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Top 10 Insights for 20-Somethings from an Anacostian Cemetery Worker

John Shackelford has been the supervisor at Ohev Sholom Cemetery for 15 years. The 73-year-old Anacostia native mostly ignored my questions about his experiences at the cemetery and instead chose to enlighten me—a 20-something aspiring journalist who apparently need some guidance—with life advice.

1. Living a “street life” ain’t so glamorous.

“Living the street life supposedly teaches you how to ‘do people.’ Look around: All you’ll be doing is time.” 

2. Be honest. Always. 

“An exciting truth will always go farther than an exciting lie.”  

3. History is not dead. Appreciate it.

“There are a lot of books on Anacostia that might tickle your funny bone… There’s a lot of history out here in Southeast, and a lot of these youngsters don’t know nothing.”

4. Any time you can get a family together, it’s a blessing.

“Every time my family gets together for the holidays, we roll in with a rented bus and everything.” 

5. Don’t settle for jobs in construction, landscaping or janitorial services.

“Any young person take a job like this… well, there’s something he can do better. And if he does come around, Imma work the hell out of him.” 

6. Think about being an accountant.

“If you find out you’re not cut out for [journalism], think about being an accountant.” 

7. Have kids, and have them now.

“Right now as a young [person], you do you and start gettin’ to the spot. But pretty soon you’re gonna have to start raising your kids – you gotta do your eight hours at work and come home.”  

8. Don’t sacrifice your love off the game for more money.

“These guys makin’ all this money, they don’t seem to be playin.’ I mean, really playin.’ They’ve got no heart in the game and it’s not about winning anymore. Now, it’s about come the 15th or the 30th of the month, they have a check waitin’ in the bank.”  

9. You need three kinds of education: school, religion and home upbringing.

“No education, ain’t nothing left for you.” 

10. Ghosts aren’t real, but spirits are. 

(After Shackelford's 15 years of working in a cemetery, I had to ask.) 

“A ghost is something you can see in your awakened life, some image coming out of some mud hole in the ground. I haven’t seen one of those yet. But a spirit – that’s something you feel. Kinda like what we’re doing now. You feel a spirit when you can relate to somebody.

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