Leonard A. Blackshear, 62, entrepreneur and activist

March 27, 2006|By LAURA MCCANDLISH | LAURA MCCANDLISH,SUN REPORTER

Leonard A. Blackshear, a champion of African-American history and culture who founded the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation, died Friday morning at his home in the Riva Woods section of Annapolis. For almost six years, he had suffered from multiple myeloma, a rare cancer of the bone marrow. Mr. Blackshear was 62.

Born in Savannah, Ga., Mr. Blackshear soon moved with his family to Queens, N.Y. After graduating from John Adams High School at age 15, Mr. Blackshear enrolled at Hunter College in Manhattan to study engineering.

While at Hunter, he worked closely with Malcolm X through the Harlem Youth Opportunities Forum.

Before graduating, Mr. Blackshear dropped out to enlist in the Air Force, serving four years. While stationed in Bitburg, Germany, he earned a reputation as a great chess player.

During his time in the military, Mr. Blackshear took courses through the University of Maryland, College Park. He moved to Baltimore to live with his sister Elsie, and earned a physics degree from the university in 1969. He later earned a master's degree in business administration from American University.

It was in a computer science class at College Park that he met his future wife, Patsy Baker; she was the only other black student in the room.

"The glue was his brilliance," she said. "That's what I fell in love with. Then I found out he was a very selfless person that gave of himself to the community."

The pair married in 1972 and settled in the Riva Woods neighborhood.

After college, Mr. Blackshear followed his sister to IBM, where he worked as a systems engineer. He wrote a marketing program to better map out the company's sales territory, for which he earned a prestigious award.

By the mid-1970s, clients Mr. Blackshear developed through IBM stole him away to the Anne Arundel County Community Action agency, to encourage economic development, particularly by promoting more minority-owned businesses.

Over the next 30 years, Mr. Blackshear pursued an ambitious career in business consulting and telecommunications while also working practically full time as an activist within the African-American community of Annapolis.

Mr. Blackshear branched off to start his own companies - first Associated Enterprise Development, which then morphed into TeleSonic Inc., a company that helped pioneer the use of voice mail. As the telephone industry was deregulated in the late 1980s, Mr. Blackshear focused more on adapting technology for the deaf and disabled at TeleSonic.

Seeking to help the black community regain a connection to its cultural roots in Africa, Mr. Blackshear founded the annual Kunta Kinte festival in the mid-1980s. Kinte, the ancestor Alex Haley fictionalized in his Pulitzer Prize-winning Roots, was a slave captured in Gambia who is believed to have landed in Annapolis in 1767.

Mr. Blackshear also stayed active in countless civic organizations. He helped create the United Black Clergy group in Anne Arundel and launch the black needs-assessment through the United Way, which evolved into Associated Black Charities.

Through the Parole chapter of the Rotary Club in Annapolis, Mr. Blackshear started Project BIG (Books for International Goodwill), which sends books to students all over the world.

In 2004, Mr. Blackshear promoted a reconciliation walk in Annapolis, where white residents walked in chains and yokes, which were unlocked by black members of the community.

When diagnosed with cancer in 2000, Mr. Blackshear left the telecom business to focus full time on the Kinte-Haley foundation.

After his 20-year push to build the memorial to Haley on Annapolis City Dock, in 2001, Mr. Blackshear was presented the Dream Keepers Award from a coalition of Anne Arundel County civil rights groups for continuing Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy.

A viewing will be held at 8:30 a.m. and funeral services at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Asbury United Methodist Church in Annapolis.

On Thursday afternoon, Mr. Blackshear's ashes will be scattered on the Chesapeake Bay near Bloody Point, in commemoration of the slave ships that entered the harbor there.

In addition to his wife, survivors include his parents, Elsie and Frank Blackshear Sr. of Kissimmee, Fla.; three sisters, Elsie Chapman of New Haven, Conn., and Carmen Shortt and Mannearl Jordan, both of Brooklyn, N.Y.; three brothers, Frank Blackshear Jr. of Kissimmee, Dwight Blackshear of Los Angeles, and George Blackshear of Queens, N.Y.; and 23 nieces and nephews.

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

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