By Jim Coughlin
Lee Boykin grew up on Winfield Street in the neighborhood of Chandler Street’s Beaver Brook Park. He excelled athletically, playing Little League baseball for the Ted Williams League under his late, long-time coach and mentor, John F. Coughlin, who was my father.
Attending Worcester Vocational High School, Lee Boykin was not expected to excel academically, but Lee had higher goals. He earned excellent grades, applied to Florida State University, and played so successfully there that he was drafted by New York Yankees farm team upon graduation.
Just as Lee’s star was rising in professional baseball, however, Lee suffered an injury diving for a ball during his “Charlie hustle days” of playing for the famous Cape Cod League in Hyannis, Massachusetts, effectively ending his career as a promising professional ball player.
Not to be deterred by such a mishap, however, Lee Boykin applied his obvious intellectual and athletic abilities to a profession where he could make a difference to the Worcester community and as a groundbreaker as an African-American policeman. Beginning in 1985, Boykin, like all rookie cops, became patrolman for Worcester State College and he worked on their police force until 1994, when his commanding officer, Police Chief Jim Granger, was so impressed was Boykin’s performance, integrity, and work ethic that he “ordered Lee to take the city Civil Service exam in order to help him become a Worcester police officer,” where he again started out as a patrolman but rapidly rose through the ranks to become sergeant in 2013, and then rose again to become the Worcester Police Force’s first Diversity Officer in 2019.
It was in this position that Boykin remained for just under one year, however, and he recently retired from the force in June of last year (2020). It was in this position in the WPD where he really tried to make a difference in the criminal justice system, but when I asked him what role he played in advancing diversity in the force with respect to recruiting more African American, Latino, Asian, and other minority group members into the ranks of the police department, he said, “I wasn’t as successful as I would have liked in this particular area.” “I did not have much luck,” he said, and added that it was “difficult to reach this goal in the environment of so much negative press involving the police, nationally,” and concluded that this “may have contributed to it” in local recruitment, adding that “for certain people (police work) is not an attractive job.
Still, Boykin was not deterred, as he made a point of saying in an optimistic and confident voice, that “People of color, in order to make change, have to be part of change,” Boykin is proud of having successfully recruited a new Asian- American into the ranks of the Worcester Police Department: Leon Ngo, who is currently completing his training to become a Worcester Police Department police officer.
As the new head of security for the Worcester Red Sox, Boykin was asked whom he most considers to be his hero. Without any hesitation, Boykin declared him to be “Muhammed Ali”, the late American boxing champion of the 1960’s and 70’s, because, he said, “he was “honest and not afraid to voice his opinion even when it was not wise for people of color to speak out.”
Boykin added that he’s always loved Ali’s famous quote that he “floated like a butterfly but stung like a bee”.
As for looking over his life, Boykin said that he “has no regrets,” but as the son of one of Lee Boykin’s coaches and mentors, I know that my father knew what he was doing when he spotted Lee’s talent and personal character. I cannot help but think that Lee would have given anything to have played in either professional or semi-professional baseball if it were not for his college injury,
Lee Boykin, because he has unquestionably been a leader in the Worcester community, a role model for young people, and an honorable influence in a diversifying police force that’s more reflective of Worcester’s changing demographics as a city.
As one spends time with him in his office, one cannot help but notice how Boykin so amicably and respectfully interacts with other members of his security staff, giving this news correspondent a rare mindset in the world today – a mindset that accepts the notion that whatever happened to him in the past undoubtedly happened for a reason, whether he personally agreed with what happened to him or not and that he is meant to influence and lead his colleagues by example. This is a very rare quality in many of our leaders, today.
Such exemplary leadership in our community and his dogged determination to do what’s right as a senior police officer in the WPD and now as Security Chief for the Worcester Red Sox creates a new forum for his honorable and hopeful influence as a man.
If my father could look down from the heavens above, I have absolutely no doubt that while smoking his trademark pipe, he would say in a very calm voice, “Lee, you came through for our team, again and I am very proud of you.”
Worcester should be very proud of all that Sgt. Lee Boykin has done in the past for our city, proud of all Lee will continue to do in the future, and rest safely that the Red Sox’s Polar Park is a safe place to enjoy our national pastime on a warm summer’s evening.