Philip Pannell is getting a vacation. Finally.
''It's only the second vacation I've ever had in my life,'' says Pannell, 62, an icon of grassroots District activism. ''I'm going for two weeks to Palm Springs, Calif. A friend of mine has a house there and is treating me to an airplane ticket. So, I'm actually going on a vacation, in the desert, in a very, very gay-friendly city.''
With Pannell's decades of partisan action, it's fair to ask if he'll be comfortable in a place not quite so Democratic as the overwhelmingly ''blue'' District of Columbia.
Philip Pannell at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, home to Faith Temple
(Photo by Julian Vankim)
''My understanding is the Republican [congressional] incumbent, Sony Bono's wife (Mary Bono Mack), lost,'' Pannell points out. ''I will be in a just-turned-blue congressional district vacationing. And I have Republican friends. I should be able to find some rest and relaxation in their territory.''
He certainly deserves some. First of all, he could use that R & R to recover from election season, which saw him lose his bid to serve as the Ward 8 member of the D.C. State Board of Education despite years of experience and unquestionable dedication to the Ward 8 community and beyond. Second, Pannell could simply use some time to recharge before heading back to his multiple obligations in Washington. Election loss or not – and Pannell vows that was his last attempt at seeking office – he might be giving more time than laws of physics allow.
''When you've been going the way I've been going, trying to squeeze a 25th hour out of 24-hour days, it just can be challenging.''
Among those challenges: serving as president of his Congress Heights Civic Association. He's working by day as the executive director of the Anacostia Coordinating Council. A small irony is that he's also the president of the Anacostia/Bellevue/Congress Heights chapter of the AARP – formerly the American Association of Retired Persons – with no retirement in sight.
''I can't afford to retire,'' Pannell says bluntly. ''That's the situation so many of us senior citizens find ourselves in. Retirement is nowhere within my reach at this point. Though I hope to at least be starting to… not have as much on my plate.''
Some small consolation is that, at least, Pannell continues to be recognized for his contributions. There may not be a golden parachute, but he has received a share of community gratitude – this year more than most. The Anacostia Community Museum honored Pannell in September, for example. He was honored by D.C.'s Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for work with ex-offenders. More recently, the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations named him the Civic Association President of the Year.
Come Dec. 8, there will be another honor for Pannell. This time, Faith Temple will celebrate him as ''an activist to all people in the city.'' And he's not even a member. Pannell spends his Sundays at the progressive Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ. Still, as Faith Temple uses the Dec. 8 occasion to honor ''pioneers, past and present,'' Pannell certainly fills the bill, having witnessed the Stonewall uprising in Greenwich Village in 1969, leading the D.C. Young Democrats as the group's president in 1979, and on through years of D.C. activism.
''I've been involved in gay-rights issues for four decades. I've been around for a while,'' says Pannell, teasing that if the Faith Temple recognition means one thing, it's that he's old. In a more serious tone, Pannell congratulates Faith Temple on the work it, too, has done for the city. As he continues, it genuinely seems that the Faith Temple honor is more valuable than his upcoming Palm Springs respite, however much he may be looking forward to it.
''I thank God for blessing me to be 62 years old, in that I've obviously done some things in that time,'' Pannell offers. ''I've just been out there. Maybe it's a recognition of the fact that I'm so delusional that I can actually make a difference, that I continue to be involved. In the late '70s, I was president of the D.C. Young Democrats; now that I'm in my 60s, I'm president of my AARP chapter. This shows that longevity is something, that I've been involved. I'm very honored and humbled to be receiving this kind of recognition.''
Faith Temple honors Philip Pannell at its Christmas Holiday Mixer, Saturday, Dec. 8, at the District's central Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, basement level A-5, 901 G St. NW, from 2 to 5 p.m. For more information, contact the Rev. Jakki Dennis at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit faith-temple.com.