Saturday, August 31, 2002

CAA capitulation prompts resignation

Jones: Agency caved to threats, moved dinner

By Robert Anglen,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Former federal appeals court judge Nathaniel Jones has resigned from the Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency, saying officials there caved in to threats made by supporters of a downtown economic boycott.

        Judge Jones said Friday that he could not tolerate a decision by the agency board to move its annual dinner out of a downtown hotel simply because board members were afraid after being threatened with physical harm.

Judge Jones
Judge Jones
        “I could not be part of an organization that would capitulate,” Judge Jones told the Enquirer. “Once the board made that decision, I told them I was going to resign. Sadly, they agreed with my reasons. But certain officials were fearful.”

        Agency board member and former Cincinnati mayor Bobbie Sterne said she supports Judge Jones' decision and might submit her own resignation because of the board's decision to move its dinner.

        “I voted against it, considered resigning, and may still,” she said Friday. “This kind of thing appalls me. It is just thuggery and intimidation. The community should be rising up and saying we don't support this.”

        Nate Livingston, co-chair of the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati — the group calling for entertainers to cancel downtown bookings — says he is not aware of any threats, and claims they aren't needed.

        “Of course, I oppose anyone who would use threats of violence,” he said. “That's not how we operate. This just damages a legitimate effort to protest. If someone is out there doing that, then they need to stop.”

        Mr. Livingston questions who made the threats, who received them and wants to know if there is any proof that the threats were actually made.

        Neither Mr. Jones nor Ms. Sterne would discuss specific threats, but both said emphatically that is why the board voted this week to move its dinner.

        In a three-page letter to Community Action Agency President Gwen Robinson and to the agency's foundation chair, John Harris, Judge Jones wrote that his decision will remain “so long as the CAA adheres to its decision to bow to the threats of those who, without legitimate cause, demand that the dinner be moved.”

        The move by the agency board comes a week after the NAACP pulled its 47th annual Freedom Fund Dinner out of downtown to respect the boycott. The Cincinnati branch of the NAACP has voted to move the fund-raiser to Moonlight Gardens at Coney Island.

        Judge Jones, who was not a Community Action Agency board member, had been named the honorary co-chair of a foundation campaign to raise funds for a new learning center in the West End. The center, scheduled to open next month as a Head Start facility, is to be named after his long-time friend, Theodore Berry, who died in 2000 at the age of 94.

        “I personally, will pursue other means of honoring the memory of my dear departed friend, colleague and mentor,” Judge Jones wrote in his letter. “In my view, the decision to bow to the protesters and move the dinner desecrates, rather than honors, the legacy left to us by Ted Berry.”

        Mr. Berry was the city's first African-American mayor. He was a pivotal civil rights attorney for the NAACP and for more than half-century helped shape the landscape of Cincinnati as a civic leader. In February, 2000, Applause! magazine honored him as the Imagemaker Awards' “Person of the Century.”

        Mr. Berry was also the Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency's first president.

        Founded in 1964, CAA provides wide-ranging services to low-income Hamilton County residents to help them improve quality of life. The agency provides social services to about 7,000 families a year and offers Head Start - a free early education program - to about 4,500 preschoolers each year.

        CAA services include community and economic development efforts, job readiness skills training and utility payment assistance.

        Echoing the words of slain civil rights leaders Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers, Judge Jones said the agency should have stood up against protesters.

        “It is essential to the future of this community that Mr. Berry's dream for the children and the disadvantaged become a reality,” he said. “However, to seek to do so by violating his legacy does a disservice to it. Thus, I take this step with considerable reluctance, personal pain, but with a clear conscience.”


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