Voice for ‘The People’s U’ lost
Library, community activist Robert Daughtry passes
by E. Assata Wright
Reporter staff writer
May 05, 2013 | 2867 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Following his untimely death last month, friends remembered Robert “Kwame” Daughtry Jr. as an avid reader and chess player.
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About five years ago, when a city budget crisis forced layoffs and furloughs of municipal workers and cuts in city services, the Jersey City Free Public Library also became a casualty of the Great Recession. At the time, the budget crisis forced the library to close local branches and reduce branch hours, and jeopardized the continuation of popular educational and cultural programs that were based at the library, such as the Community Awareness Series (CAS) and historian Bob Leach’s popular oral histories of the city.

It was during this period that three men – CAS founder David-Daoud Williams, CAS Supervisor Robert N. “Kwame” Daughtry Jr., and Steven Pinkney – vigorously lobbied to restore funding to the library.

The trio became regular attendees at biweekly City Council meetings to plead their case. Their passion for the Jersey City Free Public Library and the CAS program that they had nurtured for more than 30 years was evident, and other residents eventually rallied in support of their cause.

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‘He had a good heart and always thought of the common good for the community.’ – David Daoud Williams

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Before long, the campaign to restore funding to CAS and the library system – which the Daughtry often referred to “as the People’s University” – became the cause célèbre in the city.

Sometime over the April 27-28 weekend, Daughtry passed away at his home. No cause of death had been released by press time on May 3. He was 66 or 67 years old.

‘A consummate activist’

Williams founded the Community Awareness Series in 1977 as a cultural education program that hosted live theater, musical acts, dance companies, literary artists, and public speakers. Daughtry and Pinkney would later join Williams and assist in putting together the CAS programs, which are performed in a theater space at the Miller Branch Library, at 489 Bergen Ave.

While as a trained musician Williams liked to book jazz acts and other musical performances for the CAS programs, Daughtry was remembered last week as the cerebral and bookish member of the CAS trio, who liked to book political figures and published authors for the series.

“He was the nephew of [Brooklyn activist] Rev. Herbert Daughtry. So, he had a vast amount of experience, in terms of political activism,” Pinkney reflected. “He was a consummate activist. Kwame was very well-read.”

Daughtry was, Pinkney said, responsible for such CAS programs as one that dealt with the history of African American-Jewish relations in the U.S., Palestinian-Israeli relations, the prison industrial complex, and gang violence, among other topics.

“He was willing to bring a lot of controversial topics to the CAS program,” said Pinkney. “And these programs caused a lot of controversy in the community.”

Before the abolition of apartheid in South Africa, Williams said that Daughtry was also responsible for organizing several CAS educational programs on the plight of black South Africans at a time when many people in the U.S. were not familiar with what was going on in that nation.

Daughtry worked for the CAS program for 27 years after being a volunteer for about three years.

“He had a good heart and always thought of the common good for the community,” said Williams. “It goes without saying that we are broken-hearted over his passing.”

‘A true warrior’

Remembered as an avid chess player, Williams said the police officers who discovered Daughtry’s body remarked on the huge number of chess books they found in his home.

Daughtry made his last appearance at a City Council meeting two weeks ago, on April 24, just days before he died. He did not address the council during the public speakers portion of the meeting. But it was a return to the forum of his last campaign as an activist.

CAS – whose funding had been cut from about $140,000 to roughly $90,000 to nothing – would eventually see some of its funding restored, thanks to the “Save CAS” campaign that Daughtry, Williams, and Pinkney launched in response to the budget crisis.

Last week, Library Director Priscilla Gardner issued a statement in response to Daughtry’s death.

“We are shocked and saddened by the passing of Robert “Kwame” Daughtry,” said Gardner. “He was a dedicated Community Awareness Series employee, a department of the Jersey City Free Public Library for 27 years as a Community Library Assistant. He was known city-wide for his community activism, and as a true warrior. Kwame made the Miller Branch Cultural Arts Center available for many successful programs, speakers, plays, and world renowned bands, musicians, and concerts. I was most impressed when [he] brought [actress] Ruby Dee to the Miller Branch Library. It’s a strong possibility that many of us would not have ever met her if it wasn’t for Kwame…Kwame will truly be missed by his colleagues, friends and family.”

At press time, funeral services were scheduled for 9 a.m. on Saturday, May 4 at Salem Baptist Church.

Daughtry is survived by his mother, two sisters, and a brother.

Williams and Pinkney said a special CAS event will be held in Daughtry’s honor. While no specific date for this event had been set by press time last week, the men are tentatively planning to host this special program sometime in June.

E-mail E. Assata Wright at awright@hudsonreporter.com.

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