By Mike Rhodes
The progressive community in Fresno lost an important voice for peace, social and economic justice last month. Les Kimber passed away on Jan. 10 at the age of 80. While Kimber was known for many accomplishments, I always looked forward to his remarks at the annual Martin Luther King Day march.
Last year, speaking in front of City Hall, Kimber said, “I am convinced that right here in Fresno, that if the taxpayers in the County of Fresno will provide tens of millions of dollars for the welfare of animals at the Fresno Zoo, that with the right leadership from our outstanding elected officials the taxpayers of Fresno can be persuaded to provide the necessary resources to solve the homeless problem.” The approving roar of the crowd was a testament to the purpose of the day and Kimber’s oratory skills.
Kimber was a former Fresno City Council member, founder of the California Advocate newspaper and a powerful force in local progressive politics. He worked to bring a better balance of hosts on radio station KMJ, helping to organize the group Citizens for Civility and Accountability in Media. They demanded that progressive voices should have a place on talk radio.
Alex Vavoulis, a board member of the Fresno Free College Foundation, recalled that Kimber was instrumental in establishing radio station KFCF. Vavoulis said that “for three years, 1970–73, he served as a Board member of the Fresno Free College Foundation, and six more years 1973–79 as vice president. During these years, the Foundation created KFCF 88.1 FM, a listener-sponsored radio station that broadcasts to this day. Lesly and his wife Pauline were able to cross ethnic lines and benefit Fresno’s progressive direction.” According to Vavoulis, Kimber “always promoted the philosophy of Martin Luther King.”
Su Kapoor worked with Kimber on the Unity Committee that organized MLK activities in Fresno. Kapoor told the Community Alliance that Kimber “was the first one who would speak against oppression, discrimination, prejudice. He was a courageous and fearless person with a commitment to social justice fairness and human rights.”
When Kimber spoke in public, people listened closely, were attracted to the message and moved by the rhythmic delivery. There was something always uplifting about hearing him speak. At the conclusion of his presentation at the 2014 MLK march, he said, “I’m optimistic about the future of our country and if we keep on marching, if we don’t turn back now, if we march and don’t get weary, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King ‘we will speed up that day when all of God’s children, Black men and White men, Jews and Gentiles, will be able to say in the words of that old Negro spiritual, free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at last.’”
Those of us who were fortunate enough to know Les Kimber will be forever thankful for his presence in our community. Fresno is a substantially better place because he was here and we will miss our Drum Major for Justice.
Mike Rhodes is a frequent contributor to the Community Alliance newspaper. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.