Remembering Perry Rosenstein

Sylvia and David Goodman of New Jersey are honored to have known Perry Rosenstein of Teaneck, New Jersey, who passed away yesterday morning from COVID-19 at the age of 94. Perry held close to his heart and mind the concept that all people are created equal. He lived that way when he ran his for-profit business. And he lived that way for many decades after retiring as he ran his non-profit, The Puffin Foundation, along with his wife Gladys Rosenstein and son Neal.

My mother, Dr. Carolyn Goodman, introduced me to the Rosensteins decades ago. But, we only got to know them more intimately after my mother passed in 2007, at the age of 91. At that time, my wife, Sylvia Goodman, took over The Andrew Goodman Foundation (AGF) that my parents founded 54 years ago. AGF is named after my older brother, Andrew Goodman, who was murdered in Mississippi on June 21, 1964, by the Ku Klux Klan along with his co-civil rights workers, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner, as they registered African-Americans to vote. Since 2012, The Andrew Goodman Foundation has focused on our mission of “making young voices and votes a powerful force in democracy.”

2018-2019 Andrew Goodman Puffin Democracy Fellows

The first cohort of Andrew Goodman Puffin Democracy Fellows at the 2019 National Civic Leadership Training Summit. From left: Dana Sweeney, Valencia Richardson, Usjid Hameed, Megan Newsome, and Maydee Martinez.

The Puffin Foundation, under the leadership of Perry, Gladys, and Neal was the first institution to recognize and fund the work Sylvia envisioned: creating a network of student leaders who engage their peers in participatory democracy. Today, we have been successful as a national network empowering student activists to organize, advocate, and when necessary, litigate to protect the right to vote of youth and other marginalized communities. This work was seeded by The Puffin Foundation who supported our flagship Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere program for the past seven years, now operating on 63 college and university campuses in 25 states and Washington, DC, with a population of over 1 million student voters.

The Goodmans deeply admire Perry for his vision of what America could be when the beloved community comes together to make our democratic ideals consistent with our everyday practice. Perry worked persistently to be an example of what a person could do to make sure we lived social and economic justice, rather than just talking about it. His support for working peoples’ rights, environmental protection, and art as a way of expressing our collective humanity was his model of everyday living for all of us to follow.

Perry once said to me that to understand why and what happens today, and how to make it better, you have to know your past. Few people and foundations have curated and supported a more unique retrospective of the past to shed light on the present than Perry has. Amongst many other projects, Perry and The Puffin Foundation funded the Puffin Gallery for Social Activism, a permanent exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York, “Explore the drama of social activism in New York City from the 17th Century right up to the present.” Neal recently gave me a copy of the book the Rosensteins supported titled, “Activist New York.” The exhibit and the book are but one example of the Rosensteins bringing to the public attention how past activism has made America a better place today.

Besides reading The New York Times, I have been reading The Nation since I was 10. I was not surprised to learn many years ago that Perry is a tremendous supporter of The Nation and a free press, without which, Perry once told me, democracy cannot work. Perry has supported many other important periodicals that do truth-telling, which is refreshing in the age of reality show news and fabrications. Perry and the Rosensteins created an award with the Nation Associates providing $100,000 to outstanding citizens, all of whom powerfully uphold the ideals of social and economic justice Perry championed all his life. Even though Perry may not be here physically, he will forever be shining his light on those issues. He has mentored and supported many people who work hard to make sure everything is done to overcome the practices that undermine what is important in an equitable society.

I also learned a while back that Perry nurtured the growth of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (ALBA). The Brigade, unknown to many people, was an extraordinary group of Americans idealists who risked (and many lost) their lives (1937-1939) to fight for democracy against the fascist Generalissimo Francisco Franco in Spain. My mother was the treasurer of the N.Y.C. ALB after graduating from college in 1936, and I heard a lot about the Brigade as I was growing up. Thanks to Perry, the ALB Archives will tell this story of how dictators come to power and how activist American democracy workers have pushed back so that all people can enjoy those self-evident truths we hold so dear.

It was in this context of America’s struggle to uphold our civil rights that Perry and the Rosenstein Family asked The Andrew Goodman Foundation to create a legacy program called the Andrew Goodman Puffin Democracy Fellows. Over a two-year period, our Fellows undertake projects to further empower young leaders to carry on Perry’s legacy by upholding and continuing the idealism of Andrew Goodman and his willingness to volunteer to make democracy work for all people. Without Perry’s support, the Rosensteins interest, and The Puffin Foundation, AGF could not have grown over the last decade making make sure that all eligible students have equal access to the ballot box and that the same forces that propelled Generalissimo Francisco Franco into power will not happen in the United States of America.

We have lost a great friend, mentor, teacher, and a wonderful person. But, Perry, you have left behind so many people who have learned from you; now they will go forward to continue the work that you started. They will be training the next cohort of activists to make sure democracy works because you were there to help them.

We could end by saying, “Perry, rest in peace.” But we don’t think that is what you are going to do. When you get to Heaven, Perry, we are confident you will be meeting with the Angels and advising them on how to make the place more equitable than when you arrived.

To Neal and Gladys, and all the extended Rosenstein family, our deepest appreciation and love.

Sincerely, and with Warmest Regards,

Sylvia and David Goodman, and all associates of The Andrew Goodman Foundation

About the Author

David Goodman is the brother of Andrew Goodman and the Vice Chairman of The Andrew Goodman Foundation’s Board of Directors.