Booth Balances Social Justice with Social Grace


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By Marissa Maier

As a child, Gini Booth effortlessly tread between two disparate worlds. By day, Booth could be found on the streets of New York City and its environs protesting racial prejudices and socioeconomic injustices with her father, Judge William Henry Booth, an African-American New York City Criminal Court Judge and Chairman of the city’s Commission on Human Rights. In the evening, Booth’s mother, Harriet Walker Booth, whisked her young daughter to debutante balls in the gilded halls of the Waldorf Astoria.

Above: Booth’s father, Judge William Henry Booth, to the right of Martin Luther King, Jr. during a rally.

Booth’s early balance between social justice and social graces served her well later in life as an actress, news producer, literacy advocate and breast cancer survivor. Her early life, and the lessons Booth’s parents taught her at a tender age, will be the subject of a talk at the Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreational Center on Thursday, February 25, as part of “Straight Talk: A series of community conversations.”

During her talk, Booth will highlight the convictions of her parents and how these beliefs influenced her upbringing and affected her as an adult. With a father who represented Malcolm X at one point and marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., Booth has one or two stories to tell about fighting for civil rights in New York City at a young age. During one rally, in support of a hospital union in Riverdale, Booth saw a police officer attempt to push her father along to move with the crowd. To the 13-year-old Booth, the cop seemed more like a six-foot giant dressed in blue than an officer of the law keeping order.

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“I went up to him and I tried to beat him up. I said, ‘Don’t you dare hit my father,'” recalled Booth. “No one had told me it was supposed to be a peaceful protest.”

After spending many childhood afternoons in her father’s office, Booth would later follow in his footsteps. As a teenager, William Booth served as President of the NAACP Youth Council in Jamaica, Queens. Years later, Booth was appointed Secretary of the Treasury of the same council.

After years of practicing law and setting up strong roots in the Episcopal faith, William Booth’s calm and forgiving approach to life helped his daughter in her struggles with issues of race and ethnicity. Though Booth’s parents are of African-American descent, she was born with blue eyes and blond hair — characteristics typical of Caucasians. As Booth was maturing into a young woman, she recalls several instances when she would be walking down the street with her father and a passerby would yell some racially derogatory comment.

“Someone started screaming at my father, ‘Who is that little white girl with you?’ The man said, ‘Was she dipped in Clorox?’ It was very hurtful. But my father said to just ignore him and that he doesn’t know any better,” remembered Booth. “And then I thought of something my father’s mother had taught me. She said ‘A garden is beautiful and in the garden are all different types of flowers of all shapes and sizes. But it is all one garden.’ At least I had the strength and the substance every day when I left that house with my parents.”

After growing up in Queens, Booth flew the coop to study acting at the University of California at Los Angeles. She returned to New York and joined the Negro Ensemble Company Actors Workshop, Frank Silvera’s Actors Studio and New Heritage Theater. Later, Booth relocated to Providence, Rhode Island for a career change in news broadcasting and producing. She created a talk show, named SHADES, on the local PBS channel and “Black News,” which was on the CBS radio affiliate for the state. Because Booth was a member of the National Black Programming Consortium, her television work was broadcast throughout the US, in Africa and the Caribbean.

Currently, Booth’s myriad projects include an affiliation with the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, the Suffolk County Executive’s African American Advisory Board, the Vestry of Christ Episcopal Church, ERASE Racism, the Witness Project LI and EVIDENCE Dance Company.

As a 21-year survivor of stage three breast cancer, Booth’s work has spilled over into cancer advocacy. She is affiliated with CancerCare of the Hamptons and the American Cancer Society. Booth’s work and life has been featured in many television shows and publications, including “Good Morning America,” “Good Day NY,” Town and Country Magazine and Family Circle Magazine.

Though Booth is ringing in her 60th year of life in 2010, she shows no signs of slowing down. She currently serves as the executive director of Literacy Suffolk. Literacy, says Booth, is often seen as a non-issue in the 21st century, but she pointed out that close to one in every seven adults in Suffolk County are functionally illiterate.

“I am wondering what I am going to be doing in 20 years,” exclaimed Booth. “I can only imagine. I can’t wait.”