These interviews took place on February 26, 2020, at the headquarters of the Kheprw Institute on Boulevard Place in Indianapolis, Indiana.Learn more about Paulette Fair
Scarpino: As I said when the recorder was off, I’m going to start by reading a statement and if I say anything that isn’t right, you can correct me when I'm done so we have a correct record here.
Today is February 26, 2020. My name is Philip Scarpino, Professor of History at Indiana University/Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). I also serve as Director of Oral History for the Randall L. Tobias Center for Leadership Excellence at IUPUI.
Today I have the privilege of interviewing Ms. Paulette Fair at the headquarters of the Kheprw Institute on Boulevard Place in Indianapolis.
This interview is sponsored by the Public History Program at IUPUI and it is co-sponsored by the Randall L. Tobias Center for Leadership Excellence, also at IUPUI.
I would like to begin with a bit of background on Ms. Fair. She was raised in San Antonio, Texas, where her father worked at Lackland Air Force Base...
Scarpino: … Randolph Air Force Base. She attended Edgar Allen Poe Junior High School and Brackenridge High School in years immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on desegregation, Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, issued in 1954. After high school, she attended Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, majoring in chemistry and biology, graduating in 1969 as a medical technician. About a decade later, in 1979, she moved to Indianapolis to accept employment. In Indianapolis, she met Adisa Imhotep and his wife, Pambana Uishi. Together, the three of them started the Kheprw
Institute in 2003. KI initially offered a way to provide tutoring for Paulette Fair’s grandson and a few other high-school-aged African-American young men. KI became a nonprofit in 2004. Since then, it has grown from a small mentoring program to an organization that includes KI New Media, Community Controlled Food Initiative, and Scaraby’s Consulting. In general terms, KI focuses on youth and seeks solutions for community problems and challenges in the areas of education, environment, economy, and empowerment.
In 2010, as a recognition for her work with KI, Ms. Fair was awarded the Purpose Prize Fellowship by Encore.org. These fellowships are selectively awarded nationally through a referee process. According to Encore.org’s website, Purpose Fellowships are intended to demonstrate that older people comprise an undiscovered and still largely untapped solutions to an array of pressing societal challenges.
Before I begin, I’m going to do what you just agreed to do in writing. That is I want to ask your permission to record this interview, to prepare a verbatim transcript of this interview, to deposit the interview and the verbatim transcript with the IUPUI Special Collections and Archives and with the Tobias Center for Leadership Excellence, and for the Directors of those two organizations may have permission to post the interview and the transcript to their internet sites for the use of their patrons.
Fair: Yes. And I did want to add just, well that was that one correction, the Randolph Air Force Base, you know, you say Air Force Bases, and we had about five or six of them in the area of San Antonio, but Randolph was a special research base
and Lackland, while it was very important, it was the gateway to the Air Force until...
Scarpino: So, he worked at just one of those bases?
Fair: Just one. Every human being that went into the Air Force went to Lackland. So, it had a different function. My dad was at Randolph and worked for their research department, which worked on Sam, our first primate that went up in outer space. So, he worked in the warehouse that provided all of us back then, cylinders of gas that were this tall. He was in that warehouse when they showed up and said, “I need this or that or that kind of gas,” he knew right where it was, how it was stored, and he worked that warehouse. So, I’m just very proud of the fact that not only in his working at the Base at a job in the back as a warehouseman, his agency and his desire to, if he was associated with it, it would be excellent. If somebody said well it ought to be this or it ought to be that, you know, he ran that warehouse. He knew where everything was in that warehouse, and it helped me to be, it helped all of my dad’s kids to be who we are just because, you know, it was a warehouse job, but that was my dad’s warehouse. Anyway, it was Randolph, and then the other one was, while I think it would have been wonderful had I been able to be afforded the opportunity to go straight to university, I started at a junior college. Back in the ‘60s, there were junior colleges which were prep for universities. So, those first two years were just like going to - only it was nine dollars a credit hour, and so I could afford nine dollars a credit hour. I took full advantage of that opportunity because there were no other aids for me to get to college that my Brackenridge counselors told me about, but I knew I was going. So, I looked around and looked around, but nine
dollars a credit hour, I did it. So, I did two years there and then I finished up at Wayne State.
Scarpino: I mentioned this is co-sponsored by the Tobias Center for Leadership Excellence, so I’m going to ask you a few questions about leadership and, obviously, answer from your own perspective. Do you consider yourself to be a leader?
Fair: And the reason why I hesitate when I say leader, for me, leader is different than most people think about, if you’re in charge of others or you are working with others and you’re the person who’s setting up the projects, that’s a leader for me. A leader is a servant, a servant of the people who are doing the work with your assistance. So, being a leader and being a boss are not even the same thing. While in general society they are quite -- So, when you say do you consider yourself a leader, just barely.
Scarpino: You would consider yourself to be a leader by the way you define leadership though.
Fair: In words of power and words help you to direct your perspective and so in the general ways of how leaders are described, yes I am that, but I aspire to be the leader that I am not. That leader is the one that provides the environment for others to thrive. Now, that’s a leader.
Scarpino: How do you do that?
Fair: You do that by deep listening, by encouraging others to take that step, reminding them that fail is an acronym that means First Attempts In Learning.
Scarpino: That’s good. By your own definition of leadership, part of what you do is to empower other people to act, and I will also say that leaders have followers that are not leaders. So, given all the years that you’ve been a leader in the general areas of racial/economic/social justice, how do you persuade people to go along with you?
Fair: I think that persuasion is a word that’s used that really means perspective. So, with deep listening, you can see the perspectives that have not been explored by someone else. It’s in there, it’s in their heads, but it hasn’t been explored enough to take action on it. Action can just be thinking on it. So, how do you persuade others? It’s about not the word persuade, but the word perspective and consciousness raising, and then, when you have someone on your team, you don’t have to persuade them, you don’t have to cajole them and get them to work with you on a project. Then you have a team, not just a human being that shows up, and with a small group you can start to do things and encourage other people to say hey, I want to join in, and then you find a place at the table for them, not because you persuaded them to come, but because their persuasion, their perspective or their consciousness raising has brought them to the table.
Scarpino: That sounds like blueprint for how you put the Kheprw Institute together.
Fair: Well, the three of us, it was, you know, necessity is the mother of invention. So, this particular summer of 2003, Pambana and Im’s son had that issue with his algebra class, and my grandson was coming to visit – he lived in Miami – and he, at that time was my one and only, my one and only, and here he is 13 years old and I was going to say no. So, I told Im, I said, “Hey, we’ve got to find something for your son and my son to do.” He said, “I already know what mine’s doing; he’s
coming in here to do math.” I said, “Good, mine can come too.” So, with that, it’s not about just having them come, now it’s about what will we have them do to give them a perspective on why they’re here, because I was working. I was an administrative assistant and Im was a consultant to the Executive Director, and so it’s not like we had time to sit and play tiddlywinks with them. So, we knew that being male and being black, they cannot be slackers. I’m not casting dispersions, but 45, President 45, he can be a slacker. There can be times when he’s been a slacker. He still wound President. Obama, for eight years, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, somebody was looking for something to smear him with. They evidently didn’t find it because if they could have, we would have heard about it.
Scarpino: Where were you an administrative assistant?
Fair: It was called Rehab Resource. It was a recycle of, I should say commercial, but it was a recycling of items that renovators, commercial renovators were trying to get rid of – air conditioners, skids and skids of carpet squares, boxes and boxes of cabinet knobs, trailer loads, semi-trailer loads of dishes and flatware when Oneida closed their plant up in Oneida, New York. So, we would get those things, warehouse them, and small landlords and business owners could come and buy things at a very much discounted rate because what we were charging as a not-for-profit was a handling fee. So, you could get carpet squares for a dollar apiece or you could get cabinet knobs for 25 cents each, beautiful cabinet knobs, or you could buy whole sets of cabinets. So, with something like that, the warehouse was like 11,000 square feet in the thrift store, so that meant the top was even double that, so that was 22,000 square feet, this warehouse. Then there was another building that was another 22,000 square feet. It was my job to
make sure everything ran smoothly, that people got paid, and when stuff came in, the guy who was managing it got everything in the right place.
Scarpino: You’re the one who made the boss look good.
Fair: Just made sure that there were no issues and if there was, what to do with that.
Scarpino: As you were growing up, particularly when you came to Indianapolis, were there leaders who you admired who influenced your own understanding of what leadership was all about?
Fair: As I was growing up, in 1955, the decision was made in ‘54, but the things came down for September 1955. That was...
Scarpino: Brown vs. the Board of Education.
Fair: … that’s when integration started, September 1955. Of course, Martin Luther King was the guy because he was the front guy. All these people were working diligently in the back and just pushed him up to the front to do all the talking so there could be this focus. So, of course, his bravery, his speaking truth to power, and then Malcolm X came upon the scene and says, “You know, why not just stand up for what you believe?” Now, I was born and raised and matriculated through life as a Jesus Christian. You know, there are evangelicals and there are all kinds of Christians, but I was one of those Jesus Christians, born and raised in the Baptist Church. So, not only was Martin Luther King – and when he would come to a city, he was there is some of the major churches of which my family belonged, and so our minister – and so when you say who were the people, it was the black people that ran our sector of the city. You see, so the
Mayor of San Antonio, that wasn’t – in San Antonio there were two kinds of human beings, there were black ones and there was everybody else.
Scarpino: I was going to ask you about this later, but in San Antonio there are actually three ethnic groups – African-American, Mexican and white.
Fair: Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. No, no, no. No, you didn’t start that right.
Fair: There are three ethnic groups. There are Latina, Latinas, Latinx. There are Latinx, about 90%, there’s maybe 5% black people, and there’s really not very many white people, but they ran everything. They ran everything. Now, Mexicans weren’t black people and they weren’t white people, but there was no Mexican water fountain. So, I grew up in a city where there was two kinds of human beings – there were black people and there was everybody else. So, for black people, there wasn’t nothing that happened in the city that mattered to you because – and so for me, when you say leaders, it couldn’t have been my Mayor, it couldn’t have been our representative. My parents voted; they voted religiously. But it wasn’t – and so all my leaders came out of my black experience. So, when I came north to go to school, Cavanagh was the white Mayor and...
Scarpino: From Detroit.
Fair: … yes, Cavanagh was the white Mayor of Detroit. It was like we were plopped as a group in a foreign place. My mother-in-law and father-in-law voted – they never not voted – for the best possible white person to be in charge while we all
lived in these black communities. So, for me, leadership had to do with who was representing who I felt black people should be, and that was Martin Luther King, then it was Malcolm X because of the pushback that the general white community was giving Martin Luther King. Then the explosion happened and that was Stokely Carmichael and there was Black Panthers. For the very first time. I mean, when you say who were your – when I was growing up, it was the minister in my little community and it was Martin Luther King, which broadened my horizons after the – in ‘61 is when it kind of started to jump off (INAUDIBLE). There were five military bases in and around San Antonio. So, while I never even noticed a white person because my parents didn’t – so we never rode the bus and we didn’t go downtown to the movies and stuff like that because my parents just didn’t want us to have those feelings of disrespect. So, we never mingled with white people, so I never grew up with any angst about white people. I was never treated badly or anything. Then when I started integrated schools as a 12 year old, I was the only black child in that school. There were other children who eventually came toward the end of the semester or the next year, but there were so few of us, and in a military town, everybody – there’s no manufacturing in San Antonio to this day unless it’s tamales or clothing or something – and so everybody worked on the base. Truman had said in 1948, this is too much...
