JIM VANCE THE GOOD—THE BAD AND THE UGLY: HE WAS NOT HEAVY HE WAS MY BROTHER!

He showed up in DC in 1969 shortly after the 1968 riots had almost devastated the town.  Jim Vance was one the first of the new media personalities to join the team of Kids In Trouble my non-profit organization.  After the riots major media discovered they needed to hire more blacks in their newsrooms to cover the inner-city.  Many white reporters refused to go into the inner-city during the riots.

Max Robinson was the pioneer at WRC TV 4 before Jim arrived but he joined the staff at WTOP TV in 1969 and Jim followed him to the news 4 news desk.

 Media pioneers Max Robinson and Jim Vance

I loved me some Max Robinson, but he was so moody you never knew which side of the bed he got up on that particular morning.  Despite his mood changes he loved his people—there was never any doubt.

The Original Kids In Trouble Dream Team was made up of my DC homeboys, Petey Greene, Dave Bing, Willie Wood and me.  We would later be joined by DC Superior Court Judges, Luke C. Moore, Harry T. Alexander and Bill Raspberry of the Washington Post (Pulitzer Prize winner).  Washington Redskins, Roy Jefferson, Larry Brown, Harold McLinton and Ted Vactor would join the team in 1970 and community give back changed forever.  The NFL, NBA and MLB would follow our lead.H. Bell and Bill Raspberry shoots hoops during half time of charity basketball game played at Georgetown UniversityL-R Back to Hollywood Farewell to actor Robert Hooks: Hooks, HBell, Jim, Carol Randolph, Derrick Humphries, Sonny Hill and Martin Wyatt in attendance.

Roland ‘Fatty’ Taylor, Larry Brown, Petey Greene and HBell participate in Kids In Trouble Community Festival 

Jim and Petey had a lot in common, they both had my best interest at heart.   Petey was a radio and television icon and we had been life-long friends.  He and I were already locked into the community.  Petey gave me my first shot to become a pioneering radio sports talk show host in 1970 and in November 1975 Jim made it possible for me to become the first black to host and produce his own television sports special in prime time on NBC affiliate WRC-TV 4. My special guest was Muhammad Ali.   The show was titled “Spotlight on Sports” Jim convinced the brass at WRC that the show was worth airing.

Thank you Jim Vance for opening the door

Petey, Jim and me would become like the three musketeers when it came to reaching back to enhance the growth of inner-city children in DC.

Jim hailed from the city of Philadelphia known as the city of “Brotherly Love” and he brought the love with him.  He and I became like brothers and no matter what the community endeavor, celebrity fashion shows, tennis tournaments, toy parties or support for the Roy Jefferson Reading Center—he was there.Jim and HBell are seen hanging out at The Roy Jefferson Reading Center on K Street, NW with several students.Robert Hooks, Eldridge Spearman, HBell, Jim and Derrick Humphries hanging out at the Chapter 4 club in SE DC

 Jim, Hattie T and the late and former Redskin LB Pete Wysocki looking good at KIT Fashion Show at DC Hyatt Regency Hotel

When a confused Sugar Ray Leonard was still trying to find his way, it was Jim who joined me, Robert Hooks, Sonny Hill and Willie Wood at the Department of Recreation & Parks’ to meet with Director Bill Rumsey asking him to help find Ray a job until he could get his act together.

When Ray got his act together it was Jim who helped me to coordinate a bus trip to Baltimore to support him in his pro debut and the rest is boxing history. Ray Leonard would go on to become the first fighter in boxing history to earn 100 million dollars in prize money.

Jim Vance in background as Sugar Ray makes Kids In Trouble Community Service Award presentation at the Foxtrappe 

Coach Woody Hayes, Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin and MC Jim Vance during KIT tribute and salute to Ohio State football

Jim loved to play tennis even though he was not that good we became partners on the tennis courts, when he found the time in his busy schedule.  I was right handed, but I would play him with my left hand to make the game competitive.  I think that was one of the reasons I never developed a backhand, I would switch to my left and hit a forehand when I should have been hitting a backhand.  The games were fun and great exercise for both of us.Inside Sports Celebrity Tennis: Jim Vance and the Usual Suspects at Anacostia Park in SE DC

Radio icon and ‘Quiet Storm’ host Melvin Lindsey, HBell, Jim and Washington Post sports columnist Dave Dupree attend KIT toy party.

It was easy to like Jim he was a people person and everyone was treated like his friend.  His special gift of loving children was understandable he was a school teacher in Philadelphia.

