The connections of family, of mentorship, and of passing it on to the next generation is often talked about in relation to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But during this year’s Spirit of King ceremony at the Kingsley Association in Larimer honoring Harvey Adams Jr. and Judge Walter Little, those connections were on display to a much greater degree than in past ceremonies.
For one, both men knew each other; Adams, the police officer who battled for equality within the department and throughout the city as NAACP president, and Little, who rose from a childhood in public housing to a seat on the Allegheny County Common Pleas bench. But, as Harvey Adams III noted during the Jan. 10 ceremony, there were deeper connections.
He recalled a meeting he attended with his father, Louis “Hop” Kendrick, ward chairs Doc Fielder and Euzell “Bubby” Hairston, and then-County Commissioner Tom Foerster.
“Foerster said he wanted to tell my father that he was taking Little’s name off the ticket for Common Pleas,” said Adams. “My father went off on Foerster. It got to where Doc and Bubby had to drag him out. But the point was made. Little stayed on the ticket.”
And the connections continued. Karen Little, who accepted the award on behalf of her late father, said she and her sister had followed him into the legal profession—she in the district attorney’s office and her sister in the public defender’s office—because, as a father, he had instilled values in them long before becoming a judge.
“He taught us we had a responsibility to help others,” she said.
But her father wasn’t the only one who promoted that lesson in her life, she said. So did Adams. “I was happy when I got the email saying my father was to be honored this year, but when I saw it was to be with Harvey, I was elated—because his daughter, Caroline, and I are best friends. I called him Uncle Harvey, like she did with my father.”
And while the honorees’ commitment to improving civic life for African Americans was reflected by the presence of current and former police officers and command staff like county Deputy superintendent Maurita Bryant; attorneys, magistrates and judges including Oscar Petite and President Judge Kim Clark, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, city Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle and state Rep. Jake Wheatley, the bridge between the public and private connections Adams and Little forged was best exemplified by state Rep. Ed Gainey.
“Judge Little came out of public housing, like me. He was an activist. In court he took no nonsense. He made it better—and he gave me the belief as a young man that I, too, could speak truth to power,” he said.
“And Harvey, where do I start with Harvey. My mom was a single mother and he took her in, gave her a job, but he was much more than a boss. He wasn’t an idol to me, he was a mentor, and that’s much more important. He was the baddest man I ever met.”
Representative Gainey said back when he was first dating his wife, she told him she had a mentorship-relationship with someone she thought he would find impressive.
“I was like, sure, whatever. What’s his name,” he said? “Harvey Adams, she said. I was like, what? We’d grown up just a few blocks from each other but never met, and neither of us knew we both knew Harvey. And I’ll never forget one thing he told me when he knew I was going into politics—I try to live by it. He said, if you want to be good, do what everyone else does. But if you want to be great—serve the people. I owe who I am to Harvey Adams.”
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