Sunday, February 12, 2012

Richard Kemp

As Richard likes to say, he's "in his eightieth year".  Born in 1932, he grew up in Brooklyn, NY with two sisters and three brothers.  After high school he worked as a machinist and later as a clerk for the Social Security Administration.

Married with six children, Richard decided to get politically involved in 1969 after the Stonewall Riots in New York.  He joined the Democratic Party, moved to New Bedford, Mass. and went to work for the Job Corps at Fort Rodman an inactive Army base.  Job Corps was initiated as the central program of the Johnson Administration's War on Poverty, part of his domestic agenda known as the Great Society.  Job Corps' mission is to help young people ages 16 through 24 improve the quality of their lives through vocational and academic training. Along with many anti-war Democrats, Richard argues that spending on the Vietnam War choked off the Great Society.  When funding for Job Corps was withdrawn, Richard began work for Science Research Associates a subsidiary of IBM, which had the Job Corps contract at Ft. Rodman.

Working for IBM in Armonk, NY and later Essex Junction, VT, Richard continued his community involvement.  After retiring he got involved with the Progressive Party in Burlington and became an outspoken advocate for affordable housing.  Richard says his pension from IBM and Social Security allow him to spend time on the social issues that are so important to him.

You may have noticed Richard around Burlington.  He's tall and ramrod straight, an imposing and outgoing figure, wildly expressive, always ready to engage in conversation.  He has a strong theatrical side and hosts "Progressive Thought" on Channel 17/Town Meeting TV.  Most of his guests represent non-profit groups and get to talk about what they are doing in the community.  A true world citizen, he's the owner of Kemp Krafts, Inc., marketing calendars, books and other items.  He's an exhibitor at the annual Vermont International Festival and has traveled the world doing research and learning where help is needed.  I asked him to wear one of his colorful dashikis for some of our photographs.

Richard lives at the Flynn Avenue  Co-op in Burlington a community administered by The Champlain Housing Trust which serves the people and communities of Chittenden, Franklin and Grand Isle Counties.  He believes there is an affordable housing crisis right here in Vermont and cites the $22 per hour wage needed to afford a decent place to live.  In 2010 CHT recognized Richard with the Carole Pack Volunteer of the Year Award and he also represented residents and the Board at the United Nations World Habitat Day celebration in Angola where CHT was presented with a World Habitat Award.

Through Kemp Krafts, Richard donates used and discarded medical textbooks purchased from UVM to a medical school in Cape Coast, Ghana.  He also regularly visits Recycle North, trolling for  used, low cost medical supplies, crutches, etc. to send to a small hospital in Guatemala.

Where does all his energy come from?  Richard chooses not to own a car and walks or bicycles in all but the worst weather.  He tries to think about the larger impact of every decision and invested in a CSA to get fresh, high quality food and support jobs and farmers.  He says he eats well, has an occasional glass of wine and keeps busy with his interests.  I've only been able to name a few here.

When I asked if he had a philosophy he could share Richard said, "Align yourself with people who are interested in social, economic and racial justice.  If you can help out, you'll be satisfied.  It only takes time, effort and a little bit of money."