Every year he had a party. He would call it his “75th Birthday Part II” or his “80th Birthday Part 4.” You get the idea. And from all over Rhode Island, all over New England and even all over the country, friends and colleagues and relatives would meet, greet, drink, eat, sing and laugh the day away at Richard Walton’s hideaway, at the mouth of the Pawtuxet River, basking in the sunshine (or rain showers), reveling in each other’s company, renewing acquaintances, and hugging old friends.
By the end of the day, there was a cigar box full of checks and cash for Amos House and/or Providence Niquinohomo Sister City Project because social justice was in his blood and opportunities like this should never be wasted.
So for the first time in decades last year, there was no party at Richard Walton’s house in Warwick. Instead, a bunch of his friends got together, and produced a fund-raiser at Shea high School in Pawtucket to honor his memory and his work. And to continue that legacy, they formed The Red Bandana Fund.
But this year the party’s back! And we’re hoping to keep it going for a long, long time.
This Sunday, June 8th, between 4 and 7pm, at Nick-A-Nees 74 South Street in Providence, the Annual Red Bandana celebration will be held to honor the memory of long, time community activist Richard Walton. And just like Richard did, there will be food, drink, music and laughter. And because the issues never stop, The Red Bandana Fund will continue raising awareness by handing out 2 Activist awards and making a financial contribution to each.
After much deliberation and agonizing, the committee decided to give not just one but 2 awards this year; one to longtime community activist and hell-raiser, Henry Shelton, and the other to the passionate, unrelenting organizing workers called the Providence Student Union. Last year, the first Award went to Amos House, a cause Richard spent a good part his life working on.
They were many deserving nominees this year, all of which one could make an excellent argument for winning the award. The process eventually narrowed down to two: both Henry Shelton and the Providence Student Union. Finally, it became apparent that it made a lot of sense to give to both. So we did.
Richard would have loved the choices.
Since the mid 1960’s as a Catholic priest, Henry Shelton has fought for people’s rights and organized for social justice. After being dissatisfied with the approach of the diocese over the issues of poverty, Henry left the priesthood to continue organizing full time. He joined with George Wiley, a tireless advocate from Rhode Island, as part of the National Welfare Rights Organization. After Wiley died in a boating accident in August 1973, Henry continued his work forming numerous non-profit organizations including The Coalition for Consumer Justice (CCJ), The RI handicapped Action Committee (RIHAC), the Worker’s Association for Guarantee Employment (WAGE), the Fund for Community Progress (FCP) and the George Wiley Center (the latter with which he is still involved).
From utility rate increases to food stamp cuts to free school breakfast for children to winter shut off regulations to stopping the Charlestown Nuclear power plant to summer jobs to worker’s rights, it is not an understatement to say that Henry Shelton is the conscience of this state and has been so for a long, long time. There’s is even a law mandating a fair repayment programs on back utility bills called The Henry Shelton Act. And since Richard served on the Board of the George Wiley Center for decades; and that they marched together on many occasions, working so passionately for the causes Henry still fights for to this day, it’s only appropriate that Henry be one of the first recipients of the award.
Indeed, there is no way Henry Shelton could be ignored.
The Providence Student Union, on the other hand is relatively new to the picture. Consisting of mostly high school students, the organization was formed to fight cuts at Hope High school, which they eventually succeeded in doing. But they didn’t stop there. Qucikly, the students realized the influence they could be to institute reforms. They testified, organized and protested against unjust policies like the Common Core and High Stakes testing, much to the chagrin of those in charge. They have become a familiar presence before the board of education and have earned themselves a role in the decision making process; speaking truth to power and giving students a voice they have never had before.
This is a true grass-roots organization by any definition as their own words testify:
“The Providence Student Union’s vision of social change is based on the principle that justice can only be won in lasting ways when impacted communities themselves unite together to work for the changes they believe in. From this principle comes PSU’s model: organize low-income youth of color to make positive changes in the here and now by working to build student power within their schools, while strengthening the movement for social and economic justice in the long term by developing students to become leaders who will continue to bring their communities together to work for change long after they have graduated.”
It is their commitment to grass-roots organizing and social change, at such a young age, that has earned them the recognition and thanks of the Red Bandana Fund and for all those fighting for justice in today’s society.
Our mission is to honor those community members who uphold the values Richard Walton espoused. And with this year’s selections, we believe we have done just that.
So come this Sunday and join with us as we gather together to honor the past, and the future, in memory of Richard Walton. Buy yourself a an official, Richard Walton, Red Bandana and a beer, as we toast those who have worked for, and continue to work for, social justice in Rhode Island.
See you there.
To find out more about The Red Bandana Fund or to make a contribution, click here http://www.soup.org/page1/RedBandana.html.
(Core participants in organizing the event this year include: Bill Harley, Stephen Graham, Jane Falvey, Barbara & Rick Wahlberg. Other participants include: Jane Murphy, Jodi Glass, Cathy Barnard & Richard Walton, Jr.)