By Beth David, Editor
The original plan ran into a major glitch, but the Fairhaven Belonging Committee (BC) simply pivoted to create a successful Black History Month event on Thursday, 2/23/23. Dr. Jibreel Khazan, who is one of the Greensboro Four who staged a sit-in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in 1960, was supposed to be present to receive a proclamation from the Select Board. However, Dr. Khazan had to cancel at the last minute, and Fairhaven Select Board member Leon Correy, the first Black person to be on that board, stepped in to speak about his life’s experiences.
The crowd also heard from Renee Ledbetter, President of the New Bedford chapter of the NAACP; and Attorney David Gomes, who works with the NAACP helping people navigate the legal system in their discrimination cases.
Ms. Ledbetter explained the mission of the NAACP, which includes combatting racism, working towards equity in all aspects of society.
She said racism was created, but, “We’re not quite sure how to end it.”
The goal of the NAACP is also to develop and support young leaders.
The chapter is also working on the housing crisis, health, and mental health issues.
Ms. Ledbetter said the chapter is actively trying to increase membership. But, she said, she wants active members.
Attorney David Gomes, who helps people navigate the legal system with their civil rights cases through the NAACP, said Ms. Ledbetter is too humble, and noted she is the first female president of the New Bedford NAACP.
“She is short in stature,” said Mr. Gomes. “But when she speaks, people listen.”
Mr. Gomes said he helps people with their legals cases, but does not represent them. Cases include housing and employment discrimination, and he is a “guide,” he said for them to get their cases through the system.
And that is not easy. The Mass. Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) closed its New Bedford office. Now people have to travel to Boston. He said it was “very concerning” that a city of 80,000+ has no MCAD office.
Mr. Gomes said the NAACP is the oldest and largest grassroots civil rights organization in the country.
He warned that the pendulum is swinging backwards, with decisions like the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which gave women a constitutional right abortion, a protection that is now gone.
He said it looks like the same court will get rid of or weaken Affirmative Action this summer, and that will have widespread repercussions. He also referred to what is happening in Florida, with Governor DeSantis banning African American history courses.
“This is very, very alarming,” said Mr. Gomes, adding they are trying to “erase” the history of African Americans. The NAACP will be fighting all of it, he said, and we will see more from them, because, “Anything worth having is worth fighting for.”
Jessica Fidalgo, chairperson of the BC, said she was “naive” about race issues in Fairhaven. She said she would try to do better each day.
Mr. Correy talked about the difference between faith and belief.
He said faith is believing in something you cannot see, such as with religion. Belief is believing that you can achieve something that you can see, such as being in a profession when you see someone who looks like you there.
He said Dr. Khazan faced abuse, beatings, threats because he wanted to sit at a counter and eat.
“My challenge wasn’t that special,” said Mr. Correy. “Belief is much easier than faith.”
He said he would like to ask Dr. Khazan how he did it, how he kept moving forward when he had nothing to look at as an example.
Mr. Correy spoke about his childhood and the influences in his life that kept him on track to finish school and get a good job.
One of those was “The Cosby Show,” with the father a doctor and the mother a lawyer. He said the show ranked last in a survey asking middle school students about shows and how realistic they were. It came in behind “The Simpsons,” an animated series.
Several people in the audience nodded, while others gasped.
“I had it easy,” said Mr. Correy, because he never had to rely on faith.
He told several stories about his life, including that he was a bit of a spectacle on his college campus, at six feet tall, over 200 pounds, with his hoodie and his headphones. But, he said, he was respected. He was just being himself.
Mr. Correy said his mother died when he was 13, and his grandfather moved from California to be closer. He had a huge influence on Mr. Correy’s life.
At his high school graduation, his grandfather said he did not want to hear a bunch of clapping and cheering for him. That kind of over-the-top response is for the class clown, or the class screw-up, the student who everyone thought would never graduate
He wanted, he said, for it to be clear that Leon was supposed to be there. He was supposed to graduate. He was supposed to go to college.
He said he would shake his grandson’s hand because it was an accomplishment, but no more.
“I was sweating,” said Mr. Correy, wondering if the applause would be too much and disappoint his grandfather.
“I was moderately popular,” he said, and got the “standard applause.”
Mr. Correy said he hopes that young people of color will see him in his position and believe they can do it, too. He hopes his children, especially, will see that going to work every day and creating a good life is a path to happiness. Young people need to know that there is a good alternative to dealing drugs or engaging in other illegal activities.
Deloris Joseph, a member of the NAACP and a member of the New Bedford Human Relations Commission, said she was there to support Ms. Fidalgo, who worked on the MLK program last month.
“We just love Jess,” said Ms. Joseph.
Jack Burns said he attended hoping to learn a little about Black History and to hear Dr. Khazan speak.
He said Mr. Correy did a good job filling in.
“He’s comfortable on the stump, I would say,” said Mr. Burns.
Tom Lee said he went because he likes stories, and likes history. He said Mr. Correy did just fine filling in.
Ms. Fidalgo said the town will present the proclamation to Dr. Khazan at a later date to be determined. The proclamation recognizes Dr. Khazan’s contributions to the Civil Rights movement through is actions at the Woolworth lunch counter, and through his many other activities and professions.
His actions helped pass the Civil Rights Bill of 1960; he received the Jackie Robinson Freedom Award; and is recognized as a “storyteller, orator and respected resident of New Bedford.”
For his “lifelong Civil Rights advocacy and action,” the Select Board and Belonging Committee wrote the proclamation, which was signed by the SB on 2/6/23.
The event was filmed by Fairhaven’s Government Access TV and will be available at www.FairhavenTV.com
To learn more about the NAACP in New Bedford, or to join, visit https://naacpnewbedford.org or call 508-991-4416.
Click here to download the 3/2/23 issue: 03-02-23 BlackHist
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