Toby Had a Plan
North Star Fund Staff: 1979-1982
It was 33 years ago in a run down building on the corner of Fifth and 14th that I first met Toby, got interviewed and joined North Star. He had just signed the contract on the place: a seedy three-room affair, with dirty windows, a frayed industrial rug, graffiti on walls. Toby had this plan, this radical fund, with a serious blueprint to change the world, starting with New York City. His indifference to our surroundings was in keeping with that plan.
Toby, the visionary, had worked out the details of this fledgling organization, from its name after an anti-slavery newspaper, to how the funds were to be distributed, not by a board of patricians, but by activists who had a feel and a commitment to every part of the city. He told donors that once they gave to North Star, they gave up power to that money. In those days, these were heady demands.
Toby placed a lot of trust on the organizations we funded. Some of our grantees had been trailed by the FBI, or wanted in their homelands, had gone to jail for demonstrating or freeing caged animals, were Communist Party diehards, or just had the audacity to choose names for their organizations like DONT or Dykes Opposed to Nuclear Technology.
It was a safe bet that whatever issue or cause the New York Times wrote tepidly or miraculously about at the start of 1980, North Star was already supporting full throttle. Conditions of women prisoners, issues of police abuse, the plight of Vietnam veterans, community hospital closures, distributing radical films, animal protection rights, these and many more issues were always on the fringe, marginalized, or completely disregarded. For six years, North Star was funding numerous gay and lesbian causes -- most of which were unreported in the media.
Digging through my memory of a 25 year old man, I remember afternoons when he'd come to my room and equally divide between him and me about a hundred proposals to read. This was the trying part of the work, reading and internalizing the woes of a city, and how a band of activists would confront the problem and where we fit in all this. He'd have that gaze, a thoughtful, ruminating, pondering gaze.
Today this sad friend on the other side of the globe can only be fortunate to have known, learned from, and worked with a man who helped change a city for the good.