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Ray Returns! A Special Guest for our October 17th Gala
Twenty years ago, an unfulfilled corporate lawyer in Springfield, MA, with a remarkable personal history, sat up in bed and realized what he wanted to do with his life. That lawyer was Robert Meeropol and the organization that he immediately got to work building was the Rosenberg Fund for Children. But what prompted that middle-of-the-night-realization?
In the fall of 1988 Robert learned about a group of defendants on trial in his city, facing the very serious federal charge of Seditious Conspiracy. They were called the Ohio 7 because they were three married couples and a single man, members of a clandestine radical group who were busted in Ohio in 1985. The three couples had nine children among them. When the parents were arrested the government seized several of the children, interrogated them and held them incommunicado for weeks. Some of them were not released to the custody of relatives until their parents began a hunger strike.
This horrible story evoked for Robert distressing memories of his own childhood. Their plight percolated in Robert’s subconscious only to reemerge with the realization that his dream of starting a foundation in his parents’ name had found its focus. The RFC would help children today suffering the same nightmare Robert endured as a child. While there were other factors involved, it is no exaggeration to say that the case of the Ohio 7 gave birth to the RFC. And fittingly, the RFC’s very first grant, made in 1991, was to help two of these children attend summer camp.
Ray Levasseur was a leader of the Ohio 7. He defended himself at that trial in Springfield and was acquitted. However, in a previous trial he had been found guilty of charges related to the group’s illegal activities in the 1970’s and 80’s, intended to force corporate divestiture from apartheid South Africa and protest U.S. intervention in Central America. As a result, Ray served nearly 20 years in prison.
In 2009, after Ray’s release but while he was still on parole, a group of students arranged for Ray to speak during the University of MA at Amherst Libraries’ annual “Colloquium on Social Change.” But shortly before the event, state police threatened to bring hundreds of troopers to picket, and right-wing newspapers screamed that the state was paying for a “terrorist” to address impressionable young people. UMass officials caved to the pressure and canceled Ray’s appearance.
In response, faculty members stepped in and re-invited Ray under their own auspices. But at the last minute, after more pressure from law enforcement agencies, the Parole Board rescinded Ray’s prior permission to attend the event. Ray’s lawyers, his former wife, and even several jurors presented an excellent substitute program. An overflow crowd braved hundreds of police protesters bussed in from around the region, and a national media swarm, to fill the hall. But Ray’s voice was silenced and he has not returned to “the Valley,” as this part of western MA is called, for 20 years. Until now.
We’re very excited to announce that Ray’s first public talk in the area since his presence at the trial that inspired Robert to start the RFC, will be at our 20th Anniversary Gala in Northampton, MA on October 17th! Ray’s parole is over and he is free to travel. He’ll bring to our celebration the perspective of an activist and a parent who endured not only targeting, but decades of separation from his family during his imprisonment. The program also will include brief remarks by Robert and Jenn Meeropol and music by Evelyn Harris, a dynamic singer who performed for many years with Sweet Honey in the Rock.
The Gala will take place from 4:00-7:00 pm on Sunday, October 17th, at the Northampton Center for the Arts. Guests will be treated to complimentary hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar from the Apollo Grill while mingling before the presentation begins. Tickets, which are now on sale, are $30 for general admission open seating and $60 for sponsors (the latter includes reserved, preferred seating). Click here for a printable order form.
With room for only 300 people, tickets at this intimate venue for what will surely be a very memorable occasion will go quickly. To order yours now, send a check payable to the Rosenberg Fund for Children, to 116 Pleasant St., Suite 348; Easthampton, MA 01027. Be sure to include a note indicating how many tickets you are purchasing and at which price level ($30 or $60), as well as the mailing address to which to send them. For $60 ticket purchases, please also include your names exactly as you would like them to appear in the list of sponsors in the program materials.
Though we know the bulk of the event’s guests will come from nearby, we encourage anyone within driving (or flying!) distance to consider joining us. October 17th is typically the peak of the stunning foliage season in this part of New England — a great time for a trip to the area. Whether you’re coming from afar or just up the street, buy your tickets early to ensure you can be part of this very special celebration of 20 years of helping the children of targeted activists.