There is a long list of public servants in the black community who give unselfishly of their time trying to make a better way for our youth–meet Bobby Lee.
The home going services for Bobby Lee on June 4, 2015 was truly a celebration of life for a truly a remarkable man. He was a native Washingtonian, and grew up in the NE corridor of East Capitol and 49th Streets NE. Bobby was a product of the DC Public school system and graduated from Armstrong High School. He was a member of the basketball and swim teams. Armstrong has a glorious tradition of great teams and great athletes who include, NFL great Avatus Stone (Syracuse All-American) and NFL Hall of Fame inductees Len Ford and Bobby’s basketball teammate Willie Wood.
He honed his basketball skills at the legendary Kelly Miller playground, the playground of legends. No crybabies were allowed. It did not matter whether you played football, basketball or baseball—grown men only. I would walk from Parkside to the Kelly Miller Basketball court on the weekends. We didn’t have a basketball court in the neighborhood so I walked to Kelly Miller. This was where the action was and it was where I wanted to be. Basketball was the No. 1 game on the playground, baseball with the great Playground Director, Kiyi Battle was a close second. The playground legends that emerged from Kelly Miller are too many to mention, I know I would leave someone out. Many were legends in their own time and others were legends in their own minds. Dave Bing went from a crybaby to the NBA Hall of Fame. He earned his wings at Kelly Miller the hard way.
Bobby and Furman Marshall were home-grown talent who could hold their own on the basketball court, but would later become legendary Black Belt Martial Arts artist. The two earned their black belts at the same time and would spend their adult lives as youth advocates and helping the elderly.
Bobby Lee was a man’s man, he served in the U. S. Army from 1960-1962, in the 1st Calvary Division. He was station at Fort Jackson, S. C., Fort Benning, Ga. He was a squad leader, earned the sharp shooter’s badge. His military occupation specialty was heavy weapons, mortars and recoilless rifles. During a period of time when racial tensions were high in the military he did not hesitate to stand up for equal treatment for himself, as well as other black troops. Because of his stand against racism in all forms changes were made to improve the quality of life for himself and other black soldiers. It was while serving in Korea he was introduced to the Martial Arts and eventually became a 3rd degree Black Belt. Furman would go on to become a Grand Master and be inducted into the Martial Arts Hall of Fame. Their work in the DMZ with youth would become legendary and second to none.
Bobby shared his martial arts skills with many. He found one of the area’s first martial arts training centers, Scorpions, in the basement of his home in Landover, Md. As the club grew he moved it to Pepper Mill Rec Center in Seat Pleasant, Md. There he taught many students, neighbors and family members martial arts. He is the recipient of many awards including the United Head of Family Martial Arts Association International Hall of Champions award, the Mixed Martial Arts: Head Founder of Honors Award. And the Martial Arts Pioneer Award.
Jhon Rhee The Godfather of martial arts in DC—-“Nobody bothers me”
Bobby was also passionate about swimming. He taught swimming in his backyard pool and found a swim club which competed with other swim clubs locally. He became a mentor and role model for many children in the neighborhood, especially, for many young black men who did not have positive male role models in their lives.
Up until the time of his passing, he was still a role model and mentor for many friends and family. Anyone who had the pleasure to meet Bobby Lee could feel his magnetism, he loved people. If you didn’t like him, you didn’t like yourself.
Bobby and I were always connected from the playgrounds, to the work place and to his family. His first wife Shirley Cross and I were in the same class at Spingarn High School. She was always a lady and class act (honor student). I spoke with her after the funeral, we remembered the good old days, she said, “Even though Bobby and I were divorced we remained good friends. He was a great father to our only son, Barry.” I expected nothing less.
Frank Smith one his closest friends reminded me that it was Bobby who got him his first job after he got out of the Army in 1962. Bobby was the only black employee working for a NASA contractor named Documentation, Inc. The company was located in Bethesda, Maryland. I followed Frank to the job during the summer of 1963 and not far behind was Robert Cephas, Charlie Jones, Roscoe Brown, Ronnie Bruce, Donald Brown, and Big Melvin Jones. We had our own All-Star Basketball team. DC guys took over and folks started to call us “Documentation DC North.” We owed it all to Bobby Lee.
In 1969 Bobby married my neighbor from back in the day, the love of his life Maureen Turner. From this union in 1972 they were blessed with Eric and in 1975 there was another baby boy they named Jonathan. Bobby and Maureen were very active in playing sports together and enjoyed traveling. You could often find them on any given Friday night over at Maureen’s parent’s house bonding with her siblings and enjoying time with the Turners. Whether it was swimming in Bobby and Maureen’s pool, partying down in their basement, or in their backyard, they enjoyed having family and friends over.
I can say truly “We are family” without having to crash the party (Home Going)!
The Turners and Bells grew up together in a NE Housing project called Parkside in the early 50s. The Turners lived on Barnes Street and we lived right around the corner on Kenilworth Terrace. Their next door neighbors were the Johnsons, Sonny, Dan, Jake and a sister whose name escapes me. I remember having to walk by their house on the way to the playground and Mickey the oldest brother would come out to join us to play whatever the game was chosen for that day. Mickey was as fast as lighting–he could run.
There were some great athletes that came out of Parkside. First, the greatest all-around athlete was former Los Angeles Dodger’s base stealing great, Maury ‘Sonny’ Wills. He came from a family of great athletes that lived on Kenilworth Avenue.
When I encountered Cecil Turner (Maureen’s brother) outside the church, reflections of Parkside came rushing back. Cecil went on to have an outstanding career as a wide receiver and kick-off return man for the NFL Chicago Bears. It was here he reminded me of how I played a minor role in his development as an athlete. He said “Harold, you got me started in football at the Parkside Rec Center. I remember, one day you guys were short on players and you choose me to fill in. And I got baptized under fire.”