John Brown Lives! to honor activists, community organizers Saturday

LAKE PLACID — Aaron Mair, president of the Sierra Club and immigrant-rights organization Migrant Justice and Don and Vivian Papson, founders of the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association, will receive Spirit of John Brown Freedom Awards at the John Brown Day celebration on Saturday, May 6, at 2 p.m.

The annual event, which is organized by North Country-based human rights and freedom education project John Brown Lives!, will be held at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site in Lake Placid. The public is welcome.

“Each of our recipients is intimately familiar with the power we can all wield to make a difference,” said Martha Swan, executive director of John Brown Lives! “The spirit of John Brown – the spirit of activism, of not just demanding change but doing everything possible to achieve it — is more alive than ever. And in times like these, it’s especially urgent that we encourage and celebrate the women and men who are leading the way in getting this hard work done.”

The Spirit of John Brown Freedom Award honors women and men whose work invokes the passion and conviction of the 19th-century abolitionist who dedicated his life to the cause of liberation for enslaved African-Americans. The award celebrates leaders and innovators in civil and human rights whose courage, creativity, and commitment are models for others to follow.

“I have taken each of my daughters to John Brown’s farm, to pray and meditate over the graves of these African American heroes who led the quest for human rights,” said Mair, who lives in Schenectady. “I am honored to accept this award on behalf of my family’s effort to continue the struggle for justice.”

Mair is the current president of the Sierra Club’s board of directors. An epidemiological-spatial analyst with the New York State Department of Health, Mair’s experience includes more than three decades of environmental activism and over 25 years as a Sierra Club leader, where he has advocated for environmental justice and climate action.

The Sierra Club, founded by John Muir in 1892, is the nation’s largest grassroots environmental organization. It has spurred passage of bedrock environmental legislation, helped establish national parks and monuments and is leading efforts to transition to clean energy.

Mair is also the founder of Arbor Hill Environmental Justice, a nonprofit group that advocates for green and open space, environmental testing, and other community issues in the Arbor Hill neighborhood of Albany.

Migrant Justice is a farmworker-rights organization based in Burlington, Vermont., that has led the charge to ensure migrant workers receive quality housing, health care and other rights. It has been a leading voice behind the Milk With Dignity campaign, an effort to improve conditions in the dairy industry by implementing supply chain codes of conduct. Earlier this year, two of the group’s leaders, Enrique Balcazar and Zully Palacios, were detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for 10 days on charges they allege are politically motivated.

Don and Vivian Papson founded the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association in 2005, and, in 2011, the North Star Underground Railroad Museum in Ausable Chasm. The Papsons’ work has put a spotlight on the Champlain Line of the Underground Railroad, and the stories of both the fugitives from slavery who traveled this region on their way to Canada and the individuals who assisted their flight.

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is co-sponsoring the event, as are the Adirondack Diversity Initiative, the Adirondack Council and Champlain National Bank.

John Brown Day is held annually to mark the birthday of the great abolitionist, who was born May 9, 1800.