The praises came from up high and from down low, from people like Trent Butler and Samuel Torres and Eva Marie, whose lives turned around after someone cared.
That someone was Warren Kimbro. He spent his life helping young people turn around their lives — the way he did — and became a national leader in the movement to rehabilitate rather than warehouse offenders.
Hundreds of people filled the pews of Beulah Heights First Pentecostal Church Monday to say farewell to Kimbro, who died last week at the age of 74.
For two hours before the service began, they lined up: politicians, social workers, friends and relatives, his employees, and ex-convicts for whom he opened doors to education or jobs or drug treatment. They lined up for a last view, in some cases a bended knee, at his open casket.
Then they spent two and a half more hours hearing the man’s praises sung.
(Click here to read the Independent’s tribute.)
They heard officials praise the life of a man who worked with troubled teen-agers and urban renewal-plagued neighbors at antipoverty agencies in town, who went on to turn Project MORE into a pathbreaking agency for helping ex-offenders go straight rather than go back to jail. (Pictured: Maya Spell, a Project MORE supervisor, and friend LaShawnda Greene.)
They heard praise in oblique references to what Warren Kimbro did between those two periods: He shot to death a falsely accused government informant under orders from a fellow member of the Black Panther Party. Then he committed himself to making amends. He ran programs for fellow prisoners and attend college while behind bars. He obtained a masters degree at Harvard when he got out. Eventually he found his way home, and to a life’s calling.
They heard Mayor John DeStefano trace Kimbro’s roots to the Hill neighborhood. Kimbro was born there, on a street, Spruce Street, destroyed by urban renewal. He cooled tensions and helped prevent further violence in the Hill during the 1967 riots. He returned there in 1983 to take the reins of Project MORE, which he ran and expanded until his death.
“He lived large. His dress, his smile, his purpose, and his accomplishments. But mostly he lived large in love. Warren could make you feel more love than your mother could…” the crowd heard DeStefano say. “He kept giving and giving, and he made a difference. He made a difference one life at a time… He built new life back for thousands and in doing so, for himself.”
They heard former State Rep. Bill Dyson and former Alderman Anthony Dawson, a Project MORE board member, exhort them to honor Kimbro’s memory by “carry[ing] on the work that [he] started” — by helping ex-offenders learn to read, for instance. (Pictured: Former State Treasurer Hank Parker, Dawson, Hill activist Ann Boyd, State NAACP President Scot X. Esdaile.)
They heard Gwendolyn Busch, whose day job in city government involves finding jobs for teens, belt out musical praises in a voice as big as Kimbro’s life. (Click on the play arrow at the top of this story for a sample, as well as samples of some of the speeches.)
Then the crowd in the pews at Beulah Heights heard from people whose names didn’t appear on the program.
They heard Eva Marie talk about meeting Kimbro at Project MORE 10 years ago. She was a single mom, a felon, a drug addict at the time. “I had a daughter. I didn’t know how to care for myself, let alone her.” Kimbro told her his own story that day. He listened to hers. He inspired her to take control of her life, to enroll at Gateway Community College, then Albertus Magnus. She’s gone straight.
They heard from Trent Butler. He told them about how after making some heavy mistakes he ended up at Project MORE, where he told Kimbro his story. Kimbro “opened doors… He got me into college… He opened doors to employment.” He became a father figure, a hero.
“When you came into his presence,” Butler said, “you were a human being.”
The mourners in the pews heard from Samuel Torres. Torres is 60 years old. He was 19 when he met Kimbro. Kimbro was a star outreach worker at New Haven’s Residential Youth Center. Torres was referred there after getting in trouble.
Kimbro “expected me to be the next NFL football player,” Torres recalled. Kimbro took him to sleep at his home on Orchard Street the night before a game so he’d be well rested. He connected him to a a family “that took me in and took care of me.”
That was the Warren Kimbro who made a mark over seven decades in New Haven — and will continue to long after his passing.