So many of my friends have gone away recently. Unita Blackwell, the first Black female mayor in the state of Mississippi; saxophonist Fred Foss, who played with Lionel Hampton and Tito Puente and who taught hundreds of pupils in the DMV how to “swing”; and now Ron Clark, the founder of Regional Addiction Prevention (RAP) Inc., one of the most successful drug treatment facilities in the nation.
Ron’s was a storied career. He was named D.C. Citizen of the Year in 1976. He was embraced by first lady Nancy Reagan for her “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign. His work literally saved and redeemed thousands of lives over the decades. He was a cultural warrior, a generous benefactor and a friend to the multitudes.
This may sound odd, but I knew Ron Clark long before I ever met him. You see, I used to walk down the street on which he lived, going to my grandfather’s house in South Central Los Angeles to work in his garden on Saturdays. Ron lived on 52nd Place. It was a quiet, tree-lined street and, most importantly, there were no thugs or rowdies sitting on the stoops on 52nd Place like there were on 53rd or 51st streets, which is why square little me liked his street.
I didn’t know that his gentle spirit resided along there, as did another famous, furious spirit, bass player and composer Charles Mingus. Ron, a bass player himself, recalled hearing the immortal Mingus and his band rehearsing on his block, and so he set out to join the ensemble.
One day the band was all set to travel to New York for an important gig, a potential breakthrough opportunity. The only thing is that Ron got busted on a drug charge, the night before the band departed. Mingus and the band went on to greatness, and Ron went to Synanon, the famous 12-step drug treatment facility in Southern California. After that, his whole life was rearranged.
Ron took what he learned healing himself from addiction and came to Washington where he founded RAP, Inc., and the rest, as they say, is history.
When he moved to the nation’s capital from L.A. in the early 1970s, he got there just in the nick of time. D.C. was suffering a major drug epidemic and wore the nickname “murder capital of the nation.” Substances such as heroin (“smack,” “horse,” “lady”), powder cocaine and crack (freebase), PCP (“angel dust”) and other hallucinogens were strangling the life out of adults and youths, robbing men and women alike all across the city of their futures.
Ron offered a rare holistic, African-centered, drug-free approach to treatment that included diet, poetry and plenty of Black music which proved to be safe, effective and long-lasting. To those who landed in his care — voluntarily, by referral, or even under court supervision — he offered them a bed, meals, daily responsibilities that helped develop character and leadership, counseling and a community of caring licensed professionals and volunteers that assisted them on their road to recovery.
For nearly half a century, thousands of former addicts have enrolled in the Regional Addiction Prevention Program started by Ron Clark, who started out to be a bass violin player in the great Charles Mingus’ band, but who was needed for an even higher calling to help his brothers and sisters escape from the bondage of addiction here in the nation’s capital.
He provided many, many, many documented success stories and many, many more offered testimonials about how the nationally recognized program RAP Inc. saved their lives or the lives of their beloved family members.
Ron leaves a dedicated wife, Angela Owens Clark, the former editorial director at WRC-TV (Channel 4), a son and several grandchildren. He was 83.
His homegoing service was in Los Angeles, not so very far from that tree-lined street where I knew him even before I met him: 52nd Place near Avalon, in South Central Los Angeles. A memorial service will be held in the District in mid-July.
Rest in peace, dear friend.