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A Living Legacy for a Just Global Future

April 2014

After going into hospice care, the Rev. Dr. John Fish decided that he wants to distribute some of his lifetime of savings to organizations he believes in while he is still alive because, as he says, “if we are going to achieve social justice, it will have to come from strengthening those on the bottom because it is never going to happen from the top down. And I am so glad I can help. I encourage others to do so also.”  When asked why he so consistently supported Grassroots International over the years and chooses to include Grassroots in his legacy giving, John’s response is both humble and profound. He says,  “I remember the old phrase ‘think globally act locally’ and I try to think globally and give to organizations working locally. The best work we do comes from the ground up. This is the work of Grassroots International. Most of my inheritance is going to groups that are building community, from the inside out, and are the most effective at what they do. 
  “And while I believe in supporting local efforts, I have been most interested in any place where grassroots people in a community come together and organize for their rights. I think grassroots local organizing is the key to strengthening local economies and local life.”  A longtime community activist and teacher, John studied theology at Union Theological Seminary and become a [Presbyterian] pastor. “My values have come from my religious beliefs – which have directed me toward social justice. I am a Christian and I see Jesus as a metaphor for God’s passion for social justice in the world,” John says. “However, I am agnostic when it comes to an afterlife – my focus has always been on making this life better.”  And John’s efforts to make life better are many, playing an early and leading role in Witness for Peace in the 1980s opposing the role of US-funded Contra army in Nicaragua; to being a visible part of the sanctuary movement for Central American refugees; to working at The Woodlawn Organization with Saul Alinsky; to founding the Associated Colleges of the Midwest Urban Studies Program; and finally founding Princeton AlumiCorps to foster social justice engagement.  John explains his biggest –and last—donation to Grassroots International, this way: “Grassroots International has work going into so many important places in the world – and I support human rights organizing from Palestine to Haiti, from Central America to the United States – everywhere there is injustice. I deeply believe in this work and want it to succeed.”  Grassroots International is honored to receive this gift from John and use it to carry forward the work and vision to which he so richly dedicated his life. Author’s note: I had the pleasure of meeting John in 1986 as part of the Urban Studies Program in Chicago. His leadership and legacy impacted me then as it does now, for which I am doubly grateful.  Malkah Feldman spoke with John Fish and helped to write this tribute.


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