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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Meet Your Neighbor: DC Dream Center’s Christina Henderson

Native Washingtonian Christina Henderson, or Ms. Tina, as she is more commonly known, has lived a life of service ‒ first in the military and later in the nonprofit world. “I have always enjoyed helping others and seeing people grow into themselves and become who they were supposed to be,” said Henderson while casually discussing her life’s mission.

A veteran and neighbor, Henderson runs programs that serve the youth of Wards 7 and 8, giving back to the city in which she was reared.

Chocolate City Native

Henderson’s story starts in her family home at 2308 Pomeroy Rd. SE, in the Anacostia neighborhood where she was born. Henderson was the youngest of six children in a close-knit family. Her three elder brothers were surrogate father figures to her and her sisters. “We were poor, but I didn’t know it. As the youngest, I was always taken care of,” said Henderson.

At the time, Henderson’s Anacostia neighborhood was all-white except for their hilly cul-de-sac. When Henderson was eight, the family moved to Northeast DC. As an adult, Henderson returned to the city’s eastside, settling in in Naylor Gardens, where she has resided for close to 10 years. “I like living in Ward 7,” Henderson said.

The now-defunct Birney Elementary School was the first that Henderson attended. Birney was the first public school built specifically for Black children in the Anacostia and Hillsdale neighborhoods. It closed in 2011.

In 1962, Henderson graduated from Joel Elias Spingarn Senior High School. The school was then under the tutelage of acclaimed educator Purvis James Williams, who served until his retirement in 1971. Williams was “extremely strict. However, he taught us how to be professionals, follow the rules, and adhere to regulations. I distinctly remember going to his 100th birthday party when we were well into our 60s,” Henderson recalled.

Inspired by her education at Spingarn, Henderson chose to serve her country.

Vietnam War Veteran

Henderson enlisted in the US Marine Corps (USMC) in 1964. She turned 21 at boot camp at Quantico, Virginia. After training, Henderson was stationed at the famous Parris Island Marine base. There, she worked three years in military administration at the height of the Vietnam War.

Enlisting in the military “enabled me to grow up,” she explained. “The country was going through a lot of change. I felt that I had the opportunity to show people that Blacks were intelligent, could follow through [on promises and directives] and could deal and interact with various people they met,” Henderson emphatically stated.

During her service as a Marine, Henderson did encounter dismissive and racist colleagues. “I remember being told a few times that ‘you are the first Black person I met who was smart and can speak well.’ They befriended me, and I helped to enlighten some people,” Henderson recalled.

After the military, Henderson worked for Verizon for 28 years as a purchasing agent. Retiring in 1992, she elected to pursue a second career in community service.

Helping Children’s Dreams Come True

Henderson began by volunteering at the DC Dream Center (DCDC, www.dcdreamcenter.com). Located at the “Southeast White House” at 2826 Q St. SW, the center is the current incarnation of a nonprofit Christian mission launched 30 years ago. It hosts youth mentoring and family support programs for residents of Wards 7 and 8.

“There’s something about showing up. You’ll get 100% of her, no matter what. It would be ‘faithful’ if I could use one word to describe [Henderson]. She is a faithful friend, supporter, and a person who possesses the principles of Christ,” said DCDC’s executive director, Ernest Clover III. “The first thing children need to know is that we love and care for them, and that is what [Ms. Tina] encompasses.”

Clover and Henderson’s paths first crossed in 2009, when he volunteered as a mentor at the nonprofit that later became DCDC. Henderson was then its organizer. Now she is responsible for all DCDC programs including poetry, rap, yoga, line dancing, taekwondo. She also runs the DCDC after-school initiative that assists students with homework while incorporating art, Bible study, chess and etiquette. She even has put together a sailing day camp on Chesapeake Bay scheduled this August for children ages eight to 12.

Henderson, who turns 80 this month, shows no signs of slowing down.

“One of my greatest joys is seeing the youth that have come out of here. Many have gone on to college and some have gotten jobs. Very few have been incarcerated. The Southeast White House and DC Dream Center have saved a whole generation of kids. Those kids are doing well. I can honestly say that those numbers are well into the hundreds,” Henderson stated proudly.

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