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Bread for the City saved his life. Now he gives back to the D.C. charity.

When Shaw community activist Harold Valentine needed health care, he turned to District charity Bread for the City. Now he serves on its board of directors. (Kenrick Thomas/Bread for the City)
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Harold Valentine is 79 years old. In 2017, his right leg was amputated, the result of diabetes. For years before that, he’d been active in the Shaw community in D.C., trying to make it a better place to live.

Sometimes Valentine wonders if it’s time to slow down. “Look, why don’t I sit back and watch ‘Judge Judy’ or another football game?” he muses to himself.

And then he answers himself: “I say, ‘No. You can do this.’ ”

Valentine is as active as ever as a board member at Bread for the City. He has a unique perspective. He’s among board members who have themselves been helped by the District charity. He says he owes Bread for the City his life.

Valentine moved to the Shaw neighborhood in the late 1970s, a time when it was full of abandoned properties and a flourishing drug market. He volunteered with the United Planning Organization, a group for community activists working to improve impoverished neighborhoods in the District.

Valentine lobbied the city to remove pay phones that were magnets for drug dealers. He worked to hold absentee landlords accountable for their neglected buildings. When the MCI Center and the new convention center were being built, he urged construction companies to hire from the neighborhood.

“I'm kind of proud of that,” Valentine said. “A lot of the young men and women have really changed their lives. They’ve gotten good lives.”

Valentine was aware of another nonprofit active in the Seventh Street NW corridor: Bread for the City. It was created by the merger in the 1990s of two nonprofits: Bread for the City, a soup kitchen founded in 1976, and Zacchaeus Medical Clinic, which had been providing health care for uninsured Washingtonians since 1974.

Health care turned out to be what Valentine desperately needed. The trauma of quadruple-bypass surgery had left him dependent upon anti-anxiety medication that he thought he’d be better off without. Randi Abramson, Bread for the City’s chief medical officer, agreed. She oversees the nonprofit’s two health clinics, at its original Shaw location and its new Michelle Obama Southeast Center on Good Hope Road SE.

“If you know Dr. Randi, you know she's a genuine person,” Valentine said. “There’s no prejudgment in reference to Dr. Randi. I sort of latched on to Dr. Randi and Bread for the City because I really needed help.”

Abramson became Valentine’s primary care physician. She saw him through that crisis — and one even more severe.

“Four years ago, I got up and I couldn't walk,” Valentine said.

His right leg was swollen from the effects of diabetes. The early stages of gangrene were beginning to show. Valentine staggered the two blocks from his home to Bread for the City on Seventh Street NW. He crawled the last few feet, falling just inside the door.

“The staff were hollering for Dr. Randi,” Valentine said.

She sent Valentine to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, where his right leg was amputated.

“Bread for the City was there, every step of the way,” Valentine said. “They saved my life.”

Valentine has been on the board of Bread for the City since 2015, asked personally by the organization’s CEO, George Jones.

Valentine said he was “sort of trying to calm down from being a community activist,” but, “it’s hard to say no to George. He’s just that type of person. You know that he wants to be everything to everybody anytime he can. That’s his nature. It sort of rubs off on me.”

As a board member, Valentine helps shape the direction of Bread for the City, which in addition to its medical clinics offers legal services, operates a clothing closet and diaper bank, and supplies groceries to hungry families.

“I have an opportunity to make a visible difference in the lives of a lot of people throughout the District of Columbia,” Valentine said. What preoccupies him now is affordable housing. He’s seen his Shaw neighborhood become a fashionable place to live, but one that’s too expensive for many Washingtonians. He hopes that same thing won’t happen in Southeast.

Said Valentine: “A young man told me, ‘Mr. Valentine, it looks like you helped everybody to get ahead except yourself. You helped me to get a job. You helped me to stabilize my family.’

“I smiled and said, ‘Well that's the way life goes.’

“But I don't feel that way. I can testify that Bread for the City has really turned me around. It’s given me a new lease on life. I really appreciate it.”

Helping Hand

And I appreciate everyone who has donated to Bread for the City through The Washington Post Helping Hand. Today’s column is my last for this year’s campaign, but there’s still time for you to give. Our campaign ends Friday.

To donate, visit the website To contribute a check by mail, send it to Bread for the City, Attn: Development, 1525 7th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001.

Read more from John Kelly.