Scarpino: He desegregated the military by Executive Order.
Fair: All of them, every one. So, from ‘48 to ‘55, when I showed up at Edgar Allen Poe, those white children’s parents and grandparents were all working on all those five or six bases in the area. As I said, if you came into the Air Force, whether you were from Saudi Arabia or Montana, you came to San Antonio for basic training. So, it was huge, so there was just so many people that when I
studied, there was no issue. The children just, you know, they didn’t adopt me, but I was a loner, but I was good. When I went to Brackenridge High School, I think there were maybe 200 black kids in the whole school, but there were no racial incidents. White kids, and we knew that – so when I came out and went to San Antonio Junior College, I was busy; I worked nights and went to school days because I was paying for it. So, you can see, when you say leaders, until Martin Luther King came along, it was the pastor of our church and his wife.
Scarpino: Do you remember their names?
Fair: Yes, Pastor P.S. Wilkinson was his name and...
Scarpino: What was his wife’s name?
Fair: Oh, was it Thelma? I don’t remember her name, but the gentleman, Mr. Singletary, was the superintendent of the Sunday School. The Sunday School had a superintendent. He was a maintenance man at one of the bases. So, you can see that the institution of the church at that time offered the administrative abilities not realized through corporate jobs or city jobs that were not available at all to any black person. The institution of the church allowed for all of that and it was wonderful. Mr. Singletary was, he would call me over when I was in middle school and say, “Baby, how are those people treating you? You good? Because you know you’re the best, you’re the best and the brightest. Sometimes people are scared of people bright and smart like you, pretty child like you.” You know, and so all of them, so you can see when you say who were my leaders, it was a forced closed community, segregation, but community then helped me to be collective because Mr. Singletary didn’t have to put in all that time. Absolutely nobody got paid in the church to be the superintendent of the Sunday School.
My daddy was not paid to be on the deacon board, or the head of the usher board. Mother didn’t get paid for singing in the choir or being on the women’s missionary group. But they did so much stuff collectively. And so, the leaders were the people around me. And then Martin Luther King was the first one that really broadened my understanding of the national scope of where black people were.
Scarpino: Did that idea of the ability to do so much collectively shape you for the rest of your life?
Fair: The answer to that is “yes” with quotes and underlined...
Fair: … because if our young people in our group were here, they would say stuff like, you know, they think somehow I’m different. I think some woman asked – one of the people, one of our supporters who has been to some of our meetings had the flu this last couple of weeks. About three days he was bad and he was on the sofa all day long, and then a couple of the young people got ill, and so this lady says, “So, Paulette, how did you dodge that bullet?” I said, “Oh, I don’t know; I don’t usually get sick.” And the kid says, “She’s a robot.”
Scarpino: She’s what?
Fair: “She’s a robot. This is just her human facade; we haven’t caught her yet, but at night, we know that she takes off her skin and you know, she’s really a robot.” So, when you asked me how did that work, when I was coming up, the whole is where you lived, the group, the whole. Whatever the whole is, you know, the w-h-o-l-e is where you live. And if the whole isn’t a place to rest – I saw the time
when on Randolph Air Force Base, the commander called all of the staff, everybody, into this larger (INAUDIBLE), and I was in senior high school, and said, I don’t know what happened, but maybe it was the Korean War was over because it had to be maybe somewhere around ‘58 maybe, that’s when it was, and that the Base had to cut expenses and he either was going to lay off a third of the workforce or everybody had to take a third cut in pay, from him down. They all decided to take the third cut. Can you believe it? They all decided that we will take a third cut – black, white, green, purple, everybody that worked there, third cut. So, Daddy comes home and now he makes – there are five kids and Mom and Dad, seven of us and my parents owned their own home. So my father and his mother had bought it in 1933 for $3,000; they finally got it paid off.
Scarpino: Of course, in 1933, $3,000 is a lot of money.
Fair: Probably. They finally got it paid off. So, it was about feeding these kids and with that smaller amount of money, I don’t know what happened, but somehow the church, the neighborhood, everything came together because the group – and so here I am looking at every morning when I wake up how strong is Kheprw, which is the whole that these children rest in, that these young adults rest in because we run them hard. We run them hard because – one of the youngsters is in charge of our food project. The grocery stores all went down in this vicinity, it was like two of them, well they went down five of them. So, they went down citywide, bam, open on Wednesday, closed on Thursday, and the neighbors were all upset. We said, “Let’s have conversations about the food issue.” Some neighbors said, “You know, we need to do something.” So I said, “Well, hey listen, our place is open for you to come and have conversations,” and Mimi joined the group...
Scarpino: And Mimi’s last name is?
Fair: Her name is Miriam Zakem.
Scarpino: Okay, I just wanted to get that in the record.
Fair: Yes, Miriam Zakem. So, Mimi joins the group and so we’re holding these meetings and Mimi’s sitting there and all these residents, mostly black, mostly older women, saying we need to do this and we need to do that, and I’m nudging Mimi, “You know, you can be committee chair and you can do this,” because she was very interested in the food, whatever. “You can do this.” And Mimi was just sitting there looking at them and so after a while, she started easing into being, “Well, let’s call the meeting for this day,” or “okay, I’ve taken notes and—“ before you knew it, Mimi had organized with – we run them hard – had organized with the help of the community, we started in September with the conversations, by January she had a full committee, we started holding what we called the Good Food Feast every month until we got to finding farmers that would provide us with fresh produce, all local. She had everybody out finding, where we going to get these farmers from – nobody knew a farmer. We went to all the markets. She had organized this – we finally got all the farmers together. She had somebody making all the data entry of where the farmers were, calling them. By June we start – June 2015 we had our first disperse of our produce – bags of produce. We wanted this to be an entrepreneurial experience and so we collect $20 from everyone. If you’re on some kind of food subsidy program, like SNAP or food stamps or something like that, your bag is only $12. So, we started the distribution. By that October, I had talked to the farmers to say, “Well, I guess this is our last month,” and the farmers told Mimi and I, we were together, told
Mimi and I, “well, if you all will stick with me” – he’s Amish, not very far from me – “if you all will stick with me, I’m going to put in some hoop houses and I’ll grow all winter.” We said, “Well, sure.” Mimi was on it. We’ve never missed a month.
Scarpino: He was going to put in what?
Fair: Hoop houses so that he could grow in the winter. So, we have had fresh produce every month since 2015 – well, since – we started in 2015 – since June 2016, we’ve had fresh produce every month since 2016.
Scarpino: And where is that headquartered here in town?
Fair: Well, at one time we were at the Renaissance Center at Mount Zion Baptist Church, their little building in between. We were there for about six years and it was held there. Now it’s in our new space, every second Saturday of the month. We have volunteers who come at 10:00 and sort these boxes and boxes of fresh produce, and then at 3:00 we start the Good Food Feast. Some chef comes in and cooks what’s in the bag.
So, I just wanted to say when I say we run them hard, she never expected that she would be allowed to be the leader, which is the manager of others, which is, we have to remind each other many times, as the leader, you are the manager of the environment in which other people work and thrive.
Scarpino: Do you think of yourself as a mentor?
Fair: Oh, definitely. I think all of us senior members of our society, all of our elders, all of us who are elders are mentors because we have a lot to say about what was
and how it compares to what is. But for some elders, the issue that they wind up having dealing with the young people is that they don’t stop to think about what was and what is, is about making right choices, but being guided to the best choice. A right choice can take you down a wrong path because there are a lot of rights, and elders will know a right when they see it because synopsis flows straight to; I saw this before – synopsis goes bam, and then here you are in the present getting ready to make a decision on a right that wasn’t the best choice. And so, with seniors, with elders a lot of times, and I have to catch myself to make sure that I don’t, “you shouldn’t do that, that’s not going to work, why are you.” So, when you ask me if I consider myself a mentor, and I have to tell young people, I say, “Look, you know, from what’s back there and what’s in the present, my suggestion is you think about these,” and to remind them that perspectives are many times – I’m a mentor because I tell young people, “I know you’re doing your best, I know you’re not just doing something to do it, I know you’re not messing up. I know you’re not just intentionally waking up in the morning, ‘this going to be a terrible day and I’m going to make a mess out of it.’ I know that, but you can’t lean on, this is a right. That does not qualify being the best choice.” And so that’s in the mentoring, it’s in the think about it.
Scarpino: I’m going to ask you some questions about you and start with, we talked about this a little bit, but when and where were you born?
Fair: June 22, 1943, San Antonio, Texas, in my parents’ house, which we still own.
Scarpino: You still own the same home?
Fair: Yeah, me and my brothers, and since I’m the oldest one alive, I get to put my name down as the owner of the house.
Scarpino: What did your mother do for a living, besides raise children, which is a lot of work?
Fair: Yes. Mother had a high school diploma. Before she and Dad got married, she was a bread girl at the St. Anthony Hotel. The St. Anthony Hotel was the upper, upper, upper crust, only the rich were there...
Scarpino: In downtown San Antonio?
Fair: Downtown San Antonio, fabulous, gorgeous, beautiful, and Mother was the bread girl and you can imagine, 21, 22, 18...
Scarpino: What is a bread girl, for the benefit of somebody listening to this?
Fair: You can imagine, 21, 22, 18, 19, cute, cute, cute, cute, cute. So, they have on these little mini dresses with this tray that hooks around their neck and shoulders and you walk around the tables with croissants and rolls and cornbread. Whatever bread that the back had fixed is on this and with the tongs, and people – you just stand there. Now, in this day and age, you have to pay for the piece of bread that you have on your plate. It doesn’t necessarily go with the meal. But back then the girls would walk around. So, she had to stay cute, she had to stay little, and she had to be available to work, and that’s what she did. Once she got married, and my brother is four years older than I am, and so when she got married, after she stopped working of course. Then I came in ‘43 and then 18 months later my sister came. Somehow, Mama managed from ‘45 to ‘48 to not have any children – that’s only three years – and bam, 1948 she had a little boy. Now we’re talking about four kids. Then doggonit, 1950 she had another kid. It was Mrs. Wilkinson that told Mama, Leotha, my mother’s name, Leotha, there’s a
new agency in town. It’s called Planned Parenthood and if you go see them, they might help you to not have any more babies. Well, I think Mother might have walked all the way over there just to make sure it was there. So, that was Mother’s last baby. So, that’s why when people ask me about Planned Parenthood, I say 1950.
Scarpino: Your father worked on the Air Force Base.
Fair: Yeah, he worked on the Base. Mother couldn’t find a job that would pay her enough money to babysit all five of us, and so she was an at-home mother until my youngest brother went to senior high school. Then she worked away from home. But up until the 1950 kid went to senior high school, which would have put him right at about 15 years old, Mother was an at-home mother and dad worked on the Base 40 hours a week.
Scarpino: And he was basically doing maintenance?
