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'A role model then and now': Groton honors the legacy of Raheem Carter

Groton — Rashaad Carter smiles every time he drives by the Raheem Ali Carter Memorial Park, where he and his twin brother played football with other neighborhood kids when they were youngsters.

Rashaad knows that his twin brother, Raheem, a gifted student-athlete who became a New London police officer and died in 2007 at age 25 after a battle with cancer, is still with him every day and that people who knew Raheem are still thinking of him.

For the people who didn't know Raheem, Rashaad would like them to look at the sign and know that Raheem was one of their own — a kid from Poquonnock Bridge who followed his dreams over his 25 years and is a symbol of hope that everybody can fulfill their dreams and do it the right way.

Raheem's family, friends and community members, and Groton staff and officials gathered Friday afternoon at the park to honor Raheem Carter during a Black History Month Celebration held by the town Parks and Recreation Department. The Groton Police Department Honor Guard and members of the New London Police Department stood on either side of the platform as Rashaad and their mother, Sheila Perry, shared memories of Raheem.

Rashaad, who serves the community in many ways — he is a state trooper, as well as a licensed clinical social worker and a city councilor — said the field was "where dreams were made," because it was where the twin brothers played football and also where they were inspired to join law enforcement by a member of the Groton Town Police Department, Rob Emery, who is now retired and attended Friday's event.

Rashaad said that when he and Raheem were youngsters playing on the field across from their childhood home, Raheem said he was going to win a youth football Super Bowl and ended up becoming quarterback and winning several. Raheem said he was going to be a starting quarterback at Robert E. Fitch High School and ended up being a three-year starting quarterback and winning a state championship.

Raheem said he was going to get a scholarship and ended up getting one and graduating from the University of Rhode Island. He said he was going to be a police officer, and he ended up being a police officer with the New London Police Department.

Rashaad said Raheem had a couple of other dreams — going to law school and getting into politics — that Rashaad knows he would have also fulfilled. Rashaad said Raheem, with a strong mother and a strong family, had good roots and was a decent person who was headstrong and followed his dreams.

Perry thanked Parks and Recreation, both police departments, and town and city mayors for holding the event in honor of Raheem. She noted that she was looking out on schoolteachers, coaches, family members, guidance counselors and even the recipients of a scholarship in Raheem's name.

"This year will be 14 years Raheem has been gone, and it seems just like yesterday," she said. "His last words to me were, 'Mom, I don't ever want to be forgotten,' so this day is one of those days he's not forgotten."

Parks and Recreation Department Mark Berry called Raheem "an extraordinary young man" who committed himself to community service.

Town Mayor Patrice Granatosky said Raheem was a vibrant part of both Groton and New London and demonstrated character and commitment in all he did. She also recognized Rashaad's and Perry's ongoing contributions to the community.

Grantatosky, who read aloud a proclamation in honor of Black History Month on behalf of the Town Council, said the park serves as a reminder that it's important to celebrate Black History, not only this month, but throughout the year. She said it's a testament to the lives of people like Raheem, Rashaad and Perry, along with their friends and neighbors, who every day make Groton a special place through their lives, commitment and work.

The family received plaques from the town and the New London Police Department.

"He was a fantastic human being, great friend and a great police officer who served his community proudly," New London police Capt. Matthew Galante said after the event. "He may be gone, but definitely not forgotten by members of the New London Police Department. We hold him and his family in our hearts."

Mike Emery, Raheem and Rashaad's football coach at Fitch High School, said in a phone interview that Raheem was a great combination of respectful but also respected by his peers. "They really looked up to him," Emery said.

Rashaad, who named his firstborn child Raheem Ali Porter Carter, after his brother, told The Day that Friday's event shows how Raheem's legacy and what he brought to the community will continue to endure beyond the lifetime of anyone alive today.

Rashaad said Raheem played football, baseball and basketball as a kid and then was the captain of the football team at Fitch High School, where he broke the all-time Eastern Connecticut Conference career touchdown passing record. He was also captain of the high school's indoor and outdoor track teams.

Raheem went to Central Connecticut State University on a football scholarship and became the starting quarterback as a freshman and then transferred to the University of Rhode Island on a scholarship and graduated from there in 2005.

Rashaad said Raheem was diagnosed with stomach cancer in January 2006, but recovered and got on the road with the New London Police Department until the cancer returned. He passed away on April 13, 2007, and received full police honors at his funeral, with thousands attending his wake and funeral.

A close friend of the twin brothers came up with the idea to name the park, where the neighborhood kids played football and built friendships that grew through adulthood, after Raheem, Rashaad said. Rashaad then approached former state Rep. Ernest Hewett with the idea, who brought it to his colleagues at the state level before bringing it to the town.

The Groton Parks and Recreation Commission in 2007 unanimously voted in favor of naming the park after Raheem.

Jerry Lokken, manager of recreation services for Parks and Recreation, said by email that the community enthusiastically supported the idea, and this year Groton Parks and Recreation is reaffirming that decision and remembering "one of our finest."

"As we strive to be a diverse, equitable and inclusive community, we need to demonstrate those values in a clear way to the community," Lokken said about the significance of the event. "Recognizing a young Black man who grew up in Groton and made a significant contribution to the quality of life in our community during Black History Month is obvious. We don't need to look elsewhere for important historical figures.  Our own local history is filled with exemplary people from diverse backgrounds and we just need to take a minute to pay attention to that fact and celebrate it. I'm so pleased that the Carter/Perry family was receptive to the idea of using Raheem to remind the community about his place in our local history."

Perry told The Day that Raheem was an individual who loved everybody and everybody loved him. He was a peacemaker with a lot of friends and big dreams to give back to his community.

In his 25 years, he left a legacy, she said, and even people who never met him feel like they've known him all their life because of the stories they've heard.

"He was a role model then and he is a role model now," she said.

k.drelich@theday.com

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