Rising together through
better civics education

Bill Cleveland

"My turn is winding down, but I'm ready to hand the baton to someone else so that they can carry on, because this thing that we have in America is good."

“I was a capitol police officer at the U.S. Capitol for 30 years. From wherever was assigned, I could hear people come in and give their perspectives on history that was right there. I’ve learned a lot about African Americans who were a part of American history, and I want young people to learn about that. There are kids that didn’t know that they were a part of making all of this come alive.”

“A massive reason I work with youth is to show them that they are the representatives. Who you put in office is not about what people say they’re going to do – you need to keep a record of what they’re doing while they are in office.”

“When my wife and I first bought our house in the late 1970s, I told my wife ‘Honey, this house is nice but the neighborhood has got to change.’ I helped to start one of the first neighborhood watches here in the city of Alexandria. We got our street straightened out and then we went on to another street. We organized and we started cutting crime down.”

“People told me I should run for office and I laughed at them. I thought they were out of their minds. I said that I would leave that to others and just show people how they can keep their neighborhoods safe. Then I realized that, every time I want to get something done in my neighborhood, I have to go down to City Hall and convince seven people what is best – and they don’t know what’s best for my neighborhood. I know what’s best for my neighborhood and I just want them to stay out of my life. I can’t stand that my taxes keep going up but I do more for my neighbors than City Hall.”

“I talked to some friends about running. They said they knew who I was and what I stood for, so they would vote for me. When I ran that first time in 1985, I lost by 186 votes. In 1988, I won by 250 and stayed on the city council for 15 years.”

“When I was serving, I read about a group of young men called The Untouchables – the idea is they’re untouched by crime, drugs and other negative influences. I decided to go to a meeting to see what they were about and I’m still with them 33 year later. I also work with the Frederick Douglass Leadership Institute where we work with young men on the principles of Frederick Douglass: integrity, righteousness, justice, transparency, respect, responsibility and virtue. That’s what it’s all about. When you put those things together, we work together – no matter whether we’re Democrat or Republican.”

“It’s really neat teaching civic responsibility while working on those principles. We teach these young men that education is the key to everything. People can take your money. People can take your clothes, but they can’t take your education away from you.”

“My turn is winding down, but I’m ready to hand the baton to someone else so that they can carry on, because this thing that we have in America is good. It may come to an end, but I’m going to go down with my toes on the line. I’m gonna go down fighting like George Washington. I’m gonna go down fighting like Frederick Douglass.”

Bill Cleveland
Alexandria, Virginia

More Stories

Will Johnson

“When kids understand civics, it really helps them to be a better citizen."

Linda Lee Tarver

"We don't need theories, we need truth – and civics preaches the truth.”


"A strong civics education creates leaders for tomorrow who believe in what makes us special and different."

Sign up below for our free “Learn. Do. Tell.” guide and alerts about Level Up Civics events and opportunities in your area.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.