Kalamazoo civil rights leader remembered at memorial service

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. — A West Michigan community is saying goodbye to a local civil rights activist.

Dr. Charles Warfield was president of the  Metro Kalamazoo branch of the NAACP and a former professor at Western Michigan University.

Warfield was a major civil rights leader and education advocate in Kalamazoo. He passed away earlier this month. People who knew him called him a mentor, a teacher, a reverend, a humanitarian and even 'Papa'. Those who came on Friday night to remember Warfield say he made an impact in the lives of everyone who met him.

The seat of Western Michigan University's Miller Auditorium were filled with people paying their respects to Dr. Charles Warfield.

"When you were around Dr. Warfield, you knew you were in the presence of someone who was a great person" said Larry Tolbert, executive board member and political action committee member for the NAACP.

Instead of a somber gathering, people were offering up a celebration of Warfield's life.

"This is a huge loss," said Tolbert. "Just like any great leader, you can't replace him. You can only try to get involved and do the best you can and I think his legacy will be that he's influenced so many kids. I think those kids in generations to come will do a lot of the things that he started out doing.

"It is more like a celebration than it is a loss for us because he really was somebody to everybody," said Nicholas Warfield, grandson of Charles Warfield.

The civil rights leader's four grandchildren say they're proud to see the support for their grandpa, who took them all over the world.

"Lots of jokes, lots of not taking us seriously, but he was always there" said Nia Warfield, granddaughter of Charles Warfield. "He maybe didn't say a lot, but when he did, everyone would get quiet and listen. He was just influential. That's why so many people are out here."

They plan to keep up his legacy. Warfield dedicated his career to help at-risk students stay in school and spent time as chief of staff for Reverend Jesse Jackson's Push for Excellence organization.

"It feels incredible to see the tremendous amount of support the community has for us and our family" said Kennedy Warfield, granddaughter of Charles Warfield. "I just appreciate it. I know we all love seeing everyone come together in his memory, in his light and what he left behind."

Reverend Jesse Jackson also speaking on Warfield's accomplishments.

“We’ve all been touched in some direct and indirect way by Charles Warfield" said . I’m in the midst of a very busy schedule I got in from Rwanda yesterday, as we traverse the globe trying to bring peace and justice in the world.”

"He will be missed, but in our hearts we'll always have him" said Tolbert. "That's the kind of impact he had on all of our lives."

Warfield spent 41 years in the College of Education at Western Michigan University. He was 77.

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