By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Well-know Brooklyn community activist Jon Kest, executive director of New York Communities for Change (NYCC) died from cancer Wednesday at the age of 57.
The loss is doubly heartbreaking for his wife Fran Streich and son Jake since his death comes just a month after a falling tree during Superstorm Sandy killed his daughter Jessie.
Kest, the former director of New York ACORN and the creator of the Working Families Party, dedicated his life to standing up for the little guy: tenants, students and teachers, and low-wage workers in car washes and fast food restaurants.
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, calling Kest “a truly selfless champion of social justice,” said in a statement Thursday, “I am deeply saddened by the passing of my good friend, Jon Kest. It’s not an exaggeration to say that there have been few efforts to empower poor and working people in New York State in the last 25 years that haven’t borne his imprint.”
Bob Master, co-chair of the Working Families Party and long-time friend, spoke about Kest at the New York Communities for Change Gala on November 29. Brooklyn councilmember Brad Lander posted Master’s comments on his website:
“For the past 30 years in New York City, no matter what the issue, Jon Kest has been at the center of almost every battle that mattered to the lives of this city’s millions of poor and working people. Whether it was leading squatting campaigns to win affordable housing . . . winning living wage and minimum wage increases, fighting to ensure that New York developers must provide affordable housing as the price of building in the city, pressuring banks to end their practice off ripping low income people by peddling predatory loans . . . taking on the enormous challenge of organizing hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers into unions—Jon was at the center of it.”
Marie Pierre, chair of the NYCC board, said it was a “tragic day for NYCC members, staff, and our extended family in the progressive movement in New York and across the country.
“For so many of us, Jon was a leader, a mentor, a friend and above all the person whose belief in our ability to create change moved us, day in and day out, to fight for the issues facing our communities, our city and our state. Without Jon's leadership and vision, countless hard fought victories for tenants, parents, workers and communities would not have been possible.”
Tributes are pouring in from across the city. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said, “He was a tireless advocate and a true champion for equality and justice. New Yorkers lost a passionate voice for those who so often are voiceless.”
“Our thoughts are with the family of Jon Kest, one of NYC’s greatest labor activists and strongest community organizers. He’ll be deeply missed,” said New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio on Twitter.
“We mourn a brother in the social justice struggle… the definition of ‘community organizer,’” said Councilmember Jumaane D. Williams.
“Jon Kest, one of the greatest community organizers ever — and a true mensch who was given too many burdens – has died. He will be missed,” tweeted Glenn Thrush, who covers the White House for Politico.
Greg Basta Deputy Director of New York Communities for Change, tweeted, “Today thousands of low wage workers and #FastFoodFwd workers will rally for justice. Jon Kest would be beaming with pride today.”
“Jon Kest was a progressive leader who devoted his life to speaking for people without a voice. Today we should re-commit to his ideals,” said Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer.
Funeral services will be held on Sunday, December 9, at 10:30 am, at the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) at 52 Broadway in Manhattan. A private gathering at the cemetery will follow.
Shiva will take place Sunday, December 9, from 6 to 9 p.m., with a service at 7 p.m. at the Streich-Kest home at 99 Argyle Road between Albemarle and Church.
Donations in Jon's memory can be made to New York Communities for Change.