The Rev. Malika Whitney held a socially distanced event at the Kente Royal Gallery in Harlem to celebrate Katherine Nichson this past Sunday, Sept. 20. Nichson, who recently turned 100 years old on Sept. 9, made it her mission to become politically active.
As a longtime member of Mother AME Zion Church in Harlem, she calls it her fortress. She also became involved in the Fred Samuels Democratic Club and the Significant Elders, a Harlem-based organization that provides art programs for people of all ages.
In an interview, she discussed a few education initiatives that she was involved in at the local level. This included finding a Black principal, fighting for John F. Kennedy High school to be placed in District 5, and keeping sixth graders in their elementary school.
She still remembers calling parents and encouraging them to come to a meeting she scheduled with then-Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton. At the time, they were successful in keeping the sixth graders there, but now the building is a charter school.
With the murders of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville and Daniel Prude in Rochester, Nichson weighed in on her stance towards police brutality. As the mother of a policeman, she acknowledges that there are some officers who are not compassionate towards Black lives.
“Putting a knee on someone’s neck is a terrible tragedy,” Nichson said. “Our policemen need to be informed that life is precious. They need to look in the mirror and ask themselves: ‘Are you about destroying humanity?’”
Even though Nichson condemns police brutality, she also believes that looting is not a solution that people should consider because it can be destructive long-term.
“Don’t tear up where you live,” Nichson advised. “When the fire is over and you have no house, where are you going to go?”
Instead, she affirms that the best way that young people can make their voices heard is to vote and fill out the Census because residents need affordable housing and their schools to be of excellence.
“I want them to get involved in politics,” Nichson stated. “It is the most serious time in my lifetime where people need to exercise their right to vote, because it is the best way to honor the people who died fighting for this right.”
Even though the president’s rhetoric has motivated people to vote on the national level, Nichson also stresses that local elections are just as important because they affect you, your surroundings and your livelihoods.
In the 100 years that she has lived, she maintains the benefits of having a positive attitude.
“Young people, don’t get discouraged,” Nichson said. “It’s important to have a sense of humor to overcome your obstacles.”