A Building Named in Honor of Josephine Byrd
On June 27th,
The Woonsocket Hope Building, located at 245 Main Street, was dedicated by Community Care Alliance (CCA) to Josephine Byrd and renamed The Josephine Byrd Community Services Building.
“The honor is given to Josie for decades of civil rights activism and advocacy on behalf of disenfranchised individuals and families, and her ongoing public service in Woonsocket,” said Benedict F. Lessing, CCA President/CEO. The building is where Josie began working for Community Care Alliance, at that time known as Family Resource Community Action.
Former Congressman, now President/CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation, David Cicilline and Rev. Jeffrey Thomas of St. James Baptist Church in Woonsocket and Board Chair at Community Care Alliance, who both know Josie well, spoke at the event. Family member, Pamela Williams, gave an historical perspective of Josie’s family’s background; and Councilman, Garrett Mancieri presented a special citation on behalf of the City of Woonsocket, signed by the entire City Council.
Born to a sharecropper’s family in the rural south, octogenarian and pioneer for the black community, Josephine Byrd (Josie), has made Woonsocket, RI her home and a better place for 63 years. When Josie arrived, Woonsocket was noted for industrial manufacturing, and Josie worked making everything from pot scrubbers to tennis shoes and designer sneakers. In 1969 when the Uniroyal Footwear Company closed, Josie received a severance allowance and the opportunity to go to a school of higher learning for retraining, and that is how Josie earned her business certificate. At that time, Blacks were not allowed in the front office, and Josie had to persist in seeking secretarial work when raising her family required that she go back to work in the mills. In 1974, Josie was finally hired at A.T. Cross, advancing from clerk to secretary for the Quality Control manager, a role she held for 23 year.
In 2000, Josie was hired by Family Resource Community Action as the secretary to the CEO, Benedict Lessing, who continues as the CEO of Community Care Alliance today. She is beloved by staff and community members alike, many of whom have gratefully received her words of wisdom and encouragement. Josie describes her experience. “I found the job with a purpose for my life’s journey caring about and helping people in need.” Josie still takes on work at CCA providing scheduling for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.
In 2003, Josie received the Paul Dempster Award for helping the homeless—the highest award offered by CCA; in 2023 she received the Appreciation Award for 20+ years of service and commitment to advocating for the social and human needs of Woonsocket citizens. Josie has received many other awards in the community for her social involvement, advocacy and activism. Josie stands on the shoulders of her mother and other domestic workers who have cared for the needs of others. “We’re our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers,” says Josie.
Josie is one of sixteen children, married for 50 years to the late Richard Byrd, and mother of three children—the late Rodney Byrd, Ryan Byrd and Jeanne Byrd Adams—and five grandchildren.
This story was covered in the Woonsocket Call, ConvergenceRI, and by journalist, Steve Alquist.
Josephine Byrd on Wikipedia