By Ken Hamilton
Niagara Gazette — If there are any failures in black Niagara today, then it is our own fault.
In an America that was once seen as black and white, it was through those old black and white television sets that I, and millions of others like me, watched the civil rights movements of the 1950s and ‘60s. It was there that we first became familiar with that great civil rights leader, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
But being young, we did not learn what it all meant, simply as a result of watching the flickering images on those small, round screens, nor through the adjustments that we had to make on both the horizontal and vertical hold knobs of those sets.
We learned pain and the plight through the images that were reflected in the eyes of our parents; those who had come to New York and other northern states to escape that reality of which we were then bearing witness — the fire hoses, the biting police dogs and brutalizing batons, as well as the mass arrests of those who sought nothing more than the equal opportunity to learn, earn and to leave an inheritance for their children; this, through the inheritance left to them by the American Constitution and through their own ancestors, friends and neighbors who fought abroad for their freedom. But, upon returning, in too many backwoods and town squares, many of them found themselves hung by the lynchman’s rope by those who looked nothing like themselves.
The images were blurry in our parents’ tear-filled eyes and we cried because they cried. And then we went out to play and, for the most part, forgot about it; much as we now do as adults when we see things like the horrors that take place in Syria, Ethiopia and other war-torn parts of the world.
“It doesn’t bother us, because it ain’t us.” And then we go on with our lives and make no provision or sacrifice for the freedoms of others; instead we complain about foreign aid and military interventions.
We justify this because our overweight selves claim that our nation should first feed the poor within its own boundaries, personally relieving us of our supposed well-churched-selves to do so. We talk about such things, even as we sip our $4 cups of coffee and munch on our $3 pastries in our snacks between our lunch and dinner.
We claim that we could instead us that foreign aid and military money for the domestic use in obtaining more imported flat panel televisions, computers and game consoles, and to improve the roads so that we do less harm to our imported luxury automobiles.
All the while we make less than real efforts in securing the ability of our children to learn, earn and to leave a legacy for their own grandchildren — children to whom Martin Luther King means to them about the same thing that Martin Van Buren means to us.
We, as black people, ought to be ashamed of ourselves — especially those of us in Niagara Falls, the supposed home of the Niagara Movement and its subsequent birth of the NAACP.
We should have a greater responsibility for picking up that torch of freedom that fell from the hand of King, and to under the balcony of that Memphis motel. It is not just because of the Movement or the NAACP but because we have every opportunity to get an education; even while our school system have bused our young children, for so long and so far, away from their parents’ ability to fully participate in their education. While it is easier to vote, as any fool can, we should participate in education anyway.
We should take charge of our neighborhood and charter schools. If you are not comfortable with either of those, then have our churches start their own parochial schools, or use the fine Catholic ones in the city. The people who are supposed to be educating our children use those schools to educate their children, as they use your children to earn the money to send their kids to them.
We have a responsibility because we can no longer say that we are not empowered — it is not the white man’s fault anymore. As Reverend Pridgen of True Bethel Baptist Church suggested — “We are there!”
Your city council president is once again black, as is 40 percent of your city council. We have a larger representation at the county level than our percentage of the county population. We have had two black state senators, a comptroller, a lieutenant governor, a governor, and even a half-black president and we even have a highly influential black executive director of the housing authority.
Even so, we are far worse off than were those largely under-educated and weepy-eyed parents and grandparents of ours; those who escaped the south with hopes and dreams for themselves and for us — and once watched, with us, the events that took place on those old black and white television sets in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
But we also have a responsibility to become more involved in a New York state that has a larger population of blacks than any other state — yet, even though we know that race plays an issue in education, and education plays a role in poverty, there is not one historically black college or university in the entire liberal state; and that speaks volumes of who and what we are. Perhaps there should be one in Niagara Falls.
We are people who stood by and watched people who look like us, as they closed the only black institution in the city, built by those same parents and grandparents who had less education than us, and even fewer resources — our Niagara Community Center.
We celebrate Dr. King’s birthday; but do we celebrate the non-elected Reverend King and his work — a man who was willing to lay down his own life so that your children might enjoy a better one for themselves?
What does King inspire you to do, and what do those for whom you voted, inspire you to do?
If Reverend King is really king, then emulate him and do it; and others will watch you on their 55-inch, HD color, flat panel television sets and see how great you are, and be inspired by you to do likewise. There is nothing horizontal or vertical to hold you back from doing so.Contact Ken Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org.