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In Memory of Zastrow Simms — A Pioneer, A Legend, An Inspiration.

I have two very fond memories of Zastrow. The first one was at a Halloween celebration at the Stanton Center. I had to be no more than 6 or 7 years old but I will never forget seeing Zastrow on roller skates dressed in a clown costume with a bright multi-colored afro wig. It was a true sight to see!

My second memory, and one that will remain with me for years to come is from the naming ceremony for the Obery Court recreation center. During his speech he stated, very matter-of-factly that when he was gone he wanted people to remember every part of him, the good and the not-so-good. He said ‘When you paint the picture, use all of the colors.’

When you roll your sleeves up and jump into the ditches and quaries of service, I think that individuals slide a magical pedestal under you. Butter stops melting in your mouth and wings magically sprout from your back. You become a shining example and a glistening crutch because it seems as if dedication to the betterment of your community and giving for the greater good comes second nature, and in most instances it does.

But if that spotlight catches a glimpse of a shadowy past or a flawed present, people look at you differently and the gavels of judgement slam down. How is it that someone can make mistakes and poor choices and still hold the best interest of the community? It happens everyday and Zastrow Simms is a great example of that.

The media won’t ever let us forget that his early years were spent committing crimes or being labeled the ‘perfume bandit’ by the local police department. But what I find even more amazing is that Zastrow always beat them to the punch. He told his own story, and inspired a number of individuals to follow his flawed but dedicated lead. He had a way of making you look at your hands, just as dirty from poor choices and error and asking yourself, ‘What can I do to make it better?

For our community, public officials, and generations of families — he made it better. With that warm smile and that infectious laugh, Zastrow left a legacy of familiarity. Everyone knew him and knew to call on him in situations ranging from families facing hard times to issues with local government and if you questioned five people in a room, I guarantee that at least three of them can share a personal memory of Zastrow.

I do have one last memory to share. This past summer, my mother hosted outdoor karaoke at Whitmore Park. In spite of the fact the Zastrow had been battling a lengthy illness, he strolled right up to the stage with his ever-present cane and sung ‘What a Wonderful World’.

I recall my mom saying ‘That’s his song, he sings it whenever he gets the chance to.’ And I see why, in his own ripple-effect of a way, he had played a role in making our world a much better one.

Rest in Paradise Zastrow Simms, your legacy will continue to inspire us.

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About Janell (49 Articles)
Janell Johnson is a native of Annapolis, Maryland with a passion for three things: her children, her writing and her community. Looking for an outlet of expression after the tragic passing of her dad, she has been writing stories since the age of eight and firmly believes that everyone has a story worth telling. Her editorial work has been published in the Afro-American Times, The Annapolis Times and The Capital Newspaper.
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