Inside Sports really took off when I started to write my own commentaries.  In the early 70s I was not only playing message music relating to community ills, but I also was writing commentaries relating to those same community ills.  Inside Sports was “Outta Compton” long before NWA.

Watching Jim on the evening and nightly news was very inspiring, especially when it came to his commentaries.  I would go up to the station in the evenings and sit down and watch him prepare for his newscast.  He would write his commentaries and then read them to me for sound effects.  This was a special skill because his writing reminded me of a definition I learned while working for the Department of Defense at Bolling AFB in the 70s.  I kept clashing with a Base Commander named Erickson, he hailed from Texas and acted like it when it came to communicating with minorities.

The Vice-Commander was really a class act pulled me aside one day and asked to meet in my office the following morning, I said okay.

The next day he came in and sit down and explained to me that I was too important to DOD and the community to keep going up against the Base Commander.  He then pulled out this poster that had a picture of the Devil with a long spear in his hand and it read “The Definition of Diplomacy”,  ‘Being able to tell someone to go to hell and have them looking forward to the trip’ that is how all of Jim Vance’s commentaries read and sounded.  He taught me while writing a story it had to have a flow and continuity.  That was the secret to him being an amazing writer and story teller.Maureen Bunyan, Lark McCarthy and Donnie Simpson all followed KIT and Jim Vance’s lead into the community

In 1983 our relationship went to hell in a handbasket because of his drug abuse.  The drug community in DC is a very small community and if you are using drugs everyone in the streets know who you are.  I tried to look the other way when it came to Jim, but one evening I could no longer look the other way.

One drug dealer brought a check to me that Jim had written for the drugs, it was then I realized how deep he was in.  The drug dealer gave me a copy of the check and asked me to talk to Jim about getting some help.  He explained that he could not tell him to stop using because this was his business and business was good.  This brother was known on the streets as a selfish and cold dude, but he shown compassion for and confessed he really liked Jim Vance.

The next day I waited for Jim to make his exit from the station after the 11:00 pm news.  We went to a nearby restaurant to have a sandwich and a cold beer.  I didn’t want to spent a lot of time making small talk and immediately showed him the check his drug dealer had given me.  He took the check and left the restaurant and didn’t speak to me again for 20 years.

When I told the drug dealer about Jim’s response, he was as surprised as I was that he would react that way to someone who was trying to save his life.  In 1984 he enrolled in the Betty Ford Clinic.  Jim and I were like passing ships in the night for the next two decades.

I will never forget in 2007 I rescued an autistic little girl off of the subway tracks at the Potomac Avenue station in NE DC.  One afternoon I emerged from a train and saw her lying flat on her back looking up and not moving.  My instincts told me to jump down on the tracks, but an Amtrak employee advised me against the tactic saying the third rail would electrocute me.  Together we laid down flat on our stomachs and reached out to her asking her to give us her hand, but she just stared at us.  Suddenly I looked down and notice the warning lights were blinking meaning a train was approaching the station.  I broke out into a cold sweat and hollered at the top of my voice, “Give me your goddam hand”.  She reached up and gave us her hand and we pulled her to safety seconds before the train pulled into the station–talking about a surreal moment.

The next evening NBC afilliate WRC-TV 4 covered the story and the anchors were Doreen Gentzler and Jim Vance.  Doreen excitely read the story saying what a heroic act it was–Vance looked dis-interested making like he never heard of me.  Hattie looked at me and I just laughed.  He never participated in “Fake News”.

 Doreen covers the Potomac Avenue Subway rescue on the evening news and Jim shows his love–looking like he never heard of me. 

The next time he spoke to me was at a tribute to sports talk show host Glen Harris on the campus of Howard University.  On his enry into the room I was standing talking to several of the guest and he walked by and said, “hey Harold Bell”, I was surprised and never responded.

The next time I saw him would be the re-opening of the renovated Howard Theater in 2012 he was covering the event.  He spotted me and came over and said, “Lets do lunch, give me a call so that we can set something up”!  Hattie and I stopped by the station one day while we were in the neighborhood.  He came out of the studio to greet her with a hug and gave me a date for lunch and never followed up—I let it go.Harold and Hattie T hanging out with Mayor Marion Barry “DC Mayor for life” at the Pigskin Club in DC

Marion Barry and Jim Vance had a lot in common they were leaders in their chosen fields, politics and media, but the demons they hung out with they were never able to conquer.   I tried to warn Marion that the Feds were trying to set him up, but he didn’t listen and his final cry was “The Bitch Set me Up”.   Jim ignored my warning and quietly slipped away.  RIP my friends you did it your way.

 

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