Niagara Gazette

February 21, 2014

HAMILTON: Make black history, instead of just skipping it

By Ken Hamilton
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — When Niagara Falls Chief of Police John Chella retired, fellow citizen and former City Administrator Bill Bradberry and I sent an email to Mayor Paul Dyster asking him to consider interviewing a black police chief to replace him.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I think that current Chief Bryan DalPorto is doing an excellent job. My motivation in asking for such a chief was to remove one more false paradigm that a black would serve a growing minority community better than would a non-minority, and do so with greater knowledge and sensitivity. Citing the evidence of cities with such police chiefs give little support to the paradigm, or mind-set belief, that it would.

In fact, looking at what we have come to know as even black leadership within our own city, the paradigm of blacks on some important boards make little to no positive impact on the outcome for other blacks. Too often, such so-called leaders are co-opted by other board members and their executives, and merely go along to get along. It can be said that they are more of a problem than they are a solution, this because the other board members justify their actions by saying that, “So-and-so voted along with us, so it must have been okay.”

There are many such cases; but the one that immediately comes to mind is the one that occurred during the last city council meeting.

A member of the board of the Niagara Falls Housing Authority appeared before city council to complain to them that there are projects that are going on in the city’s North End that are lacking fair representation in the number of blacks in their hiring ranks. The community is overwhelmingly African-American.

The board member suggested that the city should take some sort of oversight to ensure more representative hiring practices on projects that involve massive amounts of public dollars, and I would also imagine city council approval to move them forward.

One of the largest of such projects was the massive and partially completed, near $80-million, Niagara Falls Housing Authority/Norstar Development Company’s HOPE-VI/Center Court project; which by observation and community complaints, hired relatively few community members.

Additionally, many, if not most of the minorities who were hired on that project were Spanish-speaking only, and clearly not community members.

In other words, this individual went to city council and suggested that they take oversight of the board upon which he now sits to make sure that they comply with their own either stated or feigned desire to hire members of their own community. How would the city do that, and why would he suggest that it is the city’s responsibility to make them do such?

In fact, Norstar has built another housing project in that same neighborhood, whereas the minority hiring was in question – this, at the same time that they were working with the NFHA board as an LLP partner on the Center Court project.

Norstar is currently redeveloping a third project in the same neighborhood on one of the iterations of the Unity Park project. Is it these projects of which the speaker spoke, projects that its own partner is doing

Or is it the multimillion dollar Moore Business Forms/Honeywell reclamation project that Ontario Specialty Contracting Group is doing on Highland and Beech avenues; or the clinic project that the Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center is sponsoring on Highland and Center avenues — all projects that have NFHA DNA all over it?

There are two huge reasons why there is low community hiring in the place where this board member’s organization concentrates its new developments.

One is because of the poor quality of education and training that our board of education produces and then blames its shortcomings upon handicapped black kids; and two, because people who do have a great education tend to move from such communities where public housing projects proliferate.

The same NFHA board member also had oversight on a board of education whose black student population constituted 33 percent of the total, yet the professional staff constituted a mere 5 percent. Additionally, the system was rated at the bottom 4 percent of all upstate school districts in New York.

Forty-five years ago, such a person, so well-positioned to do so much good, would have been considered to have made Black History. I’m sorry, but his speech, in what was seemingly a plea to council to apparently make him accountable to do what he considers to be the right, kind of sounded to me like an old, scratched up 45rpm vinyl record instead — one where the needle skipped over and over across the same groove, playing the same old tired segment of an old song that is no longer sweet to the ear nor entertaining to the mind.

Somehow, that just ain’t being black to me, and further proof that skin color is neither a measure of confidence nor competence.

Strangely, Martin Luther King’s dream is manifested in it all. 

Contact Ken Hamilton at kenhamilton930@aol.com.