We are often reminded of how we are individually charged to be change agents in the struggle for inclusion and participation, yet we cannot go forward without looking back.
I am reminded of a hot day in July of 1974, when the late Kay Wyrick stopped me on the Old North Square, shouting out to me, "Hey Cool...come here." Those of you familiar with Mrs. Wyrick know of the highly recognized work she did with city youth through the P.R.I.D.E. (Preserving Racial Identity through Development of Education) NAACP Youth Center founded by her. As an advocate and activist in their corner she also was privy to their fashion and argot, so her greeting was in no way disrespectful. Young people would say that she had paid her dues.
In my youth, she had brought me to Washington, D.C. to visit sites where decisions of historical impact were made. On the Square that day, she handed me a red book, her loud voice booming, "I want you to read this." I took the book and thanked her.
Two weeks after reading the book, my office phone rang. On the other end was the late Joseph Jaynes. He had called to request my participation in organizing an "Opportunities Industrialization Center" in Waterbury. The coincidence and timing of his serendipitous proposal was mind-blowing. I asked him, "Reverend Sullivan's OIC?" "Yes," he said. With much pleasure I shared with him Kay Wyrick's gift of Sullivan's book to me. Yes, I told him, I would join him in the organizing effort.
From that conversation until today, 40 years later, OIC and the spirit of Reverend Sullivan's work has not left me. Little did I know then as a recent graduate who had been fortunate to get a job in my major of political science what further opportunities the future held for me, that I would have the honor to meet the great man and have opportunities to travel with him across the nation and internationally, experiences which solidified my interest in the mission. Later Sullivan visited Waterbury, hosted at an evening celebration of OIC at Grace Baptist Church here in Waterbury.
From obtaining that book on the North Square to setting up offices on Sperry Street, to our years of working out of the New Opportunities Human Services Building on North Elm Street, to our current home, the gleaming Joseph Jaynes Center on Bishop Street, our reaching 40 years of the OIC mission has proved to be a truly well-earned milestone. From the machine-shop, the teller and construction labs, building homes and rehabilitation of apartments and to the classes in office skills computer training, WOIC continues a varied history of training opportunities.
As many self-help efforts have come and gone, WOIC continues to impact the lives of so many. Sullivan wrote, "The spirit of OIC is in its people".
WOIC's staff, board and volunteers over the years have truly expressed that spirit of hope and opportunity. Despite great personal and professional sacrifice, coupled with meager resources, the quest to help those who want to help themselves far outweighs obstacles.
Although this column is too short to thank by name, the hundreds who worked at WOIC, and the thousands who have learned skills, obtained jobs or were given a helping hand, know that we are grateful and that our work continues. Calling an employer, updating a resume, providing a listening ear, or sending a letter of recommendation, has been the key to our work of consistently opening doors of opportunity.
WOIC celebrates at the Aria on Friday, October 24, 2014. I will think of Kay Wyrick's insistence that I read "Build Brother Build" and why she chose to give me that book, and the impact of the OIC movement here in Waterbury as the work continue, and so does the ringing.
We ring the bell today to thank all of you who have contributed to four de cades of service to the community.