It’s up to us to hold those in power accountable–every day, all day.
by Cedric Fulton, #LwC2020
April 28, 2020
I am a community organizer and a lifelong resident of Hudson, New York. I really believe in the methodology of community organizing. It’s about leadership development. The true way to build power from communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities is to have leaders in those communities and my job is to train them so they can lead meetings with those in power. When I can see them lead a meeting, stay on topic, and talk with conviction—that’s where I get my leadership from. If I get hit by a bus today the issues are still right in front of us right now. I’m going to meetings with legislators or law enforcement with our community leaders and saying, “Listen, we’re here, and we’re not here to just answer a few questions. We’re here to stay!”
When I was a young man, every time I got arrested I’d end up bailing out and then going back to doing the same things I was doing. But when I was arrested in 2009, my son was born two days later, and this time I decided I wasn’t bailing out because if I did I was either going be killed or get life in prison. I was in there fighting for the right to see my son and I knew something had to change and nobody was going to change it for me. I fought to be placed in the Clinton Correctional Facility because it was the only prison that could give me the credentials I needed to fight for custody of my kids. In Clinton I was in programing all day. I got my college degree while I was inside. When I came out in 2012 I was given custody of my two children who were three and four at the time.
One day some friends of mine were meeting at a barbershop and they said, “Listen, we’re talking about starting a social justice center and we want you to come in and lend us whatever you want to lend us.” We started the SBK Social Justice Center in Hudson. Our main goal was to empower young Black men to resist the marginalization of their communities through training and advocacy. I think that was the moment when I realized that this kind of work was therapeutic for me and was going to keep me from going crazy. I was someone who had perpetuated negative stereotypes about the urban “ghetto” and now I had a chance to change that and leave a positive legacy.
Right now my priority is bail reform. Last year, after a lot of work, we won a major victory when a new bail law was passed that prohibits criminal courts in the state from setting cash bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies. But as the law went into effect there were some highly publicized incidents and a backlash based on fear mongering developed posing a threat to the reform. I am educating people in the capitol district–on their doorstops and at community gatherings–and building a robust campaign to defend the new law. Another priority is educating myself about the grief and trauma that’s so pervasive in economically disadvantaged communities of color. The number of gunshot victims has skyrocketed in Albany, and we have to do something about it. And I am building out a program in the vein of Restorative Re-Entry that supports OUR community members from the point of entry into the carceral system to moral sustainability. Community organizing will be the method to provide agency and empowerment to those we will serve.
I think Leading with Conviction is a once in a lifetime opportunity. If you want to take your leadership to the next level, that’s the place to do it. One of the things I took from there is the fact that we are here to serve but we are not servants. When I talk to folks on the ground about that it really clicks with them.
Cedric Fulton holds a Degree in Political Science from Framingham State and A.A.S. from Bronx Community College.