Honoring Cecil Corbin-Markby Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth
In thinking of Cecil Corbin-Mark, one phrase of his (only said on rare occasions) came to mind…
“Now Erich, we are all family here, and what I am going to say, I say with love…”
These words left a lasting impression and capture the essence of Cecil’s service on Friends of the Earth’s board.
Cecil was direct. Conversations on environmental policy, the state of the environmental movement and environmental justice, convincing him to join Friends of the Earth’s board or talking explicitly about race and the racial justice movement, were always direct. He expected, without saying so, this directness from others. He understood that our time was finite (except for his timely lateness) and we shouldn’t waste it avoiding the difficult questions or hard conversations.
“We are all family here…”
Cecil’s view of family was as expansive as his heart. He always asked about my son Zander and wife Amy, and the broader Friends of the Earth family. He cared deeply and believed in relationships he built on the board and with our staff. Once you were accepted into Cecil’s family, you prized his humanity, love and commitment. And he was committed to your success. But he also understood that family members can disagree, but at the end we are still family.
“I say with love…”
This is the most quintessential Cecil. He loved deeply. Once you were his family, he opened his heart and being to you. His love, displayed with his mighty laugh; his magnetic, radiant, smile that one couldn’t help but mirror back to him; his impeccable style (those socks and hats!); his outbursts of “What…?” when he heard something he couldn’t believe; and his willingness to be raw and vulnerable filled our board room. His love came with a tacit acknowledgement: I am here and open to you, I expect you to be the same.
At Friends of the Earth, Cecil was a beacon, cheerleader, instigator, leader and provocateur (in all the best ways), and an emotional center of the board, pushing our organization to fully embrace our mission to champion a healthy and (more importantly) just world.
He guided me and our board to more deeply understand Friends of the Earth’s potential in fighting for justice, holding us accountable to the commitments we made to each other and the planet. He listened to our campaign updates with rapacious curiosity. With each success and failure, he was prepared to push us to go further, to think more deeply, to question how we could incorporate more community-building and racial justice into our efforts. He treated every member of our staff with deep respect, praising our administrative staff as enthusiastically as our campaigners. He had a gift for seeing, for letting others know they were seen. He valued everyone.
As our conversations deepened, we would discuss efforts he was involved in throughout the country. I began to think of him as a gardener, both planting seeds around the country and globally, and helping to tend what was already growing. Friends of the Earth was a part of the garden. He nurtured us with him time, his love, his spirit. Always patient and hopeful, even retraining us when necessary. As I look at everyone at the organization today, I see the fruits of possibility and deeply wish he were here to enjoy them.
Now Cecil, we are your family here, and what I am going to say, I say with love. Rest in power brother, rest in love, rest in the deep community you built, rest knowing that the many seeds you have tended and sown across the country and around the world will fruit, providing the ongoing sustenance and energy for a world built on justice.
I miss you.