I love making grants to help the children of targeted activists, but the story behind each award can fill me with a wide range of emotions. The Rosenberg Fund for Children’s (RFC) Board made a grant last month that produced a stew of intense responses in me.
The RFC made a grant to enable beloved American Indian Movement leader, Leonard Peltier, to meet his one, four and six-year-old great grandchildren of the first time. These kids’ father, himself a former RFC beneficiary, has been unable to afford the trip to see Leonard, his grandfather, in the Federal Prison in Pennsylvania.
I was enraged when I first read the application. Leonard was a young man when he was first jailed. It made me intensely angry to realize that this person has been imprisoned for a crime he did not commit for long enough to become a great grandfather. He’s been locked up since 1975. That’s more than half my life and I’m 63 years old.
I’ve described this grant at about a half-dozen RFC receptions since early April. The first time I started by voicing outrage at this situation, but spontaneously concluded by saying: “We don’t have the power to free Leonard Peltier, but we have the power through our contributions to bring joy to his grandson and great grandchildren and to him as well.” I choked up when I said that the first time, and had to collect myself for a moment because I had become overwhelmed with emotion.
Perhaps this hit me so hard because this story brought back a flood of memories of being four years old and seeing my parents on death row. I know from personal experience just how powerful family visits can be for young children. I’d have virtually no recollections of my parents if I hadn’t visited them in prison. Leonard’s health is not as good as it once was. Who knows how many more chances these children will have see to him? The six and the four-year-old will probably remember, but the baby will have to return again to retain even an image of his great grandfather.
As all of this washed over me, I also felt a sense of pride. The RFC and the community I’d helped to build made this important family connection possible. How satisfying to make something good like this happen, to provide a concrete benefit to people. I felt particularly proud because a former RFC beneficiary was taking action to introduce his children to their great grandfather and their heritage of resistance. The RFC is 20 years old and still counting. This project I started is doing just what it is supposed to do.
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