Alvin Sykes (file photo by Mary Rupert)
by Mary Rupert
One of the most successful human rights activists in the area, Alvin Sykes, died Friday morning almost two years after a fall at Union Station took him to a nursing home.
“He was such an influential part of social justice and human rights in this area,” recalls Senator David Haley, D-4th Dist. “I can’t immediately think of anyone who has worked more tirelessly towards this goal than Alvin Sykes.”
“Personally, my legacy as legislator is most noticeable in the legislation he created and which encouraged me to support,” said Sen. Haley.
Sykes inspired Sen. Haley’s endorsement of the Compensation for Unlawful Detention Act, the creation of a Task Force on DNA Cold Cases, Scruffy’s Animal Cruelty Act, Medical Marijuana, standard eyewitness benchmarks, audiovisual recordings for all crime and crime cases Laws to Improve Hate Crimes, Senator Haley said.
Alvin Sykes, second from left, participated in a bill to sign the illegally convicted Compensation Bill in May 2018, with Senator David Haley (right) speaking. (File photo by Mary Rupert)
These and other actions were the result of advocating Sykes bringing them to him and insisting that he do something with them to guide them through the process, Senator Haley said.
That year, the governor issued a statement in favor of medical marijuana, but Senator Haley was the only one to suggest it in Kansas law for many years. In 2008, Senator Haley proposed legalizing medical marijuana after being urged by Sykes to address the issue. Young black men were disproportionately arrested and jailed on property charges, and Sykes urged Senator Haley to do something about it. More than 10 years passed and other states passed legalization laws while Kansas was still debating it.
In many ways, Sykes was ahead of his time.
Sykes wasn’t just advocating the Kansas legislature, Senator Haley said. He has also served in the Missouri state lawyer and at the federal level. He worked with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. A good sign of Sykes’ activism was the passage of the Emmett Till legislation in Congress. Cold civil rights cases could reopen years after their closure.
Sykes was on his way to visit Rev. Wheeler Parker, a cousin of Emmett Till, when Sykes fell at Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri, in March 2019. Sykes was instrumental in changing federal law so that law enforcement could take place decades after the racially motivated lynching of 1955 in Mississippi.
Sykes, 64, was in a Johnson County rehab facility when he died. A self-taught activist, Sykes spent many hours of his life researching the laws in the region’s public libraries and then turning to lawmakers. He was a visiting scholar at the Kansas City, Missouri Public Library.
“His legal acumen was far superior to me,” recalls Sen. Haley, who has a law degree.
Sykes read to learn, learn, and apply what he had learned, said Senator Haley. “He was on a mission, his mission was to bring knowledge to light how it should apply in the legal system and the same for all people,” he said.
Senator Haley said he would occasionally meet with Sykes on the 18th at Fritz’s restaurant and other locations to discuss human rights law before Sykes falls. They had some occasional heated discussions on the subject.
Sometimes Haley knew how the legislation would affect his chances of re-election, but Sykes continued to advocate bills that would promote human rights. Sykes was always persistent.
Senator Haley said he spoke with Sykes a few days ago about laws Sykes was interested in passing and that he was planning to meet with him soon.
Although Sykes was lying flat on his back in a nursing home, he was still working on writing the story of his life and other subjects, he said.
“I can’t believe he’s gone,” said Sen. Haley.
“Alvin was a wonderful lawyer,” said Sen. Haley. “He shook you to the core and made you think. There’s nobody like him, just nobody like him I’ve ever met. He called me his big little brother. “
For decades, Sykes was active in the struggle for rights and the fight for minorities, quickly letting people know that he did not want to be known as a “civil rights activist” but as a “human rights activist”. He stood up for rights for all.
In an interview in April 2018, Sykes said he was confident that progress was being made on human rights and that he felt he had achieved some of his goals. He told us how Buddhist beliefs influenced his work.
So much of his work has been about learning the truth and then seeking closure, he told us in 2017.
Sykes realized more than that things were not right in this world. He took it a step further, researched to find out why it wasn’t right, and then took steps within the system to change it.
To see some previous stories about Alvin Sykes and his work, visit:
To reach Mary Rupert, Editor, email firstname.lastname@example.org