William O’Neal Lockridge left a dynamic legacy. As one of D.C.’s strongest advocates for the education of Ward 7 and 8 youths, he forged a path that will not be forgotten, evidenced by the Southwest library named for him in 2012.
And on Saturday, the William O. Lockridge Community Foundation held “Dancing with the Scholars,” its signature annual fundraising event to help such youths realize their collegiate dreams.
“Although he wasn’t born in D.C., I would definitely consider him a Washingtonian, especially living in Ward 8,” said his son, Stefan O’Neal Lockridge. “And once he passed, we thought it was important as a family to keep his legacy going and it is still incredible to me that, nine years later, we have continued.”
In the past few years, the William O. Lockridge Foundation has continued to grow, to the point where they have given away over $25,000 in the past year and over $130,000 to date, said Lockridge’s widow Wanda.
“Talking to family and friends, they said, ‘Wanda, this is something you might want to continue,'” she said. “So we founded the foundation in March of 2011 and we’ve been giving scholarships away ever since.
“It really is about exposing our youth to more than just Southeast and Ward 8,” she said.
As they have grown in size and ambition, their mission statements have expanded to include not only college scholarships but an emergency assistance fund of up to $500 for college students in need and trips to Africa for deserving Ward 7 and 8 students.
With those trips in mind, this year’s “Dancing with the Scholars” had an Africa theme. Featured judges included D.C. Council members Trayon White (D-Ward 8) and Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson.
“Mr. Lockridge was a mentor for me,” said White, a yearly participant in the event since its inception. “He was a fighter and champion for children all across the District.”
The event also featured a performance from renowned group StepAfrika and a speech by the ambassador to Ghana.
“William was very committed to the students in the city and the residents and his constituents in Ward 8 and a reason that there continues to be so much support for the William O. Lockridge Foundation,” Mendelson said.
The impetus for the foundation and Lockridge’s dedication to D.C. youths happened years ago after he left his home in Chicago to work as a teacher. He rose from a temporary position to a full-time biology instructor, but felt he could make a greater impact as a member of the DC Board of Education, where he ultimately spent almost 20 years, his wife said.
After Lockridge’s death from a stroke in January 2011, Wanda said she wanted to honor him in a nontraditional way.
“At the funeral, I didn’t want anyone to give flowers because they are just going to die,” she said. “We could do something more meaningful. If you want to do flowers, use that money and make a contribution to Ballou Senior High School, where we can give a student a $1,000 scholarship.”
That year, they were able to raise enough money to give four students $1,000 scholarships, which led to questions about how the Lockridge family could continue to support students in the community. From those humble beginnings came the origins of the William O. Lockridge Foundation, in large part due to the assistance of son Stefan.
Future foundation goals include the expansion of fundraising efforts and the foundation itself to include a musical program.
As Lockridge reflects on her husband’s legacy, she thinks about the individual students he touched.
“The principal at Ballou Senior High School was a student of William’s and he tells the story of not having a suit or shoes to wear to the prom and William got those things for him,” she said. “You would think you were the only person he cared about. That is who he was.”