Harlem CFI loses vibrant leader, Herbert “Sibanye” Crimes

October 1, 2009


The skeptic and freethought community mourns the death of one of its enthusiastic organizers on Tuesday of this week. Herbert Crimes, whom everyone knew simply as "Sibanye," ran the Harlem group for the Center for Inquiry. My own memories of him were of a very sweet man committed to advancing our shared secular and humanist values within the black community generally and Harlem specifically.

Comment from Michael De Dora Jr., executive director of CFI New York City, who worked closely with Sibanye:

The freethought community in New York City has been deeply saddened to learn of Sibanye’s death. Over the past few days, I have gotten a continuous stream of e-mails from friends Sibanye made over the years, all of them sharing positive thoughts about him.

Sibanye’s loss is no small one to the secular movement here. His leadership in Harlem, particularly as moderator of CFI-Harlem’s monthly discussion group, was well known throughout the metro area. He successfully continued the  legacy of freethought in Harlem, pushing its residents to think critically about such controversial issues as religion – and giving  non-believers and believers alike an outlet for discussion.

Sibanye was a warm, vibrant, bold, and kind person. The freethought community here will miss him dearly.

UPDATE: One of the CFI leaders in Chicago, psychotherapist Ayala Leyser, gave me permission to post her comments here that she shared with other CFI leaders about Sibanye, after learning of his untimely death.

For someone who can't stand eulogies, I must say a few things about this unusual man, Sibanye.

Sibanye was my buddy. I met him at one of those leadership trainings in Amherst some years ago and like some others was taken by his energetic, bubbly, playful and friendly persona. He was the one who was able to mobilize some of the most stand-offish "leaders", without ever taking himself too seriousely...

Especially intriguing was his passion and sucess at starting and maintaining the Harlem group. Harlem???

So we invited him and Norman Allen to Chicago, for a "Humanism and the African-American community" talk, in the hope of attracting some African Americans to secular humanism. We were not too successful. Those who came explained how out-cast they would be to associate with an atheist or secular group. They were right, of course, but I had a feeling that had Sibanye stayed, he would have been the one to organize and plant the right seed...

But most of all, as a "seasoned' psychotherapist, I am a "people watcher." Can't help it. And I admired what I saw in Sibanye.

He struck me with his authenticity, and non-assuming intelligence,  his striving to do what he valued. (He was deaf, as you all know, and his cochlear implant was quite limited compensation, in my opinion.) What struck me most about him was his matchless pure gold heart.

It was a Saturday night in Manhattan a few years ago. CFI conference just ended its session for the day, and folks were in a hurry for their night out in the city. Sibanye and I were on the way to Harlem Jazz clubs when we noticed one confused blind man with no or little money,  standing in the hallway asking the organizers how he could find a hotel.

Saturday night without a reservation? A blind man from Utah? Who wants to deal with him? Only one did. Sibanye.

We ended up riding with him in a taxi to a small hostel that Sibanye knew. Sibanye accompanied him in, gave the staff directions as to the man's needs, and then off we went to hear great jazz.

In the morning he took a cab to pick the man up, just to be sure the guy was able to wake up and find his way back to the conference.

I expressed my admiration to Sibanye's kindness, and with a surprised look on his face asked me: "What do you mean? The man was blind, from out of town, what else could one do?"