Soup kitchens and word of mouth have brought Sharon Lockwood 37 godchildren


Sharon and David Lockwood with some of their 37 godchildren at the Cosmos Club in Washington. (Gregory Staley)
Columnist

“I’m hard to explain,” she told me before whirling back into the crowd at the Cosmos Club.

Um, yes.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

There are the things you’d expect against the backdrop of the club’s Versailles splendor.

Sharon Lockwood lives in Georgetown, is a retired World Bank economist and former American University economics professor, has two PhDs, has written books on the economics of African countries, has two grown sons and two grandchildren, and celebrated her 50th wedding anniversary with a party at the prestigious club.

There was air kissing, champagne and a society photographer.

Sharon and David Lockwood with some of their 37 godchildren at the Cosmos Club in Washington. (Gregory Staley)

Sharon and David Lockwood waltzed to “Could I Have This Dance.” Then there was the Electric Slide. And belly dancing.

Lockwood, 73, was a runner-up in the Ms. Senior District of Columbia 2013 pageant. She belly-danced to “Hot Hot Hot” at the Saturday night party, doing a reprise of her pageant performance in a strapless white dress beneath a gilded ceiling.

She just got back from vacation. It was a Disney cruise with a U.S. Park Police sergeant and her 13-year-old son. The officer and child are among Lockwood’s 37 godchildren.

Yes, Lockwood has 37 godchildren. Nearly half of them were at the Cosmos Club that night.

“It’s just such a thrill to watch them succeed. It’s mutual, they help me, too,” Lockwood explained.

Her godchildren aren’t part of a formal mentoring program. They didn’t come to her through a church or a government mentoring group or a grant.

But somehow, in a soup kitchen or because a friend of a friend introduced them, Lockwood forged deep relationships with more than three dozen kids, many of whom grew up in D.C. public housing.

They became the first college graduates in their family, law students, CPAs, MBAs, a pharmacist, a dentist and a police officer.

At the anniversary party, they danced with Georgetown lawyers and professors and society women in sensible heels.

“I guess Sharon sees these ‘shining stars,’ finds us in ‘the hood,’ ” explained Nicole Jones, 26, putting air quotes around parts of the story that feel like a cliche.

“But it’s not just like that,” Jones said. “We’re really friends.”

Nicole had just dropped out of college when she met Lockwood. She had been misdiagnosed with ovarian cancer, which had recently killed one of her relatives. Someone in Langston Terrace Dwellings saw Jones’s problems and gave her Lockwood’s number.

“And Sharon was like: ‘No. Uh-uh. You are not quitting school over this,’ ” Jones said.

Lockwood took her out to lunch, where she lectured her about the importance of education. And she badgered her to get back in. Lockwood helped with résumés and essays. And quietly, she also paid tuition bills, out of her own pocket. Jones is now an accountant for the U.S. Postal Service.

The stories all go a lot like that.

Each of the godchildren gets Lockwood’s undivided, intense focus when they meet. Usually, they are already in college or about to go to college, and things are a little unstable.

“My heart goes out when I see people who have done such a great job getting there, and then there is more struggle,” she said. “I tell them that there’s no getting around doing the work. They have to do the work. But sometimes, there are obstacles in the way of the work.”

She badgers them about deadlines like a mother. Confides in them about gossip and fun like an aunt. And makes the impossible financial hurdles disappear like a fairy godmother.

“I thought I was the only one,” Jones said. “Then, I find out there are, like, 30 others.”

They’re not officially godchildren. There’s no christening or organized religion. It’s just the best term that they could come up with — Lockwood and her first one, Raymond McCree, who was 13 when she met him about 30 years ago.

McCree, like most of the godchildren, grew up in Langston Terrace, a public housing project in Northeast Washington.

Lockwood was volunteering at a D.C. soup kitchen when she met McCree’s sister, who also was volunteering there and was talking about the struggles her brother was going through, as the two women dried lunch dishes.

“Let me talk to him,” Lockwood said.

The families became friends. “It took me nearly seven years to finish my studies, and Sharon was there every step of the way,” McCree said. Later, when Lockwood’s younger son stayed with McCree for a week one summer when he was in college, the mentorship was reversed.

McCree’s mom was so proud, she began sending other kids to Lockwood. And so it went on and on.

“She’s the kick in my pants,” said Brandon Wallace, 29, who just finished his first year of law school at the University of the District of Columbia and is interning at the EPA.

At the party, he and Lockwood spun on the dance floor. “She gives life and love to so many people,” Wallace said. “I have a mother who loves and supports me. But Sharon is like something else. It’s hard to explain.”

Yes. And maybe no.

To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.

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