The U street NW corridor was the home of jazz greats and civil rights icons in the late 60s. Ronald “Blue” Hamilton was attending Harrison Elementary School in NW Washington, DC where he was a student/athlete The school was located directly across the street from Children’s Hospital, two blocks from Cardozo High School and one block from the U Street corridor. I received a call from Ricky Williams (a card carrying member of the Saturday Program) with the sad news that Ronald Hamilton aka ‘Blue’ had recently made his transition.
In 1965, I watched civil rights history change right before my eyes. It seem like H Rap Brown, Stokley Carmichael and Marion Barry all arrived in DC around the same time. Carmichael took over as the Chairman of SNCC in 1966 and H Rap Brown followed him as the chair in 1967, Marion had eyes only for Pride, Inc. In 1966 Marion would kidnap Pride Inc. from Rufus “Catfish” Mayfield. I was 10 years Mayfield’s senior, but he grew up in the same NE Parkside housing project as I had. He lived in the 600 block of Kenilworth Terrace and I lived in the 700 block of Kenilworth Terrace that was all we had in common.
Catfish had inherited Pride, Inc as a result of Clarence “Bug” Booker being shot and killed near Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road, NE. Booker and Mayfield were friends, he was shot in the back by a white cop who accused the pair of stealing a 29 cents box of cookies, all hell broke loose. Catfish was a 17 year old juvenile delinquent who was a petty theft and had served time in reform school for car theft. The potential for violence was real but cooler heads prevailed, and out of the ashes came Pride Inc.
The U. S. Labor Department sponsored the project with a grant the first year for $300,000. The program would provide hundreds of jobs for at-risk youth like Mayfield. The second year the Labor Department’s grant was worth two-million dollars. Marion Barry and Mary Treadwell were like sharks in the water smelling blood. The two swooped in on Catfish who was just a teenager in over his head. Marion use the Pride platform to jump start his political career. He gave little or no credit to Catfish as the creator and heart of Pride, Inc. Read his book “Mayor For Life.” Marion and his wife Mary Treadwell were later convicted in 1983 for fraudulent misusing federal funds earmarked for Pride, Inc. Catfish was able to piggyback off of Marion’s civil rights platform and has since become a designated “Civil Rights” leader.
In 1967, while still working for UPO I would meet Muhammad Ali on the campus of Howard University and the rest is community and sports media history.
1967 would be a very good year for me, UPO would give a grant to the DC Recreation Department to hire additional Roving Leaders for their “Youth Gang Task Force.” I would be a part of that grant package. I left UPO for the Department of Recreation & Parks’ in November 1967. Petey stayed at UPO where he became the radio voice of black DC with “Petey Greene’s Washington.” He was heard every Sunday evening on W-O-L radio. In the meantime, enter Ronald ‘Blue’ Hamilton, Lee House, Bernard ‘Fantastic’ Hillary, Ricky Williams, Gene Ward, Stacy Robinson, Keith Jackson, Raymond ‘Sweet Toot’ Hill, Thurston McLain, Tyrone Shorter, Lloyd ‘Preacher’ Jones, Michael “Dynamite” Palmer, Johnny Robinson, Michael Gordon aka Michael Gee, Jimmy Lee and brothers, Ronnie and Vincent were all students attending Harrison Elementary. The school was located one block off the U street corridor. They didn’t have a care and politics were the last thing on their fragile minds.
I was re-introducing myself to the school environment in Cardozo/Shaw. My stint as a ‘Neighborhood Worker’ for UPO made it easier for me to transition into my new role as a Roving Leader. School leadership led by Harrison Principal, Mr. Cousins and Physical Ed teacher, Mr. Davis, they really made ‘Children First.’ These black men were a breath of fresh air that I have not seen since. When Sugar Ray Leonard was trying to get his act together, Mr. Cousins granted him an audience with the children.
Our Prince of Peace Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 I spend three days and nights on the streets of DC with nothing but a police badge issued to by Captain Tilmon O’Bryant of the 4th District Headquarters. The badge allowed me to cross police and military barricades anywhere in the city to help try to keep the peace. The only thing I was scare of was some scare cop mistaking me for a looter and shooting me down in the streets. I could not wait to return that badge to Tilmon O’Bryant.