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Those who knew Clair Sexton described him as a soft-spoken voice of reason for at-risk youth in York County.

But, they said, his subtlety was amplified by powerful messages of faith, acceptance and self-improvement. He was never a perfect man, nor did he claim to be, said York NAACP President Sandra Thompson.

Sexton, who died Dec. 3 at age 79, in 2001 told The York Dispatch he robbed people and sold drugs as a youth to show he could make money like those around him.

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He later went through several stints in jail for drug-related convictions, but during his time he became heavily interested in faith and converted to Islam. He was released from jail in 1979 at the age of 40.

He became president of the York NAACP, worked as a volunteer at Crispus Attucks Community Center and was a substance abuse and AIDS outreach counselor for York City's Community Progress Council.

He also worked in the education department of the Trenton State Prison in Trenton, New Jersey, and taught black history at William Penn Senior High School.

'He knew the stories': Crispus Attucks CEO Bobby Simpson said he knew of Sexton before he went to jail, but after hearing his story of rehabilitation upon his release, he offered him a job on the spot.

"We dealt with a lot of young kids, and I thought he would be a super role model," Simpson said. "He's been there, done that. They couldn't pull the wool over his eyes, because he knew the ropes; he knew the stories. He did a fantastic job."

Simpson said he would describe Sexton as "genuine, straight forward and honest," but his message to the youth of the county is the most important lesson to learn from his life.

"Young people need to learn that there's a price to pay if you don't straighten up," he said. "There's still good role models like Clair in the street helping young people now, and they need to listen."

Service to the community: Sexton became known not for his mistakes as a youth but for what he learned from those mistakes and the life path he chose to follow afterward, Thompson said. That, in a nutshell, is what he wanted for those in York as well.

Thompson said she met Sexton in 1988 while volunteering at Crispus Attucks shortly after she moved to York. She described him as a man of faith, wisdom, work ethic and inspiration.

"We became friends in this effort of community service, and we also became colleagues," she said. "He was a confidant to me, and he impacted the youth of many generations."

Sexton also invited Thompson to speak at his classes at William Penn, which she said is a form of community outreach that needs to continue to honor his legacy.

"We need to keep developing community programs, make them accessible and affordable and give people who need second chances an opportunity to show they are rehabilitated and assets to society," she said. "That was his mission in life." 

Sexton is survived by Pamela Sexton, his wife of 37 years, six children, five siblings and 34 grandchildren, according to his obituary.

A memorial service for Sexton was held Saturday, Dec. 8, at Jabez Ministries.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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