“Calvin Woodland Sr. Gave US Vision, Dreams, and a Belief in Ourselves…”
Calvin, born in Washington, D.C, in 1940, was one of four children and grew up near Columbia Heights. His father (Freddie) was a chef at a downtown carryout and was also one of the first blacks to have his own truck route for the old Arcade Sunshine Laundry company. His mother, (Juanita) was a waitress for Soldier’s Home for over 30 years. Calvin loved sports, especially football, and he discovered a love for boxing after his brother-in-law realized Calvin was very good at it.
He graduated from Roosevelt High School and landed a job as a mail carrier, but Calvin still had a love for boxing so he began boxing as an amateur and then turned pro. He had come up the hard way and wanted to give back to youth and led them on the right path. He used much of his professional boxing ring earnings to start many neighborhood sports programs and became a legendary figure in the impoverished public housing developments of Southeast Washington. He spent more than 30 years of his life keeping kids off the unforgiving streets of SE Anacostia, one of the poorest sections of Washington, D.C. where he had lived since the 1960s.
On March 16, 1966, as boxing fans filed in to City Arena, in Richmond, Virginia to watch the continuing comeback of Willie “The Will o’ the Wisp” Pep they didn’t realize that they would see the end of one legend and the beginning of another. Pep, one of the greatest fighters of all time was 44 years old and had been swapping leather for pay for 26 years. After retiring in 1959 Pep had resumed his great career in 1965 for financial reasons and was riding a nine bout winning streak. It was a sad day for Pep fans however, as he lost a six round decision to Calvin Woodland, Sr. a scrappy 5’3 ½” Jr. lightweight. Pep retired for good with only his 11th loss in 242 total bouts and lived out his life in boxing immortality. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
Calvin Woodland, Sr. continued to fight on until 1973 and retired with a final record of 19-5, with 14 K.O.’s. Along the way, he lost to two future world champions; Carlos “Teo” Cruz and Alfredo Marciano. He was known for his aggressive nonstop style and was a real crowd pleasing fighter. However, it was not the boxing ring where he gained his fame and admiration, but rather in the battle of life for our youths.
He became a mentor to hundreds of kids who played on his football teams (WOODLAND RAIDERS), and boxed in his makeshift rings and competed in his annual junior Olympic programs. His young athletes were honored in parades and cheered by hundreds of spectators. He held annual award banquets where he gave out trophies and jackets to team members and to the cheerleaders, and he always acknowledged their sponsors and supporters. Those jackets were the only winter coats some would own. Many of his youngsters completed college and had successful business careers; some became successful professional athletes, and still today have so much gratitude, respect and love for Calvin.
On April 4, 2000, Calvin Woodland Sr. died at the Potomac Rehabilitation Center, in Arlington, after suffering a stroke. He was 60 years old.
The following year the Calvin Woodland SR Foundation was incorporated by family and friends and is ran today by Tywannda Blount, a niece of Calvin, Sr. “The Foundation, in honor of the legacy of Calvin Woodland Sr. is committed to developing and imparting programs and services that remove the barriers that negatively impact the lives of low-income residents along with providing activities and services for the children of Ward 8 communities and surrounding areas throughout the District of Columbia. Calvin Woodland Sr.’s legacy continues today through the eyes of many because of his works, and his caring heart. We strive to continue in the footsteps helping to fight for our communities.”
On September 27, 2008, officials of the District of Columbia showed their appreciation for Calvin Woodland Sr., by renaming the street where he had lived (HARTFORD ST., SE) to (Calvin Woodland Sr. Place). More than 200 residents and city officials were in attendance, many of whom were recipients of Calvin Woodland’s good deeds and those of the Calvin Woodland Sr. Foundation. This was a fitting tribute to a man who had given his life to helping others in need.
The late Calvin Woodland, Sr. was a legendary figure in Southeast Washington. He spent more than 30 years of his life keeping kids off the streets of Anacostia, which is still considered one of the poorest sections of the Nation’s Capital today!
I grew up on Hartford Street, S.E., where the Woodland’s lived, and was very close friends with Calvin’s youngest daughter, Bootsie. We were together so much that I became part of the family. I never knew who I would see when I went to their house. I recall seeing the late, Mayor for Life, Marion Barry, boxing great, Sugar Ray Leonard, community activist, the late Petey Green and News 4 anchorman, the late Jim Vance, all sitting in their living room on different occasions, kicking it with Calvin. I even saw boxing promoter, Don King, there one time.
Not only was I in awe of all the important people Calvin knew, I was also in awe of the passion he had for children. Every year he took carloads of the neighborhood kids to Kings Dominion, Sandy Point beach and Six Flags. He handed out Thanksgiving baskets each year to families in need. If one of the neighborhood kids were locked up, Calvin would write letters to the judge on their behalf and go to court with them.
Calvin was a mentor to hundreds of kids, and the only father figure that many of the players on his football team, the Woodland Raiders, ever knew. He had a makeshift boxing ring built on top of the hill, where he taught boys how to box and trained them to compete in his annual junior Olympic programs. His football players, cheerleaders, and boxers were honored in parades and cheered by hundreds of spectators. Calvin held annual awards banquets where he gave out trophies and jackets to team members and the cheerleaders. Those jackets were worn with pride. To this day, I have a Woodland Raider jacket hanging in my garage that I refuse to get rid of because of the Memories it holds.
In October 1999, I mailed a letter to the old Hartford Street crew suggesting we plan a surprise Tribute to Calvin to thank him for everything he’d done for us growing up. Everybody agreed and were all on board. Calvin found out about the “surprise” celebration we were planning and was so excited that he insisted the first meeting be held at his house! When we were leaving the meeting, Calvin called me to the side and said, “Thanks Linda!” I said, “Thanks for what?” He said, “You know nothing happens on Hartford Street that I don’t know about.” I said, “Um, okay, but I still don’t know what you’re talking about.” And, he said, “I know about the letter you sent, okay, and want to thank you for putting this together. It’s gonna be big!!!”
Unfortunately, Calvin did not live to see the Celebration because on April 4, 2000, he passed away at the Potomac Rehabilitation Center, in Arlington, after suffering a stroke. He was 60 years old.
Hundreds attended his funeral, including the late Father of go-go, Chuck Brown, Marion Barry, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes-Norton, local politicians, boxing legends and promoters were all speakers.
Three months following his death, we held a Celebration of Life Banquet in Calvin’s honor at the Panorama Room and it was standing room only! Most, if not all, of the speakers at his funeral attended the spectacular event.
The following year, Calvin Woodland Sr. Foundation was established to keep his legacy alive. It is committed to developing and imparting programs and services that remove the barriers that negatively affect the lives of low-income residents along with providing activities and services for the children of Ward 8 in Southeast, D.C.
On September 27, 2008, officials of the District of Columbia showed their appreciation for Calvin Woodland Sr., by renaming the street where he had lived to Calvin Woodland Sr. Place. More than 100 residents and city officials attended. It was a fitting tribute to a man who had given his life to helping others in need.
May 13, 2020