Dr. Carlos E. Russell, a Life of Dedication and Service to His People
By Maeshay Lewis
Brooklyn activist and founder of Black Solidarity Day (BSD) Dr. Carlos E. Russell has passed at the age of 84. Dr. Russell, visionary activist, ambassador, historian, literary artist transitioned in his sleep on July 10, 2018. He was born in the Republic of Panama on August 6, 1934.
“It is with great sorrow that we mourn the passing of Dr. Carlos Enrique Coordington Russell. He was a beloved son, father, brother, uncle, cousin, teacher, and best friend to us and many in our community,” read a statement from the family. “He is now at peace with our ancestors. His fervent desire was for us, the community, to continue the fight for social justice and equality for all. His intelligence, passion, wit and love for all mankind will be missed.”
While serving as the Panamanian Ambassador for the United Nations, Dr. Russell, inspired by Douglas Turner Ward’s fictional play “Day of Absence” in which a small town in the South is suddenly devoid of its Black population and crippled by their absence, established Black Solidarity Day (BSD) in 1969. BSD is held annually on the Monday before Election Day in November, demonstrates the spirit of self-determination and collective responsibility for economic empowerment. Black people are encouraged not to attend school or work and to abstain from shopping in white establishments.
Many of our present-day activists and luminaries benefit from the legacy Dr. Russell leaves behind. During the 1960s and 1970s, Dr. Russell was a primary organizer for the first national conference of Panamanians, which was solidifying the movement of the unification of Black and Caribbean pushback on systematic oppression. He was also one of the creators of “Bahiano,” the first Black newspaper and Panamanian newspaper here in the USA written in both English and Spanish. (Other co-founders noted are Walter Livingston, George Priestly, Aguilla Jimenez and a few others.)
Dr. Russell was professor and Chair of Field Studies at SUNY Old Westbury and at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York (BCCUNY) before becoming Dean of Contemporary Studies. He has also held the position of acting director of International of Urban Affairs at Medgar Evers College, CUNY in the late 1980s to early 1990s.
In the 1990s, he was a lead curriculum developer, educator and trainer for the Ella Baker Academy (EBA), —later renamed Ella Baker/ Cleveland Robinson Academy, EBCRA— a program dedicated to create youth leadership using the methodology of “Kingian Nonviolent Conflict Resolution,” as part of the New York State Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission and Institute in Albany under the funding and support of Governor Mario Cuomo.
Dr. Russell worked with numerous community organizations throughout his lifetime. He was a guiding light for many, leading some into successful careers in social justice, finance, and politics in both the US and Panama.
Dr. Russell graduated from the National Institute in Panama and left Panama in 1955 on a student visa to De Paul University in Chicago. He lived and worked on the South Side of Chicago and worked at the Mary McDowell Settlement House. He moved to New York in 1961 and worked at the Albany Community Center in Albany Projects as a youth worker, directly working with gang members. He eventually moved on to the Fort Greene Community Progress Center.
As a creative individual, he published “Miss Anna’s Son Remembers,” which is known as the first book of Panamanian-West Indian poems published outside of Panama. Around this time, with Anesta Samuel and other cadres, he helped to establish the Panamanian-West Indian Heritage Association inspired by one of the first oral history conferences held in New York City. He also spent many years as a playwright and a producer of community theater. One of his pieces, “Ode to Panama,” was performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
“It has been my honor and privilege to have known Dr. Carlos E. Russell as a personal friend for over 30 years,” said Cliff Frazier, president of the International Communications Association at Dwyer Center; executive director, NY Metropolitan Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolence, and co-founder of the Harriett Tubman Charter School. “Dr. Russell was a brilliant, noble and brave scholar committed to the love of Black people and expressed this love in every aspect of his life. He was bold, dynamic and inspiring. His creation of Black Solidarity Day represents a source of pride for the vast number of Black people. We love you Dr. Russell and thank God for all you have done to enrich our lives as people of African Ancestry.”
The family will arrange a memorial to be held in New York City, the date and time to be announced once made available.