Fair: He was in charge of the – well, I shouldn’t say he was in charge – he ran the warehouse. Now, there was a white guy up front. Whenever somebody needed one of those cylinders of gas, they placed the order with the white guy and the white guy would give it to my daddy and then my dad would go right straight to it. Wherever it was, he knew right exactly where it was, and then he’d bring it up to the front and then off they’d go.
Scarpino: Was your dad born and raised in San Antonio?
Fair: Well, his birth certificate says that. He was raised in some tiny little town that the courthouse burned down, and I don’t even know if the town remained. So, when my father was in his late teens or early 20s, he started St. Philip’s Junior College.
We had a black junior college there in San Antonio and he started at St. Philip’s and he needed a birth certificate. So, he gathered up one of his friends, went down to the courthouse in San Antonio and says, “This guy can vouch for the fact that my name is Gemerill (SPELLING???) Ernest Berry and I live here and I’m a human.”
Scarpino: And they gave him a birth certificate?
Fair: Gave him a birth certificate.
Scarpino: Your father’s full name was what?
Fair: Gemeral Ernest Berry.
Scarpino: Berry, B-e-r-r-y?
Scarpino: And what was your mother’s maiden name?
Fair: Dean, Leotha O. Dean, and the O was for Orleans.
Scarpino: So, before you married, your full name was?
Fair: Paulette Elaine Berry.
Scarpino: Okay. As you look back on it, now from the perspective of some time, what kind of an impact did your parents have on the adult you became?
Fair: Well, Mother helped me to see that I was not going to let that happen to me. I was not going to be at home because I had to be, not to say that I might not have wanted to be...
Scarpino: Had to be because you had children...
Fair: … and you couldn’t go to work...
Fair: … and you’re stuck. That was not going to happen to me. That was the guiding principle right there. From my father, it was just this colossal sense of, you know, my dad had it going on. Not only was he, he went to – remember I was telling you about the collective, that I was raised always within a collective. So, whether you’re black guys, you know, if you have a car, you’ve still got maintenance on the car, you’ve got the gas in the car. So, Mr. Harris had a car, and back then there weren’t seatbelts. So, there were two in the front, well three, the driver and two others in the front and three guys in the back. They gave him a dollar or whatever they gave him on gas, which helped him, and they all went to work together. So, when my dad left for work in the morning, it was before us kids left for school because Mr. Harris went and picked up everybody and, of course, they never missed work and they were never late, ever. So, then mother had his breakfast. Then after Daddy got out of the house, then she turned to us kids and getting us out of the house, but with my father always being ready when that car pulled up, and so then, I say Mother was busy, she was just busy because then she had the little kids. Then, when Dad would come home in the evening, he was hungry and all us kids came home from school right at about 3:00, 3:30, 4:00, and so I know that there were women who worked, but when you were saying about my father’s impact, there was no day that Mama was too whatever – didn’t feel good, didn’t want to, had a headache or whatever – that dinner was not on that table. So, my next door neighbor, Miss Myrtle, was the very same
way when her husband came home. Miss Clack (SPELLING???) was raising Buddy, her grandson. I never knew her to have a husband, and I don’t know what happened to Buddy’s people, with his mom and dad, but she was raising Buddy, and when we came home from school, everybody got dinner. When Dad’s paycheck was diminished, we didn’t ever miss any meals because if we had missed some meals, you can imagine, the collective would have, “Leotha, what’s the matter? What do you need?” It’s not like you can’t get ill or sick, but you can’t put off on the collective, “oh, I don’t feel well today.” Now, if you got sick, your neighbors were there because there was no such thing as – well I don’t know, there might have been Welfare, but it didn’t trickle down to us. So, there was only the whole that you always had to try to keep strong, and so the guys got together – and so for me, back to all the things that I do – the young people tease me about driving them. And I tell them, “I’m not driving you hard, I’m just trying to make sure that you have experiences and build skills,” and they have. They’ll tell you that they are so much different than they were when they came to the organization, but with that, Dr. Scarpino, is a level of accountability that it is true about the weakest link; and while you may be that sometimes because something happens, you cannot allow yourself to have the whole diminished. So when you are that weak link, it’s not a shame, but it’s a: am I doing the best I can whatever kind of link I can be?
Scarpino: I mean, it sounds like you grew up in a pretty nurturing environment.
Fair: As much as my mother could, and that’s another thing. To be able to see the humanity and forgive all that you expected out of someone else’s best, out of someone else’s best. My mom’s father died when she was seven. My mother was born in 1918, so that would have put her at about 1925, and so, that I know
of, there wasn’t any Welfare or anything like that. He was a tailor and my grandmother had to go to work. So, my mom’s mother, my great-grandmother, just about raised her and her brother. She was blind, real, real blind, I mean like eyes messed up blind. She had been cleaning somebody’s house and it is sad that it was rat poison that she accidentally got in her eyes.
Scarpino: Oh, my goodness.
Fair: She was blind-blind, I mean like just white, no pupils whatsoever and she raised my mom. So, there was an amount of nurturing that I could tell, as an adult, that Mom didn’t have to give.
Scarpino: So, you also made up your mind you were going to get out of there.
Fair: Oh, buddy, yes sir. I was not staying in San Antonio looking to see what – how limited the choices were – how limited. You’re going to work in somebody’s house, or if somebody was benevolent enough and you could find them, you could go and work in the back. The choices were so – even if you had taught school, you couldn’t teach in the white schools. There were no black teachers in the white schools back in ‘55 and in ‘60. You had to leave, and I was going to do that.
Scarpino: When you started junior high school, you were the only black child in that school.
Fair: I was the only – you know, I keep trying to remember if there was one other black child and there was none until Aubrey Lewis came, and Aubrey came like at the end of the second semester or something like that. I was the only black child. Okay. Statement of fact – I was the only black child in every class that I ever
went to and I was always the only black child in the lunchroom. That’s a fact. If there was another black child in the school, I didn’t know it; I never saw them.
Scarpino: Did white children socialize with you?
Fair: No, not at all, but they weren’t mean. I was just thanking God for small favors.
Scarpino: That they weren’t mean.
Fair: And I don’t mean small, it was a big favor because TV was available. Reporters weren’t constrained over what they could take on. After the Vietnam War, reporters were never allowed to go in, like they went in in Vietnam, and take all those pictures. After Vietnam, the government said, “Oh, no, we’re not going to have this anymore.” So, all the other wars since then, they can sneak in or they can come in in some places, but mostly they keep them out. Well, back then, especially when the deseg was happening, in Arkansas and Alabama, but in Arkansas they were hanging black people in effigy, you know, right outside the schools and jeering and screaming at the kids; that didn’t happen to me. Mother marched me around there and enrolled me at Edgar Allen Poe and nobody ever called me any names, nobody ever came over and sat with me in the lunchroom, nobody ever came over and said “let’s play,” but I was good. There was no mean, hostile violence toward me, and I put it off on the fact that those children’s parents told them “leave that girl alone” and “we might talk ugly about them, but don’t you go to school spreading that stuff in their face.” So, I just kind of came right on through it.
Scarpino: It was a different time, wasn’t it?
Fair: Yeah, it was a different time in San Antonio. Had I been raised in Alabama – those three little girls that got...
Fair: … or had I been in Mississippi, and I remember, in Alabama, I didn’t think I’d ever forget his name, he finally wound up in a wheelchair and got back into black people’s good graces and they elected him again to be the Governor of the State of Alabama – George Wallace!
Scarpino: George Wallace, yes, yes, yes.
Fair: Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.
Scarpino: I remember that. So, when I talked to you several months ago, you mentioned an English teacher named Mrs. Butler. Was she in junior high school or high school?
Fair: Junior high school.
Scarpino: You talked about the impact that Mrs. Butler had on you and I actually wrote down some – you said she was “mean as shit.”
Fair: She was.
Scarpino: So, but obviously, there was more to her than just being mean. Talk about what – and she was white...
Fair: Yes, of course.
Scarpino: … so, well, we’re making a recording here, so I want to be clear about that.
Fair: Yes, Mrs. Butler was mean. She didn’t single me out. I never felt singled out for meanness.
Scarpino: She was equal opportunity meanness.
Fair: She was mean. So when you walked in, if ever you heard the statement prune-faced spinster, poster child; she was the poster girl for that. Prune-faced spinster. She wore these dresses and it was always the same looking kind of dress, you know, the one piece that buttoned down the front that had the belt around the waist that went about halfway between the knee and the ankle. Her hair was always in a bun and she had spectacles. But Mrs. – Miss, Miss Butler’s, and back then we didn’t do Ms. It was M-i-s-s, M-r-s. She was M-i-s-s. So, Miss Butler, it was, for children, I say that she was mean; she was very stern and stern is different from mean, it really is. It comes across as mean, but it was very stern. I thought I was smart and at church – and when we’d do the plays at church and Mr. Singleton would, you know – “Paulette, you’re going to be the head of this or that.” So, when I was writing papers or doing anything for Miss Butler, I mean there’d be so much red ink all over that paper. Oh, man, she would just, and then she’d say “and I want to see you after class.” I’d go marching up there, “yes, ma’am.” “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,” but you know, you remember diagramming? Diagramming is something that you have one or two sessions over and you go on to something else. Miss Butler was a diagramming fanatic.
Scarpino: Diagramming sentences.
Fair: Oh, you diagrammed sentences. In elementary school, you do your alphabets in kindergarten and first grade, over and over and over and over again to stick them
in your head, but for Miss Butler, you did diagramming over and over and over and over again so you knew what the subject and the predicate was because the predicate isn’t always just one verb. The predicate could be a couple of words, and then the adverb describes what the verb, and then the object would come off down the side, over and over and over again. Bbut through that, it improved your writing. So, I made really great grades in Miss Butler’s class. She gave out – I felt very accomplished. She was stern. For kids, it was mean, but she was very stern and to this day, she is the only one I can remember because she never smiled, she never gave me a hint of praise, but she was not going to let this one little black girl get out of her class and ruin her reputation as a teacher. “You come out of my class, the next teacher says ‘girl, you taught them, you really got those kids,’” and I was going to be one of the ones. Like I said, I thought I was smart, but whether I was or whether I wasn’t, when I got out of her class, I knew that English.
Scarpino: And you could write.
Fair: But, you know, when I was at Wayne State University, segregation colored all of my choices – I mean discolored. What will happen? Well, I’m black? Well, I'm black. Well, I’ve got to leave here. I was doing science background, chemistry and biology, because I really thought I wanted to do research and I wanted to be in the laboratory and I wanted to be part of – because my dad did those gases on that base and my dad knew where everything was and they worked on Sam, the first primate in outer space, and they did all kind of stuff like that, it really helped, right? But nowhere did I think if I had come out of a science background, chemistry and biology, in San Antonio or Texas, nowhere did I think I could show up at a laboratory and say “Well, I’ve got this degree, I want to work in your lab.”
I didn’t know any black people who worked in a lab like that. I didn’t even know black people that worked in a hospital laboratory, any kind of laboratory. So, since this is what I wanted to do, I took all of the physics and everything toward a degree in medical technology, because I knew with the science, the chemistry and biology background, I could do research, but I had to be able to graduate on Monday, get a job on – well, graduate on Friday, get a job on Monday, and it had to be a job that the supervisor couldn’t come in and say, “my mother’s brother’s next door neighbor’s cousin needs a job; sorry, you’ve got to go.” Or, somebody pick with you, not because of your work, but because they want to give that job to someone else. So, while I had wanted to be a researcher, I said the bottom line is you’ve got to have some kind of license to get you a job. I’m sure they still do. When you come out of med tech program, you have to take a national test and...
