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Remembering great advocates for racial justice

July 27, 2020

In recent days, we have lost many great Black advocates for racial justice. In Baltimore, we mourn the passing of Avis Ransom, a leader of Baltimore Racial Justice Action, and George Mitchell, a pillar of the Park Heights neighborhood. Nationally, we mourn the loss of civil rights icons Rev. C.T. Vivian, Congressman John Lewis, and Charles Evers. All are models of the commitment we must embody to fight anti-Blackness, racism, and white supremacy at all levels – in policies, institutions, relationships, and ourselves.

Our hearts hurt when we learned of the passing of Avis Ransom. Avis was a consummate anti-racism warrior, trainer, and facilitator. Always elegant, even in righteous anger, and always accountable, she worked her own learning curve throughout her life even while providing the wisdom and guidance of a precious elder to the rest of us. As a facilitator with Baltimore Racial Justice Action, she guided the Public Justice Center through the early days of our race equity transformation. Patient and perceptive, she pushed us to embrace the uncomfortable and ongoing work of building race equity into all that we do. Avis was also instrumental in developing the PJC’s education equity initiative, which advances racial equity in public education by combatting the overuse of exclusionary school discipline practices that disproportionately target Black and brown children and push students out of school. As staff sought to determine the project’s priorities, Avis generously shared her insights and offered feedback. Avis leaves a powerful legacy of anti-racism work in Baltimore, and we will miss her.

Baltimore lost another advocate with the death of George Mitchell. Informally dubbed the mayor of Park Heights for his commitment to the neighborhood, he epitomized the fight for housing stability and community development. He founded the Langston Hughes Community, Business and Resource Center, which provided food, a computer lab, a library, and training programs for youth and adults. Many of the tenants we work with to fight eviction and poor housing conditions live in Park Heights. George Mitchell was their neighbor and champion, and we are grateful for his advocacy.

Beyond Baltimore, we are thankful for the leadership of Rev. C.T. Vivian and Congressman John Lewis. Both were key figures in the Civil Rights Movement. Rev. Vivian worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as the director of national affiliates for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He was part of the Freedom Riders’ efforts to desegregate bus terminals and organized campaigns for voting rights. Congressman John Lewis organized student activism as chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and led the march from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights. He consistently reminded people of the urgency of the fight for freedom, from his speech during the March on Washington through his decades of service in Congress. Both Congressman Lewis and Rev. Vivian brought their full selves to the cause, enduring violence and arrest numerous times as they pursued racial justice.

And just last week, civil rights leader Charles Evers passed away. He led the Mississippi NAACP following the assassination of his brother Medgar Evers. As mayor of Fayette, Mississippi, he served as the first Black mayor in the state since Reconstruction. He is yet another example of dedication to the fight against racism.

Avis Ransom, George Mitchell, Rev. C.T. Vivian, Congressman John Lewis, and Charles Evers all taught us that building strong, racially equitable communities requires courage, endurance, and the willingness to take risks. As the PJC continues to challenge the systems that perpetuate racism and economic injustice, and to challenge ourselves, we will strive to live up to their legacy.