Mourning a Slain Activist

Friends gather to remember Lenny Harris.


Lenny Harris didn’t have anything to steal, said people who knew him the best. He had already given all he had.

The murdered activist for Alexandria, Va.’s poor and homeless was remem- bered Feb. 6 by friends  and family.

They said Harris — founder of the nonprofit Operation HOPE, which provides life skills training
and counseling to the poor — was never focused on helping himself but on helping others.

“He was like my backbone, a men- tor, someone that had faith in me,” said Thelma Evans. Harris helped her get a housing voucher after she became homeless.

The advocate had been missing since September and on Jan. 26, police found his body in a well. They said he had been shot. Three suspects are now under arrest and investigators say they believe the motive in the crime was robbery.

But Harris devoted his life not to getting wealth for himself but helping others survive. He was a spokesman for the underprivileged, frequently showing up at city council meetings trying to make things better for those in need.”

He would always help in the community, the kids, the homeless. If it snowed he would be
shoveling the sidewalks for senior citizens,” Rosie Ford said.

Ford had known Lenny since elementary school and also went to high school with him. She remembered how she used to love to see him walk down the halls.

“He carried himself like he was a king. He never asked for anything, but was always giving,” Rosie said, adding: “And he gave back a lot.”

Before the memorial service at Charles Houston Recreation Center in Alexandria, friends of Harris bustled to set out an overwhelming amount of food for mourners to enjoy. Everyone wore a sad expression.

Kristopher Futrell, who was at the reception helping with the food, knew Harris from when Futrell was only 15 years old. Back then he used to visit Harris’ clothing store on Mount Vernon Avenue.

“He would always have something positive to say,” Futrell remembered.

Later, Futrell, through his work in one of the local churches, got to know Harris better.

“Lenny was a very generous man and also transparent. He didn’t try to hide problems from his life, he tried for people to learn from his experiences,” Futrell said.

Friends, family and even people that had met Harris once or twice showed up to pay their respects. Sheldon Baker was involved in Organization HOPE and even though he only met Harris once, the impression remained.

“I admired him…Because of his commitment for helping children and for giving back to his community. He was a very blessed man,” Baker said at the reception.

More than 1,000 people attended the funeral in Northeast D.C., and that many traveled out to Virginia for the reception in Alexandria. One by one they hugged Lenny Harris’ widow Deborah Harris.

“There is a lot of love in here,” said Michael Johnson, an old friend of Harris, looking around the hall filled with people.

Johnson knew Harris since child- hood, and later on, when he began working with children, they joined forces in Alexandria.

“The first thing we wanted was peace and then love, and so we used to say that to each other when
we met at parties. One would say peace, and the other love,” Johnson recalled. smiling.

A projector displayed pictures of Harris and his family on the wall. The pictures showed a tall black man with a wide smile and kind eyes. Harris only lived 53 years. The many hundreds who came to the reception testified to the fact that Harris influenced his community in a way very few do in a whole lifetime.

As Rosie Ford said: “He is going to be missed in this community.”

Issues |Crime|Death|Youth

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