Scarpino: Mm-hmm, certification test.
Fair: … yeah. So, I took my test, I got my certification and I knew I was going to be able to work someplace in the north with my certification and then I was just going to work my way on in to whatever else I wanted to do with this background. But, Miss Butler’s English class, more than one time, helped me through organic chemistry, helped me through inorganic chemistry, helped me through physics class because I could diagram the sentences to see what are they talking about. I don’t have high intelligence, but I'm real smart. I know how to work. My husband had a super fabulous memory, he could catch onto everything, high intelligence, my children also. And I can see how they can just – but I’m good, I’m good because I was smart; I knew how to work hard, and Miss Butler’s English class pulled me through all the science classes I ever had. I mean, when I took calculus, I said to myself hey, get the textbook, and if I didn’t understand
what the textbook says, I diagrammed the sentence. What’s the sentence talking about? This is the subject, this is the predicate, this is the past tense of the verb, so this means was the object, and it got me through Wayne State University.
Scarpino: Did you ever think about the fact of how much you were able to get from a teacher who was so severe?
Fair: I have always looked back and thought about Miss Butler and so, if indeed you can send positive vibes out, she’s gotten a lot from me.
Scarpino: You were in high school, Brackenridge High School, grades 10, 11 and 12?
Scarpino: You were there during the Brown decision. Did that have an impact on you when you were in school?
Fair: Well, when you think about a youngster focused on getting out of San Antonio – I was on the National Honor Society, I took stenography because I’m saying well maybe I can get a job with a black lawyer...
Scarpino: So, you could do shorthand?
Fair: … yeah, yeah...
Scarpino: There’s a lost art.
Fair: … yeah, those Gregg books, I kept one of my final ones and some kind of used books and I went “oh, that’s one of my textbooks.” When I show the youngsters, they say “what are those little squigglies?” I say, “Unnecessary now, but at that time, this is what you did.” Integration was not – the integration of 1955 in San
Antonio was not the integration that happened in Indianapolis. I think they desegged this, I think they desegged the schools in ‘71 or something – it’s before I came here. The deseg here picked up busloads of black kids and shipped them off to people...
Scarpino: Shipped out to townships.
Fair: … shipped them out to people who didn’t love them. As a group – I'm not saying that none of the teachers – but as a group, they didn’t love them and they weren’t trying to be proud of them, and they weren’t trying to encourage the children to be the best that they could be for this whole that everybody lives in. We all live in this whole community. The children in those communities, I’m sure there are a lot of really neat kids, but why is it that youngsters in a place, in any situation, they don’t seem to focus on, well, this is the great stuff about this. They are devastated by the disrespect, the meanness. It affects their person, their personhood. So, you see, I didn’t experience that. So, when you tell me about the decision, the children who wound up in Indianapolis and in other cities when they started that busing and they sent the children away from their neighborhoods and then let the schools in their neighborhoods deteriorate so much because all the money went out there. You think those white townships would have been pleased to get those children because the children came with money and, therefore, Warren Township got that wonderful performing arts building thanks to all the state money. With the children, the money followed. Pike blew up. Ben Davis, Perry Township, those schools got such an influx for development. Now, in San Antonio, when the decision first came down and I went marching over there, the black schools were still, you know, had almost all the children in there because people afraid to put their children – but you see, I
live down the street from Poe. Mother could have been down there. I lived like maybe five blocks from the school. That’s why it was more convenient for me to go to Poe than it was...
Scarpino: So you could walk.
Fair: … yeah, because I could just walk on over there. I would have had to walk over to the black middle school also – well, they were junior highs then – I would have had to walk over to the black junior high school, which was way further down the street than Edgar Allen Poe, and so Mother put me over there. I don’t know, Mother just knew, ask me see if I know, but I was a kid trying to pass, make a good impression at church because Reverend – I keep calling him Reverend – but it was Mr. Singletary was just – the minister Reverend Wilkinson would say “okay, I want to see all my kids that go to those white people’s school,” and we’d all stand up and he’d say “you all look around at these kids, they’re brave, they’re doing wonderful work. Mr. Singletary, tell us about them.” And he would stand up and he’d say, “well, you know, there’s Paulette over there and she’s making As and Bs and there’s so and so and so and so and so and so.” So when you say what happened with the decision, you see how I lived in that community. Right now there are communities of black people that suffer poverty that didn’t happen back during segregation. We were poor. I didn’t know how poor we were because there was no TV to tell me we were poor, but I thought we were middle class because we dressed every day in nice clothes. Mother had a friend who worked for a white lady. She always had a friend who worked for a white lady who had kids who were bigger than us or a little older than us, so we always had nice clothes to wear. So, the poverty of today is a poverty of spirit,
especially when you can’t provide for your family, whereas my father could provide for us, whereas...
Scarpino: So, how did we get from the poverty that you knew to the poverty of today?
Fair: Well, see I didn’t live in poverty. We were poor. So, how did we get from the poor of the ‘40s and the ‘50s to the poverty of today? And the poverty of today has to do with the poverty of the spirit and the poverty of the spirit is impacted by the environment that you’re in, the environment that says no you can’t, you have to live in this community. Back then, we lived all together because we knew that you couldn’t live with white people. You had to live with black people. Okay, today, it’s not about you can’t live with white people, it’s about where can you live in the places that you can afford to live. My father, half of his salary wasn’t the house. For whatever the expenses were, there was always money to go to church, there was money for – we didn’t go out to dinner or nothing like that...
Scarpino: But he owned his own home.
Fair: … but he owned his own home, there was money for tithing...
Scarpino: At the church.
Fair: … yeah, tithing at the church, and at the church, there was activities almost all week long. There was Wednesday night bible study, they were always doing the pitch-in piece, but today, when you think about you can work two, three jobs and still can hardly afford the rent. The poverty of today is reaching, I mean, there were people who – you did not have the homeless problem in the ‘40s and ‘50s that you have today and people had less. Today, with all that we have, it just gets sucked away. I always say any time you wind up in a society where the top
1% has 90% of the wealth, then something is going on that the resources are getting sucked up from the people, the masses, the resources are getting sucked up, whereas over here, I just figure that – oh, my goodness...
And so, you know, and I think about that, how we ate every day, Mother didn’t even work, Daddy had half of a paycheck, and we were proud and we felt like we should have been. You know, Daddy had a front yard that he cut and kept beautiful. And here, the poverty of today, buy a house? I mean, it’s all out of reach for some people. And then renting a house – one of the young people in our group is working on a national initiative called Homes for All, and our organization joined that national initiative. There’s something called Community Land Trust in neighborhoods that are now being quickly gentrified. It’s a neighborhood here, it’s mostly white people, it’s called Holy Cross and it’s right over east of Rural, around Massachusetts, yeah. Anyway, cute little houses, and gentrification is coming for them and so, and we’re not talking development without displacement, we’re talking gentrification which is with displacement. So they’ve started this Community Land Trust effort also and the city has chipped in about $50,000 to bring in a consultant to help this group send this Southeast Neighborhood Development something or other to help these people come together with how to put a Community Land Trust together, which is almost like a co-op of private properties. Now, we had started trying to do this about five years ago. We were trying to do all of our properties and put them into this Community Land Trust. Well, with being able to do that, home ownership or just a home to stay in – because with the Community Land Trust, it’s like a co-operative and you can control the pricing on the houses as they sell. So, with this Homes for All,
people in this group have also started to work with this – send in the consultant who’s there, paid for by the city, so everybody should be able to go and hear about it. One of our youngsters that belongs to our Homes for All committee also is working on rent relief or rent policies, policies for renters, and it’s not so much like it in New York where they have the, not rent stabilization – what do they call that thing they do in New York where you get rent and they can’t raise your rent at all or something like that – but this is more or less like right now the only rent properties are – the only rent policies are for landlords, how fast they can put you out, how they don’t have to do whatever. So, this young person is working on rent policies that help renters, and she’s passionate about it because she remembers the times when she and her mother could not afford rent. She remembers being at a relative’s house or staying with friends. Now, they were never on the street, but that’s a homelessness that she remembers. So in our accountability sessions with her, it’s always, “How far have you gotten on reading all the material? What’s your next move?” Like I told you, we run them hard just because this is about – but back to the poverty issue, you know, to be able to be stable enough to build from, whereas my brothers and I still own that house that my daddy bought in 1933 because we just can’t...
Scarpino: In the Depression he bought that house.
Fair: Yeah, yeah. It was a land contract, yeah. He got it done, but you can just imagine with that stability. Mr. and Mrs. (INAUDIBLE) lived next door, I mean, they came to the neighborhood – Mom and Daddy bought the house in ‘33 – they bought their house right before I was born in like maybe ‘40, ‘41, because their son and I were the same age. And then Ms. Clack (SPELLING???) lived across the street until the day she died. Miss Glauson (SPELLING???) lived next door.
So, you see, there’s poor and there’s poverty. And especially when there’s a poverty of the spirit, you know, you live here and then you live over there and then you live over here. I went to Cuney Elementary School from kindergarten until when I finished and then I went to Edgar Allen Poe.
Scarpino: What was the name of the elementary school?
Fair: Oh, it was Cuney, C-u-n-e-y, Cuney Elementary School. In fact, it is now a church because when they started doing busing, of course, the schools, the public schools lost their funding.
Scarpino: I’m going to ask you just a couple more general questions about living in Texas and then we’re going to move on, but I want to put a little bit of information in the record for people who use this thing and don’t know much history.
In the 1950s, while you were living in San Antonio with your family, was a period I guess I’d call conflict and change in race relations particularly in the South. So we mentioned that President Harry Truman desegregated the military by Executive Order in 1948; August 28, 1955, Emmett Till is lynched in Money, Mississippi; December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, which sparks the Montgomery Bus Boycott that lasts until 1956. That’s where a pretty young Reverend Martin Luther King comes into the national spotlight. September 3, 1957, nine black students know as the Little Rock Nine arrived at Central High School in Little Rock to begin classes and their way is blocked by the Arkansas National Guard. I could go on, but the question that I have is you started high school in 1957, as you were growing up, were you aware of all this stuff that was going on?
Fair: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, because it was in church every Sunday because we prayed, we prayed every Sunday for every event that was going on and we prayed for the people in all of the incidents. There were no incidents like that in San Antonio, but when the Little Rock Nine, when – I’ve forgotten her name; the little cutie that was trying to go to school and they were jeering at her and it was just her and her alone and she’s surrounded by these National Guardsmen, I think that was in Mississippi, and oh gosh, and she is still alive and she still does a lot of talks about, you know, how did you do ...
Scarpino: One of us will think of it in a minute.
Fair: … yes, yes, yes; you know who I’m talking about. But anyway, and we had TV and so we were able to see this on TV.
Scarpino: TV made a difference, didn’t it?
