Salute Our Heroes: How a Florida native became one of Topeka’s biggest community activists

In this week’s salute out heroes we’re highlighting a Florida-born native that has dedicated his life to community activism in Topeka.
Published: Sep. 11, 2023 at 11:02 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - In this week’s Salute Our Heroes we’re highlighting a Florida-born native that has dedicated his life to community activism in Topeka.

“Being humble and serve the people. That’s the thing I learned the most. You have to be humble and serve the people,”

The name Curtis Pitts rings loud in the Topeka community. Pitts has been a strong believer in the city advocating for change and unity on my different issues.

“When I came to town I saw so much history and opportunities. I saw that this place was so far in integration and relationships that I wanted to stay here and find out more,” says Pitts.

Pitts moved to Kansas in 1980 to play football at Fort Hayes State University, but after just one year he was recruited by the late Doctor King’s wife to complete an internship at the King Center.

“So she walked into the room one day and she said Curtis you’re not going to be in the program and you’re not going to be participating in the graduation. My feelings were hurt I thought I did something wrong. She says no we’re going to take you out of the scholar’s internship program and you’re going to represent us with SCLC on this national march from Carrollton Alabama to Montgomery Alabama,” says Pitts.

It was there Pitt’s love for social equality and justice began to grow.

“I got to meet Andrew Young, John Lewis, Reverand Orange, Dorothy Cotton the amazing Rosa Parks. I got to meet them and I lived down the street, and so she said you’re now out of the program. You’re now my staff because you can handle it and so she sent me to Alabama and it was an amazing opportunity for me to be her national representative. I was a national youth coordinator on this march and I would go to all the colleges and communities and I would recruit kids to come and participate in the march,” says Pitts

Since then Pitts has dedicated his life to serving the Topeka community from anti-violence campaigning, advocating for youth to breaking down race and equality barriers, even working with ex-gang members.

“Ex-gang members now are some of the most active people in the city and what they’re doing is they’re being out in the streets watching the neighborhoods and talking to kids and telling them hey let’s calm it down, let’s stay out of the gangs, let’s get into school let’s find careers,” says Pitts.

Even though Pitts says he never planned on staying in Kansas he’s happy he did.

“So I focus now more on developing those positive relationships because if we don’t talk about hope and what binds us and unites us then our nation will be destroyed from within. I believe Kansas and Topeka is going to wind up being one of the most interesting places to come to in America,” says Pitts.

Pitts says he doesn’t really plan on retiring. He spends most of his time traveling to conferences, universities and nationwide events where he is a keynote speaker.