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Losing a mentor – Bay area mourns activist

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Leonard “Lefty” Gordon, a longtime activist who mentored thousands of teenage boys, including a young O.J. Simpson, died on Tuesday of a heart attack, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

“There is frankly no way to describe his loss to the community,” Mayor Willie Brown told the Chronicle. “To get his blessing and support was to almost ensure your success.”

As executive director of the Ella Hill Hutch Community Center, Gordon organized a midnight basketball league, arranged students’ tutoring, raised money to send them on field trips and offered computer classes to children and seniors, the Chronicle reports.

Gordon said his goal was to bring young black men into manhood, Amelia Ashley-Ward, publisher of the African-American newspaper the Sun Reporter, told the Chronicle.

“He wanted to save them and keep them out of the prison system,” she told the Chronicle, “and he wanted to make sure they got a fair shake.”

In the early 1960s, Gordon ran the Booker T. Washington Community Center, mentoring young men from the nearby housing projects. After a 15-year old O.J. Simpson was arrested for his involvement in a gang fight, Gordon arranged for him to spend the day with Willie Mays. Simpson credits that day for turning his life around.

Psychologist Julia Hare, who worked with Gordon for more than 10 years, told the Chronicle she once asked him whether he ever worked for a corporation.

“He laughed at me,” she told the Chronicle. “He said, ‘I don’t want to work on a high-tech plantation.”

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