Fair: Oh, TV made a difference. We got our first TV in 1955. Mrs. (INAUDIBLE), they had theirs the year before, so Daddy started saving and so then we got our TV. You could see all this stuff happening, but that kind of meanness didn’t happen in San Antonio. Now, we did have a picket line downtown at the major department store, you know, “how come we are still drinking out of your colored water fountains and what do you mean we can’t bring our children in to try on the shoes, we’ve got to come in”--
Scarpino: San Antonio was in the Jim Crow South, for anybody listening to this.
Fair: Oh, believe me, please know that Texas, period, was in the Jim Crow South. Texas, period. It was in Texas that, you know, they hooked up that man to the
back of a truck and just drug him, yeah, yeah. The thing that made San Antonio different was the military bases and everybody worked on the military bases.
Scarpino: And they had also brought in people from all over.
Fair: Yes, and that’s another thing. There were people from all over on those military bases. In fact, my husband, when he was there in Alabama, he was in the Air Force and then he was later in a medical unit in Alabama, someplace like that, and the base commander called all of the new troops that were in there for training into the auditorium and he said, “You all can be all the friends you want to on this base,” and I can remember it was after (INAUDIBLE) – “you all can be all the friends you want to on this base and everybody goes anywhere and does anything that anybody else can do,” he said, “but when you leave this base, all the black recruits, you’re” – whatever they called them back then – “you are a black person; and white guys, you all can’t be fraternizing together in the town, that’s all there is to it; be aware.” So, yes, I was in Texas, but what made my little island – so, I grew up without all that, as I said earlier, that angst toward mean disrespectful white people, who were there, but I never encountered them.
Scarpino: You hadn’t encountered them.
Fair: I never encountered.
Scarpino: Maybe thanks to your parents who protected you.
Fair: Well, yeah, and the community that protected me. So then, when I came north, and you know, you were talking about the segregated south, when I came north in 1964 to go to Wayne State University, much to my surprise, tried to rent an apartment and I happened to be staying with someone, but it was just until I
found a place, when I would make the arrangements, yes, from the newspapers, from the ads in the newspaper for places that were available for rent, that’s where I was calling from, and I would show up with my little brown self, “oh, ma’am, we just rented that place.” I said, “Really? See, I'm the one. Paulette Berry, I’m the one that you just talked to and you said that you had a place.” “I made a mistake, blah, blah, blah, blah.” So, by the third or fourth time, I started saying, “I’m a black person, do you rent to black people? I don’t want to waste my gas and come out there if you don’t.” I was from the segregated south and you can see what happened to me in the south because I was in this closed community where I came up where the whole is important to the individual, and then I came north and it was terrible.
Scarpino: When you moved to the Detroit area, were you able to recreate the whole?
Fair: Well, I was in the way that I came north to marry a guy that I met in San Antonio, and when I came north – well, in fact, I came that summer. We got married in 1964, September, and I came north in June to start Wayne State University and to find an apartment so after we got married we’d have a place to stay. In the meantime, I was staying with his mother. The reason I said I was able to help create the whole because his mother was one of six sisters and all of them had come north from New Orleans. Trickled in, trickled in, trickled in. One came and said, “Man, there’s so many jobs in Detroit, you all need to come.” So, then another sister came. So, my husband’s parents came in I think it was 1956 or 1957 or something like that. By the time I got to Detroit, all six sisters lived there.
Scarpino: So they kind of created a...
Scarpino: … community and family. So, you picked Detroit because you were going to get married? I mean, obviously, you were going to college. I’m sure that somebody with your grades had choices.
Fair: Yes, and I did, and I had looked all over for where could I get this science degree and do this medical technology thing so that I could have only four years. In Texas, there was no university – this was when I was in senior high school – there was no university in Texas that had a four-year program where you could have a science degree and have a focus on medical technology and qualify to take the certification. So, there were only like about five in the United States at that time and one was at Wayne State University. So, before I even met my husband, I kept saying, “How am I going to get to Detroit?” I knew I wasn’t going to go to Montana and I don’t know where the other ones were, but I was trying to get to Detroit, and I had planned to go into the service. I was going to go into the Air Force because Mr. Singletary, of course, had career day for his Sunday School students, and this young woman came and talked about being a med tech. She was black; and he would bring in the black youngsters from the Base to talk about different careers, and she was a med tech and she had learned how to be a med tech in the Air Force.
Scarpino: So, that’s where you got the idea of med tech.
Fair: That’s where I got the idea that could do something with my science. I wanted to be a researcher, but I could have a job skill and a certificate. So, when I met who turned out to be my husband, when I met him and he said he was from Detroit, I said, “Wayne State University.” He said, “How’d you know about Wayne State?”
I said, “Man, would I really love to go.” So, three years later, well, two years later we get engaged and then...
Scarpino: What was his name?
Fair: Turner Fair, Turner Fair. And then we get married. That’s when I was telling you that when he was in the service and he was in this medical place in this Base that taught some medical skills. I’ve forgotten where it was; I think was Mississippi. The commander of the Base was the nicest guy, but anyway, so by the time I got to Detroit that summer, there was already – in fact, whenever there was a holiday or a get-together, you couldn’t hardly invite your friends; my husband was the oldest out of 48 first cousins.
Scarpino: Do you remember what year you started at Wayne State?
Fair: Uh-huh, it was June 1964.
Scarpino: And what year did you get married?
Fair: September, because I already was going to get married because we were engaged a year. So I knew in ‘63 that we were going to get married September 11, 1964. Back then, Wayne State was on the quarter plan, so you had four semesters in a year.
Scarpino: And one was the summer.
Fair: And you could go to school...
Scarpino: I went to a college that had quarter plans.
Fair: Oh, it was wonderful; I loved it. So, we took, and the longest period – the space of time was at the end of August and first couple of weeks in September and then you started on your next quarter, and so we took that period. That’s why I knew I’d been married September 11th, because that was the longest period of time that I could go home, because a person went home to get married.
Scarpino: And when did you graduate from Wayne State?
Fair: In ‘69.
Scarpino: And you graduated, took the national test and were certified?
Fair: Oh, yeah; oh, yeah.
Scarpino: What were you doing between ‘69 and ‘79 before you moved to Indianapolis?
Fair: Well, right after I got out of university, I started working, of course, as a med tech right away on my way to – well, right after I got out of university in ‘69, I was on my way to working in a lab a couple of years and then to do research.
Scarpino: In Detroit?
Fair: Yeah, in Detroit. I’m now married in ‘64, I had a baby in ‘65, that’s why – I came out of junior college, I was a freshman one year, I was a sophomore for a year, I started Wayne State University, and much to my surprise, the stork brought me a baby. I’m telling you it was a stork too. We were Catholic and I was doing everything I was supposed to do, but hey – you know what they call parents who use – no, you know what they call couples who use the Catholic’s rhythm system? They call them parents.
Scarpino: Yes, I was raised in that. So, but you were not raised a Catholic, so your husband was a Catholic?
Fair: From New Orleans, born and raised, all of the sisters. He had been an alter boy...
Scarpino: Those were the days that if you married a Catholic, you pretty much had to agree to raise your children as Catholic or the church wouldn’t marry you.
Fair: Right. If you didn’t want to be Catholic, the church would marry you, but they would marry you outside of the sacraments and you had to...
Scarpino: Did you convert to Catholicism?
Fair: Yes, I did. No problem. My parents had no problems whatsoever. You are friendly, yes indeed. I said hey, “Where’s the priest?” And so I converted and I had my confirmation, and I wanted to do that because his people were all Catholics and had always been Catholics, and I'm about the whole and I wanted to be able to rest in the strength of the whole. So when I showed up to Detroit, I was Catholic too because I converted back when we got engaged, and so that next year when I got married, I was bona fide certified.
Scarpino: That was my mother’s experience.
Fair: Oh, really? Yeah, yeah. But the family, he was the oldest, as I said, out of 48 first cousins, so he was Mr. Favorite Person, and so when he came in there with me, I wanted to make sure that, you know, I didn’t want them to feel like he had married someone that would lead to his demise; that he had married somebody that would be an uplift and would help him be all that he could be. Sure enough,
they just loved – down south – they loved them some Paulette. They loved them some, yeah.
Scarpino: I lived in the south for a while.
Fair: You know those statements we make.
Scarpino: I never picked it up, but I heard it. So, I want to spend the last half-hour or so talking about Indianapolis and the Kheprw Institute.
You moved to Indianapolis in 1979...
Fair: Much to my ...
Scarpino: … from Detroit...
Fair: … I moved...
Scarpino: So, you didn’t want to move here?
Fair: I moved from Detroit when Coleman Young was the Mayor and everything was uphill at the time. Black people...
Scarpino: The first African-American Mayor of the city, right?
Fair: Yes, and he had been a Tuskegee Airman.
Scarpino: I didn’t know that.
Fair: Yes, he was a Tuskegee Airman during World War II. The gentleman, do you know that they never lost a bomber? They never lost a bomber.
Scarpino: Did you ever meet him?
Fair: Oh, yeah. He was that kind of guy, you know. He would want to because we put him in office. Of course, I was out there knocking door-to-door. I got real political. Remember, I told you that Martin Luther King, the pastor, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and then all of the other real young people who had jumped off different, you know, the Black Panthers, but by the time I got to Detroit, a Mayor really, it was phenomenal.
Scarpino: First African-American Mayor of a major northern city.
Fair: Gary had the first. Gary had the first, Patrick.
Scarpino: Yeah, I should have known that.
Fair: It’s just that, but yes, it was the first one there in Detroit and, you know, Detroit had so many black people in it because the automotive industry. That’s how my husband’s aunts and his mother wound up coming north. Like I said, one would come and says, “Wow, man, there’s jobs aplenty, it paid good wages and you’ll have discretionary cash.” So, sure enough, here they come. One sister came, then another sister came.
Scarpino: So, they were part of the great migration out of the south?
Fair: Yes, sir, buddy, and my husband’s father was a carpenter. When he came north, he was the cabinet-making, add a room onto your house kind of carpenter. So, when he came north, he could not get a contractor’s license because you always had to send in your picture. So, as soon as – I've forgotten exactly when that got pushed down, but as soon as it did, whatever year that was, he submitted his application and got his contractor’s license. So there was the discretionary cash there so that when Coleman Young became Mayor, it was just a prideful time.
Scarpino: You were an organizer for him? Just knocking on doors to get people to vote?
Fair: I was part of the organizing team because, at the time, I had the two children I gave birth to, my husband’s uncle and aunt died – you know how our families are – it was his mother’s sister and her husband. Her husband just up and died of a colossal stroke and she just kind of grieved herself into the ground and she had a 10 and 11 year old. Well, she died when they were like eight and nine and their older sister and brothers were trying to take care of them and it just wasn’t working out real well. So my husband was their godfather, we were all Catholic, and so those children came to live with us.
Scarpino: So, you went from two to four.
Fair: So, I went from two to four. With that, I didn’t organize, but I was part of the organizing team. So, I would gather up people, you know, we’re going to go door-to-door and we’re going to go in our neighborhood, we had teas, we had...
Scarpino: Trying to get Coleman elected for Mayor.
