By Donald V. Watkins ©Copyrighted and Published on May 2, 2019
Yesterday, I engaged in some straight talk with Birmingham, Alabama’s black community in an Open Letter about the city’s school system, mayor and council, and park board. For me, the sincerest form of loyalty is constructive criticism.
The feedback I received from my Open Letter shedded much needed light on why the city’s black elected and appointed officials consistently fail to represent the interests of their constituents. The lone exception is Steven Hoyt, who is currently fighting what he calls "environment racism" with Sherman Industries’ plan to relocate its concrete manufacturing facility to Five Points West in Hoyt's council district.
The other black city officials mentioned in my Open Letter constantly whisper to me (and others) that “white racism” is to blame for their catastrophic failure of leadership. I characterized the "white racism" excuse as “bullshit.”
According to the feedback I received in phone calls and emails, it was unfair for me to compare the scholastic achievements of black students in all-black schools during the 1950s and 60s to the poor academic preparation of black students in Birmingham city schools today. In one comment, I was told:
“America wasn’t founded on EDUCATION; it was founded on winning WARS! Education is over-rated and worthless if nobody will give you an opportunity to apply your skills and you can’t find a way to apply your skills for your own self, like many black educated people have that problem. As well as others who can’t do without Affirmative Action, whether the Affirmative Action is white or black based.”
I disagree with this comment. I believe that education is the key to success for black Americans and people of color all over the globe. Without it, we are doomed to a permanent state of servitude and abuse. Furthermore, education goes far beyond formal courses in K-12 and college. It includes exposure to and learning from people who are different from us and who may hold differing viewpoints.
I also believe in the old saying, “everybody who is your color is not your kind.” This saying applies to members of all ethnic groups.
Another comment focused on the amount of pay city officials receive for the public positions they hold. The inference was this: Black pubic officials don’t get paid enough money to stand up and aggressively fight for the political interests of their constituents.
These officials knew the salaries for their positions when they were campaigning for the job or applying to be appointed to an agency like the park board. If they are not committed to representing the political interests of their constituents on principle, alone, then these officials are not worthy of their positions.
For the record, I served as a member of the Montgomery city council from 1979 to 1983. We operated under a Mayor-Council Act that is similar to Birmingham’s. Council members were paid $300 per month. I never took a dime in expense money from the city.
There were only four black council members out of total of nine Montgomery city councilors. Yet, the four of us accomplished more tangible improvements in the delivery of city services for our constituents than all of today’s black Birmingham city officials combined. What is more, our achievements came in the face of massive resistance to every program we implemented for fairness and equity in the delivery of city services.
My personal experiences as a public official serve as the yardstick by which I measure the effectiveness and progress of other blacks in similar positions. This is why I know “bullshit” excuses when I hear them.
Finally, it was suggested that my Open Letter was written to curry favor with prosecutors in my criminal case. This was an interesting comment, but completely wrong. No one controls the subject-matter or content of my articles. I am "unbought" and "unbossed" in this regard.
I have harshly criticized President Donald J. Trump, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the FBI, the COINTELPRO program (both the old and modern versions), The Birmingham News, AL.com, John Archibald, Kyle Whitmire, the Pentagon, The Boeing Company, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL.), former Alabama governor Robert Bentley and his married lover Rebekah Caldwell Mason, Tuscaloosa County Sheriff Ron Abernathy, Matrix, LLC CEO Joe Perkins, former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard, former Montgomery federal judge Mark Fuller, former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, former Alabama attorney general/U.S. senator Luther Strange, and a host of other well-known public officials, both black and white. I don’t have a double standard in this regard.
I think my comments in yesterday’s article presented a fair and balanced assessment on the failure of leadership in Birmingham city government. For me, a public official, whether he/she is black, white, brown, yellow, Democrat, Republican, Independent, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or Atheist, should provide effective leadership, or get out of the way.
African-Americans will never make progress as a people if we do not hold our public officials accountable for failing in their duty to represent our interests in an honest and aggressive manner. People may criticize a city official like Birmingham Council President Valerie Abbott or a national official like President Donald Trump for their public policy views, but very few people will criticize them for the aggressive and effective manner in which they represent the political interests of the constituents who elected them.
My bottom line is this: I am sick and tired of black public officials abandoning the political interests of their constituents as soon as the swearing-in ceremony ends. If this spontaneous abandonment is okay with the people who elected them, then these officials (and their constituents) should stop blaming the precarious socio-economic conditions of African-Americans in Birmingham (and across America) on “white racism.”
PHOTO: Birmingham Councilor Steven Hoyt represents Council District 8. He is currently fighting "environmental racism" within his District and has been criticized by the city's mayor on social media for waging this fight. Hoyt, who was first elected in 2009, seems to be the lone fighter for economic justice inside City Hall.