A memorial service was held in New Haven on Monday for the late Warren Kimbro, a former Black Panther who admitted killing a fellow member of his party. After Kimbro’s release from prison, he spent his life mentoring ex-convicts.
Warren Aloysius Kimbro grew up in New Haven and served for five years in the Korean War. In the late 1960s, he joined the militant Black Panther Party and in 1969 he admitted shooting Alex Rackley, whom the Panthers suspected of being a police informant. The trial that followed, with Panther leader Bobby Seale, sparked massive protests in New Haven. Kimbro served more than four years in prison. After his release, the one-time high school dropout earned a Master’s Degree from Harvard and returned to New Haven to work as a community activist.
Outside Beulah Heights Pentecostal Church, nephew Andre Bryant says Kimbro wanted to improve conditions for African-Americans.
"What he did back then, it might seem wrong to some people, but at the time it was right to a lot of people. Killing anybody is wrong," said Bryant. "But the circumstances that we were under as black people -- being thrown in prison, beat by the police. And it still happens today. So a lot of people might look at Warren, you know, he went to jail and he redeemed hisself, but he was always a hero to me."
In 1983, Kimbro founded MORE – Model Offenders Reintegration Experience. The program has become a national model, helping ex-convicts renter their communities.
"For folks in this community, particularly some of the most disenfranchised people, he really spoke to the power of redemption and devoted his life to helping people get a second chance," said New Haven Community Services Administrator Kika Matos.
Kimbro’s memorial service was packed with state and local leaders, co-workers, friends and family. Gospel music rang out. Tears were shed. But the mood was celebratory. Warren Kimbro died Tuesday at Yale New Haven Hospital. He was 74 years old.