Fair: … Coleman Young elected. So, when you say about political figures, until Coleman Young, there was no – there was nothing about politics that really included me, with the exception, of course, JFK, when he was running for President, and, of course, all the young people turned out to vote for him. I was in San Antonio Junior College that day when the word came that he had been assassinated. I was in the hallway and I stopped in the restroom before I went out to catch the bus – you know, you’ve got those things in your mind – and the word came that he had been assassinated, and that was our first president since Lincoln, so you can imagine.
Scarpino: But you supported him?
Fair: Oh, I was young then, yeah. It wasn’t like I knew the politics. I’m sure I voted for him like many did, because he was young and he wasn’t an old stodger, and he was going to do something that was going to make a difference. I remember, who was that that ran, Adlai Stevenson. When he ran for President, I just loved Adlai Stevenson. I remember he crossed his legs one time, he was doing a TV interview, and there was a hole in the bottom of his shoe. You know, just things like that that you never forget.
Scarpino: Kind made him a person too, didn’t it?
Fair: Yeah, it was, and...
Scarpino: In the early years of the Kennedy administration, the Freedom Rides took place. Did you know about that?
Fair: You know, as I said, TV helped us to be aware of a lot of things, but I watched my mom sit on that sofa at home as all of us left for school and she would go and transition from being a housewife in the house with no discretionary cash and to the people on TV in the stories. Mother knew those stories up, down, around and side, All My Children and As the World Turns.
Scarpino: Soap operas, in case somebody didn’t know that.
Fair: Oh, thank you for saying that.
Scarpino: We’re telling the tape recorder.
Fair: Thank you for saying that. That’s what they were called, soap operas, and mother lived her life vicariously through the soap operas, and every day.
Scarpino: How did you meet Adisa Imhotep and his wife?
Fair: Okay, so when my husband...
Scarpino: Had he changed his name at that point?
Fair: No, his name has been since college. He and his wife both, they were engineering students during...
Scarpino: Right. He was at Purdue and then IUPUI.
Fair: Yeah. They had been engineering students out of senior high school and, don’t forget, during the time that they were in college, you know, we’re going to be these engineers and they wound up with internships. Im had an internship over at Naval Avionics. It was over on 21st...
Scarpino: Right on White River, no?
Fair: It was the one that was at 21st and Arlington...
Fair: … there was a big base over there and he was working as an engineer there. And he belonged to, of course, the student union, the black student union and young black men, as an engineering intern, you weren’t going to get enough respect because the society has been, as a whole, the society had been lied to. People didn’t even, people felt like black people were where they were and didn’t own homes and didn’t this and didn’t that, just because they didn’t work hard
enough or – black people knew better, but it’s a sadness when white people disrespect and diminish the self-worth of young people, especially young people you don’t even know. So, it colored what he even did with his engineering degree. He came out of Purdue and knew, “I can’t do that, I can’t go in there and get beat down like that by the older engineers,” and it wouldn’t be everybody, but you’d think that the people who felt it was wrong would say something to the bullies who felt like oh good, I'm going to run this guy away from here so we can get back to – Why, why do you need to have everything in the space white? Well, because black people shouldn’t be here. Why not? But they don’t know, it’s not about being a good person or a bad person, it’s about the way they’ve been taught, the pieces of information that said that black people have made contributions to where we are today. So when he came out of engineering school, he worked for corporate America maybe two or three years and the corporate America he worked for was for IPS running the startup of the computerization of information.
Scarpino: Indianapolis Public Schools. Was he teaching computers to students or helping IPS...?
Scarpino: Ah, okay.
Fair: Yeah, administration. Now, because he was about young people, he also had a computer lab and he was, way there in the beginning, he would have a computer lab and he was teaching kids...
Scarpino: So, how did you meet him?
Fair: Well, he and his wife, and his wife did the same thing. She could not go into corporate America with her engineering degree. She tried at Detroit Diesel Allison; it was just so painful for her. She came out and she started a trick in the not-for-profit arena. Now, I mentioned that to you that my husband and I met Pambana and Im when their 35-year old was about two or three years old, she was an in-arms baby. We all showed up at a black history book club and the black history book club was put on by Pat Payne, her name was Brown, Pat Brown Payne.
Scarpino: I know her.
Fair: Okay. Pat Payne started this black book club and you can just well imagine, back then, you couldn’t find books by black people – you know, Chancellor Williams. I have a chart over there with all of the – Count Volney’s book about black people. Even books by...
Scarpino: Richard Wright.
Fair: Yeah, you could maybe find those, but the ones that spoke to the history of black people and their contributions, you just couldn’t go to Border’s and get a book like that, or Barnes and Noble and get a book like that. So, the book club came together because somebody would volunteer to go up to Third World Press in Chicago, Haki Madhubuti – he had changed his name, it was, I think it was Don Lee at the time.
Scarpino: So, Third World Press was in Chicago and it was...
Fair: It was in Chicago and it was black books. Somebody would go up there, take all the orders, go up there and bring all the books back, and we had this black book
club. In fact, we met over here in Coppin Chapel for the first four or five years of it.
Scarpino: What was the name of the chapel?
Fair: Coppin, Coppin Chapel, and it was AME, and it’s right over here on Capitol. Let me tell you how strong that black book club was, for how many years it was. Our particular Sunday – it was every other Sunday – and the particular Sunday for the black book club was on the Super Bowl. It was Super Bowl Sunday. So, I was one of the moderators of the books, and it’s usually one or most of the times two people just in case somebody couldn’t come, there was a moderator for the particular book. Okay, so I showed up with my moderator partner at the church and we were sitting around, got there about an hour early so we could talk about it, and we figured wouldn’t anybody be there. There were 40 people who came...
Scarpino: On Super Bowl Sunday.
Fair: … on Super Bowl Sunday. Now, you know we had it going on. Super Bowl Sunday. So, I met them when the book club first started. We showed up, and you can see how having the experience that they had in college. She went to – I don’t know if you know what I'm saying, GMAC, General Motors had their own engineering school.
Scarpino: I didn’t know that. That where she went to school?
Fair: She went to - her engineering school, was GMAC, and it was up in Flint, I think it was, and it was four years and they had a focus on engineering – she is an electrical engineer – and then they taught all the other stuff that needed to be taught. He’s in electrical engineering, but he started at West Lafayette and he
came to IUPUI, finished up at IUPUI, belonged to the black student union there and got into enough very interesting situations.
Scarpino: I’m looking forward to talking to him about that.
Fair: Yes, yes. Very interesting situation, very, very. But getting out, both of them with those engineering degrees, had such a hard time being able to matriculate in the cultures of the companies that they tried to work for, that the black book – see, the black book club, it was a place of refuge. It was a place where you could come and feel like you were part of a whole that could get something that could help you – they had that one child, when I came here with children, and you can’t go around the house telling kids, you know, there was a black person that first separated blood in the south and separated blood, period, and he was a physician, but unfortunately, he died when they wouldn’t let him in the closest hospital so that he could get some of this blood; you know, children trying to eat dinner. Now, did you know that the first...
Scarpino: They don’t want to hear that at dinner.
Fair: You can’t just go around talking like that. And so they don’t get it in school and so the black book club was just – and so this is where we met them and so all the time. Well, my husband was about maybe 18 years older than Im at the time and so my husband had this wonderful gift of memory, wonderful gift of memory. I told you about that, pick up stuff really fast, wonderful gift of memory, and so when you asked him a question or we’d be reading something that referred to something else, maybe footnoted at the bottom, then Im might say to my husband, “Well, what did you think about—“ or “what else happened?” and my husband would go “blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” So, his friends, my husband’s
friends, always used to say, “When are you going to write this book and put all of this together?” because all of us know pieces and parts, but history is never taught, it’s a continuum. And he did and it’s called “World History, An African Perspective,” and on that chart is all these pieces and parts and references to tell you where else to go. Now, my husband always had – he was a prolific reader, bibliophile really – and had decided that this was my husband’s thoughts and he did – Im, on the other hand, said that I cannot stay in corporate America and he left and started a T-shirt company so that he could help young people like he is today.
Scarpino: So, how did the creation of the Kheprw Institute come about?
Fair: Well, my husband had passed. He transitioned very young, 53, and Im and his wife had become friends of ours from the book club. So, you know how you keep up with your friends, especially when something horrible happens. When my husband passed, oh man, I mean there was so many people who came to that funeral, people I didn’t even know – white people, lots and lots of white people – it was just so many people and I was just drowning. People who were close to me, like Imhotep and his wife, could see I was drowning, and so he’d check up on me or call me and say, “Hey listen, how’s the chart coming?” because when my husband died, he had a second chart that’s right behind that one called “American History, An African Perspective” and I didn’t know how to work the program that it was in. So, I said to Im, “I don’t know what I’m going to do?” He said, “I'll find you somebody.” So, he found somebody that would work with me to produce the second chart. It was a friend of his, and then it was, “Hey, listen, how is it coming?” I said – you know, when you lose somebody like that, your brain, you just stay in so much sadness. He says, “Hey, listen, you’ll need to get
a graphic artist on it to do this, that or the other. I got you somebody.” He says Ron, the guy that was in the book club. I said, “Why didn’t I think about that?” So, you know, he and his wife kind of held my hand and guided me through that really hard period of getting the second chart out. All the information was in there, I just had to try to pull it together. I did, and I had a deadline. My husband died December, I had to have the chart ready for June because Indiana Black Expo, especially back in 1993, was huge back then. It was huge. You had to stay in Chicago because all the hotel rooms were full.
Scarpino: You couldn’t get a room, yes.
Fair: Oh, it was huge. And they were having African-American pavilion and the chart was the center of this pavilion piece, and so I had to have them ready. I was just going bananas. So, he just very calmly said, “Take what you need now of this, this, this,” and helped me to walk that thing through and I got it printed and had it ready. So, then that was in 1992, and we continued to be friends. He opened up, well, I think they already had the, yeah, they did because I used to visit the T-shirt shop. My sister had some kind of awful diagnosis that was supposed to be acute – she’s another one with a lot of agency. She decided to make it a chronic disease because she was going to be able to handle it. When she came, it was right after Im had wound up with a hip issue that they told him was a cancer and that he was going to have to lose his leg. He said, “nah.” They said, “No, no, no, we’re going to cut your leg off, you’re going to be good.” “No, I won’t be good. Nah.” And so when he went to a second or third or somebody, they said, “Well, you know, maybe we can put a metal piece in there, but it might not work.” He said, “Let’s give it a try.” So, he’s got this hip he’s recovering from, my sister has this metastatic bone cancer, they bond like brothers and sisters. They are so
funny, both of them. I’m not sure if Im was still on medication, but I know my sister was. She’d make a vodka and 7-Up in a minute – “want a vodka and 7-Up?” They’d have a drink together. She knew she couldn’t have any, she shouldn’t have none, but she would have at least one. And I’d be at work and then he and I worked together and I was working for Rehab Resource. He came to be the consultant there because the executive director had, he was going out of town, he was going out of the country as a matter of fact and he needed a consultant to be there onsite, and so he came.
(END OF RECORDING)
Fair: But I will let him tell you all the little details in that story...
Scarpino: So, what I do want you to tell me though is how did the idea for the Kheprw Institute come about? How did you get this thing started?
