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The Dreamers

Murray Sumes

Kramer wasn’t an easy school to go to. Just the level of violence… I can remember a girl stabbed a boy in the cafeteria, in front of everybody. Just missed his spine and heart by a few inches. Actually, the young lady who did the stabbing was a Dreamer. The boy said something about he was going to rape her in a alley or something. Another young man was shot three times on the playground during recess. Apparently, he was dealing drugs, and I guess they came to collect. When he didn't have the money, he got shot. At one point during the year, they closed down half the school, because they was doing some remodeling for the science labs; a young lady got raped in this closed-off part of the building.

Back then it was during, I guess you can say, the height of the District’s notorious murder capital theme and the drug epidemic. A lot of kids in the school came from really rough neighborhoods. My neighborhood was pretty bad—shootings every night; I've been shot at, I've seen dead bodies in the street from shootings. But compared to the neighborhoods that some of the other Dreamers came from, it was a walk in the park. I didn't live in the notorious projects as far as Butler's Garden, Barry Farms. And if nobody catches these kids early, they kind of get desensitized to it, you know, they think it's the norm. So a lot of the kids in the school either were selling drugs or their parents were on drugs. I think, as a whole, the student population had more issues than one school should have, as far as mentally. With that being said, my issues didn't necessarily come from the neighborhood; mine's was more personal home issues. Which is probably why I stayed out in the neighborhood: to stay away from home.

For me, the I Have a Dream program was truly a blessing. It kind of gave me some type of stability. Mr. Bumbaugh and Mrs. Rumbarger, they gave you an outlet, a place to go and speak your mind, get things off your chest. And gave good, solid, sound advice.  We were all grouped together, able to bond and form these relationships. So even if you felt like things were overwhelming, you knew you could look to your left or your right and have some type of support system right there. Just the camaraderie of being able to know that you belong to something—and it was a positive something, you know? I only wish that I could have taken full advantage of it, the way I should have. I was young; back then you never really thought about your future. If I knew what I know now back then, it would be a whole lot different.

But I wouldn’t change the experience; being in the I Have a Dream program was definitely fun and rewarding. They gave us the opportunity to experience a lot of different things that ordinarily, coming from where we came from, we wouldn’t have had a chance to.  And I'm grateful for that. My favorite memory of the program was going to New York. It just felt good being out of DC, just walking down the street in New York, seeing the different sights, and even though it’s still, you know, the United States of America, the East Coast, it was a whole different culture. We saw Arabs, Ethiopians, Africans, and you know, we’re walking into different stores, electronics, clothing, and it was just different. We didn’t have a lot of stores around here. We didn’t have bodegas. The hustle and bustle of New York; it was fast-paced, you know, people really do run over you if you’re not moving fast! And we went on to see the Lion King, which was really nice. And we went to Busch Gardens in New Jersey on the way back. That trip was one of my fondest moments.

Being in the program just gave me a different perspective on the world itself. Where I came from, you didn't see a lot of white people.  And the stories that you heard about white people were not always positive. And then I met Mrs. Rumbarger. Loved her to death. I couldn't imagine any white lady—any lady, for that fact, taking a bunch of young adolescent men to her own, personal house and having a sleepover, and cooking—cooking brownies, and eating pizza. Ms. Rumbarger was very caring, very open, affectionate. But she was—I'm not going to say strict, but she was always encouraging us to do our best. She was always there to lend a helping hand, whether it was school, personal or what have you. If there was a way for her to help you…She would genuinely try. It was eye-opening as to, basically, never judge a book by its cover; learn your own lessons, interact with different people. Just take a chance.

And Mr. Steve Bumbaugh: Tremendous man. He used to take a group of guys, and we would go up to GW or go play basketball with his buddies, and we'd go hang out at his house. In essence, it got us out the neighborhood, it got us away from a bad environment. It gave us a different perspective on life in general. When he took us to Georgetown, I remember little things, like we had a gyro. That was the first time I ever had a gyro. Never knew what a gyro was. Never heard of it. Certainly had never thought of eating goat meat. People say, Well, you went to Georgetown—that's D.C. Whatever. For me, it was a big experience. Again, it was a different perspective—from a different source, that looked like me. Because where we came from, it wasn't a lot of white people. Where we came from, it wasn't a lot of successful black men. Certainly not successful black men that went to the university and things of that nature that Mr. Bumbaugh came from. The way he spoke, the way he carried his self, the words he used. But he was still a black man.

I remember 10th grade year was perfect. That summer before getting to 10th grade, Mrs. Rumbarger had taken a group of guys to the Giant headquarters, out there in Maryland, off of Martin Luther King Highway. And we got summer jobs working at Giant. The summer ended. Giant kept me. So, for that whole 10th-grade year, I worked and went to school. I was on the baseball team. I tried out for the football team. Actually, in my whole formative years of schooling, that was my best year ever.

