MITD INTERVIEW W. ANWAR SALEEM EXEC. DIRECTOR FOR H. ST
MITD: So, who is Anwar Saleem?
AS: Um, basically I grew up in the neighborhood. I was born in Washington D.C., I grew up in this neighborhood, I attended school in this neighborhood and um, you know I just saw an opportunity with this neighborhood where its flourishing and doing well and then it went through this devastation where the quarters burned down and were disrupted and I saw an opportunity to get involved and uh bring it back alive again.
MITD: What was this neighborhood called when you were coming up?
AS: It was called H St, NE, and it’s one thing I pushed -- to keep it as H St NE. Some people come in wanting to name it the Atlas District and all of the rest of this stuff because the history is a key part of H St, but most people come in neighborhoods and they try to redefine it, and the first thing they want to do is change the name. If H St was known to be good back in the day and it was known to be a devastating neighborhood afterwards, it can be known to be a good neighborhood, better than it was ever, today. So my whole goal was to push H St NE and to keep it H ST Ne and we’ve done just that, I think we’ve done very well.
MITD: Awesome, what do you love most about what you do?
AS: The people, the growth, the opportunity, the opportunity with H St, once the neighborhood went down -- this is the neighborhood I grew up in, and it’s nothing like you knew, and you have the opportunity to effect change (and change for a positive direction, the people I think H St has always been a warm place, so how you keep that then again how you keep that and revitalize H St and that was challenge. A lot of people thought that it was going to take 15-20 years to revitalize H St and some people thought it could never happen. I took on a challenge and thought we could do it, and we began to get national press in five years, we won a great american mainstream award the tenth year and so anytime you can get in the neighborhood and you start doing development of the streetcar track in the streets, that you can start a track of 20-24 businesses in a year that’s huge. Anytime you have a city that will put three million dollars in the neighborhood and you look at 2.5 billions in return, that’s huge. So I think that the opportunities are here, we have attracted over 300 new businesses, we created over 3600 new jobs which is really needed and a lot of African Americans carry those jobs so I’m really happy about that. I feel good about H St and the opportunities, if it’s not about Anwar Saleem and what Anwar has done, if people don’t hold on and take route in this and claim this, that it doesn’t just happen it takes people to make a change like this. We were able to influence new businesses that come onto H St, we were able to influence developers to come build on H St. So without them, H St would be the old H St but with them, H St is revitalized it’s hip, it’s workable, it’s livable and a place to really have fun and enjoy yourself.
MITD: I hate to ask because that was such an amazing answer, what do you like least about what you do?
AS: The city can do better I think in supporting the things we do down here to a certain degree, especially when it comes to the festival. We pay the city over a hundred thousand dollars over permitting fees, I think the city does well on the outside of the festival, when it comes to people who really don’t understand what I’m doing and they come to the neighborhood that they just discovered, they think nothing has ever happened and they want to complain about something they don’t know anything about. The third thing is we have developers that come in, people like Whole Foods and all the rest, we make a way for these guys and they don’t give back to the neighborhood in reference to the events you’re having so I hate that most because my mother always told me to honor the womb that bore you. I brought you here so don’t give me a hard way to go. I don’t hate you, I love you and so some of the things you think I’m going to do may hurt but it’s really good for you if you just listen to me and hear me you you’d find out that you’ll be on the right path. Same thing with these businesses, when you look at what got them here, twenty years ago you wouldn’t have thought about coming to H St but because of how it all works, now it’s an economic opportunity for you and you’re here. You’re not here because you love H St you’re here because it’s an economic opportunity. You make money and turn around and don’t support the activities we do, I think it’s hurtful. I think businesses need to look at their responsibilities and really support and give back and partnering to with what we’re doing.
MITD: Let’s switch it up to DC stuff, fun DC stuff.
MITD: What’s your favorite DC team?
AS: The redskins. The Nationals are coming along too, but I like the Redskins, I like the Wizards. I like all of our sports teams, they have some heart and they’re really trying.
MITD: You’re planning a full day around this city, where do you go?
