Vera P. Michelson, known to all of us affectionately as "Mike," passed away on March 9, 2019, surrounded by her brother David Michelson, his wife Carmen and "Mike's" team of loving and attentive friends after a short and fast-moving bout of cancer. Mike was born in Northampton, Mass. in 1945. She was predeceased by her parents, Eva Dembinsky Michelson and Dr. Harry Michelson. Mike is survived by her brother David Michelson, his wife Carmen; niece Melinda Tessier and her husband Michael; nephews, John Michelson and his wife Heidi, and David Michelson and his wife Sarah; several great-nieces and nephews; as well as her large extended family and her many, many friends. Mike was a superb lifetime activist and organizer; she was a warrior for racial and social justice starting in high school when she organized a protest when the Mayor of Northampton took down the United Nations' flag from City Hall. Mike graduated from Russell Sage College and then received a M.S. in education from the University at Albany. She started work with the Rensselaer County Community Action Program. Thereafter Mike worked for the State of New York for many years at O.D. Heck. She was president of her C.S.E.A. Local #445 and one of the activists that organized in support of the union's 1977 strike vote. At the time of her retirement in 2004, Mike was the affirmative action officer at this agency and had been instrumental in organizing its Foster Grandparents program. In the '60s and '70s, Mike was a supporter of the Brothers, a local militant civil rights group. She was also one of two organizers that helped create a Welfare Rights Organization in Rensselaer and started a teen center. Mike was also one of the founding community members of the Whitney M. Young, Jr. Health Center. Mike helped organize the Capital District Coalition Against Apartheid and Racism (CDCAAR) in 1981 to oppose the U.S. tour of the South African Springbok rugby team and became a nationally and internationally known figure in the anti-apartheid movement. On the eve of the national demonstration in Albany to protest the playing of a rugby game, with the shunned South African team, Mike and three others were arrested in a pre-dawn raid on her apartment by the F.B.I. and other police agencies. The arrest was based on false information from a discredited informant that the demonstration was going to be violent. The charges were eventually dismissed. As co-chair of CDCAAR for many years, Mike led efforts to isolate the apartheid regime by organizing demonstrations and local participation in numerous cultural boycotts. She also promoted the divestment of New York State of public pension funds from corporations that supported apartheid. During this period, Mike testified at several U.N. conferences and attended an African National Congress Conference in Lusaka, Zambia. She traveled to South Africa, Namibia, and Mozambique in conjunction with her anti-apartheid work and her support of Southern Africa liberation struggles. In the late 1980's Mike also participated in the Mandela Friendship Brigade to Cuba. Mike led CDCAAR's efforts to organize against local police brutality, often collaborating with the Albany NAACP and the Center for Law and Justice. Mike served as a board member of the Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region for eight years where she focused on board development, a fundraising plan for large donors, and organized several jazz-themed fundraising events. Mike was a member of the Capital District Working Families Party and very involved in a series of local elections including being one of the first volunteers in Mark Mishler's campaign for Albany County District Attorney in 2000. In 2005, Mike was the volunteer coordinator for Barbara Smith's first campaign for Common Council. She also worked on Corey Ellis's campaign for Common Council and Kathy Sheehan's campaigns for Mayor. Mike volunteered for President Obama's 2008 and 2012 campaigns and travelled to swing states to do door-to-door canvassing. Mike was involved in a series of organizations committed to police accountability and criminal justice reform. She served as a volunteer on the District Attorney's Community Accountability Board, was a member of the Gun Violence Implementation Team Advisory Council, and together with Dr. Alice Green and others was instrumental in the City of Albany finally hiring a police chief committed to community policing in 2010. Mike's most recent projects included working as a founding member and secretary of ROOTS (Re-Entry Opportunities and Orientation Toward Success), an organization established by ex-offenders and supporters to mentor persons who were formerly incarcerated. She was centrally involved in supporting the SNUG anti-gun violence initiative as an advocate and as a mentor to the SNUG team. Mike worked to bring L.E.A. D. (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) to Albany. Mike was also a volunteer administrator for Urban Grief, a community-based project which provides support to families and community members traumatized by violence. Mike received many awards for her social justice work including the YWCA's Tribute to Women (1987), NY Civil Liberties Union (2015), Jefferson Award (2016), Citizen Action Jim Perry Progressive Leadership Award (2018) and recognition from the Social Justice Center (1990). Mike was known for her marvelously unique sense of humor which lasted to the end. In her spare time Mike was a jazz aficionado, movie buff, godmother, devoted auntie to countless children and a loving, generous, and wise friend to so many. Mike's family and friends wish to acknowledge and thank the staff of the Albany Medical Center Hospital, St. Peter's Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, and the Hospice Inn at St. Peter's Hospital for the loving care and attention they provided her over the past two months. There will be a celebration of Mike's life at a later date. In lieu of flowers, please make donations to Urban Grief, 350 Henry Johnson Blvd., Suite # 324 #41, Albany, NY, 12204 or at https//donorbox.org/ urban-grief-teddy or to R.O.O.T.S., Inc., P.O. Box 6568, Albany, NY 12206.
A memorial service will be held at the Giffen Memorial Elementary School, 274 S. Pearl Street, Albany, NY 12202 on Saturday, April 13, 2019 at 2:00 pm.