“Who is this guy?” CELDF organizer Tish O’Dell asked herself, when she first met Dr. Ray Beiersdorfer. “I never saw anyone like him before, running around everywhere, with his wild hair and his flowered, Hawaiian print shirt.”
And the shoes. Don’t forget the shoes – sneakers, or “kicks,” as they’re called now. He wore them mismatched; one red and one black, one orange and one green.
Dr. Ray, as he was affectionately known, was a geology professor at Youngstown State University. Together with his wife, Susie, they became an irresistible force and an absolute champion for Rights of Nature and Community Rights in Youngstown and Mahoning County, Ohio.
“When we first began working together, he was the facts and figures guy. He was our scientific authority,” Tish explains. “Susie was the one who was ‘all-in’ on using local democracy to legalize Community Rights. Ray just seemed to follow her down that path. But at the end, he was the one leading the effort, gathering the most signatures for the ballot initiative this fall.”
The end of Dr. Ray’s physical life came October 11, 2018. His heart gave out.
At his memorial service, Rev. Yvonne Hobson said Ray’s great heart is still with us, as she illustrated Tish’s observation. Pointing to the Biblical description of heaven as a city of gemstones, with gates made of pearls, streets paved with translucent gold, and the river of life flowing through it all, the reverend said:
“I can see Ray there — assaying the stones, comparing the sources of the pearls, and testing the river of life for impurities. I’m sure he’s also conducting periodic lectures on why the good Lord will never, ever, ever allow fracking in heaven!”
Those gathered in remembrance applauded and laughed appreciatively.
“I tried to think of one word that would fit Ray – and you know, there’s a lot of words that would fit,” Dr. Howard Mettee, YSU Chemistry professor emeritus, says with a chuckle. “But the best one would be ‘joy’: joy in academic freedom, joy in being different, joy in not being afraid to speak out. Of course, that was often a challenge to the university administration. Yet he still took immense joy in what he did, trying to bring people along in his way of thinking about what we have to do to make this world a better place.”
“Ray was a champion for us all, a fighter of injustice, and he didn’t care how high up the injustice went,” CELDF’s Tish O’Dell elaborates. “He didn’t care if it was the electeds, if it was the university president, the Board of Elections. He’d call for recounts. He’d call for resignations. He would call people out on what they were doing that was wrong, and causing injustice.
“He knew that part of a movement – a movement for change, which takes time – was exposing the problem, exposing the corruption, exposing the injustice. And he had no problem doing that.” Tish says.
Remember the mismatched shoes? Fellow Youngstown Community Rights group member Staughton Lynd says though he never got to ask Ray why he did that, but he thinks he knows.
“It was a statement that we must refuse to conform; a reminder that resistance begins in very small, very personal ways, in everyday life.”
“For all of us, that’s a lesson. We need to be braver,” Tish says.
“One of the last emails he shared with me, he ended with this: ‘Be kind. Be connected. Be unafraid.’”
connect with community rights and help honor the life and legacy of CELDF champion Dr. Ray. donate to advance Community Rights and Rights of Nature today.
Here’s what your monthly donation can do in 2019:
- $5 per month provides course materials for two Community Rights workshop participants
- $10 per month ensures 3 community members can attend a Community Rights workshop, teaching the tools needed to advance the rights of communities and nature
- $20 per month helps pay litigation costs as CELDF fights for democratic and environmental rights on behalf of community members
Here’s what your one time donation can do:
- $100 covers travel expenses for an organizer to speak at a public meeting on Community Rights and Rights of Nature
- $250 allows us to print and distribute informational handouts on Community Rights and Rights of Nature as tools to protect local communities
- $500 helps pay production costs for videos sharing the Community Rights and Rights of Nature stories
Quote block image of Youngstown: Blue80 at the English language Wikipedia