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A person. A Photo. A story.
This week: Gregory on Being a Survivor

“I’ll be honest with you. When I first came to Washington, I fucking hated it. I was angry and did not want to be here. The only reason that I was in this city was because Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans, and I could not go back to Xavier University, where I was studying. See, I had everything planned out there. Xavier is the premiere school for putting African-Americans into medical school, and I was studying biology and going into medicine. Then, everything changed.

“It is hard to see so much devastation and survive. I could not get out of New Orleans before the storm and stayed with family friends. When the winds and the rain came, I honestly thought I was going to die. The house was shaking and I sat there praying, waiting to see what would happen. At that moment, all I wanted was for my family and friends to know that I loved them. Fortunately, I didn’t die, and was able to tell them myself. Now, I tell them all of the time. From New Orleans, I went to Houston, and then transferred up to Howard because my twin brother was studying here.

“When I got to D.C., I had post-traumatic stress disorder, drank too much, and thought about suicide. It was off-putting to see people here acting like nothing ever happened. I wanted to walk up to every person who looked happy and ask, what is wrong with you? Do you understand what is going on in New Orleans, one of the most culturally rich cities in America? Do you understand the heartache and pain that me and other people are going through? I eventually sought counseling. Howard and this city were great in helping me readjust and cope with what I had experienced.

“Walking around this city, even today, I am always reminded of how quickly life can change and how you have to appreciate every moment. Looking death in the face has changed my entire outlook on life. Now, I am more encouraged to make a positive impact on the world. I am still pursuing medicine, and want to be a cardiothoracic surgeon. I am inspired by Norman Borlaug, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, who developed a strain of wheat that was resistant to the weather. The man was responsible for saving close to a billion people from starvation. If he could help that many people, why can’t I? And, I know that as a surgeon and researcher, I will.

“After five years here, I have come to love everything about this city, except for the politics. I went from the biggest hater to the biggest lover of this place. Being here makes me feel like a citizen of the world. While I am a happy person, I am not content. When you get content, you can be lazy. I realize that I still have a long way to go to make sure that my future is bright, and that I make the world a little better than when I got here. Hurricane Katrina taught me that every moment of your life that you are living, you are going against nature and winning. If you’re here and alive, enjoy it. If not, you’re wasting a gift.”

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“Danny Harris is a DC-based photographer and collector of stories. In September, he launched People’s District, a blog that tells a people’s history of DC by sharing the stories and images of its residents. Every day, People’s District presents a different Washingtonian sharing his or her insights on everything from Go Go music to homelessness to fashion to politics. Every Thursday he’ll share a favorite story with us”

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