The old year ended on a sad note, with the passing of long-time political and community activist Alan Howard.
The 52-year-old Howard died on Dec. 30. His funeral service takes place tomorrow, Jan 6, at Bethel A.M.E. Church on Pendleton Avenue, with a calling hour from 11 a.m. to noon, followed by the funeral and burial at Oak Grove Cemetery.
A Springfield native, Howard went to Brown University, then returned to his hometown where he immersed himself in the city’s political scene. A one-time aide to U.S. Rep. Richie Neal and state Rep. Ben Swan, Howard was active in Springfield’s Democratic City Committee and worked on numerous political campaigns. He was also the former president of the McKnight Neighborhood Council, belonged to Arise for Social Justice and the Black Men of Greater Springfield, and, at the time of his death, was on the executive committee of the Springfield branch of the NAACP, serving as the political action chair. It’s hard to think of an important issue in recent Springfield history that Howard was not involved with, from his dedicated work to bring ward representation to the City Council to his outspokenness about police abuse of power, especially when dealing with people of color.
Howard loved to talk politics and policy, whether on the talk-radio show he hosted for a number of years or in informal chats about the latest news. I always loved having those conversations with Howard, who was smart and thoughtful, and who loved posing provocative what-ifs and challenging assumptions. We didn’t always agree; we’d had an on-and-off debate for some time, for instance, about whether the Advocate should do special coverage of Black History Month, with me arguing that the paper’s job was to offer diverse coverage all year, and that such targeted coverage felt gimmicky, and Howard maintaining that a self-described progressive newspaper should dedicate the time and space to such an important event. We never reached agreement on that one, but I’m pretty sure Howard enjoyed the back-and-forth as much as I did. And, unlike too many thin-skinned politicos, Howard never got bristly in an argument, but always maintained his sense of humor and graciousness.
I learned of Howard’s death from Bob McCollum, the former School Committee member, who, in an email to acquaintances, wrote, simply, “He was a true friend to me and many others.”