Editor’s Note: This story has been updated and corrected from its previous version. We apologize for these errors.
Dr. Clifford Thomas, founder and chief instructor of We Lead by Example Inc. — Tae Kwon Do Ramblers Self-Defense Systems, has been a public servant in the Washington, D.C. and Prince George’s County communities, advocating for public safety since 1970.
Thomas openly recognized politicians, law officials and public leaders at his school during a Leading By Example awards ceremony held at the Bladensburg Community Center Aug. 27.
During the ceremony he also acknowledged WMATA anchor leadership and The Metro Transit Police Department who work in unison to improve and ensure a safer transportation environment for all passengers.
“We want to award the leaders of the community for doing a brilliant job and a tough job. The police officers do a hell of a job, and a lot of these guys don’t get the recognition because they’re leading by example,” Thomas said. “We’re working with the police to keep our community safe and I wanted to show that to the youth.”
Thomas also took special note of the hard decisions that Paul J. Wiedefeld, the newly-seated general manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, recently made when he shut down the WMATA for safety reasons.
The invited honorees thanked Thomas for his support of the community through his martial arts program and spoke about the importance of stressing education to the youth.
“I was honored to receive this award and to acknowledge the accomplishments of the youth is so important as well,” Wiedefeld said. “You can see the respect they have for him and for him to take the time to recognize them. So it was exciting to be here for that.”
Wiedefeld acknowledged the future challenges WMATA will face – promising to bring the transit system “back to where things need to be.”
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and Lieutenant Governor Boyd K. Rutherford were also award winners at the ceremony. Their award was accepted by Jimmy Rhee, Special Secretary of the Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs. Rhee is the son of Grandmaster Jhoon Rhee, known as the renowned “father of Tae Kwon Do.” Thomas, who began taking martial arts in 1964, was one of his first students.
“The Governor and Lieutenant Governor understand the positive effect that martial arts has on society,” Rhee said. “As a youngster growing up in a martial arts family, I remember people like Bruce Lee, Muhammad Ali and Chuck Norris stopping by our house working out with my father, exchanging techniques. I saw all of the passion and later success they had. Passion is a critical attribute to have. Martial arts is not being a black belt and throwing kicks and punches. It’s about translating and transferring the skills you’ve learned.”
Bladensburg Mayor Walter James attended the awards event in support of his wife, Kisha D. James. Mayor James noted that while each organization is different and plays its own role, they make up one community base.
“To see this partnership and all the great work Dr. Thomas does working with the young people is encouraging,” James said. “Being a leader, Dr. Thomas has the heart of a servant, and he really believes in serving.”
Thomas stressed while it was important to recognize the support of local elected and law officials it was imperative to recognize the academic accomplishments of his students.
At the conclusion of the awards ceremony Thomas asked all of the students who made their school honor roll for all four school advisories to stand and be recognized. Thomas keeps track of each student’s report card from kindergarten through high school. Approximately 30 of his students whose ages ranged from 3-years-old to 17-years-old stood proudly. Each honor roll student was given $30 for their academic success.
Other honored guests receiving awards included Kisha D. James, First Lady, Town of Bladensburg, accompanied by her husband, Mayor Walter James, Capt. Jason L. Fisher, Seat Pleasant Police Department, Chief Elliott W. Gibson, Sr., District Heights Police Department, Chief Henry P. Stawinski, Prince George’s County Police Department and retired Chief Charles Owens, Bladensburg Police Department. Lt. Tracy D. Stone, acting Bladensburg chief of police, received an award and also accepted an award on behalf of Chief Owens. Malcolm Augustine, WMATA board member, accepted an award on behalf of Chief Ronald A. Pavlik, Jr., Metro Transit Police Department.