The city is designating 12th Avenue between Rosa Parks Boulevard and East 16th Street to be also known as “Ambassador Way” in tribute to a drill team that kept young people out of trouble.
The Ambassador drill team emerged in 1960 through the merger of the Ranchero and the Gay Ambassadors. At the time, there were several drill teams in the city, according to the resolution approved by the city council on Tuesday night.
The new team was sponsored by locals Thelma Greenbug, William Dixon, William “Pop” Johnson, and Geneva “Mom” Johnson. The drill teams existed in the 1st and 4th Wards since the 1950s, according to the resolution.
It marched in a number of parades with the Elks Lodge. Members of the team spent time at the Johnson home at 172 12th Avenue. The resolution states the Johnsons kept their home at the location open to neighborhood kids to keep them out of trouble.
13 members of the now defunct drill team cheered as the council approved the street designation.
“Everybody got older and it died out,” said Andrew Harper, who was a member in 1965, when asked what happened to the team. He reckoned the drill team died out in 1973.
“The Ambassador did a lot for our community,” said Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman. She said the old timers, once members of the drill team, had been lobbying the council for years for the designation.
“Because this resolution took so long many, who marched with you, are not here today,” said Michael Jackson, 1st Ward councilman, to the group that packed almost two rows of seats at the council chamber.
Jackson’s father Michael Jackson, Sr. was also a member of the drill team. “It gave us character,” said the father. He said the drill team taught young men discipline and installed in them habits that built upstanding citizens.
Charles Paul Ellis, a team member who died in 2004, a U.S. Marine, was recognized for his precision marching skills. He was honored at his Marine graduation ceremony as a drill instructor or “DI.” His obituary states, when a drill sergeant asked him about his his marching skills, he reportedly responded: “I was a member of the Ambassadors Drill Team as a kid, and we learned and did this for fun in Paterson, Sergeant.”
Cotton and Jackson sponsored the resolution.