Big Bost Man

It was a recurring premonition. Sam Bost remembers it as if it were only yesterday. He had traveled along that Southern California mountain many times in his 16 years of driving a tractor-trailer. But then he began having visions of tumbling off the side.

When trouble came, however, it wasn't in California but in Peoria, Ill., on Easter night 1986. "I had just picked up a load, and I lost my brakes," recalls the North Carolina native, who retains only a hint of his Southern accent but all of his Southern charm. "That night, I made the decision I would get out of the business....I stopped, and I didn't [drive a truck] again since then. I do believe that God led me down the path to leave that alone."

Trucking's loss was the District's gain. The Ward 7 resident soon entered into a life of civic activism for which the city forever will be in his debt. First, Bost became intensely involved in the PTA at Houston Elementary, where his youngest daughter, Samantha Bost, was enrolled. "That propelled me into other activities," says the father of four (one son died), who has been married to his current wife, Brenda Bost, for 21 years.

After the PTA, Bost, 57, was elected in 1989 to his advisory neighborhood commission; he became vice chair of the police department's Civilian Complaint Review Board; and he worked in various political campaigns, including former At-Large D.C. Councilmember John Ray's 1990 bid for mayor. He was the ward coordinator for former D.C. Council Chair John Wilson's 1994 mayoral campaign, which was cut short when Wilson committed suicide, in May 1993. "We were within less than 60 days of making an announcement that he was going to run for mayor," Bost recalls. Bost also worked as a special assistant for former At-Large Councilmember William Lightfoot. He was an original member of the Anthony A. Williams' mayoral draft committee and served on the citizen advisory committee that helped select the current fire chief, Ronnie Few.

But LL thinks Bost's greatest contribution has been the seemingly mundane work he does as co-chair of the Far Northeast-Southeast Council, an organization of 19 community and civic groups located east of the Anacostia River that was founded in 1929 by H.D. Woodson. It is in this capacity that she has come to appreciate and respect Bost, who—when he isn't at his job as a hearing examiner at the Public Service Commission—spends an enormous amount of time protecting and improving the quality of life in his community.

He presents himself in the old-fashioned model of a Southern gentleman—rarely raising his voice and never being rude or unkind. But Bost is no weakling. LL has seen him tangle with Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance Gainer over police deployment in his neighborhood. She's watched him build strategy and consensus for dealing with Williams administration officials who wanted to ignore his community's concerns about the relocation of the Department of Employment Services to Minnesota Avenue NE. And she's seen him and his group declare their intention to stop plans by Habitat for Humanity to build 53 homes on what they say is a flood plain where previous houses were "wet all the time."

Bost's team may not always win, but victory isn't his prime motivation. "I don't see any way I could live in a community and not contribute something positive to it," he explains. "If I take charge of my community and there are other folks like me, then we can get some things done."

For his willingness to step outside of himself and give to his community, LL salutes Bost and the members of his Far Northeast-Southeast Council. Every day, he and other civic leaders contribute as much—some might say more—as volunteers to make our city a decent place for average folks as our $90,000-per-year, part-time councilmembers.

YOUR GOVERNMENT AT WORK

When LL told the mayor's press secretary she wanted to spotlight James Brown for this column, the man who produces programs on the city's cable Channels 13 and 16 sent back word: "Thanks but no thanks."

"He's more interested in seeing things get done. It's his preference not to do an interview," explains Darryl Anderson, head of the Office of Cable Television and Telecommunications (OCTT) and Brown's supervisor.

Nice try, guys. LL isn't surprised by Brown's media shyness: Whenever she's seen him, he's been low-key, quietly and efficiently performing his job. But if a subject's unwillingness to be interviewed never stops LL when she has critical things to say, then it shouldn't stop her when she has praise to pass around. Therefore, this celebration is provided in absentia, although there are a few critics in the corner.

"If I see Mayor Williams striding through that Las Vegas hotel, with his economic development team, one more time..." mutters Gary Imhoff, a dedicated viewer of Channels 13 and 16 and a Ward 1 civic activist who edits an online newsletter. "Showing the mayor's press conference and public events is fine; it's part of the responsibility of Channel 16. [But] showing the mayor making [the same] speech 25 times a month is ridiculous."

True enough—there are still all those ad nauseam repeats of wonkish press conferences, think-tank seminars, and public hearings that appeal mostly to the insomniacs among us. LL will concede that Channel 13, which airs council meetings, is what Imhoff calls "dull television," and that it's never going compete with reruns of The Mummy. (On second thought, maybe if we wrapped Ward 8 Councilmember Sandy Allen in bandages...just kidding.)

But tell the truth: Haven't you noticed the changes on Channel 16? Haven't you been at least slightly wowed by those slick graphics and promotions that imitate commercial television? Aren't the public service announcements better-scripted? And don't you think those three original programs—Reporter's Roundtable, In Style Washington, and Capital Cinema—are informative and entertaining? (Well, at least amusing?)

Brown, 48, who holds a master's degree in education and a bachelor's degree in communications from Howard University, has been a producer and writer most of his career. What's more, Anderson—who has given Brown the creative freedom he needs to perform well—says the professional veneer his colleague has given to both stations has been achieved within the OCTT's existing $3.6 million budget.

It's hard to make government television interesting. Most often, it comes across as propaganda or vanity programming for elected officials. But Channels 13 and 16 are incredibly valuable resources for helping the average citizen stay abreast of government activities and providing a glimpse of taxpayers' money at work. The stations aren't perfect, but given Brown's performance over the past two years, LL thinks he deserves applause.

REEL COOL

Tony Gittens was leaning against a wall at the Tenley Theatre, smiling as his hands danced through the air while he enthused over an Indian film, I Have Found It, one of the offerings at April's Filmfest DC. Gittens, the founder of the festival, was ubiquitous throughout the weeklong event, assessing the crowds and talking up particular films, always animated and looking like a man thoroughly content with his world.

It's hard to believe that someone who has been in any business for 25 years can still get excited about it. It's even harder to believe that Gittens is still in the business. He began his little project as the Black Film Institute at the University of the District of Columbia in 1976. That was a different time—before videos, before HBO—when African-Americans didn't get to see many mainstream movies about themselves, to say nothing of films produced and directed by them. And if there was a dearth of works by the locals, films by or about Africans on the continent were even scarcer. "Folks in Washington just didn't get the opportunity," says Gittens, who came to the District in 1965 to attend Howard University, where he eventually became involved in the civil rights movement and earned his bachelor's degree in English, with a minor in philosophy.

Gittens says he wanted to create an opportunity for dialogue—which is why his festival, even in the beginning, often included post-screening discussions with the director, others involved in the making of the film, or general experts. "I wanted to create a forum for people to talk about how films are made. I wanted them to think more analytically about films," he says, "which wasn't taking place back then."

But the more films and discussions there were, the more people wanted. Gittens couldn't keep a good thing small. By 1987, the black film series morphed into an international offering; during that first year as Filmfest DC, 50 films from 23 countries were screened. "It took two years to mount that Filmfest DC," says Gittens, who now doubles as the executive director of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

"We had a background, a good sense of networking and how to be of service to the community and to filmmakers," he continues. "We've been able to sustain a dependable cultural organization in the city with the support we get."

The 56-year-old Gittens considers every festival "new and fresh." He personally previews each film each year—which is a whole bunch of hours. "They're all interesting films, and I can't wait to show them to a group of people," he explains. "You ain't gonna see the stuff at the cineplex."

Can the congregation say, "Amen, and thank you very much"? —Jonetta Rose Barras

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