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Even when Sykes was living with her as a very young man, Jolene Powell recalls, "Senators from Washington, D.C., were calling, shocking us all."
Burger would spend the next 30 years involved in Sykes' various causes.
It was around that time that Sykes met the man he calls his best friend the famous jazz pianist Herbie Hancock. Because he was plugged into the music scene, Sykes went backstage before one of Hancock's Kansas City concerts. Sykes grew mesmerized by a strange, rhythmic noise coming from behind a closed door; after the concert, when Sykes introduced himself, Hancock explained he was a Buddhist; Sykes had heard him chanting.
Hancock became Sykes' mentor in the spiritual practice that would sustain him.
"I've watched him grow from an ordinary teenager to an extraordinary hero over the years," Hancock tells the Pitch.
When five musicians were killed in random murders over a two-year period from 1979 to 1981, Sykes' parallel passions converged.
Among the five musicians was Steve Harvey, who was beaten to death with a baseball bat at the Liberty Memorial on November 5, 1980.
"Steve was considered a prince in the music community," Sykes says. "People viewed him as a future Charlie Parker, and he was just great on that sax. Everybody knew him."
An all-white jury acquitted Raymond L. Bledsoe, who is white, in Harvey's slaying. Bledsoe reportedly bragged later that he had gotten away with murder.
"So me and Steve Harvey's widow went to the library," Sykes recalls. "I spent all day looking for something I didn't know where it was, going through the books. It was, like, 10 minutes until closing time when I found it 18.245: Federally Protected Activities was the name of the statute." Essentially, the statute said that a person couldn't be deprived of his or her use of a public facility which would include by murder because of race.
After putting in a call to the Justice Department, Sykes wound up on the phone with Richard W. Roberts, a trial attorney for the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division. (He is now a U.S. District Court judge in Washington, D.C.) "He listened to what I had to say. Near the end, he cut in and said, 'Send me what you got. We may be able to do something.'"
After Sykes' effort, U.S. prosecutors took the case in 1983. Bledsoe is now serving a life sentence at a federal penitentiary in Florence, Colorado.
Burger, and then Roberts, would become part of Sykes' vast network of local, state and federal law-enforcement officials. Though he lacks a high school diploma, Sykes speaks to them in legalese. And though he operates in the highly charged arena of race relations, he earns their respect by being objective.
"I put the politics aside. I don't get caught up in whatever administration is in. Whoever's sitting in that seat is who I work with. I can't see letting four years go by because the wrong administration is in power."
Sykes is essentially doing the same thing he did as a 12-year-old on a bicycle, referring to himself as a victim's advocate.
But it's not especially lucrative work.