It was October 1996. I had finished a round of campaigning for an Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) seat in the Pleasant Plains district of Washington, DC. That fall, I served as Volunteer Coordinator for the Howard University Student Association (HUSA) and helped to register over 3000 plus students to vote that year, 1,800 of them within the District of Columbia.
My campaign was untraditional for the time being a sophomore political science major. It would be my first time voting and running for office simultaneously.
I remember this particularly day vividly because I felt like quitting based on some community opposition I had received. Some in the community felt I would be a tool of Howard’s administration. As I walked by the Howard Plaza Towers that Sunday evening, I saw an older gray bearded gentleman sitting out front passing out flyers which read, “Vote for Lawrence Guyot for ANC 1B04.” I had no idea I was walking into an institution, a pillar of history.
This was not your ordinary campaign flyer. The flyers also listed a number of books and documentaries for students to engage towards increasing their knowledge of the Civil Rights movement. He also gave me a thick packet relating to the Financial Control Board, which he referred to as a “Plantation Board”. I picked up the information and there began a relationship that would change the trajectory of my young political life impacting me into adulthood.
Guyot already knew of my campaign and vowed to support Nik Eames, another fellow Howard student, and myself. “I’m a SNCC veteran, so I must support progressive students,” he said. On Election Day, we marched over 100-plus students from Charles Drew Hall dormitory to Meyer Elementary School to vote. Several community members attempted to challenge our voting credentials. Guyot was not having it; he stepped in front of us and led us into the polls that day saying, “let the students vote!” His wife Monica loaned me her car to help transport student voters. Their support was critical and vital. The final vote tally was 192 to 181; I had won a seat to the ANC by 11 votes!
That following summer July 1997 Guyot came knocking and calling. I had been elected
President of HUSA representing all Howard students. The issue at hand was the Howard Street Privatization bill before the DC City Council. Mayor Marion Barry proposed the bill on behalf of Howard to privatize the internal streets within the main campus. Guyot’s position was clear, if Howard wanted the streets, they must revitalize the run-down dilapidated properties they owned in the LeDroit Part district. Guyot was lobbying me to step out against my own university.
I conceded to Guyot my hesitancy in doing this however, Guyot challenged me to have a broader perspective of the university’s relationship to the community and nation at large. Essentially, Guyot was challenging me to be a reformer and not simply one to soak up the rewards of public office for personal gain. I can hear Guyot now, “Jonathan, if you are principled first, everything else will fall in place.” Guyot won me to his position and masterfully built a coalition with Howard students and local civic leaders to win Councilmember Frank Smith and ultimately Mayor Barry to withdrawing Howard’s street privatization proposal.
Today, I see the LeDroit Park Revitalization initiative, a partnership between Howard University and Fannie Mae, which rehabilitated the university’s properties, as a testament to Guyot’s advocacy.
Race was always primary in Guyot’s advocacy. My political loyalty would be tested summer of 1998 when my political compatriot Nik Eames sought the Ward 1 council seat from the now defunct Umoja Party. Guyot knew the development that was forthcoming to the Georgia Avenue and U Street corridor. He made a bold prediction to Nik and I and pushed strongly for us to support Frank Smith. “Gentleman, you don’t have enough votes to elect yourselves but you have enough of a base to ensure another term for this Ward’s last Black city councilmember.” I could not turn my back on Nik’s campaign nevertheless Guyot was right and we were wrong. Frank Smith lost to Jim Graham by 1,600 votes in the Democratic primary. Nik Eames garnered 1,840 votes in the general election in which Graham took 10,000 plus votes.
Beyond Guyot’s local advocacy in D.C., I was inspired by the deep respect, love and admiration his generation of fellow fighters bestowed upon him. It reinforced to me the movement sense of struggle and not the “Great Man” lens that many in my generation view the struggle for humanity. Too many in my generation see the Civil Rights Movement as Dr. King and the March on Washington. This movement element was evident to me on Feb. 17, 1998 when we hosted the late Kwame Ture (Stokley Carmichael) for what became his last fireside chat from the Mecca. It was in Rankin Chapel that Kwame, feeble and obviously dying from prostate cancer, upon seeing Guyot in the audience literally lifted him off the ground shouting, “Guyot!” That memory will always live with me.
Guyot was a living example of the politically engaged citizen at the highest level. He demonstrated power begins at the level of conception, that one could wage struggle no matter where they found themselves in the society. One did not need a political office or title to organize for the least of these. I can see Guyot now going to the LeDroit Park Civic Association meeting, having the most information to pass out having already internalized the pressing issues facing the community. My generation and this world are forever grateful for the sacrifice of Guyot during the Civil Rights struggle and beyond. I once remember a fellow student at Howard asking me to apply to the Patricia Robert Harris program in public policy.
She told me I would learn politics there. I told her to come with me down the street to Lawrence Guyot’s house.
There we would learn the art and science of politics and we did not need to file an application.
Love you Guyot. Miss you eternally. Thank you for all you gave. Onward Soldier!
Jonathan W. Hutto, Sr. is a first-year doctoral student in Howard University’s Political
Science program. As an undergraduate student, he served with Lawrence Guyot on Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1B from January 1997 –January 1999.