Story Walk: civil

Story Walk: "civil"

A Rochester Story Comes Full Circle by Daan Braverman

I was born and raised in Rochester. I attended Number 8 Elementary School (then on Conkey Avenue), graduated from Brighton High School, and went to the University of Rochester. I did not leave Rochester until 1969, when I headed to the University of Pennsylvania Law School. So, I have many Rochester stories.

The story I want to share is one that had a profound impact on my life. As a sophomore in high school in the early 1960’s, I read a news article about the Tolliver family, who had purchased a home in Brighton, about a mile from our house. When some of the neighbors discovered that the Tolliver family is Black, they tried to buy the house to prevent the family from moving into the neighborhood. Eventually the Tollivers prevailed but the incident greatly disturbed me and prompted me to join the local chapter of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), a national civil rights organization. The Rochester Chapter met in a church on Plymouth Avenue. I did not yet have a driver’s license and often hitched a ride to the meetings with Dr. Tolliver.

At a local CORE meeting in the summer of 1963 it was announced that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was organizing a March on Washington. The Rochester Chapter agreed to join people from around the country, sending bus loads of marchers. I decided to travel with the group and, on August 28, 1963, found myself standing at the bottom of the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Along with 250,000 other marchers—the largest group of protesters to date—I listened to Dr. King deliver his “I Have a Dream” Speech. It was at that moment that I decided to go to law school and become a civil rights lawyer.

I followed that plan, and the Rochester story continued. After graduation from Penn Law School and a year as a judicial law clerk, I returned to Rochester. I had accepted a position with the Greater Upstate Law Project, a federally-funded center that was located here and supported legal services offices throughout New York State. We provided free civil legal services to poor people. I worked on a variety of civil rights cases across the State, including in Rochester. In one case we successfully represented the Urban-Suburban Inter-district Transfer Program when the federal government tried to withdraw funding for that school desegregation effort. In another case, I represented minority applicants for positions in the Rochester Police Department. As a result of our case, the Department agreed to a Consent Decree designed to increase minority representation on the force.

I left Rochester in 1978 for a law teaching position at Syracuse University. But, my Rochester story has come full circle. I returned to Rochester in 2005 to accept my current position as president of Nazareth College. I discovered that the Urban Suburban Inter-district Transfer Program still exists and the Police Department Consent Decree is still in effect. The Greater Upstate Law Project operates as the Empire Justice Center. I learned that Dr. Tolliver and his wife, Yvonne, were still living in that home in Brighton. And, I am part of a College that is committed to addressing issues of social justice and civil rights.