Window on the West
by Mary Rupert
For Kansas City, Kansas, human rights activist Alvin Sykes, these are exciting times. His optimism about the future being in the hands of capable young leaders has led to him deciding not to run for Congress, he said this week.
Sykes said recently that he feels he is finally closing in on some long-time goals. In the past he has led efforts that would solve old, racially motivated crimes by getting the Emmett Till bills passed in Congress, and he has worked on other issues, such as state legislation for deprivation of rights, and compensation for wrongfully incarcerated persons.
Sykes is heartened by a conference committee in the Kansas Legislature on Thursday reaching an agreement on compensation for wrongfully incarcerated persons. The House had passed a bill granting $80,000 per year and the Senate, $50,000, for wrongfully incarcerated persons, and a compromise committee reached a figure of $65,000 on Thursday. Sykes said he expected final action on the bill on Monday or Tuesday.
“I feel really good,” Sykes said when hearing about the compromise committee agreement, “it’s been 10 years in the making.”
What finally led to its passage this year is the involvement of the Innocence Project and testimony of persons in real-life cases, including one from Kansas City, Kansas, he believes.
At one point during the last year, Sykes looked at running for Congress, but has decided to give his support to Democrat Brent Welder of Bonner Springs instead. Sykes said his views are compatible with Welder’s views. Welder is a labor lawyer who was a supporter of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. Sykes likes some of the basics, including Welder’s positions on the issues. He also likes that Welder has a campaign office in Kansas City, Kansas.
“I’ve been out on the trail with him a bit, and I’m really getting excited about this race and its impact nationally on the status of Congress,” Sykes said. He sees a possibility that the U.S. House will go Democrat and loosen the grip Republicans currently have.
Sykes, an independent, said he thinks there will be other opportunities in the future in Wyandotte County for an independent to run effectively and win. “But it’s just not the time for me,” he said.
Also influencing Sykes’ decision to drop out of the 3rd District campaign was that he is finally closing in on completing his autobiographical book, “Show Me Justice,” expected to be finished in November, he said.
“I think I can do a lot better now and contribute a lot more to the community and the nation, and the world, by continuing on this route I’ve been on for the last 42 years,” Sykes said. Instead of running for office himself, he will put his energies into getting Welder elected, he added.
“He’s really getting young people energized in a way we haven’t seen in a long time,” Sykes said. “As I go out on the trail with them, there’s a lot of excitement there. And we need that. We need young people to come forth and to really work,” he said. In fact, it reminds him of the earlier days of the civil rights movement, he said.
When he realized this was the 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr. and civil rights activity in the Kansas City area, he began to reflect on what he has done and has been able to accomplish and plan for the future, he said. He added he now sees some young leaders in the Kansas City community who are working for change, and that makes it easier for him to decide not to run for office.
Ten years ago, he was worried about what is going to be the future of the community, concerned about the people in the forefront to make change. But he sees some young, effective leaders now.
“I can breathe better,” Sykes said. “I can exhale knowing that our future is in good hands.”
Sykes said he is planning to finish his book and to continue speaking about human rights in the future. That could include some travel to other countries to speak, he added.
To reach Mary Rupert, editor of the Wyandotte Daily, email firstname.lastname@example.org.