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Overseas activists throw weight behind prison book campaign

Activists overseas have thrown their support behind a charity drive bringing books to prison inmates.

The campaign by the Personal Empowerment Circle, which works with people in Westgate Prison, is coming into its final week.

Earl Deveaux, a former minister of agriculture in the Bahamas, stood behind the campaign with Carl Turpin, a former steelworker and union organiser and now a lawyer and former president of the Chicago Bar Association.

Both share an activist history as well as friendship with Glenn Fubler, a campaign organiser.

Mr Devaux said his work with Mr Fubler at the University of Miami in the 1960s showed the power of fighting for education.

Mr Fubler became president of United Black Students at the university, and Mr Devaux served as vice-president.

In 1968, the university had more than 20,000 students but fewer than 100 were Black.

Mr Deveaux said: “Our agenda was to articulate for students’ rights and access to the university for Black students.

“It was predominately White with high tuition rates — we had to fight for scholarships and admissions.”

The two were part of a sit-in at the financial aid office that caught widespread media attention.

The Black American artist Sammy Davis Junior saw the news coverage and contacted the protesters, offering to do a benefit concert that ultimately raised $60,000 for scholarship funds.

Mr Deveaux said: “We planted a seed that grew into greater accommodation on the campus for Black students.”

Mr Fubler said the lesson from the sit-in was that “nothing is a failure as long as you have a positive intent”.

“We had the support of about forty students but only five or six showed up.

“I felt like we had failed — especially when the riot police came on campus — but by the end of the day Sammy Davis Junior had reached out.”

In 1970, Mr Fubler switched to Howard University in Washington, where both he and Mr Turpin were on the periphery of the Black Panther Party.

Mr Turpin said they were also part of a charity group doing outreach in the surrounding housing projects.

Mr Turpin got closely involved in the African Liberation movement that brought more than 12,000 people marching on May 25, 1972 as African Liberation Day.

“We got people in different circumstances to become part of the support group for African Liberation — ministers, postal workers, bus drivers, other students — and we had tremendous turnout.

“I learnt to be open-minded. Even though there are setbacks, you can move forward together.”

Later, Mr Turpin worked in a steel mill and organised union workers before his legal career, which involved holding workshops to help former prisoners get misdemeanours expunged from their records.

He said he was witness first-hand to the value of reading and education for people behind bars.

“Getting books in there helps people to get their bearings as to what they want to do when they get out.”

Mr Fubler said: “Another aspect of this campaign for books is the idea of solidarity, the concept that we are our brother’s keeper.

“We need to remind ourselves that people who are incarcerated are our fellow humans.”

Mr Fubler said it was a last call for the community to get involved in donating for inmates.

The donation drive ends next weekend, he said.

The Empowerment Circle’s campaign asks the public to donate by buying book vouchers at four stores.

Contributions can be made at the Bermuda Bookstore, the Bookmart at Brown & Co and the Bermuda Griot, all in Hamilton, as well as at Long Story Short in St George. The campaign has charitable status.

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Published April 02, 2022 at 7:52 am (Updated April 02, 2022 at 7:52 am)

Overseas activists throw weight behind prison book campaign

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