Last month hundreds gathered in Philadelphia to celebrate 50 years of the Opportunities Industrialization Center of America movement. Philadelphia was the birthplace of this unique self-help movement led by the late Reverend Leon H. Sullivan. Without reading about this giant of a visionary, who was nominated a few times for the Nobel Peace Prize, you cannot truly understand the scope and depth of our mission. Unfortunately, Reverend Sullivan’s books, BUILD BROTHER, BUILD and MOVING MOUNTAINS are not in print at this time.
In BUILD BROTHER BUILD, Sullivan highlighted the “birth of OIC” and how it began with the purchase of an abandoned jail house for one dollar. Without fanfare and lacking adequate finances, Sullivan’s vision to train and direct people for success began. Sullivan expressed an unending and unwavering faith that God would provide the resources and spirit to succeed.
The “OIC spirit”, Dr. Sullivan noted, was a process that changed people into believing they could achieve despite generations of put-downs and marginalization.
Since OIC was at its inception a private organization, now known as a community based organization, Sullivan went out of his way to raise the necessary funds for OIC to prosper and grow. Yes, in the 1960s the government realizing the public value of OIC in our inner cities, stepped in to help, but the majority of the initial funds came from traditional sources often with stories usually associated with folklore. As Sullivan commented, “A thousand women organized themselves and went into the streets visiting churches, barbershops and beauty salons-and some I found out later, went into bar rooms-and they raised…one hundred thousand dollars.” A farmer also “contributed a five story building” under the condition that “one piece of black bread and a cup of black coffee” be given annually in exchange for ten years use.
Both of these examples illustrate how everyone is important and everyone can contribute to realization of a vision.
Yes, large contributions do matter, and I am sure they are few and far between but appreciated. However, those one dollars collected in the inner city of Philadelphia fifty years ago collected by an army of volunteers to jumpstart the OIC movement which spread to many cities throughout and beyond the United States as separate but unified groups of the OIC family, illustrated how we all matter, and everyone has a role to play.
Recently the Un Group Society, a collection of volunteers here in Waterbury who work on specific community projects, proved how each and every person matters when promoting an idea to maintain a tradition by showing up at a Park Board meeting to speak, one by one, against the rescinding of permits for an annual gathering which has been active in the Waterbury community for years, and prevailed, through their collective spirit, in helping to assure that our local traditions of ethnic festivals and gatherings continue. It is through the Waterbury spirit of diversity that we have seen through decades the various festivals and picnics celebrating heritages of origin, the Albanian Festival, the Greek Festival, the Festival of San Donato, the Old School Picnic and other ethnic celebrations all of which inspired the Gathering, a merging of our many diverse cultures for the oneness that contributes to the greatness of the City of Waterbury, proving we are all important and that everyone matters.
At WOIC we join in the many celebrations within our city. We know that true celebration comes after hard work. Our doors have remained open to the under employed and the unemployed seeking opportunity within the workforce from when we operated from space within other buildings to our center in our own building on Bishop Street. We have been truly blessed. As part of the OIC of America movement, the Waterbury OIC is preparing for our 40th Anniversary Gala in October, we ring the bell in thanks to all who have contributed with their time, money and spirit to sustain our mission. And we invite all to our celebration.