Two young girls with their arms around each other's shoulders at the Shaw Community Center.

The Shaw Community Center is one of the best-kept secrets of do-good programs in Washington, D.C. The after-school program enrolls students from pre-K to high school. They connect with the kids early and build a support network. The parents, youth and volunteers run and operate everything.  

Sudi West, its executive director, describes the center as a place for people who did not and could not run away. “They are living lives, pursuing education and entrepreneurship in their community. They are citizens of the world who can meet life’s challenges and overcome racial, socioeconomic and gender barriers.” 

As Shaw has gentrified, the neighborhood’s socioeconomic makeup has changed but the community center has not. And it is needed more than ever to make the neighborhood stronger, more viable and solidly productive from generation to generation. 

Earlier this summer I attended “An Evening with Shaw Stars” at the center, housed on the basement level of the historic Lincoln Temple United Church of Christ at 11th and P Streets NW. What a touching event!  

The food prepared by parents, volunteers and staff was down-home delicious. Awards were given to young students ages five and up for outstanding behavior, leadership and academic excellence. They track these kids and encourage them on into junior high and high school. Even off to college, when they have a chance to be supported with a scholarship. And then the kids come back and help with the program.  

This year, Sylvia Mbah, a Shaw Center scholar and recent graduate from Frostburg State, delivered a moving keynote presentation. She told students to never give up and to always pull from within yourself to reach your goals.  She also thanked the Shaw Center for awarding her a scholarship for four years and for standing behind her. Twenty young people from the Shaw neighborhood were awarded $1,000 scholarships to attend colleges near and far in the coming academic year. 

The center is a lifestyle that is making a difference in the community, enhancing lives, enabling and motivating academic excellence and producing world citizens who care. And this could be done by churches and organizations citywide! And nationwide!  

The program is not just about recognizing success. It is about helping everyone in the community achieve success. If a student doesn’t do well, the center helps them get back on track. They work really hard to save money so they can put it into whatever a family may need. They work with the children, their parents, the family and the community — to the point that some of the kids whose parents and grandparents have been homeless are now living in some of the Channing Phillips affordable housing units nearby. 

The Shaw Center practices a very specific philosophy — and it seems to be working.

A mother and her daughter sit at a table smiling, both eating dinner on plastic trays in a community center room.

Michelle Lewis sits with her daughter Kiah Lewis at the June 9 Shaw Community Center event. Kiah received a scholarship from the center to attend Florida A&M University. Photo by Angie Whitehurst

The full list of scholarship recipients includes:

Alma Garcia, Trinity Washington University
Bontu Kumsa, George Washington University
Audrey Tseumie, Trinity Washington University
Khalia Scott, George Washington University
Raven Hawkins, Bowie State University
Selena Laws, Norfolk State University
LaToya Cromwell, University of the District of Columbia
Kidest Gebre, University of Richmond
Tensaye Dagnachew, Penn State University
Marvin Mundo, Marymount University
Kaitlyn Marsh, Clark Atlanta University
Kiah Lewis (Florida A&M University)
Kiah Lewis, Florida A&M University
Helen Awosika, Morgan State University
Joshua Washington, Bowie State University
Crystal Pendergast, Penn State University
Kristine Pendergast, Randolph College
Maya Bostick, Spelman College
Christian Bryant, Morehouse College
Skye Wester, Old Dominion University
Reyna Rios, Trinity Washington University