In Memoriam: Arthur “Buddy” Harrison

Local Boxing Coach and Community Servant Killed Sept. 24

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Buddy Harrison at work, photographed by Terry Quinn for “Jesus Bears the Cross” (2017), photograph for Bishop McNamara High School (BMHS) Stations of the Cross, Station 7. Photo: T. Quinn

In the summer of 2019, Arthur “Buddy” Harrison was suffering from pancreatic cancer. Early one morning, my then-four-year-old daughter got up early to leave him a gift on his front step: flowers and a note, asking him to be “friends forever.” 

Buddy made a video to thank her, saying “she is proof that angels do exist.” 

True to form, he also made a joke. “If my wife didn’t see them this morning, I would have got them and pretended I got them for her,” he said.

A father, boxing coach, mentor, community servant, as well as a comedian, Buddy Harrison died in hospital Saturday, Sept. 24. He was shot outside his home in Naylor Gardens (2700 30th St. SE). Police believe Harrison was targeted. 

A police spokesperson said officers later found the white Kia Optima sedan believed to have been involved in Harrison’s murder. It had been set on fire and abandoned in Maryland. They are still looking for up to three suspects.

Anyone with information about this case should call the police at 202-727-9099. You can also text anonymous information to the department’s text tip line to 50411.

The owner of Old School Boxing Gym (3100 Branch Ave, Hillcrest Heights, MD), Harrison was well-known in the District for both his work and his good works. A man of deep faith in God, he dedicated his life to helping others escape the lifestyle that so nearly destroyed him.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Leonard Poe said when he heard of Harrison’s murder. “Buddy wouldn’t hurt nobody, so it was just unbelievable.” 

Poe, a former boxer, has known Harrison for more than 20 years. They met when Poe’s trainer brought him to Harrison’s Hillcrest gym. Harrison would bring his son to box, and let Poe bring his nephews, James and Donnell Poe, to the gym hoping they would stay out of trouble. 

Poe said Harrison’s death affects the whole community. “You don’t just have people help like him. You don’t just see people like him all the time—especially in areas like this—who just reach out and try to help anybody.”

Artist Terry Quinn and Buddy Harrison with Station Seven of the Cross at Bishop McNamara High School. E.O’Gorek/CCN

Turning His Life Around 

Arthur “Buddy” Harrison was born April 4, 1960 in DC, the first of three sons born to Arthur “Dusty” and Jean Marie Harrison. Buddy and his brothers, Richard and Gerald, grew up in Hillcrest a few blocks away from where he was killed. His father was a mechanic who worked at the Sunoco on Pennsylvania SE; his mother worked at the Curtis Brothers Furniture Store. 

“I guess it was pretty rough back then, and I got in a lot of trouble and I been to every reform school you can think of,” he told the Hill Rag in a 2018 interview. “They always told me, “If you keep it up, then one day you’re going to wind up in prison,” and I said, “Oh, no I’m not.” You know, thought I knew everything.”

He was in and out of trouble, a self-described “lost kid,” until his arrest and conviction for armed robbery at the age of 19. He was sentenced to 19 years and served nearly 10. He was 30 when he was released from prison. 

It wasn’t too long before he realized things needed to be different. “I got home, and one day – things were still rough when I got home – I dropped to my knees and I asked God to come into my life. It changed my whole life. Turned everything around.”

“I never thought I’d been in a photo with a police chief,” Harrison said of this picture, taken with then-Prince George County Police Chief Hank Stawinski (R), his wife, Thy Harrison, and former Maryland State Senator Thomas “Mike” Miller (L). Courtesy: B. Harrison

That decision also changed the lives of thousands of others in the District, people who Harrison encouraged and helped through challenges in their own lives.

A One-Man Army for Good

Harrison spent the rest of his life turning his faith into action. Over the past decade, Harrison spent most weekends distributing clothing, shoes and food to unhoused residents throughout the District. At Thanksgiving and Christmas, he would forgo time with his family during the day to deliver hot meals to the people on the street, many of whom he knew intimately. He set multiple families up in apartments with furniture, dishes and toys. In 2020, he put a large, free little pantry near his 30th Street home, filling it almost daily and delighting when families would come by to fill grocery bags. 

When busloads of immigrants were dropped at Union Station, Harrison and his wife would order massive numbers of pizza and distribute food, clothing, shoes and other necessities to people bedded down inside the station.

In 2017, Bishop MacNamara High School (BMHS) honored Harrison by using his image as artwork for Station Seven of the school’s Stations of the Cross, “Jesus Falls for the Second Time.” Artist Terry Quinn said that Harrison’s community service, his work with youth at his gym and among the homeless, ideally suited him to a piece used for contemplation of the crosses we all bear.