Fair: So, now here we are, we’re both working in this very large warehouse and the lobby in the warehouse is maybe two times the size of this whole first floor. It’s this huge lobby, and he knew that he had to bring his son to work with him every day that summer to work on algebra. Pambana, his wife, was not having this kid have a summer vacation away from algebra, and my grandson was coming. My grandson’s mom and my son had said that he could come and spend the summer because he usually spent the summer. This particular time, now he’s 13-years old, he’s too old to go to StarPoint over at the Children’s Museum orstay in daycare, where I used to have him with a friend of mine who had this wonderful huge daycare that I used to put him in. Now he’s 13, no more daycare, no more StarPoint. I told Im, I says, “Well, I’ve got to do something with Turner.” My grandson’s name is Turner Fair, and so we called him Tano because Tano is Swahili for five. So I said, “It’s okay, I've got to bring him, he’s got to do something.” So, that’s when we started with, we’ve got to have something intellectual and something cultural and we, of course, wanted to try to get them ready to be able to manage themselves and to work. So, we paid them to dot paint, because we got all this paint from paint companies that had mis-tint the paint and if they donate it, they could get a write-off and they wouldn’t have to pay $250 a 55-gallon barrel of mis-tints to environmentally get rid of it, dispose of it. So, paint companies got a good deal all the way around and we got a good deal because we had all this $25 a gallon mis-tint paint with gorgeous beautiful colors, but of course, the top of the paint had numbers. So, the kids’ jobs were to
pop the lids, stir it with a paddle, dot the top and take the mallet and put it back on there. So that was their job in the morning, and then I'd make them lunch and they did something intellectual in the afternoon. Part of the intellectual was math and then they had to read. At the end of the summer – they started in June – at the end of the summer at the beginning of August, there was going to be this report and their parents were going to come. In the meantime, some of the kids in the neighborhood here said, “Deon,” -- he was mentally thin, “Where’ve you been?” He says, “Oh, I'm working.” “Oh, man, how do we get in on that? you know, 14 year olds. “Working? Hey, how do I get in on that?” And so we asked their parents, told their parents what they’d be doing and the parents said, “Oh, yeah, please.” So what started out as an intellectual work experience and a cultural experience for two kids, we wound up with five. By the end of that summer, they had been working in the warehouse and it was hot as bejeebies out there. It was air conditioned in the office area, it was hot as bejeebies out there. So, they were out there working in the heat and it was a big huge warehouse, and so they had shower stalls in the back and I’d make them take a shower and change their clothes before they came into the air conditioned kitchen to eat, and then they’d start their intellectual piece of their day. By the end, by that August, they stood up at the podium and they gave a little talk about what they had written on. Somebody wrote on Malcolm X and somebody else wrote on something else. All of us were there and we made a special dinner, in fact, this board table was where we all sat. Now, this is half of the board table; this is half of the board table. That’s how big that table was.
Scarpino: Well, I'll just say, just looking at it, it looks like it’s about 10 feet long...
Fair: Yeah, it’s huge.
Scarpino: … five feet wide or something. It’s big.
Fair: Yeah, it’s big. So, we all sat around and they were at the podium and did this lovely job. So, that was the end of that first summer.
Scarpino: And that was what year?
Fair: That was 2003.
Fair: So, by the time the program was over, the kids – Pambana's father was an English teacher before he retired, so he was there helping them with their papers and looking at it, “This is not a full sentence, this is the way a sentence or paragraph should look.” He says, or Pambana says, I've forgotten who said, “Well, how many of you all feel like you would like to come back and have some tutoring through the school year?” Well, the first thing they wanted to know is, “Can we have a job too?” So, we told them, “Your job is school and if you get an A, for every A you get, there’s $50, for every B you get, it’s this and if you get on the Honor Roll, you get an extra $100. That’s your job.” So, then they started on this intellectual piece, then after school – so by 2004, Pambana, Im and I, we’d just spent a whole year with these kids. That summer experience was the entrepreneurial piece and we tried to get them to think that going to school was entrepreneurial, but no, that just didn’t work. So, by that next May, it was hey guys – to me and Pambana and Im – summer’s here; what are we going to do? So, we sat down and fashioned out a whole program, decided to do a 501c3...
Scarpino: And that was when you created Kheprw?
Fair: That’s when we started with Kheprw and...
Scarpino: Was that the name from the beginning?
Fair: From the very beginning.
Scarpino: What does that mean?
Fair: Okay, the scarab beetle – when Im had his T-shirt shop, the logo was a scarab beetle and so we started, when we were sitting around talking about what are we going to do about this, and at that time, Im was a consultant. He had heeled up enough from his bad leg, but they had given up the T-shirt shop. Pambana went to work for the Urban League...
Scarpino: Basement Enterprises was the name of the T-shirt shop.
Fair: … Basement Enterprises, um-hmm, and with the scarab beetle is the logo. Pambana was working for the Urban League at the time, so she did have a corporate job, but was the Urban League. She was the director of education or some such as that. So, we were all sitting around just saying, you know, “Now what are we going to do with this?” and it became this scarab beetle was still going to be our logo because you had a special attachment to them because of the T-shirt business and the number of young people they had helped, and the esoteric way they had looked at the development of young people was a spiritual/cultural thing. So, that scarab beetle had a lot of significance for them. The name of the scarab beetle is Kheprw.
Scarpino: Oh, and that is?
Fair: An ancient Egyptian, they call it the mitter netter (SPELLING???).
Scarpino: That’s right.
Fair: The French came and called it hieroglyphics because it was picture language.
Scarpino: So, the derivation of the word is Egyptian?
Fair: So, Kheprw, in the picture writing, like I said, was called mitter netter (SPELLING???), sacred speech. So, all over the monuments and walls in Egypt was this mitter netter (SPELLING???) and every time the scarab beetle was in the message, it was called Kheprw and Kheprw meant nurturing morning sun. It was out of the messiness of life, you can make your life. The scarab beetle lays its eggs in dung and rolls and rolls and rolls and rolls and was nice and big and fat, it stays there, the sun comes down and the Ancient Egyptians noticed that these little scarab beetles came out of a dung ball. Out of a dung ball you can get life? And so the Kheprw scarab beetle meant when life hands you whatever it hands you, no matter how messy it is, you can bring your life out of that, or out of lemons you can make lemonade. So, we thought of it, or I thought of it as the nurturing morning sun will help little shoots of grass be strong, and be strong enough to withstand the fires of their life, especially as young adults. So, for me, the scarab beetle connotated us nurturing shoots of grass, these young people, through that fire and to become the best that they can be.
Scarpino: And the focus of young people is young African-American men?
Fair: Well, when we started, okay, because when you do a 501c3, you’ve got to decide what’s going to be your mission. So we didn’t want to – our focus was African-American males, not to the deletion of young women or anybody else, but the focus was African-American men because we sat around and felt like if you can help the least of these, if you can help young African-American males, whatever program you fashion, if it benefits young African-American males and helps them be best, it’ll help everybody.
Scarpino: I want to follow up on that. I mentioned, when we started this about your Purpose Prize, and there’s a statement that went along with that that I looked up and read. Part of the statement quotes you, and this is what you said, or at least this is what they wrote. You said:
“As adult members of the African-American community, we realize and experience through our brothers, sons, fathers, the unique challenges our men face.”
What did you mean by that?
Fair: My father went to St. Philip’s Junior College and he wound up dropping out after, I think, about a year, year and a half because his mother got very ill and he needed to make the payments on the house, blah, blah, blah. My father never, with all of that wonderful administrative skill – he joined the Blue House, which is a Masonic organization, and he became a 33-degree Mason. He was the Secretary-Treasurer for 48 years. He never messed up their money. He was a Shriner. He was an Imperial Potentate of the Black Shriners in Texas. My father remained the man in the back that knew where all of the gas cylinders were. That’s where my father remained. My husband, my brothers, I have seen with
the black women in my family or friends, those girls, we always manage to start someplace and to move through the ranks and to attain positions that – because I came in that era in the ‘70s with black power and affirmative action – to attain places that no black people had attained before. But the girls seemed to not be as much of a threat to the white corporate structure or the white company platform as the men were. The girls seemed to be able to get the jobs and matriculate, and white men could maybe badger us, but they wouldn’t do it too obviously because they couldn’t show others that they really favored black women. But when black men were in those positions, if there was a prejudice and a fear maybe – and so I had seen my father, my husband – in fact, my husband worked for an international company, it was called American Monitor; they folded since then, about 10 years after he left the company – but he was so monumentally a gift to that company. He started as a sales rep selling clinical instrumentation that does 32 tests and 25 tests, and big tests, and he did so well that they made him the national sales manager. He was the only black guy in administration. I think there was a black guy that was a janitor someplace. All the white guys worked for him. They did very well. Somebody quit or went to work for someplace else and he was supposed to hire somebody, and so he hired a guy that he knew that was really a good sales rep. It just so happened, the guy was black and the guy was about 58 then or something like that, and the administration says, “We really don’t want you to hire Bill because, you know, Bill is 58.” So, my husband says, “Okay, who’s in charge of hiring? I am; this is the guy I want,” and he had to fight for this guy. He brings this guy on, Bill, his friend, he knows how good Bill is. Bill becomes the number one sales person the next year. So, good, great. My husband is national sales manager, then he says, “Hey, listen, you know this instrument that we’re putting out here that’s already
out here, well, environmental protectionism is coming up,” and this is like in the early ‘80s and it’s becoming big – “why don’t we bring, since we got a new machine to go out, how are we going to get people to buy the new one if they’ve got the old one? Why don’t we bring those old ones back? As soon as somebody buys one, instead of just trashing it and trying to get them to buy a new one, why don’t we bring the old ones back and re-fit it for this new environmental stuff that’s going on and we have it test water? It already tests blood and serum, we’ll just have it test water.” “Well, I don’t know.” He said, “Well, just give me one engineer and I’ll work with the engineer.” “I don’t think we can spare an engineer because they’re working on the new machine and the new machine’s got some bugs.” He says, “Okay, I'll take two techs, engineering techs.” They said okay. The gave him two engineering techs. He re-fits the machine that they bring back for trash, he re-fits it – cups, diaphragms, tubing, everything – with this guys, the thing works, people love it, he’s all over in Europe with thing having shows and selling it. In the meantime, that clinical instrument that’s out there in the field, these things are so big you have to bring people in to look at it and to go through it and to show them how to use it and stuff like that, right. Well, how much money is that to bring somebody and put them up and feed them and stuff like that? So, my husband decides, you know, if we take a motorhome – because we happened to have a motorhome; his daddy and his brothers and he got together and bought a motorhome so we could all go on vacation together – if we got a motorhome and refitted it with the special kind of shocks, the kind that they have out there now, put our new instrument on it, then we can take it out to Patoka, Illinois, and Hokum, Kentucky, in the woods somewhere and show people how it works and get them to buy it. They sold so many machines like that and didn’t have all the expense of people, having to
bring them in. I said all that to say about black men and how they’re able to matriculate through corporate America. There was one president of the company and there was a board of directors. American Monitor was really big. It was two, three buildings out there at Park 100 – not Park 100; it was Zionsville Road and 71st, somewhere out there. The president of the company loved my husband. Every time they had a Christmas party or they had anything, he and I, please come. We still were the only black people. They loved him. He did so much for the company, but after a while, he started noticing that there were others who were getting promoted to vice president, but you know, he never got promoted to vice president through all of this, and you see how it just diminishes. You try not to let it, but it can. When this woman, who was in charge of the AV, I mean, she was the video person, she was AV, they didn’t even have videos. You set up the film and you show it – when she became vice president of something, he went straight – I can’t remember that guy’s name for nothing – he went straight to him and he says, “Hey man, what is it? This is straight up racism, what is it? I know you, I care about you, we’re friends, what is it?” And he had to tell him, he says, “Man, I have gone to the board so many times to make you a vice president, but they said there will never be a black man on the board of directors for American Monitor.” He was crushed and he had to leave and he didn’t want to leave, but he had to leave, he had to leave. He couldn’t stay. So, I bring all that to 2004 when we said who will we serve? And so, not to the exclusion of any child – remember, I have no angst against white people – so there could never be a white child that could come to me in need and I would say, “Sorry dear, you’re not the right color; I can’t give you a slice of bread, I won’t teach you that two and two is four.” So, for me, I was so adamant, and it’s not like they weren’t also, because of all of their experiences as black people. So, it was the focus will be
on African-American males because any program that we put together that will help African-American males have those social capital, intellectual capital, the spiritual capital, sound that they need, any program, any curriculum, that will be goal, that will help any child, any child. So, our focus, everything we do will be what will help an African-American male. So, in our mission statement, it didn’t say African-Americans; it said that we were – I can’t remember exactly – but we worded it so that we didn’t say we only help African-American males. It might just be a focus on the issues and challenges for African-American male, programming for the issues and challenges that will help African-American males, and we worded it in such a way that it was not to the exclusion.
