Rev. Stanley sponsored dozens of Ethiopian students and helped raise one of them, Yeme Mengistu-Gunn of Washington, through much of her adolescence.
Rev. Stanley, who often marched against gun and gang violence, was ensconced in the political and business life of the city.
He was special assistant to Mayor Walter E. Washington in the 1970s and an advisory board member of the Industrial Bank of Washington, one of the country’s largest black-owned banks. He also was a trustee of the University of the District of Columbia and served on the judiciary nominating committees that helped elevate black judges on the D.C. courts.
Washington tapped Rev. Stanley in 1975 to lead the office overseeing the city’s bicentennial efforts. He was the fourth person in as many years to take over the job. Previous bicentennial czars faulted the mayor and private business leaders for failing to provide the financial and community support necessary to essentially remake many of the city’s neighborhoods — including many torn apart by riots in 1968 — into a glossy showcase.
The bicentennial plan came perilously close to falling into chaos, and Rev. Stanley scaled back many of the more grandiose projects.
Mostly, he told The Washington Post, he focused on “an intangible kind of thing, a lifting up of the diversity and ethnicity of the Washington area.” He said his biggest hurdle was justifying the Bicentennial “to a city whose residents are largely black. . . . There were a lot of reservations — with justification — that the flag waving and the hoopla were just for the tourists, and there were questions concerning what do we have to celebrate.”
The city hosted musical concerts and education activities, but Rev. Stanley said he was proudest of 50 “curb projects,” neighborhoods cleanup efforts and mini-parks that sprang up in abandoned lots.
In a city where church leaders often have the clout of ward bosses, Rev. Stanley frequently made clear who he intended to support for city offices. He privately counseled then-Mayor Marion Barry after the politician’s series of arrests on drug charges in the late 1980s and was one of the few black ministers who spoke openly and with great disappointment about the mayor’s behavior and its effect on the city’s reputation.
“Our only power,” Rev. Stanley said of his preaching, “is to give the city a sense of moral meaning and when you lose touch with that which makes you powerful, it’s like pulling the cord.”