Bobby Ramos lives by the words of the great American leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: ‘It is always the right time to do the right thing.’
Even when it is difficult to do so. Even when doing so presents a danger.
Doing the right thing by fighting for the civil rights of others led to King being assassinated in 1968.
Doing the right thing for decades here in Stratford, as he worked as a police officer, included showing poor children some culture beyond their neighborhoods, being a role model for students at St. James School, teaching seniors how to remain safe, and testifying in court on behalf of a white man accused of racism.
When he took the lead calling for the hiring of more people of color and women at the police department back in 1991, doing the right thing proved costly and dangerous for Ramos too. The risk has proved rewarding.
Contending with his employer
Ramos recently retired as a highly decorated master patrolman after 28 years of service with the Stratford Police Department. He worked as a community affairs officer; he was an FBI-trained hostage negotiator; and he became a police training officer. But Ramos said that never took a promotion exam, “so they couldn’t have the satisfaction” of denying him.
Ramos, a black man, says that he was told by senior ranking officers at SPD in the early 1990s that if he continued to shine light on what he said was the department’s lack of an affirmative action hiring plan it would cost him promotions within the department.
But pointing out the practices of the department was the right thing to do for Ramos, so he did it, even after being warned of the consequences.
“There were threats against my life,” Ramos told The Star. The racial epithet “‘N’ word was written on my police locker,” “70% of the force would not talk to me,” and, ultimately, said Ramos, a car approached him in downtown Stratford and gunshots were fired at him.
The shots missed.
“I looked at moving to other departments,” he said, “but my dad taught me you don’t run.”
“I didn’t have to get my paycheck to see my promotion,” Ramos said. “When I see a person of color or a woman on the force I see my promotion.”
Michael Griffin was an Animal Control Officer at Stratford Police when Ramos was on the force. “Senior officers were gunning for him,” Griffin said, “and Bobby was the one who brought it on. He would show them the rules that said ‘you can’t do that.’ If you were wrong, Bobby would say ‘you are wrong,’ respectfully.”
“Bobby has changed the entire texture of the entire department,” according to Griffin. “He made it more reliable as an instrument of justice. He stuck to his beliefs, and cared about only the truth.”
His father set an example
Ramos’ innate tendency to do good for others came first from his father. Ramos’s dad was a carpenter raising his family in Bridgeport, and he would regularly go to a supermarket “and get their dented cans of food and laundry detergent and things,” according to Ramos, “and deliver them to those who needed it.”
Ramos attended Catholic schools growing up — St. Patrick’s grade school in Bridgeport and Fairfield College Preparatory School, which Bob Mastroni, one of Ramos’ teachers at Prep, said “fosters a unity that is as close to family as you can get.”
Yet even with the support and formation of Catholic schools, Mastroni said that Ramos’ “inner strength comes from the structure at his home and the love from his parents. He had very strong family support,” said Mastroni.
Ramos describes police work as “the help business” that provided “a bigger avenue for my father’s personality, that I have.”
Widespread, color-blind kindness
Acts of kindness that Ramos became known for include creating a charitable basketball team that would put on exhibitions with a message against drunken driving and domestic violence. He raised money to buy food for those who needed it and Christmas trees for those who did not have one.
Ramos organized Halloween parties, worked to get Meals on Wheels back to Stratford’s South End. He renovated the George Force basketball, which Ramos said sits on town property but was not maintained for 18 years. He took 130 kids to from a poor neighborhood to Broadway, and he took children to Louisville, Kentucky, to learn about Muhammad Ali, requiring the children to write reports before and after the trip.
Ramos says his charitable work was “color blind. You go where the need is.”
He started in South End, where, he said, the youths “cannot afford Sterling House” programs.
“There is very little positivity in media,” Ramos said, so he works to “get the kids to look beyond their neighborhood. To take kids, give opportunities and open doors, so kids can see things in a different light.”
“In the end, it’s not about race,” said Ramos of his charity. “It’s about people. I believe in my race — the human race — black, white, old, young.”
Ramos said he is “committed to delving into and delivering the truth,” and he has two radio programs on WICC that give him an outlet. Bobby Ramos Bottom Line covers issues of sports and life, and he still serves public safety with a crime prevention program.
Two issues in today’s society of top concern to Ramos are many people being still afraid to talk the truth in public, and women being underrepresented in leadership positions.
Ramos said, “As long as people are afraid to talk they are not meeting” and having dialogue about life’s most important issues.
“Women need to keep moving up; they need to have a seat at the table of leadership,” said Ramos who implied that he was not stating a position about the current Stratford election. “Men think one dimensionally. Women have different mindset,” he said. Women are naturally “concerned with the kids next door and with the senior citizen across the street.”
Realizing his impact
A philosophy of life that Ramos follows stems from Jackie Robinson, who broke Major League Baseball’s barrier to black people. “A life is not important except for the impact it has on other lives,” said Robinson.
“I never thought about how many lives I’ve touched,” Ramos said, but at a recent tribute retirement dinner it became clear.
Ramos is aware of a child of low privilege whom he mentored years ago. “The kid is a junior in college and wants to become an engineer.”
Parents have told Ramos that their children changed after getting a scolding from Ramos. “They now say please and thank you and hold the door for women,” reports Ramos.
Many young people spoke at the dinner — young people from whom few achievements were expected — and they thanked Ramos for staying on them.
As he reflected on the real positive changes that he helped to foster in others, Ramos said, “There is nothing more powerful than that.”