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"There were really two crimes involved in each of these cases," Talent says. "One of them is the murders that happened, and the second is the failure of the local and federal authorities to investigate. When you talk to family members, you see the echoes of the injustice just go down one generation after another. I believe that for the future of the country, we need to find the truth.... Now, that's going to mean these cases are going to be regularly brought to the surface, and that's going to be traumatic, but I think it will be healthy as well."
Talent calls Sykes his "principal adviser on civil rights," though it's an informal title. "Alvin is an enormously dedicated, focused person. He's very shrewd. You can talk to him almost like you could talk to someone who'd been in the Legislature for 10 years."
That Sykes could be advising a senator on anything is remarkable, considering where he came from.
Ask Sykes where he was born, and he'll say he was conceived in Kansas City, Kansas.
"My mother was 14 when she had me, and she was sent to Topeka to a home for unwed mothers," he says. "But Topeka was to hide my birth, so I don't really claim Topeka."
Because his 14-year-old mother was unable to raise him, Sykes was brought up by a woman named Burnetta Page. She was a wonderful woman, he says, who "fit somewhere in the family structure." He considered her his mother.
Sykes had epilepsy as a child, and it seemed to him that he spent as much time at Children's Mercy Hospital as he did in the Page house near 26th Street and Highland. He never thought he would live past 18. But when he was 11, something happened that set him on his present course.
Page had warned him about some bad people who lived across the street. Page did her best to scare Sykes away from them. "She said, 'If you don't stay away from over there, I'm gonna kill you.' She could really put the fear in you. But they had candy, so that outweighed the risk.
"Unfortunately, I should have listened to her, because they were bad people, and they raped me. It was a man and a woman."
Sykes didn't know what to do. "I didn't feel like I could go to my mom and tell her because she said she'd kill me and that was worse than what I'd gone through," he says. "But there was nowhere else to go. I decided I'd just handle it myself. I thought, I'll go back and confront them as to why they did that to me. And all they did was did it again."
His 11-year-old logic might have failed him, but the experience taught him that people sometimes need help from someone other than family or police. That realization became clearer the next year, in 1968, when riots broke out following Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination.
Six people died and more than 100 were arrested over six days that April. "I couldn't understand why people were tearing up the community and killing folks and engaging in violence in the name of a man who devoted his life to peace," he says. "The second thing was, if they were mad at white folks, why were they tearing up our stores and our homes?" When the mob set fire to the grocery store where he bought his candy, he and a friend went into action. They rode around on their bikes and turned in people who were starting fires, and they directed traffic for firefighters.