Scarpino: So, this is your application for 501c3?
Fair: Um-hmm. It was the mission.
Scarpino: I want to be respectful of your time and I’m going to ask you a couple more questions.
Fair: I’m so sorry; I just get to talking...
Scarpino: No, no, no, this is what I want you to do, but I also want to be respectful of the place and so on. KI’s website, at least when I read it the last time, talked about Kheprw Institute being a community organization that works to create a more just, equitable, human-centered world by nurturing youth and young adults to be leaders. So, how do you go about nurturing young adults to be leaders?
Fair: Well, back to the deep listening because we all have it in us, but young people all have something in them is still there that they believe, what they think, what they thought that they could do, it’s in there. And with listening, with inquiry, you can
find that spark or that piece or that point, and then you go from there with collecting bits and pieces of information on what is a perspective that will inspire them. Like Leah, for instance, when she came to us, she was involved with and helped start, really one of the leaders from the beginning of Black Lives Matter organization here in the city. It was called Indy 10...
Scarpino: This is Leah?
Fair: Uh-huh, this is Leah.
Scarpino: And last name?
Fair: And Leah came to us with all of that feeling that in – and Indy 10 Black Lives Matter started with that young man that was killed, Michael Brown. It’s not like young black men hadn’t been killed before then, it was just that that one was just so bold, just left him laying in the street for hours before they even called something to take the body away. I mean, it was just, and so – to be quiet. So, you could already see, she’s involved with justice and humanity of black people and respect. So, when she came with her Black Lives Matter group and started coming to many of the conversations that we were having and asking for support for the organization, we knew that she wanted to make her life matter in making a difference in that arena. So, that is, she started to come to more and more of our functions and then wanted to become an intern – we call them fellows – she wanted to become a fellow, we knew that it would be the Homes for All. We didn’t know, but it seem as though she would gravitate, and she did, toward
Homes for All and then also toward the rent issues, the rent policies for renters. So, when you say how do you do that, you see, with Mimi, Mimi came to us, she had just gotten her degree and was thinking about going on to getting a Master’s from SPEA.
Scarpino: From IU?
Fair: Mm-hmm. She had gotten her degree down in Bloomington and she’d been in SPEA, and she wanted to make a focus on food security, just looking at food security for areas. So, when the grocery stores went down, she came to one of our conversations.
Scarpino: So, is that when Double 8 closed or Marsh?
Fair: The Double 8.
Fair: The Double 8s closed first and then to keep...
Scarpino: The Double 8s closed actually July 28, 2015 – I’m reading that out of my notes; I don’t just know that.
Fair: Yeah, it was like Kuperstein, Isaiah Kuperstein was a family that owned the five, and it was like he said, “See, I’m not just a bad guy, look Marsh closed. He closed even more than I did. I thought it was just white stores; look what happened over there to them.”
Scarpino: I actually wanted to talk, because one of the things that the Institute has worked on is food security, and I read an article, actually was published May 21, 2017,
and it actually quotes you, but it says: “People affiliated with the Kheprw Institute on the City’s Near North Side launched a Food Assembly Group Sunday to address the loss of stores…”, and this is related to Marsh, and then it quotes you as saying: “When Double 8 near 38th and Illinois closed, it was devastating and such a shock. Wednesday it was open and Thursday morning when I went over there for a few things it was locked,” Fair said. “I couldn’t believe I was going to get into the car and go to Marsh at Michigan and Capitol downtown, the Marsh that they’ve announced will close if somebody doesn’t buy them out.”
So, first, what was the Food Assembly Group, just so people will know?
Fair: The Food Assembly Group was, as people started to say that they were upset and, you know, our mantra is always what are we going to do about it, and they started to come to the conversations and the forums we were having. We would sign people up, get their email and offer a place for them to come, and so then we made an assembly out of it. It’s not necessarily an organized effort, but it was a monthly place to come and talk about or to volunteer or to hear what’s going on, or we brought in speakers, what’s going on around the city, what’s the Health Department doing about this. Right after that, the city finally brought on, we called it a food czar, but her name was Shelly, she was the first one. Now, they have one now...
Scarpino: Worked for city government?
Fair: Yep. Hudnut hired her to be our food person and, sure enough, soon as we heard she was hired in, we saw it in the newspaper, we called down to the city and says, “What’s the phone number for this person”, called her up and says, “Hey, you want to hear what’s going on with food in the city? Come to our Food
Assembly meeting,” and she did. She came to every single one of the meetings after that.
Scarpino: Did it make a difference?
Fair: It made a difference in that it heightened people’s perspectives and understanding of what was going on in the city and what they could do. We had that Assembly, I guess it was about two years and then the attendees at the meetings started to fall off right after Shelly started having citywide meetings and there was a place citywide for people to go. So, our Assembly had jumped off and then when Shelly started having her citywide meetings, I don’t say that the people that used to come, the community people started to go to her meeting, but the city’s meetings, I felt like they were very informative because I used to go to her meetings. I’m just thinking, when did it just kind of transition that the Assembly stopped meeting? It just kind of dwindled away. Our CCFI program kept going. We started having the CCFI meetings...
Scarpino: CCFI is?
Fair: Community Controlled Food Initiative. Did you hear all that name? Because we wanted the name to mean just what it was – community controlled.
Scarpino: I’m going to ask you a slightly different question and then we’ll wrap it up. Again, I read that statement that went along with the Purpose Prize and it says: “One of Fair’s key interests is climate change, which she calls ‘the civil rights issue of our day.’”
Fair: Yeah, it is.
Scarpino: Why is climate change the civil rights issue of our day?
Fair: You know, back when civil rights first started in the ‘50s and the ‘60s, it didn’t say civil rights for black people. It wasn’t civil rights for some people. It wasn’t civil rights for some people who hadn’t had them. It was civil rights. And when the women’s rights group jumped off right after civil rights and Maroon (SPELLING???) was making some headway and the young women, I’m feeling like young white women who helped with the civil rights movement, who felt like gosh, this craziness is unjust, and they started with the women’s rights and right after women’s rights got really, started really pushing. Now, of course, I went to some women’s rights gatherings and, you know, married, all these kids, and me and my neighbor down the street – white girlfriend of mine. In fact, she and I have been friends for longer than anybody else alive on this earth. I’ve got to tell her that I said that, too, I’ve got to call her today. So, Pat was the one who found out about the women’s rights and I went to a couple of them. You know, after a couple of times, I told Pat, I think this is going to be my last meeting, and I stood up in the meeting and I said to the girls that I think this is very important, I said, but I’m also thinking that if all of us worked for civil rights, that includes women’s rights. If we make civil rights strong, that includes everybody, and so I won’t be back to anymore of these meetings. I wish you all luck. And I went back to working on whatever I could do with civil rights. Then when Indian rights, I was shocked. I had no idea that Indians, Indigenous Americans could not vote until I think it was like 1962 or something like that. I don’t even remember when it was. I was shocked. The civil rights, to have made civil rights, what it should have been, would have included all of that. So, back when you - the question that you just said to me about how is it that climate justice is the civil rights of our era is,
climate justice is not just climate for me; it’s not just climate for us who live in neighborhoods who are under-resourced, it’s climate for everybody. It is the civil rights – if civil rights had been made the humane, if civil right had been the legal entity to guide us to the humane, the humaneness of all in the community so that we could all rest in the whole. It’s about all of us. If educational process that helped white children, black children too who don’t maybe get a lot of talking to at home about “now, did you know that the step pyramids,” you know, had that been made strong and made humane and everything went around, the education about all of us, about how this land was built on stolen land and stolen bodies. I mean, it’s a horrible truth. Okay, well, that’s what it was and we’re going to make things more equitable and we’re going to all live here together. Climate. You know, sometimes I talk to people in under-resourced communities and we’re talking about climate justice, and they’ll say climate justice, I’m just trying to eat for the day. In 20 years, there won’t be anything to eat or drink if we don’t try to take care of this, or breathe, if we don’t at least look at how you can individually, that you can help with what’s going on politically. Yes, it is the civil rights. Civil rights was not reinforced. In fact, even the voting rights act has been gutted. I mean, and right now, climate change, so many of us understand, they have the consciousness raising and this other perspective thing I was telling you about, so many people have it, but the people who are fueling the resources are still hanging on to them as if to say, “well, yes, this thing is going to fall apart, but as long as it doesn’t fall apart while I’m alive, I’m going to be good.” So, yeah, it’s incredible. To not be overwhelmed, I have to know that in the present, I’m trying to empower young people. Now, who knew that Greta Thunberg was going to get up in front of the United Nations and just give them a slap about the head. I mean...
Scarpino: She did that, didn’t she?
Fair: That speech was simple, eloquent and stern.
Scarpino: I’m going to ask you two more questions to wrap this up. The first one is, is there anything I didn’t ask you that I should have?
Fair: I don’t think so because I answered you so many things that you didn’t ask me.
Scarpino: I guess that’s a trick of good interview, isn’t it? So, is there anything that you wanted to say that I haven’t given you a chance to say?
Fair: Well, that probably is appropriate for other people, but for me, all the things that I wanted to say that didn’t even sound like it should have addressed your question, wound up in a soliloquy that finally got back around to how your question was involved in that answer.
Scarpino: Well, before I turn these recorders off, I want to thank you very much for taking time to sit with me and do this.
Fair: And thank you, and I just so many times, so often, I would like to be as eloquent and plain spoken as my husband was. He was just wonderful. He would give a lecture on a chart that big with all that information on it, and it would be so simple, it was beautiful, the simplicity has a beauty about it.
Scarpino: It does, doesn’t it?
Fair: It does, it does.
Scarpino: Thank you. I’ll go ahead and turn these things off.
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