“The greatest thing about it is it isn’t just a block of Whites or a block of Blacks or Hispanics or Asians going for themselves. We’re doing it all together and we get along beautiful. We’re really all brothers under the skin when it comes down to it. It’s a religious movement almost; it’s a political movement. But above all it’s the American movement.”
Anne Devenney, Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition,
DISCLOSURE #54 March/April 1980
During my decade plus as the founding editor of DISCLOSURE and working with Gale Cincotta, I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing community leaders throughout the country. National People’s Action [NPA] was not just about Gale. She welcomed and inspired local leadership across racial lines throughout her career.
Chicago’s Marie Bryan, Organization of New City, took on the first woman HUD Secretary, Carla Hills, during the Ford Administration. Marie was just tired of FHA foreclosed homes on her block. She became known nationally for the broom she wanted to give Secretary Hills to “clean the house” at HUD.
Chicago’s Lenora Rodgers, Greater Roseland Organization, called out the first African-American HUD Secretary, Patricia Harris, during the Carter Administration. She stopped a meeting with Harris to point out that if the Secretary didn’t feel like she was getting enough respect, it was because “respect begets respect” and she was not respecting the validity of the neighborhood problems that HUD had yet to correct.
These grassroots heroes were not leaders just because they could articulate the issues. They were also “traders of hope” as I described in a previous blog. They showed how people taking action could create solutions.
Cleveland’s Inez Killingsworth (1938-2013) started her organizing in the early 1970s with the Union-Miles Community Coalition. Her first issue was stray dogs scaring her children. When neighbors echoed the complaint, they took it to City Hall. “Soon dog catchers got the strays,” Killingsworth shared. “I realized that when you take action you can make things happen.” As her obit by Grant Segall in The Plain Dealer on January 18, 2013 details, Inez spent her life empowering and strengthening people through several variations of the acronym ESOP.
Anne Devenney (1921-2000) was a founder, president emeritus and a pioneering leader of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, which started in the mid-1970’s. Fordham University established the Anne Devenney Memorial Award in Urban Studies, which is presented to the graduating senior who best combines scholarship in urban studies with community service and community involvement. Her obit by Jordan Moss in the January 2000 Norwood News noted that Devenney, who had a penchant for coming up with just the right inspirational saying for the task at hand, was perhaps best known for the simple slogan that summed up the mission of her and her fellow activists: “Don’t Move. Improve.”
In 2010, the North West Bronx Clergy Coalition commissioned a 20 minute documentary on the life of Anne Devenney, produced by vimeo.com: Don’t Move, Improve! The Story of Anne Devenney on Vimeo
Do yourself a favor. Grab a beer, glass of wine or sparkling water, or even your preferred Irish whiskey. Then check out this video and toast one of the many Traders in Hope that fought for their communities. They are all American heroes from the roots.
The beauty of the days gone by
The music that we used to play
So lift your glass and raise it high
To the beauty of the days gone by
“The Beauty of the Days Gone By”