Posted by Guest on February 16, 2017 in Blog

Abbott.jpgBy Samantha Leathley

Individual acts of charity and excellence are what truly lead to lasting change. Helen Abbott, a humanitarian and philanthropist who arrived in Florida’s Fort Pierce Lincoln Park Community in 1989 is a moving example of this truth. 

Florida is rarely highlighted in Americans’ perceptions as a nexus of racial injustice. However, as the state’s status as a tourist destination grew following the Civil War, housing segregation targeting African Americans was rigorously enforced, as a key component of larger efforts to relegate African Americans to railroad and resort community work. Although this harsh segregation is no longer officially sanctioned, de facto segregation persists. 

Against this historical context, Ms. Abbott arrived in Fort Pierce in the late 1980s. An astute humanitarian, she quickly perceived that the majority of the residents in need of quality affordable housing were African American. Ms. Abbott’s keen philanthropic drive and her passion for justice led her to personally develop and implement an impressive plan: by donating $500,000 of her own assets and partnering with the City Housing Authority to marshal an additional $100,000, she undertook the development of twenty-two homes to house twenty-two families.

Ms. Abbott’s admirable work takes on a particularly poignant meaning in contemporary times. Just as the executive branch has consistently consolidated its power in recent years, grassroots organizing has undergone a much-needed revitalization. It is easy to see, in Ms. Abbott’s individual humanitarian work, the vast potential of grassroots organizing. 

As part of her philanthropic legacy, Ms. Abbott left a bequest to AAI prior to her passing in 1998. To honor this legacy, AAI converted her generous gift into the AAIF Youth Leadership Scholarship. Through this annual scholarship, AAI identifies, recognizes and supports young Arab Americans who are active in their local communities and who hope to use their education to create change.

For AAI, all politics are local. Knowing this, we can appreciate and aspire to emulate the individual action and dedication shown by Helen Abbott to the Lincoln Park Community.

Samantha Leathley is a Spring 2017 Intern with the Arab American Institute