by Mary Rupert
Human rights activist Alvin Sykes, who will receive the Community Guardian Shield Award tonight, recalled how he first got involved in helping to reopen cold cases from the civil rights era.
The award will be presented at an Ad Hoc Group Against Crime dinner tonight in Kansas City, Mo. It is for “a grass-roots community leader who fights on the front lines for community justice and whose business, family and personal ethics emulate the highest level of community guardianship, as set by the example of Alvin Brooks.” The award is for his lifetime of work in the human rights field.
The sixth annual awards dinner tonight also is a celebration of the 83rd birthday of Alvin Brooks, founder of the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime.
The Rev. Wheeler Parker, a cousin of Emmett Till, who traveled to Mississippi with Till and was in the home when Till was kidnapped in 1955, will travel to Kansas City today to introduce Sykes at the awards dinner. Emmett Till was an African-American teen from Chicago who was killed in Mississippi in 1955.
Sykes, a resident of Kansas City, Kan., said he was visiting Maryann Flunder’s home in 2002 in Kansas City, Kan., when he read a story in the Kansas City Call about the Till case. His whole effort started from that home in Kansas City, Kan., he said.
Sykes called Emmett Till’s mother and spoke to her, he said, and gradually the idea developed for an effort to reopen many cold cases from the civil rights era.
A self-educated activist whose education was largely from the Kansas City, Mo., Public Library, Sykes created the Emmett Till Justice Campaign, seeking justice in unsolved civil-rights cases. Sykes also sought justice in the murder of Steve Harvey, a Kansas City musician.
As a result of Sykes’ efforts, a law was enacted that created a cold case initiative for the U.S. Justice Department to investigate cold civil rights cases.
Sykes said the law that was passed previously to investigate unsolved civil rights-racially motivated murders will expire in two years. He and others are now making an effort to introduce another bill to establish a permanent cold case initiative for the Justice Department. They are lining up bipartisan sponsorship for the bill, he said.
While the Emmett Till case often is referred to as a civil rights case, Sykes said he believes it goes beyond that to a human rights case.
As a human rights activist currently working in the community, Sykes noted that a lot of the work he does never makes the news. While the Emmett Till Justice Campaign, the Steve Harvey case, and recently, some issues involving the elections in Wyandotte County were newsworthy, Sykes also has been working day-to-day on issues such as helping individuals deprived of food stamps and medical issues.