Many Touched by Activist's Life
Charry, Rebecca, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Hundreds of D.C. residents, from notable politicians to quiet public housing tenants, packed Randall Memorial Baptist Church yesterday to say goodbye to Kimi O. Gray, a feisty, charismatic woman who drew national acclaim for her activism on behalf of public housing tenants.
During the last 25 years, Ms. Gray lobbied the powerful and organized the powerless to give public housing residents the right to own and manage the homes they lived in. She was perhaps best known for her work at the 464-unit Kenilworth-Parkside public housing complex in Northeast Washington, where residents formed one of the nation's first resident management corporations in public housing in 1981 and organized themselves to rout out an entrenched drug trade.
"She had the audacity to believe that public housing residents should be first-class citizens," said her close friend, former D.C. Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. at the memorial service. "She had the audacity to believe they should run their own lives. . . . I can see her now, negotiating with God about some heavenly homes."
Ms. Gray, 55, died March 1.
The Rev. Willie F. Wilson of Union Temple Baptist Church in Anacostia gave the eulogy at an emotional service punctuated by shouts of religious fervor. The altar overflowed with flower arrangements from friends, including a large arrangement that spelled out "Kimi" in pink blossoms.
Ms. Gray's friends and associates remembered her as a big woman with a big heart who never took no for an answer. "She made herself a force in this city," said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's congressional representative. "Nobody elected her to be a force; nobody appointed her to be a force. She just stepped up and said, `I don't see any of the rest of you all doing this work, so get out of my way, I'm in charge.' "
As president of the Kenilworth-Parkside Management Corp., Ms. Gray persuaded the federal government in 1990 to sell a public housing development to her group for $1.
Robert L. Woodson, a longtime ally and friend, said Ms. Gray didn't just challenge those in authority to change their thinking but also prodded her neighbors to change their own behavior. …