Roosevelt Haynes honored at annual MLK Luncheon
Few individuals touched so many lives in the Dunkirk community as Roosevelt Haynes, who was honored at the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. luncheon on Monday. The annual luncheon is sponsored by the Northern Chautauqua County Juneteenth Celebration Committee, who chose to dedicate the event to Haynes, who passed away on Dec. 14, 2018.
There was a full crowd for the luncheon, which took place at the Clarion Hotel. Those in attendance included Dunkirk Mayor Willie Rosas, Chautauqua County Sheriff James Quattrone, District Attorney Patrick Swanson, Assemblyman Andy Goodell, SUNY Fredonia President Virginia Horvath, Dunkirk High School Principal Alan Gens and members of the Dunkirk City School Board, Betsy Ramos and Claudia Szczerbacki. Current Upward Bound students and members of the Dunkirk High School J.R.O.T.C. were also in attendance at the ceremony.
“It’s hard to put into words how much Rev. Haynes meant to the community,” said Loretta Slaton Torain, mistress of ceremony and Upward Bound director. “We couldn’t honor a better man than him.”
A 50-year Dunkirk resident, Haynes served the community in many ways as a pastor, social worker, Dunkirk City School board member and NAACP lifetime member. He held many positions in the community including City of Dunkirk Housing Authority Board of Directors; State University of New York at Fredonia’s Human Subjects Committee; Chautauqua County Rural Ministry Board of Directors; Dunkirk-Fredonia Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Vice-President; Chautauqua County Chapter of the American Red Cross; City of Dunkirk School Board president, vice-president, and clerk; City of Dunkirk Youth Bureau Board of Directors; Chautauqua Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Council, Literacy Volunteers of America of Northern Chautauqua County, Inc., and many others.
Haynes, who was born and raised in Tennessee, was instrumental in efforts to end segregation in Dublin, Georgia including dual voting lists and polling places and segregated drinking fountains. Haynes and his wife, LaPearl moved to Dunkirk in 1968 — the same year that Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. He continued his legacy against racism in Dunkirk, a situation that still exists today, according to Dunkirk Mayor Willie Rosas. “Racism is a word that many people avoid talking about,” Rosas stated during his proclamation at the start of the ceremony. “…But a community cannot move forward and progress until it does so as a whole community.”
Importantly, Haynes was “committed to community prosperity, not just for any one nationality,” said Rev. Early G. Waller of the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. Waller recalled his many years of friendship with Haynes, which began at Dunkirk’s Neighborhood Family Center. Waller recalled Haynes’ commitment to voter education, particularly the time when he brought a voting machine to church to teach the community how to use it. “Roosevelt built the foundation,” Waller said. “It is our role to continue his works.”
During the ceremony, Velma Torain, who passed away on Nov. 19, 2018, was recognized for her life of service. Torain was a Dunkirk-Fredonia NAACP member, Juneteenth celebration committee member and active member of the Open Door No. 3 Church of God in Christ. She is fondly remembered for her work as a volunteer in the RSVP grandparents’ program in the Dunkirk City School system as “Grandma Mag,” and a poll inspector for the Chautauqua County Board of Elections.
Joyce Harvard Smith and Ivory Brooks awarded the Janice D. Slaton, Esq. scholarships to Genesis Diaz and Elwin Gomez, both second-semester freshmen at Jamestown Community College. Diaz is majoring in criminal justice with plans to become a private investigator. She is a Dunkirk High School graduate, former Upward Bound student and J.R.O.T.C. member and active volunteer in the community. Gomez is also a criminal justice major who is planning to become a police officer. Gomez is a Dunkirk High School graduate, former Upward Bound student and J.R.O.T.C. member and is currently a member of the U.S. Army Reserves.
Dunkirk High School alumni Edwin Gomez and Bianca Moore presented LaPearl Haynes with the certificate honoring her husband’s life of service. Both fondly recalled Haynes’ presence at every Dunkirk High School graduation ceremony, as well as many students’ elementary, middle and high school events. The couple was known for sending cards to Dunkirk graduates at the beginning of each college semester, wishing them well and hoping for continued success.
The room stood in applause as LaPearl accepted the certificate. “Roosevelt always encouraged young people to live up to the best of their abilities, whatever their abilities may be,” LaPearl said. “I am deeply touched by what the young people said about the notes. I guess you do things like that and you don’t really realize the impact it has on young people’s lives…As these young people go forth, we know that they will make the world a better place for all of us one day. Thank you.”