Harrison’s son, boxer Dusty Hernandez-Harrison, said the family was aware that his father did good works, but not of the extent of his labor. Harrison rarely spoke of it at home, he said. But after Harrison’s death, the family started to hear stories from people in the community.

“We’re trying to keep doing it, and it’s amazing how many people it’s going to take to step up to do what one man did,” Hernandez-Harrison said in a Sept. 28 press conference. 

Fighting for Life in the Ring

Hernandez-Harrison, an undefeated welterweight boxer, was trained by his father from the age of two. 

The boxer said Harrison took great pride in coaching his son, providing guidance even when other coaches stepped in that role. “I’m kind of him, in his footprint and what he’s done,” Hernandez-Harrsion said. 

Harrison used the ring to give other young people a fighting chance. He said that after he was released from prison, he found it difficult to be hired with a criminal record. A former boxer himself, Harrison opened his own gym on 30th Street, later moving it to Rosecroft Race Track and then to its current location in Hillcrest Heights.

Initially Harrison trained only kids and men he thought had talent, working them out alongside his own son. But Harrison’s goals for the gym quickly changed. He wanted to give youth a safe space and the attention and guidance that he didn’t get. 

“Most of them come from families without a mom and dad, and they don’t have a lot,” Harrison said. Few of those who came to his gym could pay full membership fees, but none were turned away. 

“They’re champions to me now. I don’t care if they ever win a fight,” he said. “I just want them to stay out of trouble.”

Harrison also wanted to ensure his kids had a better relationship with law enforcement than he had in his youth. He began to offer free training to all Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and Prince George’s County Police officers. “Growing up as a kid, I was taught that all police are bad. So, these kids are thinking the same thing,” he explained. “My goal was to get them close and help the kids.”

Buddy Harrison poses with some of the kids from Old School Boxing, having just given one a bicycle. “He was so excited,” Harrison said. Courtesy: B. Harrison

Violence and Peace

Harrison was a fighter in more than one sense. In 2015, he suffered a heart attack. He recovered but was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a few years later. He worked hard to stay fit and triumph over the disease.

“He would wake up at 5:30 [a.m.], run, go to chemo, workout afterwards at 10:30,” Hernandez-Harrison recalled. “He was getting three workouts a day during chemotherapy.”

Harrison often lamented the violence in the District, mourning each time he lost one of his boxers or neighbors to prison or violence. He would often speak of the sound of gunshots, worried for children in the neighborhood and for his family. Despite the challenges, he did what he could to fight for them, in the ring and in the streets.

In one particular incident, saving a young man meant Harrison had to hit him. In December 2020, Harrison heard gunshots outside his home. From his window, he saw a man randomly firing a gun in each hand. Harrison went outside with his dog, Chuck, who bit the man in his side, allowing Harrison to get close enough to deliver a knock-out punch. 

Afterward, Harrison said he was mostly concerned for the man, who he hoped will get his life in order and come to the gym. “I’m not sure if I saved anybody’s life but I may have saved his,” Harrison told Fox 5 after the incident, “because if the police came and he’s got a pistol in each hand, I don’t think they’re going to do what I did — they’re probably going to shoot him.”

Harrison’s friend Tammy King said it could have been the same Sept. 24. “He didn’t deserve this at all,” King said. “Probably the same people that did it, he would have helped them. He probably would have told them, “stop; let me pray for you.” 

“That was Buddy,” King said. “His faith was very strong.” 

Harrison’s family say they are able to stay strong because of Buddy’s faith. “I want everyone to take peace with the fact that he had a great relationship with God, right up until the very end,” Hernandez Harrison said at a candlelight vigil outside his father’s home on Sept. 29.

Indeed, Harrison found strength and solace in his relationship with God.

“I don’t know if anybody ever prayed that no matter where you’re at, whether you made it to heaven or not, I hope God can forgive you and you end up being with me one day up there,” Harrison once said in a video he recorded as he visited the graves of his parents. “I’m going. There’s no doubt in my mind whatsoever that I will be in heaven one day,” Harrison said.

“I love you and I hope that I see you all again one day.”

A viewing is scheduled for 2 to 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 10 at Kalas Funeral Home (6160 Oxxon Hill Rd., Oxon Hill, MD). Funeral Services for Buddy Harrison will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 11 at St. Joseph’s Church on Capitol Hill (313 Second St. NE) with a noon internment at Congressional Cemetery (1801 E St. SE). A repass will follow at Rosecroft Raceway (6336 Rosecroft Dr., Ft. Washington, MD). In lieu of flowers, donate to Old School Boxing, via oldschoolboxing-gym.business.site