By the SWDCCC Community Engagement and Communications Committee
The Southwest DC Community Center (SWDCCC) that is planned to open in our neighborhood in the next few years will serve as a vibrant, central hub for the Southwest and Capitol Riverfront communities that provides an inclusive space for a wide range of services and activities that foster personal and collective growth. As a way to get to know your neighbors who are volunteering their time to bring the SWDCCC to life, we present the Meet the Team series. These profiles will highlight each member of the SWDCCC Board of Directors and Community Engagement and Communications Committee. Don’t be shy, when you see us around the neighborhood, say hi!
Name: Mattie R. Sharpless
Please tell us about your background: I am originally from Hampstead, North Carolina, and I moved to Washington, D.C., as an employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) in 1965, after graduating from North Carolina Central University (NCCU) with a B.S. in business education. After two foreign assignments and obtaining an M.S. in business administration and economics at NCCU, I returned to Washington and moved to Southwest in 1972, where I have lived ever since. I had a 41-year career in the U.S. Foreign Service, serving at the U.S. embassies in Paris, France; Bern, Switzerland; and Rome, Italy; and at the U.S. Mission to the Kennedy Round Trade Negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland; the U.S. Mission to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris; and at the U.S. Mission to the European Union in Brussels, Belgium, as well as in senior level positions at FAS. My career path consisted of working on agricultural commodity analysis, marketing, international trade—especially the export of U.S. agricultural products—and global food security. At the rank of career minister, I was nominated and appointed as the U.S. ambassador to the Central African Republic, where I served from 2001 to 2003, and where I had the privilege of having a school named in my honor during my tenure.
Since retiring in 2006, I have been active in varied and numerous programs and activities, including having served as the president of Southwest’s Town Square Towers Condominium for three consecutive years. I am an active member of several foreign affairs–related organizations, most notably the American Academy of Diplomacy, and I serve on the boards of the DACOR House Foundation, the Association of Black American Ambassadors, and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, as well as chair of the Global Impact Day Initiatives of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. I work as much in retirement as I did while actually serving in the U.S. Foreign Service. Southwest has been my home for some 50 years, while I was either roaming the globe on foreign assignments, returning home to North Carolina between assignments, or residing at Town Square during Washington assignments. I am also very proud of my North Carolina roots and particularly of the highway named in my honor in 2018 as the “Ambassador Mattie R. Sharpless Highway.”
How are you involved with the SWDCCC?: I am one of the chartering members of the Board of Directors of the SWDCCC, as organized in 2019. I serve as the chair of the Governance Committee. Thus, I have the responsibility of board operations, updating bylaws, and recruiting, training, and mentoring board members and volunteers of the SWDCCC.
Why did you become involved with the SWDCCC?: I became involved with the SWDCCC because I have been very active in civic, humanitarian, and political affairs for the 49 years that I have lived in Southwest. As a long-term owner of Southwest properties, I should be involved in what is happening in the community, in the area, and to work to ensure that all components of the environment will provide a wholesome livelihood for all Southwest residents. I have served on the Development Advisory Group of the Wharf since its initial phase of development. And I also testified at the most recent DC Council hearings on the redistricting of the DC wards, calling for Southwest to remain a part of Ward 6, which was successful.
What do you hope the SWDCCC will offer to the community?: The Southwest community is very diverse in many aspects, i.e., be it in the standard of living, religion, ethnicity, multigenerational, or economic development, along with the ongoing development of Phase 2 of the Wharf. With all of these varied key components, the SWDCCC would be the most perfect addition to our community. We hope to reach out to all of these components to help develop a dynamic community center that will be most beneficial to all residents. I do hope that we would be able to develop some very strong programs that would serve the elderly and the youth of the Southwest community, especially those related to enhancement of computer skills and technologies, elderly health initiatives, personal financial management, and the mentoring of youth in the various schools of the Southwest neighborhood.
What’s your favorite part of our neighborhood?: My most favorite part of our neighborhood is the waterfront area at the Titanic Monument. It is such a pleasant, calming area where one sees all components of Southwest gathering for one reason or the other, be it dog walkers, elderly relaxing, fishermen, walkers, lovers, and a place where everyone can just sit, relax, and watch the boats passing. It is also one of the few areas along the Southwest waterfront that is still in its original form, as we know it from some 50 years ago. But I am a walker, and I walk all over Southwest, covering four to five miles at any one time. That walking takes me up and around the Capitol, back through the National Mall, around the Tidal Basin, along the West Potomac Park, around Haines Point, and back down through the Wharf waterfront. All of these areas are simply a part of my “Southwest Walking” neighborhood. I also take photos during my walks, which I share with friends and post on Facebook. I am very proud that my photo of the flags on the National Mall, representing the 750,000 Americans who had died from COVID-19 at that time, was published as the photo of the month in the November 2021 edition of The Southwester.
To learn more about the SWDCCC please see our website at https://www.swdccc.org/ and if you’re interested in getting involved, please submit your information at https://www.swdccc.org/volunteer-form.