Citizen Action of Western New York, one of the area's oldest progressive organizations, celebrated its first 20 years Thursday by honoring 20 local groups and individuals described as exemplifying its broader mission to influence public policy in a dynamic fashion.
The honorees were feted at a ceremony in Emerson Commons on Chippewa Street, where Ellen T. Kennedy, Citizen Action chairwoman, also was honored by Mayor Byron W. Brown and Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples, D-Buffalo.
Former County Legislator Joan K. Bozer; Scott Gehl, executive director of Housing Opportunities Made Equal; and Buffalo News columnist Rod Watson were honored.
Peoples recalled her early encounter with Citizen Action, before running for a seat on the Erie County Legislature. Informed in 1992 that Citizen Action intended to make national health care the premiere issue in the 1992 presidential campaign, Peoples was skeptical.
"But then, I had the opportunity to meet with Ellen and the board of Citizen Action and really realize how working with people like [former Buffalo School Board member and activist] Tony Lupino, you actually turn issues into direct action and make it happen. And you know what? In 1992, it did become the major issue," Peoples said.
Citizen Action of Western New York is a local chapter of Citizen Action of New York and its national affiliate, US Action. Locally, it began as a coalition of progressive groups, including women's and civil rights organizations, social workers, social activists and environmental groups that had united to support the Democratic presidential ticket of Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro Democratic in 1984.
Kennedy, a former social worker and chairwoman of the social work department at Buffalo State College, has headed the organization from its inception but will be handing over the reins to Jim Anderson.
"One of the things that I feel really good about in terms of our organization is that we're one of the few local . . . groups that really is multiracial and multi-ethnic," Kennedy said Thursday. "We have consciously ensured that we have a board and staff that reflect at least an African-American, a Hispanic and a white."
Brown, a former member of the Citizen Action board of directors, lauded Kennedy's leadership and presented her a proclamation from the city.