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?"


#1 dougsmith on Thursday October 01, 2009 at 2:31pm

Oh, I’m terribly sorry to hear about that. Although I didn’t know him well, he always struck me as a kind, intelligent and fun person.

#2 Daniel Gregoire (Guest) on Thursday October 01, 2009 at 9:42pm

Sad news indeed. I met Sibanye a few years back at the Harlem meeting. He was so impressive and passionate about secular Humanism. A very bright light has been extinguished in his passing. My thoughts are with his family and the community he served.

#3 asanta on Friday October 02, 2009 at 12:59am

I’m so sorry to hear of his death, my thoughts are with his family…

#4 Margaret Aguilar (Guest) on Friday October 02, 2009 at 2:32pm

I was shocked to hear of Sibanye’s death.  When I met him when we had our program on humanism & the African-American community here in Chicago, I was impressed by his intelligence & personality.  I did not even realize he was ill.  My sincere condolences to his family & friends in N.Y.  His presence will be missed and his death will be mourned.

#5 Mark Smith (Guest) on Friday October 02, 2009 at 10:07pm

I attended Sibanye’s monthly meetings in Harlem two summers ago, and he was a warm person who is gone too soon. He will be greatly missed.

#6 Ocean Morisset (Guest) on Saturday October 03, 2009 at 12:31pm

This is a beautiful tribute…thanks for sharing. We lost another soldier…Rest in Peace, Sibanye…

#7 Michael De Dora on Saturday October 03, 2009 at 7:22pm

As a heads up, CFI-NYC is organizing a secular remembrance of Sibanye on Sunday, Oct. 25, at 1 p.m. in Harlem. I will post the details as soon as they are firmed up.

#8 Elayne Jones (Guest) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 at 2:49pm

Words can hardly express my shock at the passing of Sibanye. when I last saw him at the last meeting and dinner following,  he was alive and provacative, no indication of illness. He was a beautiful. progressive, courageous young man. I remember when he initiated and organized the AASH It was so badly needed as he was putting his head in the dragons mouth But he persevered none the less. I can’t help but wonder if his valiant effort was his udoing. I wonder who could ever rise up and continue on his unchartered path.
With deep sadness and condolenses to his family,
Elayne Jones

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.