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By: Rev. Dr. Charles Searcy
There was a time in the past when names like Kennedy and Hamilton mattered; but apparently, no more than black lives now seem to matter. That name, long ago, was President John F. Kennedy, a name where black Americans hopes were once hung. Six decades ago, those hopes were of justice, and of taking home more pictures of former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton and other such men. Those were the days that we didn’t have much, but we then had a Highland-area community center that we, ourselves, had built.
As the parents of the city’s north end have no local voice in many important matters, the names of Kennedy and Hamilton have likewise come to mean nothing to the black children of the Highland Avenue community; that is if the Kennedy name is preceded by the title of Buffalo-area State Senator Tim Kennedy. Likewise, with the name of Hamilton, if the name is titled NAACP President Shirley Hamilton.
I know this because I, along with Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church’s Pastor Timothy Brown and others, led that court battle that attempted to save the Niagara Community Center from a more than 8-year closure under the flawed leadership of its board president Shirley Hamilton. And it would seem that Senator Kennedy is considering placing on the Niagara Falls Water board the woman under whose leadership as chair of the Niagara County IDA almost single-handedly crashed the Niagara Falls International Airport as well.
Aren’t our water rates already high enough? Haven’t we waited long enough for our airport to make significant gains in helping our tax base? Hasn’t Shirley Hamilton already done enough damage to our community by her intransigence in her even knowing that she didn’t know how to run a community board of management, despite overwhelming evidence, but still refusing to turn the building and charter over to a community group that could?
Why would Kennedy even consider her to be on our Water Board? One has to ask if Shirley Hamilton and Sen. Kennedy really believe that politics matter more than black lives matter, especially the lives of black children.
The answer is seemingly – no!
When the Water Board was established, the intent was that the people of the city got to name the members of their water board through the governor, the state senator and state assembly persons, the city council and the mayor that they, themselves, have elected; and not by a state senator who represents the interests of Buffalo, Cheektowaga and Lackawanna; and a community person who clearly represents her own interests to the detriment of her Niagara County community.
What ever happened to the goodness of names like Kennedy and Hamilton?
There are still many good Kennedys and Hamiltons in the city, but that Kennedy I best remember was the one that 3rd-grade Center Avenue School teacher named Miss Goodwin sobbingly told us in her class that he had been shot in a place called Dallas TX. School was dismissed early that day, and we elementary students waded through the tear-washed faces of the school’s staff as we made our ways home. There, we watched the news on the grainy, small-screened black-and-white television sets that President John F. Kennedy had died.
My parents both cried that day; we all did. And my eyes then danced between the cold images of a dying Kennedy on the television set, and the warm photograph of him that hung on the wall, frozen in time and in pose with my then 75-year-old Uncle Austin T. Walden.
Like me, my Great-Uncle Austin was a military veteran; but much more than me, he was also a civil rights attorney who became historically seated as the first black judge in Georgia since the post-Reconstruction era of 1877. These are not the attributes of Kennedy and Hamilton today. Despite the accolades of both, by Tim Kennedy’s questionable support of Shirley Hamilton, one with a history of callousness, not just for the black community, but for Niagara County at-large, he too will be remembered to be as empty as the lot where the Niagara Community Center once stood.
I can still hear from the graves the cries of my parents about the death of President Kennedy, and I feel the tears of the now-gone generations of ancestors whose children once learned and played at the Niagara Community Center. Their tears make my heart feel like it is being frightfully water-boarded. It should make yours feel likewise, that is, if you actually cared.