had a plan, and the plan was “Let’s recreate this Boston model, but make it faith-based – strictly faith-based.” And that’s what we did. So that’s how East of the River Clergy got started.
(2) The other thing was starting the JOBS Coalition – co-founding that with some other people. There was a call again: “We heard that you were doing this and that. We need you over here. We need you to help us. We’re tying to get more people employed that are D.C. residents.” I said “I can help you do that.” That’s how we got started with the Coalition. As a result of the Coalition, we started the D.C. Students Construction Trades Foundation which is at Cardozo. Now there’s an apprenticeship program there and there are also some other education programs attached to that. And then we opened up the first re-entry center for persons coming home from incarceration. We did that in conjunction with a number of our nonprofits and working with the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency.
It was interesting how that got started because I had remembered a conversation with some people from CSOSA – Greg Thomas, who is one of the Community Service Officers.
Destiny – Pride: And CSOSA stands for what?
Rev. Motley: Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency. Greg had told me they were looking for space. They wanted to do what they call a “learning lab.” I had space available, and so I made that space available and then partnered with them where they actually became like a tenant – an anchor tenant – to other programs. So on the front end we had housing and job development and mentoring, and then on the back end – with CSOSA – we had GED and literacy and computer program training. That worked well. For about two years, that was going on and then one day they wanted to expand their program. So I relinquished the space that I was using, and then opened up the Resource Center, where CSOSA now has more space and they’re operating on more in-depth programs; and then we have more space and we’re operating pretty much at the same level we were operating, but we’ve just expanded in terms of our space use. So that’s what we’ve been doing over the last several years. We opened up this center here [Bellevue Resource Center for Homeownership, Workforce Development and Mentoring] in ’06.
Destiny – Pride: I know that you are the founder of Inner Thoughts. What is Inner Thoughts?
Rev. Motley: Inner Thoughts, Incorporated is a nonprofit educational program and development organization. We do strategic planning. We do creative kinds of work with people in the community, for example, working with Ms. Hawkins [Children of Mine Center]. The idea there is to help her in her visioning process. She’s a person in the community that has a vision, but how do you take that vision and put it on paper? How do you take that vision and expand it? How do you take that vision and connect the pieces?
Destiny – Pride: I think the visitors need to know, is that Ms. “Hannah”. . .
Rev. Motley: Hawkins.
Destiny – Pride: Hawkins. And what is her program?
Rev. Motley: The Children of Mine Center, located in Anacostia.
Destiny – Pride: Okay, Children of Mine.
Rev. Motley: And so at Inner Thoughts we designed one of the first summer enrichment program curriculums. We sponsored summer camping experiences, after-school programs. We opened up five after-school programs in Ward 8 back in the 90’s – early ‘90s.
Destiny – Pride: Your journey is a very impressive journey, and a very moving story. Now, you’re getting ready to make another shift and that is that you have been fighting so hard on the outside. Now you’re considering a run for political office. Tell us a little bit about that.
Rev. Motley: Yes, you know over the years in working in the community, you find yourself constantly going downtown and asking the government to do certain things – to do things a little differently; to create initiatives that are actually going to address some of the problems, support individuals’ programs and opportunities that will attack the social ills in our community and work with the community in a more sensitive and harmonious way. For years I’ve been doing that. Working with mayors; working with council members; working with agency director heads; working with people to make life better for the citizens of the District of Columbia; working with nonprofit organizations.
So, I decided that “Wait a minute! Hold up! It’s got to be something else that we can do, because we seem to be continuing to fight the same fight every year.” Some people came and talked to me about the possibility of running. So, in talking with a lot of my friends and people in the community and then speaking with my pastor and being in prayer about it, I decided, “Let’s go see if this something that we can do on behalf of the people that we work with.” So I’ve decided to run for a position on the City Council of the District of Columbia.
Destiny – Pride: It looks like that bug that was planted earlier in your life in North Carolina took hold.
Rev. Motley: Yes, it does. And I questioned “Do you really want to do this?” and it was “yes, you gotta really do it, because there were people who were saying “Let’s do it!”
Destiny – Pride: Please give any last and final thoughts you would like to leave with our visitors.
Rev. Motley: I guess the first thing is people need to love their community. I think the community that we live in has to be a place that we cherish and respect. There are just certain things you won’t do or allow to happen in your community. I remember some drug boys wanted to set up shop on my street where I lived not long ago. I had been passing them by and by and I saw what was happening and I stopped one day. I walked up to them, and I said “Y’all can’t stay here.” One of them said to me, “Well, you ready to die?” And I said to him, “Yeah, I’m ready to die. Are you ready to die?” They laughed it off and they walked away – and they stopped coming. You have to be willing to love your community to the death. I think that’s important.
Another thing that’s important is that we have to all do this. This is important: support the work of one another. Support each other’s work – in any way that you can – to ensure that people are able to exhibit – which is one of the purposes of Inner Thoughts, through creative expression – their gifts and talents. That’s what I’ve done, tried to support the work of people.
And I guess the last thing is don’t think it’s an easy task, because it’s not. It’s very hard, very time consuming. But it’s very rewarding. When you can have a young person walk down the street and say “Thank you. Thank you for being there when I needed somebody to help me.” When you have an adult to run up to you and say “You know that letter that you wrote for me, I got that job.” That’s rewarding! So just remember that it’s not all in vain. It’s about the people.
Destiny – Pride: Rev. Motley, we at Destiny – Pride, Incorporated thank you for taking the time to share with our visitors your life’s journey as well as your keen insights. We wish you continued success in all your future endeavors and we look forward to hearing about all the good and positive things you are continuing to do in Washington DC and beyond. I also want to thank you personally for taking over the chairmanship of the Board of Directors for Destiny – Pride. So once again, we thank you and I’m quite sure that I speak for the city and the region – they also thank you for all that you have contributed to the city to make it a better place.