Saturday, May 23, 2009
Sunday, May 3, 2009
Tom Blagburn never gave up on the people of Washington, D.C.
I’m not talking about the swells who reside east of Rock Creek Park in Upper Caucasia; and I’m not referring to the black and white middle-class folks who live along 16th Street in Shepherd’s Park or Crestwood; or even the yuppies and buppies who are jamming themselves into all the swank new downtown condos.
Tom was for the Washingtonian parents who couldn’t read, whose kids went to school hungry, whose lives were stamped “loser” a generation or two ago. Tom would call me up and rage at how I was a lousy journalist because I wasn’t writing enough about the “real problems” of the city.
Tom won’t be calling anymore. He died yesterday morning. In that sad moment, the nation’s capital lost someone who was totally selfless and completely dedicated to kids and families in dire straits.
Lowell Duckett — retired cop, Pentecostal minister and Tom’s best buddy — gave me the news and said: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall see God.”
Tom Blagburn would rather have all of Washington see the people he believed were lost and forgotten; he would rather have saved one teenager from jail.
I figure Tom was in his early 60s. He came to D.C. from California. He told me he had some Cherokee blood. He started working for the D.C. government in the 1960s when Walter Washington was elected the city’s first mayor. He joined the police department in 1976, worked his way up to its top echelons and advised several chiefs, from Bertell Jefferson to Maurice Turner to Ike Fulwood.
“He brought a sense of dignity and intellect to the department,” says Duckett.
Before community policing became a buzz phrase, Tom Blagburn was building bridges between cops and schools and government agencies and churches. He saw decades ago that the fabric of Washington’s urban community was in tatters, and he sought to knit it back together.
When Tom retired in 1997, he dedicated himself to helping young kids. He started a nonprofit T-shirt company that employed dozens. He never quit believing that if they were given a chance, kids would succeed, stay off the streets, learn and live good lives.
In the last few years, Tom worked for the University of the District Columbia’s Institute for Public Safety and Justice. He gathered up his buddies, like former Chief Ike Fulwood and Peaceoholics founder Ronald Moten, and brought them to high schools to talk to kids on the edge.
Until about a month ago, I would see Tom in the Safeway on Connecticut Avenue. He lived nearby with his wife. They had put two sons through D.C. schools. Tom would vent and tell me what to write. We would make plans to visit Carver Terrace. All of a sudden, he started to lose weight. Doctors diagnosed cancer. And then he was gone.
In the last months, Tom would rage more and more about the city’s lost youth. It was as if his flame burned brighter, just before it went out.
Noel Mueller, International Law Enforcement Advisor with DynCorp International under contract with the U.S. State Department, International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Office. He is assigned to the Iraqi Ministry of Interior, Inspector General's Office.