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Bringing about change

Paul Pumphrey shares his lifelong work on behalf of African-Americans

Created date

September 2nd, 2016
Paul Pumphrey, a lifelong social activist and organizer, was recently elected president of Riderwood’s African-American History Club.

Paul Pumphrey, a lifelong social activist and organizer, was recently elected president of Riderwood’s African-American History Club.

In June, Paul Pumphrey was elected president of Riderwood’s resident-run African-American History Club. The post is fitting as Paul, a lifelong activist and organizer, is a veritable walking, talking history book, with numerous insights about the history of African-Americans as well as Africa’s past, culture, and conflicts. 

Social activism

Paul was a leader in Anti-Apartheid Movement USA and is the cofounder of Friends of the Congo, a group working to increase awareness about the deadly conflict there. 

To that end, Paul coproduced a film called Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering the Truth (congojustice.org), and he does presentations at universities to educate young people about the historical, social, and political issues that contribute to the problems in the region.

“I know that making people aware of an issue is key to bringing about the change you want to see,” Paul says.

Paul is also very involved with social justice in Haiti and has traveled there about 20 times since 1995. He says there are a number of people of Haitian descent working at Riderwood, and he is teaming up with them to raise money for humanitarian projects in Haiti. He hopes the group will be able to put on a fundraiser with Haitian food, music, and art to share the culture of Haiti with people at Riderwood.

In the past, Paul worked as an organizer for the United Farm Workers Union; the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU). He served as advisor to the Community Oriented Policing Squad (COPS) in Prince George’s County. 

He was also the chairman of the Rainbow Coalition in Montgomery County and has been involved in many presidential election campaigns. Paul is a member of the Green Party, and he and some other residents are considering starting a Green Party group at Riderwood.

A lifetime of civil service

Paul credits his mother for inspiring him to dedicate his life to community involvement and social justice. One of his most vivid memories from his youth was at a church fundraiser where his mother was volunteering. As a schoolteacher, she was a well-known and respected member of the community. When a fight broke out among some young men, she used her positive influence to break it up before it escalated, which left an impression on young Paul.

“My father died when I was young, so I grew up under my mother,” he says. “Seeing her operate—her life was focused on service—and that influenced me.”

As for his role in the African-American History Club, Paul says he plans to organize trips to the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History & Culture, opening this fall in Washington, D.C., and to the African-American Civil War Museum. He says he’s also looking into bringing in some speakers to discuss the role of African-Americans in the Civil War.

“I think it would be useful for the whole community to get that info because it’s really been kept out of the history books,” Paul says.

He also intends to celebrate the rich living history of his fellow Riderwood residents. He says two members of the African American History Club are centenarians. Edythe Jones celebrated her 100th birthday in December 2015, and Bernidene Pinkney is 102 years old. 

Paul says he hopes to work with Riderwood’s in-house television studio to record Edythe and Bernidene being interviewed by their children.

“They are over 100 years old, and they are from North Carolina and Mississippi,” Paul says. “Now, you tell me they don’t have some history to share.”

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