As one of Suffolk County's first black police officers, John Cleveland Carter broke barriers. As a coach for the Police Athletic League's boxing program, he mended hearts.
The longtime Wyandanch resident died of a heart attack at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center on Jan. 31. He was 69.
Carter grew up in Huntington and graduated from Walt Whitman High School in 1962. He attended Suffolk County Community College before moving to Marshall, Texas, to attend Wiley College. While there, Carter was drafted into the Army and served two years during the Vietnam War, including time in-country.
Carter married his high school sweetheart, Judy, in 1966 and the couple bought a home in Wyandanch, where they raised three children. In 1972, Carter joined the police department. Becoming one of its first black officers was significant to Carter, said his son John Carter Jr., and he continually strove to recruit more minorities and women to the department, going so far as to help them study for the entrance exam.
Carter retired in 1992 and went on to head security at the Wyandanch and Uniondale school districts. In the 1980s, Carter started a boxing program for the Police Athletic League in Brentwood and continued to coach up until his death, family said.
As a coach, Carter often reached out to youngsters and adults who were struggling, his son said.
"He never refused a kid," he said. "He took kids who social workers and the courts said nothing could be done with, and he changed their lives."
One of those impacted was Saleena Bennett, who met Carter in 1994 when she was a troubled teen bouncing in and out of the courts on assault charges. Carter encouraged her to funnel her energy into the boxing ring, and Bennett said Carter's "tough love" mentoring changed her life.
"I can't tell you the amount of wisdom this man gave me," she said. "Even when he was chewing your ear off, you understood it was for your own good."
Now 33, Bennett has a baby and is studying to become an X-ray technician. "He turned a negative into a positive for me," she said. "I never felt like he wasn't proud and he gave that to kids from ages 8 to 34."
Carter also is survived by son Craig Carter of Brentwood; daughter Kisha Carter of Wyandanch; mother Ruth Carter of West Babylon; sisters Constance England and Sandra James, both of North Babylon, Pauline Tucker of Jacksonville, Fla., and Dora Ann Smith of Gwynn Oak, Md.; and brother Robert Carter of Douglasville, Ga.
Burial was at Calverton National Cemetery.