AS: H ST. (laughs) I come to H ST. more than any other place. When I go to other neighborhoods I go to see what the changes are, what’s different, and how we can do things to really make H St better. So it’s just not H St, I try to go to other places. I’m always looking at “What can I bring back differently to H St to make H St a great destination”. Not just H St, now mainly Benning Road and at one time H St was a place you didn’t walk through you ran through, not it’s a place you really want to come stop and enjoy. Benning Road and Bladensburg Road are the same way now so my whole goal now is to make more of a garden district, to piggyback off of the National Arboretum and the Benning Road area from the highway to H St. How can you make that a livable walkable area that you can run and enjoy yourself and don’t mind walking from the highway to Union Station with no problem.
MITD: That’s amazing. As you know we’re doing The Future of Sports Art Installation Art & sports collab, health and wellness are becoming really great long lasting trends. What are three things that you incorporate in your life to keep yourself positive, healthy, and active?
AS: I eat a lot of food, I eat a lot of spices, I do sixty pushups every other day and I walk a lot. So, I’m up there in age, I had my sixty-third birthday, September 1st --
MITD: That was like a week ago, happy belated!
AS: (laughs) and so, I look at it this way, we have to constantly look at what’s being put into our bodies so health means a lot to me. I don’t get enough rest because I’m working all the time so that means I have to eat right and I have to make sure I get a little exercise in, I think eating is a more so more important than anything else, I have to keep that blood turning and the arteries, and everything else in good shape to keep me going. So that’s really important. You are what you eat, I think it’s more important that you are what your food eats because now it depends on what grounds and genetic modification we have to be aware of what we’re putting into our bodies. In the past I used to say that “if we eat something our food is supposed to know where it goes”, but when you start modifying food when it hits the body your doesn’t know where it goes and all types of elements are trying to figure out what else is really going on so we have to be conscious of what we eat these days. Get some exercise in and get some rest, which I don’t get a whole lot of but get some rest.
MITD: What do you have coming up? We know H ST festival.
AS: Well there are a couple things coming up, I’m always busy but we have the H St festival September 16th, after that i’m going to a conference for about five days, and then when I come back on the 23rd we have Art All Night which is going to be huge, we have about 78 venues, dc streetcars, and then we have a development summit that’s going to be on the 28th where we really try to vitalize Hechinger Mall and Bladensburg Road, Benning Road and still look at some other opportunities in the H St corridor. People are asking me how I do this stuff in September I don’t know I just do it.
MITD: Is there anything that you want DC and Beyond to know that I haven’t asked?
AS: I think what we do on H St that we can do all over the country, I’ve had invites and I’ve traveled from those invites to South Africa to talk about economic development to Rome to Turkey to Manilla (I just got back from a few months ago), talking about economic development because they like what’s happening down here on H St. I’ve traveled across the country and I think H St is a model, especially for neighborhoods that have been devastated, of how you can bring back neighborhoods. So that’s what my passion is, if we can get other like minded people across the country who want to do something but don’t know how to do it we have a good model here and I would like to really work with other people and other leaders to work and help revitalize neighborhoods. We have to find a way to bring back our neighborhood because at the end of the day when you have neighborhoods like Chicago which you’re not getting many investors to come in, if anybody does come in, they’re going to change that neighborhood and change it to how they want, it’s not going to be what we want and a lot of times we get pushed out so we have to take responsibility in our neighborhoods and I would like to help in that process across the country, how do you take back your neighborhoods, how do you take ownership in your neighborhoods and change the paradigm from a negative situation to a positive situation. Right now in Chicago it’s a ninety percent chance of African American males and a lot of times women now who grew up in Chicago have an ninety percent chance of failing and not making it, so how can we change that? How can we turn it around? All the negativity that the media and our families normally have because it’s almost in your DNA now to a certain degree we’ve accepted a lot of positive things that we could change that paradigm, we have to inject something else into your system that causes you to do something that's positive and I think it can happen but you have to set examples all over the country. We’re doing it for H st I think we can do it all over the country if we find people who are champions and then have that passion.
MITD: Awesome, thank you for that.
FOLLOW THE FUTURE OF SPORTS ON INSTAGRAM
MAKE SURE YOU COME BY TODAY'S FUTURE OF SPORTS POP-UP EVENT FOR H ST FESTIVAL
CHECK OUT THE SITE FOR ALL THE INFO!
SEE YOU TODAY!