Colvin Grannum, President & CEO, Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation (Restoration), hosted a community breakfast last week with David R. Jones, President and CEO of the Community Service Society (CSS) and the honorable Robert Doar, Commissioner, New York City Human Resources Administration and Department of Social Services. It saluted the pioneer work of Jones and Doar’s fathers, the late Judge Thomas Russell Jones Jr. and John Michael Doar, Esq., 91, in helping to found, grow and expand the birth years of Restoration, the first community development corporation in the nation.
Mr. Grannum brought together the two men, who are friends, to discuss the impact their respective fathers had on their lives and their choice of careers. Mr. Doar, whose father was present, and Mr. Jones described what they see as their father’s respective legacies, and what messages, they, in turn are taking to their children.
“These two people are committed to much of the same work as their parents,” Grannum said in the Restoration community room before a standing-room only crowd of community leaders and residents. “They both are battling for social equity and economic justice. Their fathers were committed to public service.” David leads one of the oldest nonprofits in the nation; it provides services to families. Robert leads the largest community service organization in the country.
Both men said their fathers would not take the full credit as the “driving forces” behind Restoration.
“My father was committed because he believed his work in the community was the right thing do.” He said his father early on wanted to find a way to serve the nation, to get out of the small Midwestern town, and get to the big city. “When we got to DC, he saw the power certain interests had over the oligarchy, the congress, and he had (even more of a) devotion to equal justice from his experience.” That involvement got deeper when he went South and met a sharecropper, father of 12, who became a friend. He was denied the right to vote. “And it angered him.” Along the way, Mr. Doar, senior, met and worked in the Civil Rights struggle with Bob Moses and Medgar Evers. He was with James Meredith when he entered the University of Mississippi. “But he felt community work was harder, more difficult. When (the family) moved to Brooklyn, it was a shell.” Doar junior asked, “What are we doing here?” But he felt lucky to be there (on the frontlines). His view was to take on the dragons, zig when others were zagging. My father was driven by desire to work and help his country and family and that was contagious.”
Jones said, in describing how his father, a lawyer to Paul Robeson and Bertram Baker; a Garveyite, a lieutenant who fought in World War II’s Battle of the Bulge, involved him (“A little kid”) in his community work, “I have never escaped my father’s mentorship.” That meant that Mr. Jones was involved in fighting adversity in the community right alongside his father. At the time it was blockbusting in Bed Stuy and Crown Heights when the community was divided by real estate interests, establishing the Brooklyn Democratic Club, voter registration drives in the NYCHA dwellings where, Jones as a “disorganized” 17-year-old knocked on doors. Young Jones would say to potential registrants, “I can’t vote, but you should.” And wound up signing up thousands. “There were certain realities. He was an angry man. Part of that legacy is tied up with how he found a way to channel it. He fought for others who could not speak up: suing on behalf of sheet metalworkers, a woman whose husband, unarmed, and was killed in a locked cell. “When others were afraid to stand up to someone like Nelson Rockefeller, they called on Thomas Russell Jones, a man who boldly fought for human rights with Eleanor Roosevelt. So when Senator Robert Kennedy came to Brooklyn, it was his walk with community leader Elsie Richardson and Mr. Jones’ speech on the issues confronting the people of Bed-Stuy, issues of poverty, children, families, economic equality, health disparities, that led to the Senator establishing Restoration.
“But he was still a person of color, and his inability to control himself when he saw people suffering is what prompted his talk with Senator Kennedy. There were many best achievements in Jones’ life, including the fight against the downgrading of Medgar Evers College, the Ocean Hill/Brownsville fight, and so many others. “There were so many fights,” said Jones. “It’s good that this is Election Day; it’s symbolic of fighting and (working for) equality”.
Said Doar, “My Father was with Restoration for about 7 years. He would say his greatest contribution was in the area of Civil Rights. He had to bring cases before judges who were not receptive to his work and not for the Voting Rights Act. That all came to bear with the (eventual) election of Barack Obama, and the President giving my father the Medal of Freedom”.
Mr. Grannum asked both friends what they see as the issues that need working out. For Doar, it was unemployment, the need to create jobs, the economy. “People want to work, and take advantage of resources. If the economy goes bad we will have major problems. The issue is poor people are not able to move up.”
For Jones, it is myriad issues, with education and jobs topping the list. We tend to have amnesia about the old days, he told the audience, explaining that back in the 1960’s, there were safety nets, even when people lost a job or dropped out of school. Today, people who are out of school or out of work, are not going anywhere. He also said that people are working hard every day, and still not able to make enough to get out of poverty. “If I’m a low wage worker, how can I help my children, how can I get a house? There are kids who desperately want to learn, but they don’t have the foundations,” he said. “How can they be called inferior, if they haven’t been given the building blocks? You must be doing calculus, algebra all along, from a very young age in order to master it, he noted. Funds need to be reallocated to help those in need, he said.
Grannum also invited John Doar, who sat at a table near Mr. Jones and his son, Robert, to comment. He shared: There’s a thirst for ownership from corporations, he said. It would be a good thing if we can fuse business interests with the community interests and still have the institutions owned by the community. People of different philosophies and economic statuses should work together. The business community, he said, should say we are going to help you, but they also have to say we won’t direct you. Also, he said, community groups must have a say in which and how problems and issues are going to be worked out. “The lesson of the past is we need to work together or the country will be in big trouble.”
“It’s a long twilight struggle,” said Robert Doar, with Jones agreeing: “Every generation must face (the struggle).”
They both agreed that they were seeing a Brooklyn “renaissance” in progress.
One person who held the key to getting on the road to Brooklyn’s revitalization from 1960’s slump was the late Elsie Richardson, a friend of Mr. Jones and colleague of Mr. Doar. It is reported she was the first to catch the ear of Sen. Kennedy during his historic visit in 1966 to Bedford-Stuyvesant which led, the following year to the beginnings of Restoration Corporation. Mrs. Richardson’s heirs, Sabra Richardson and Celeste Moses, were present at the breakfast event.
The breakfast kicked off the commemoration of the Comprehensive Fulton Street Redevelopment: West Plaza, Marcy Plaza and Fulton Streetscape Initiative. It was hosted by The Boards and Staff of Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, Bed-Stuy Gateway Business Improvement District and Community Planning Board No. 3. Coverage of the ribbon cutting ceremonies and dedication will be recapped in a future issue of Our Time Press, to accompany coverage of the upcoming October 12-19 Bed-Stuy Alive! Events. (Bernice Elizabeth Green)
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