The U street NW corridor was the home of jazz greats, civil rights icons and Ronal ‘Blue’ Hamilton in the late 60s. I met ‘Blue’ at Harrison Elementary School 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. Harrison was definitely a inner-city school. When I received the call from Ricky Williams (a card carrying member of the KIT Saturday Program) with the sad news that Ronald Hamilton aka ‘Blue’ had recently made his transition. “The Good Old Days” came rushing back.
In 1965 I watched civil rights history change right before my eyes. It seem like H Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael and Marion Barry all arrived in DC around the same time. Brown would join Petey Greene and me as a neighborhood Worker for the United Planning Organization, Carmichael took over as the Chairman of SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) and Brown would follow him as the chair in 1967. Marion had eyes only for Pride, Inc. In 1966 Marion would kidnapp Pride Inc from a teen ager name Rufus “Catfish” Mayfield. I was 10 years Mayfield’s senior, but we grew up in the same NE Parkside housing project. 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 his friend Clarence “Bug” Booker being shot and killed near Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road, NE. Booker 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 those ashes came Pride Inc.
To quell the potential from further violence 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 his wife 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. Marion and Mary Treadwell were later convicted in 1983 for fraudulent mis-using federal funds earmarked for Pride, Inc. Treadwell pleaded guilty of all charges sparing Marion jail time. Catfish was able to piggyback off of Marion’s civil rights platform and has since become a designated “Civil Rights” leader. Marion gave little or no credit to Catfish as the creator and heart of Pride, Inc. Read his book “Mayor For Life.”
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 Greene 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. I would later join him with a five minute sports report.
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. They were all students attending Harrison Elementary. They spent their evenings at the Harrison Rec Center located directly across the street from the school, both facilities were one block off the U street corridor. This was truly a inner-city school in every sense of the word. 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 leadship led by Harrison Principal, Mr. Cousins and Physical Ed teacher, Mr. Davis was the best, 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. He had lost his self-esteem and they helped him to regain it–they only saw the hero.
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 me 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 a 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.
My wife Hattie and I found our non-profit organization Kids In Trouble and were the host for our first Christmas toy party for needy children in December 1968. After 45 straight years of toy parties in the DMV without grants or loans Hattie said, ‘No Mas’ and I turned in my Santa Hat and keys to the sleigh.
Blue tried to participate in every toy party I gave for the children, he would show up at places I thought were off the beaten path for him, but there he was that smile and “Hey Mr. Bell.” I affectionately called him “Captain Knucklehead.” He was a member of the football and basketball teams at Harrison and Hillcrest Saturday Programs. He could not play dead, but he was one of those guys who gave his all. He also thought I could still make things happen after he became a grown man and I was an old man barely hanging on myself. He would call asking if I could find him a job, pay his electric bill, find him an apartment, etc. One night I was attending a NBA Wizards’ game at the Verizon Center and I spotted him working. He was with my friend Kay Ettridge, she was a former DC cop and she was his supervisor and mentor. I was elated he had a job, but happier that his mentor was Kay. Several years later that job would come to an end with new management. He would later call saying, “Mr. Bell I am over here near Sibly Hospital can you come and get me?” It was Sunday and raining, it was hard to say “NO” but I did.
My last call from Blue came two years ago to tell me his social Security had come through. He wanted me to help find him an apartment! He promised he was going to bring me a piece of money–I am still waiting (smile).
Father Raymond Kemp our watchdog priest from the house of St. Paul & Augustine Church, responding to the news of Blue’s demise on FB, he brought to my attention that there was a drowning incident at the Hillcrest Saturday Program pool back in the day. I remember one incident on my watch. It was on a cold November Saturday and I walked into the pool and spotted a body lying at the botton. Everyone was swimming all around him. I dove in and pulled him out-it was a little kid we called Horsey. I didn’t know mouth to mouth so I ran with him in my arms soaking wet to the Children’s Hospital Emergency Room–they saved his life, but I would take the credit for it everytime I would see him, I would say “Boy I saved your life.” He would just laugh.
The first ever national NFL community television promo on water safety was video taped at the Hillcrest Saturday Program. Redskins Larry Brown and LB Harold McLinton were taped teaching water safety to the kids. Those were ‘The Good Old Days’ with Dave Bing, John Thompson, Jim Brown, Red Auerbach, Petey Greene, Larry Brown, Harold McLinton, Roy Jefferson, they made Blue and the Kids In Trouble Hillcrest Saturday Program the best in the DMV. Those days were truly “The Good Old Days.”
It makes you wonder how will today’s children describe ‘The Good Old Days’ to their children and grandchildren? Will they remember ‘The Good Old Days’ as Donald Trump being the worst U. S. President in American history and how he let Covid 19 be on track to kill a million U. S. residents? Or will they tell their children stories on how racism in police departments across America killed a record number of black, unarmed minority men and women in our streets for no rhyme or reason? And how a Lie became the New Normal among black and white leadership in American politics? Will they tell how their heroes and sheroes were spooks that sit by the door with titles and high paying jobs, but their success and contribution was like having a “Hero Sandwich” without the meat. RIP Ronald Hamilton.
RIP Ronald Hamilton.