Affordable housing developer remains committed to Suitland
Colquitt used basketball, business savvy to develop successful programs
During the early 2000s, Suitland-based affordable housing developer Bleu Colquitt discovered an unlikely but powerful weapon to combat crime blighting several Suitland neighborhoods: a portable basketball hoop.
Colquitt, 50, who played professional basketball in Europe for five years in the 1980s and now lives in Fort Washington, would set up the hoop on a troubled street and invite area youth to come out and play. If drug dealers were hanging around nearby, he would firmly tell them to get lost.
"We'd say, No, you've got to go,'" he said.
This year marks a decade since Colquitt first arrived in Prince George's County, bringing a passion for youth mentoring programs, affordable housing projects and other community development initiatives. His newest venture is into the world of affordable housing building, with an 18-unit development planned in Suitland, Bradbury Homes, that was recently approved for federal housing money.
An Arlington, Va., native, Colquitt moved to Washington, D.C., after his stint playing in professional basketball leagues in France, Portugal, Switzerland and elsewhere around Europe. He parlayed his success in business first with a car import company, later in the mortgage industry into sponsoring youth mentoring programs, especially for young black men, in some of the District's least-served communities. He would bring basketballs and a hoop but refuse to play with young men who were skipping school.
"I'd say, You cannot play basketball until after 4 p.m.,' and that's how it started," he said, adding that he would use relationships developed on the court to encourage many of the young men to stay in school and, in many cases, pursue a college degree.
Around 2000, Colquitt said several contacts in Prince George's County began encouraging him to replicate his youth mentoring programs in Suitland. At first, he said, he wasn't interested.
"In D.C., you saw the struggles," he said. His perception at the time, he added, was that "in the county, you have houses, you have nice facilities."
But a tour of Homer Avenue, a notoriously crime-ridden corridor in Suitland at the time, changed his mind. Suitland Civic Association President Elsie Jacobs said that when she first met Colquitt, she was convinced he wouldn't stick around once he realized how troubled some of the neighborhoods were.
"I explained to them about all the murders and the shootings, [but] they went right in," she said, referring to Colquitt and some of his colleagues. "Some of the people we were having so many issues with, they went right on in, mentored them, pulled them in, [and] their behaviors changed in the school."
In 2003, Colquitt created the Omega Gold Development Group, a nonprofit organization aimed at counseling first-time homebuyers and assisting other area residents seeking affordable housing; Jacobs helped him find a new office in the Windsor Crossing community in Suitland.
Omega Gold became a county-certified Community Housing Development Organization in 2005. The Bradbury Homes project, a joint venture with for-profit homebuilder Highmount Homes, is Colquitt's first foray into the development side of affordable housing, a market he believes is underserved in the county.
Vroman Wright, who serves as Omega Gold's program coordinator, said he believes Colquitt is "committed" to Suitland. Wright, who lives in the District but lived previously in Bowie, said he met Colquitt when he first started his mentoring programs on Homer Avenue.
"I was so personally moved by the idea of the project I went to him and introduced myself and said, I'm willing to volunteer my time,'" Wright said. "His level of commitment and genuine concern for those less fortunate are the two things that stand out [about Colquitt]."
In addition to continuing his youth mentoring and affordable housing programs, Colquitt and his nonprofit staff also organize events for senior citizens living in Suitland, including an annual turkey dinner giveaway around Thanksgiving and monthly birthday parties.
In October, he helped spearhead the creation of a Boy Scout troop in Suitland and is working with Jacobs and other community stakeholders to set up a Boys and Girls Club at Drew Freeman Middle School, also in Suitland.
Colquitt said he hopes to be a part of the long-term revitalization of Suitland, a community with residents he admires for their "zeal" for protecting and improving their neighborhoods.
"I'm proud of this county, especially in the inner beltway," he said.