“Black Voices for Peace” inspires hope from Gaza to Connecticut
Communist Party USA Co-Chair Joe Sims was the featured speaker at the Connecticut People's World Black History Month Event.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Speaking at a packed Black History Month event here, “Black Voices for Peace – Gaza to Connecticut,” CPUSA co-chair Joe Sims recounted the remarkable story of his grandmother Pauline Taylor, paying tribute to her and other stalwart freedom fighters in the struggle for peace, racial and economic equality.

Sims’ story culminated an exciting and inspiring standing-room-only program at the New Haven Peoples Center. He called for stepped up efforts on behalf of a ceasefire in Gaza as necessary to expand democracy and defeat the fascist minded MAGA forces in November’s election.

The event marked the 50th annual People’s World Black History Month celebration, featuring a youth competition, song, drumming, a workers’ rights panel and Sims address.

It also highlighted the role of the working class in both local and global peace building efforts, as well as the pursuit of economic and racial equity for all

The program commenced with welcome drumming by Brian Jarawa Gray and friends, paying tribute to  Edie Fishman, a remarkable comrade and friend who had passed away just four days earlier at the age of 102. A moment of silence honored her tireless commitment to the working-class struggle.

Scotticesa Marks Miller performed ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing.’

Emcee Mary Thigpen, retiree of Local 34 Unite Here at Yale and an organizer with the Connecticut CPUSA welcomed everyone. She invited Scotticesa Marks Miller to perform “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” with the entire crowd joining in with the beautiful rendition.

Top three prizes awarded

Following this, the top three prizes were awarded for the student Arts & Writing Competition on the theme “Black Voices for Peace – Gaza to Connecticut”. A 7th grade class at Edgewood School performed a delightful dance with artwork backdrop and sound track with Rep Cori Bush’s call for a ceasefire and peace. The young people all received loud applause and praise.

A Workers’ Rights Panel included Seth Freeman, President, 4C’s SEIU, Pam Reed Johnson, Executive Board, 1199 SEIU, and Stephanie Deceus, Vice President, 1199 SEIU.

Johnson, who works at Oak Hill School in Hartford, highlighted 1199’s historic statewide strike for improved wages and healthcare benefits last year. She succeeded in bringing every single member onto the picket line. The healthcare workers demonstrated immense courage and dedication to securing a fair contract.

A Workers’ Rights Panel, moderated by Connecticut CPUSA organizer Jahmal Henderson, included Seth Freeman, President 4C’s SEIU; Pam Reed Johnson, Executive Board, 1199 SEIU; and Stephanie Deceus, Vice President, 1199 SEIU.

Freeman addressed the devastating budget cuts at Connecticut State Community Colleges causing elimination of cafeteria services, student support and class offerings. The cuts disproportionately impact Black and brown students who rely on these programs. Participants were asked to send messages to Gov. Ned Lamont to fund CSCU with $160 million in emergency funding and to say no to tuition hikes and service cuts.

Speaking with pride, Freeman said his union’s executive board overwhelmingly passed resolutions for a ceasefire and to shift funding from military to human needs because they are concerned with the entire community, beyond their own workplace issues.

Deceus presented the statement of SEIU calling for a ceasefire, release of hostages and humanitarian aid to Gaza.  “As a union family strongly committed to justice and democracy, we believe all people across the globe deserve to live safely and free of fear, with dignity and respect for their human rights, as well as access to food, water, shelter, medicine and other necessities,” the statement said.

Recounting the story of Pauline Taylor, Sims shared the tragic story of her grandmother, beaten to death at age 35 for refusing to carry water, and a strike in Alabama in 1920 attacked by 5,000 troops where poor white people broke the railroad tracks to help the miners escape.

Students from Edgewood School performed a dance with artwork backdrop and sound track with Rep. Cori Bush’s call for a ceasefire and peace.

During the Great Migration Taylor moved north to Youngstown, Ohio. She supported a Steelworkers organizing drive attacked by police in 1937. She toured the country on behalf of peace during the Korean War and later supported the anti-apartheid movement in solidarity with South Africa, remaining active until her death at age 93.

The deeply moving story told by Sims with its powerful lessons for today of commitment and determination received an enthusiastic standing ovation.

In addition to the overflow crowd at the Peoples Center, a house party in Hartford enjoyed the live stream broadcast of the event.

During arrival, Paul Robeson songs were shown with photos of Robeson, W.E.B. DuBois, Martin Luther King, Coretta Scott King and Angela Davis organizing mass movements for peace and an end to genocide and apartheid through the decades.

Contributions were collected for the People’s World 100th Anniversary Fund Drive.

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Jahmal Henderson
Jahmal Henderson

Jahmal Henderson is a community organizer at Newhallville in New Haven, Connecticut. He is also a graphic art designer.