Buenos Aires Andrea and I go way back — more than 40 years back. She was working to direct BWAC, the Brooklyn Welfare Action Center, with Rhoda Linton, and I was head organizer of the Massachusetts Welfare Rights Organization. Somehow thanks to the marvelous “people skills” of the founding organizer of MWRO, my long time comrade Bill Pastreich, it always seemed there were two (or more if you counted Virginia, but neither Andrea nor me took that very seriously) poles always tugging within the National Welfare Rights Organization to try and persuade the director, Dr. George Wiley, to finally make a decision about how to scale the field operation. There was Brooklyn and there were “the Bostons,” as Andrea derisively referred to any us from that camp. She argued that we needed to temper the growth with more ideology. We argued that we needed to achieve more growth and worry about the ideology once we had scale. It went back and forth. George’s favorite expression was that “it was all a win,” and he had no intention of settling the matter, which left all of us to struggle forward. My first introduction to this blood sport was at a staff retreat in Buckeystown, Maryland, where I also first met Fran Piven and Dick Cloward and lots of others including Andrea. I’m sure Andrea saw me as on the wrong side, but I must have at least not said anything dangerously stupid, which at 21 is always a challenge, because we basically were friends from that time on even as out paths meandered in different directions once we left welfare rights.
Andrea was both lightening smart and razor sharp: two dangerous combinations for a black woman from Bed-Sty in Brooklyn who also surprisingly lived almost her entire life in the house where she was raised. She was also a unique and subtle debater, as I learned in 1970 and never forgot my whole years — probably also a secret to our relationship. Her technique was indirect, all sliders and curves with very few fastballs. If you were not quick enough to keep up with her as she took you on a vivid, exciting, and sometimes hilarious tour, you could find yourself swinging aimlessly once she got there. You had to run fast to keep up with Andrea, and you had to sprint to keep ahead of her! I loved that lady.
The arc of her work took her away from organizing I guess, though to me she was always an organizer still, because she thought like an organizer to the end. She ran a program at Hunter College training leaders and organizers. She got me out there to do a session once for the sake of a free ticket to New York. She was a regional director for ACTION out of Philly during a piece of the Carter Administration. She was the Executive Director of the Youth Project in Washington, D.C. for several years until she closed its doors. She retired as a program officer for the Nathan Cummings Foundation in New York City a couple of years ago.
I convinced Drummond Pike that she would be great on the Tides board which gave me a way to visit with her several times a year in San Francisco. She stepped into chairing the Foundation board, when I moved over to chair the Center board several years ago. She was a pleasure to work with there said the spider to the fly, as foundation staff sought her good counsel, since she was a big league foundation program officer, and ended up getting unexpected advice from someone who still thought like an organizer and never looked at anything in exactly the way the box was built.
I also conned her into being on the board of the Organizers’ Forum so she could hang out with all of us in New Orleans once a year. She protested that she wasn’t an organizer any more, but she was probably the only one who believed that story! When she stepped down from the board for health reasons a couple of years ago, a delegation from the Organizers’ Forum was in South Africa that fall. We made a donation in her name from the Organizers’ Forum to an exciting women’s group in Cape Town that she would have loved to visit and know.
Her health was failing, but she always lied to me and told me she was doing well right to the end. A couple of weeks ago I got an email from her about the changes in my life, wanting to know the real skinny, and even volunteering to help try and lobby a couple of recalcitrant donors she knew well and thought were way across the line on how they were dealing with ACORN and all of the bochincha.
That was Andrea from start to finish. For me she was family and a friend, and my heart sank when I read the email yesterday from Chuck Savitt, another long time Tides board warrior, that Andrea had passed away.
There aren’t a whole lot of people in my life who have always known that they could tell me what was on their mind and exactly what I needed to do about it, and have me listen, whether I did it or not, but she was that rare friend and counselor, who understood what we old school organizers call “primary loyalty,” so she knew whether the talk was hard or soft, it was ours, and it was from the heart and meant to help, and that’s where it would begin and that’s where it would end.
Damned if I’m not going to miss, Andrea Kydd, and if there’s not a hole in the heart, everywhere she has been.