And for whatever reason, 11th grade year, I got completely off track. I started hanging out with the wrong crowd. And I ended up getting locked up. So, I didn't get to graduate from Eastern. It was just four months, but Eastern would not let me back in. After trying to get back in, they finally told me I had to go to my neighborhood school, which was Anacostia Senior High School. I did not want to go to Anacostia. Kramer was rough, but Anacostia was worse. I didn’t want to be in that environment, so I said, Nah, I’ll just go ahead and get my GED. And again, Mrs. Rumbarger helped me with thatShe could have washed her hands of me. Because I was 18, and I had basically sabotaged my own future. But, true to form, she stuck with me. She helped me find a GED testing place. I went and took the test, and I passed.

And I went to UDC. She helped me get to UDC. The I Have a Dream paid for that. She helped me get into PG Community College. A lot of things that she did for me after I had my run-in with the law. I think it was just purely her being the person that she was. Because I think a lot of people would have said, you know, I have other people to worry about. I can't worry about you. And they would have moved on. And she didn't do that. She stayed through it, thick and thin. And I will always be appreciative for that.

I have another favorite memory, and again, this is a testament to Mrs. Rumbarger. She thought that it would be great for me to be a mentor. She was running a similar program in Baltimore, and when I got out and I was having a hard time finding a job, she employed me as a mentor. Now, I had to get to Baltimore on my own, so on some days I would drive my father’s car when he didn’t have to go to work. He was a DC paramedic. Other days I would get on the MARC train. And again, you know, out of my comfort zone: riding the MARC train, learning the Metro system in Baltimore just to get to the site. At the time I was 19, maybe 20, and I’m talking to these little kids and we’re taking the kids on trips around Baltimore—that made me want to be a social worker. Or do something along the lines of helping kids. For me, just being able to go down there, and interact with these kids, and after the trouble that I’d been in, she didn’t have to extend that to me. And she did. She always worked with me. And it probably would be the same today. I think that’s who she always was and who she’ll always be.

So, being in the program, meeting Mrs. Rumbarger and Mr. Bumbaugh, really made a difference. And Mr. Bainum, because I've spoken to Mr. Bainum on a few occasions. And the times that I've spoken to him, or heard him speak to us, it was always a positive message. He was always engaging, always friendly. Open. This is a man who was a businessman, but he took time to put an investment in, at the time, an unknown commodity. It probably was a risk. But he did it anyway. It gave people a opportunity, as far as I’m concerned, in the lower-class part of DC to get a chance to go to college and get a education. Some of us took advantage of that. Some of us did not. I only wish that I really took advantage of the whole situation. 

I didn’t feel like I got the proper guidance, the proper motivation, at home. But I can’t really put it all on my parents or what they did or didn’t do. I’m a firm believer, once you get to a certain age and you’re able to think and do things for yourself, you can’t really dwell on what didn’t happen. Or what did happen when you were young. But, at the same time, what happened to me had a profound effect on how I saw things and how I went about life. I had issues that played a part in why I wasn’t as focused as I should have been. Why I wasn't as motivated as I should have been. Nobody knew, um, my personal plight at that time. I think if I would have been more forthcoming and open about the things that I had went through, if Mrs. Rumbarger had the full story of my background, I think she definitely could have helped. But as a young man, I didn't want to seem like I was weak, or vulnerable or anything like that. So I kept it to myself. And I kind of like acted out, more than anything else. If I had a chance to do it all over again, I think that I would have spoken up.

But actually, last year, I finally did finish Fortis College for pharmacy technician. So, at 37, I finally got motivated. You know, so, they always say it's never too late. I'm proud of myself for that. I just wish I would have done it earlier. Because there's no telling where I would be right now, had I started earlier.

My personal upbringing and the I Have a Dream and, more importantly, me missing out on going to a college for four years and having it paid has a profound effect on how I raise my kids, it absolutely does.  I tell my kids all the time, you don’t want to do what I did. I tell little cousins, little nephews, kids out in the street—I will talk to anybody’s child—and I explain to them a little bit of what I’ve been through and just try to get them to understand: You don’t want to wait until later in life. You don’t want to struggle like I did. You don’t want to struggle like I am struggling. You don’t want to sit there and let opportunity pass you by without taking advantage of it. That’s one of the things that I try stress to my kids: Opportunities are always going to come; it’s what you do to take advantage of them. You may not even realize that it’s an opportunity, but if you’re always doing what you’re supposed to be doing, when that opportunity comes you’re going to be able to seize that moment. Always be looking to seize a moment.

Being in the I Have a Dream program pretty much steered me into a more positive direction. Because I think that without the summer programs, without the intermediate trips that we took throughout the school year, it would have just left more time for some of us just to be more out in the street hanging with the wrong element. The path that I was heading down, I wouldn't be here today, or I would be in jail still. I don't think that I would have been a productive part of society.