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  Bursey, Brett
NameBrett Bursey
, South Carolina , United States
Website [Link]
Born Unknown
Last ModifedRBH
Jun 30, 2010 02:10pm

I was born in 1948, and raised in a Navy family. We moved frequently and I attended 10 different schools before graduating from Beaufort High School in 1966. Our family is close. My father passed away in 2004. My mother is still the most important influence in my life.

My fondest childhood memories are of fishing, sailing, and hunting in the beautiful low country. I spent two summers working in tomato packing sheds for a dollar an hour and one summer working on an offshore fishing boat.

I came of age during the last vestige of Jim Crow segregation in South Carolina. I remember my confusion of being raised in an integrated military setting and trying to reconcile my Christian upbringing with the racism practiced by seemingly good white people.

I went to the University of Georgia in 1966 and as a results of white supremacist Lester Maddox being elected governor of Georgia that year, I got involved in the civil rights movement.

I transferred to USC-Beaufort in 1967, while my Naval Commander father was still stationed at Parris Island. I move to USC-Columbia in 1968 when he was transferred to Mayport Florida.

1968 was a pivotal year for growing up in an America torn by both civil rights struggles and the Vietnam war.

I was a leader in the student movement that was fueled by a deep commitment to the equality and democracy we were raised to believe in. I found out the hard way that practicing these values put you at risk.

In the fall of 1969 I was called into the Dean of Student Affairs office (a retired Navy officer), and my paternal grandfather was there. He said, “Son, I’ve got you in Berkeley and I’ll pay your way, you’ll blend in there. If you stay here, you are going to get in trouble, end up in jail and never get a real job.”

I told him, I didn’t want to “blend in” and the SC needed me a lot more than Berkeley did.

But, Grandad was right. In March of 1970 I was arrested for spray painting “Hell no, we won’t go” on my draft board wall in Columbia. I was convicted of a first offense misdemeanor, malicious mischief, after my co-defendant testified that he was really a SLED agent. These were crazy times and all parties bought into the lunacy. They had an undercover police agent working closely with me for a year and a half and the worst thing I did was “tag” a wall with a peace slogan. If I had painted “Go Cocks” I probably wouldn’t have gone to prison for a year and a half. I was, however, expelled from USC and sent to CCI (the old Central Correctional Institute in downtown Columbia), where I learned more than I did in college.

I had the privileged of spending nearly 6 months in solitary confinement (due to raising troubling concerns about prison conditions). Most Americans (other than natives) never have the opportunity to “find” themselves and discover their purpose. “Sixteen years of schooling and they put you on the day shift,” Bob Dylan sang. No time to spend in a cave (or cell) figuring out “why am I here?”

I used the experience to my spiritual advantage and found out that life is mostly about figuring out why you are here, then getting ready to die. The Christians refer to this as being born again. Upon discovering that true happiness and peace is inside me, I was freer than my jailers.

For the past 40 years I have dedicated my life to ending the exploitation, greed and bigotry that corrupt us and our society. This corruption is evident in society’s stunning wealth gap and corporate control of environment and democracy.

Listening to my better angels, my vocation is my avocation for a more just and equitable society. I founded the Grass Roots Organizing Workshop (GROW) in 1975 as a nonprofit social justice organization.

Working for social justice and democracy in South Carolina is not lucrative occupation, so for the past 29 years, I raised funds for our work through non-profit businesses that included a cafe for ten years and a union print shop founded in 1981 and still running. I have been the primary press operator for 29 years.

In 1995, I was a founder of the SC Progressive Network, a coalition of organizations and individuals working to build a movement that has the power to implement our vision and values. I currently serve as the Executive Director helping shape and advocate for policies that promote the interest of women, minorities and working South Carolinians.

I am married to a wonderful woman and my best friend, Becci Robbins.

I am not in this for the money.



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