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Inner city youth are often cast off as failures and drop outs who cause destruction in their communities. But the Earth Conservation Corps is trying to channel that energy.  They are a youth development and environmental restoration organization based in Southeast Washington D.C. The Corpos employs troubled young adults from the area and puts them to work cleaning up the Anacostia river.  The Anacostia river is not only one of the nation’s most polluted rivers but also runs through one of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods; Anacostia.  

Located only a few blocks away from the US Capitol, Anacostia is choked by high crime, poverty, and heavy pollution.  It isn’t surprising that the river has just as many problems. About 20,000 tons of trash are dumped in the river each year and every time it rains in the district, raw sewage overflows into the river resulting in a total of two billion gallons of raw sewage every year.  

Corps members, who often come from criminal backgrounds, clean up debris, educate community youth about native wildlife and the environment, and investigate to find pollution sources.  Over 400 students have graduated from the Earth Conservation Corps. While in the program, members are paid minimum wage, given health insurance, and receive a $5,000 scholarship if they choose to go onto college. 

But they can’t save everyone. The Earth Conservation Corps has lost at least one member each year, many of which were the result of violence.  Diamond Teague, a 19 year old who completed 7 months in the ECC was murdered in 2003.  He was shot in the head while he was sitting on his front porch.  Another member, Aaron Teeter, was a high school dropout and former drug dealer before he joined ECC.  When he became a member, he became interested in journalism and video making.  But he too was shot in the head while sitting on his front stoop.   

The Earth Conservation Corps now documents all of it’s activities on video in hopes to tell the world about not only the environmental injustice in Anacostia but also the harsh realities young adults face every day.

Photo courtesy of Ali Sanders