- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 13, 2011

If you’re one of the those folks who thinks they can control their own destiny, think again.

Certainly, each of us has a lot that is ours and ours alone to bear. We humans are not in charge, and there is no such thing as coincidence.

“There is,” however, “a time for everything.”

The biblical passage usually pushed its way to the front of my mind when, in recent years, I ran into William Lockridge. Dear William, like many black standard-bearers of social activism, was no pushover.

He listened, contemplated a course and took a stand.

I refer to him in the past tense because William died Wednesday evening after falling prey to a stroke. He was only 63, and spent his adult life as a public servant with Frederick Douglass‘ admonishment to “agitate, agitate, agitate” ringing in his own ears.

He lived those words.

To those of you unfamiliar with such social activism, Douglass and his ilk could seemingly appear contrary just for the sake of being contrary — and many of them were.

But unlike annoying activists who pimp causes for fame, political fortune or to rid themselves of spiritual guilt, William long championed the need to develop human capital (or “chattel,” as blacks were considered in Douglass‘ day).

A husband, father, grandfather, school board member and former teacher, William Lockridge was especially focused on the fate of black children.

William was the District IV member of the D.C. Board of Education, representing Wards 7 and 8. Ward 8 is the poorest in the city, and crime, illiteracy and the lack of economic development were William’s nemeses. The astronomically high local unemployment rate, 30 percent, practically broke his heart.

A Chicago native son who came of age in the Bible Belt at Tennessee State University, he relentlessly fought for social justice in his work with the NAACP, the PTA and Democratic Party.

But D.C.’s underprivileged youth (and their parents) also could depend on William to stand up on their behalf as a school policymaker and elected leader.

When Congress and the Clinton administration put a control board in charge of D.C. affairs, William was skeptical, once telling me, a supporter of the move, that the majority-black city doesn’t need “overseers.”

When city leaders dismantled and restructured the school board — the District’s first elected body, predating the 1973 D.C. home rule law — William said residents should have the right to “elect their own leaders.”

William also lamented the 1996 law that established charter schools, calling them an “experiment on our children.” In later years, he was a leading voice calling for a moratorium on the establishment of new charter schools.

And after then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee began pushing reforms, he was among the skeptics who questioned not their veracity, but whether they could succeed without strong parental input and support at their backs.

Sure, William could seem contrary.

I told him as much the last time I saw him, at the Jan. 2 inauguration of new Mayor Vincent C. Gray. William and I hugged, exchanged New Year’s greetings and talked for a few minutes prior to the official undertakings.

“What’s up?” I asked, inquiring whether he still loved me because he wasn’t returning my phone calls or e-mails. “I know we don’t always agree.”

He looked me straight in the eye and said, “I still love you. I’ve just been busy. Call me.”

William lived his lot, and he bore it well.

Now that he has been called home, he no longer has to wrestle with politics or policies. But his legacy of social activism, whether you agree with his ideas or not, speaks for itself.

Rest in peace, dear William.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.