- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 11, 2012


From almost the first day that now-disgraced former D.C. council member Harry Thomas Jr. took office, his first priority was to conspire with others to obtain as much money as he could to indulge himself in such luxuries as golfing trips to Pebble Beach, Calif., a new SUV, an $18,000 motorcycle and designer clothes. It was of little concern to Thomas that the public funds he was spending had been designated to purchase sports equipment for low-income kids.

What could have been done with the $350,000 in city money that Thomas squandered? Just ask Curtis Monroe, Michael Toland and Roger Marshall - all of whom serve as volunteer coaches for the Benning Terrace Soldiers football team and are representative of the kind of dedicated individuals that Thomas was supposedly elected to serve. As teenagers, that trio of young men, through the dedicated outreach of others in the community, had been empowered to reclaim their lives from a vortex of gang violence. In return, they committed themselves to enable an upcoming generation to do the same.

The team they coached became a source of neighborhood pride. The three mentors used their own meager resources to supplement a relatively small grant from the D.C. Housing Authority to buy sports equipment, provide transportation for their players and treat them to pizza after games.

Tragically, the team’s locker room was the target of a break-in: Trophies awarded for victories throughout the years were smashed, graffiti covered the walls, and precious equipment and uniforms were stolen. When news of this devastation hit the papers, there was an outpouring of support from community entities ranging from the Washington Redskins to students in several suburban schools.

Mr. Monroe, Mr. Toland and Mr. Marshall had taught their players much more than how to pass a ball or block and tackle. They served as moral mentors and character coaches, visiting the youths’ homes and taking on the role of surrogate big brothers. In many cases, they were the only fathers the youths had ever known.

With his greed and misdeeds undeniable, Thomas and the others who facilitated his embezzlement will be sentenced to pay for their crimes. Yet their imprisonment cannot make restitution for the damage in trust and hope that they caused among the adolescents who witnessed their greed and saw that the officials who had been elected to help them chose instead to help themselves. The three coaches who have given so much to salvage their players’ lives from crime in the streets are, unfortunately, unable to protect them from crime in the suites.

Robert L. Woodson Sr. is founder and president of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise.

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