Monday, November 23, 2009

Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People: Heal Thyself

My phone was overloaded with messages and I had over 50 emails waiting to be read. My last blog concerning the chaos in the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People sparked a public dialogue that confirmed my premise that the organization is out of touch and viewed as a contentious group with no message, purpose or plan to shift the tide.

Those on the inside have challenged me to join the group and help change things from the inside rather than throw stones at the organization from the outside. The basis for that agenda is rooted in the notion that black folks should keep their business to themselves and hide the dirty laundry from “The Man”. There was a time when the plans of those on the other side hindered the goals of the black community. The mean and calculating spirits of those in white hoods made it difficult for the black community to improve their position. That was then, this is now.

The Durham Committee is so outdated in the way it functions that catching up will take more than a few fresh bodies to fix what aisles them. The biggest obstacle facing the Committee is a major change that alienates people who want to make a difference. Even if I wanted to come back and participate, I can’t vote for the next leader due to my lack of participation.

In the past, anyone could vote for the leadership of the Durham Committee. The only requirements were that you be black and a resident of Durham. The change requires that voters attend two general body meetings each year. This leaves the organization under the control of the few who continue to support the work of the Committee. A person like me would have to attend two meetings while waiting for the next election. You would have to bite your tongue and embrace the agenda of the current leadership. Frankly, that is something I can’t do.

I refuse to participate in a work that goes against much of what I believe. I will not support the divisiveness of the Durham Committee. I will not follow the leadership of a woman who clings to a process that distances the group from those who want to make a difference. I hate the “us” versus “them” philosophy of the Committee. I deplore making assumptions about race and the way people are disqualified from leadership due to the opinions of a few. I regret a practice that fails to connect to the myriad of voices in the community and the failure of the Committee to consider the variety of gifts and positions waiting to be considered.

I loathe being told what is best for me and the people I care about. As much as I want to participate, I’m reminded that I can’t take responsibility for what I didn’t create. The Durham Committee is not the organization I loved when I served as a committee chair under the leadership of Ken Spaulding. Spaulding had a vision that was easy to follow. He wanted to improve housing conditions. He wanted to bridge the racial divide. Spaulding had the organization moving in a different direction.

I’m reminded that my appointment to the Religious and Human Rights Committee was met with controversy. Lavonia Allison led the charge to protest Spaulding’s decision to assign me and William Height, pastor of the Greater St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, as co-chairs. Spaulding went against protocol. The recommendation had come from the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance to the Durham Committee. We began serving under protest.

The battles surrounding that appointment opened my eyes to the agenda’s that hamper solidarity. Spaulding recognized the emergence of new leadership in the city. He mobilized the genius of those waiting to make a difference. Tara Nichols, Glennis and Grace Jones worked tirelessly with the city of Durham to improve housing standards. Then it all stopped. Conflicts of interest led Spaulding to resign and the rest is history. The Committee has not been the same since.

Those within the Committee bear responsibility for what has happened to this once powerful organization. Those on the outside looking in can’t take blame for the sad state of the Committee. They voted on changes that kept us on the outside. They embraced leadership not respected by the majority of black people in the city. They have refused to move to correct the systemic problems that prevent those on the outside from feeling at home.

The Committee should heal itself from within. The fewer than 50 people who keep things moving within the Committee should consider the implications of its decline. Countless men and women are watching from the outside. Chuck Watts, Carl Webb, Ken Lewis, Lois Deloatch, Nnenna Freelon, Phil Freelon, Dante James, Karla Holloway, Dionne Greelee, Aidil Collins, Eric Pristel, Dewayne Marks, Sherrod Banks, Anita Brown-Graham, Sterling Freeman and countless others aren’t a part of the Committee. There are gifted young men and women like my son, King Kenney, who feel alienated from the Committee. Ask them what they think. Listen to what they have to say about a group that has disregarded them for the past 15 years.

Those on the inside say they need for us to participate. I say fix what you messed up and check back with me on the other side. Until then, an election is coming up in December. Who you elect will go a long way in improving that screwed up image you helped create. The bad news is the best in black leadership isn’t present to help lead the way. What a web you have created.

It’s sad what happens when people become obsessed with power.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Endorsement Wars

“I don’t understand why the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People didn’t support good people,” my friend Naomi Quinn asked after the recent election.

Her befuddled glare reflected a disappointment shared by many. The low voter turn-out and wide margin of victory by the incumbents hid the story lurking in the background of the most recent election. The real scoop is the rift between the black incumbents on the City Council and the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People’s power base.

Conversations with Committee insiders unveils a contentious process that included a fiery exchange between Melvin Whitley and Lavonia Allison, Bill Bell barely receiving the endorsement of the powerful Political Committee and the allegation that Howard Clement was told to axe Whitley as his campaign manager or lose the Committee’s endorsement.

“They told Howard to get rid of me or else,” Whitley said. “The Committee has been taken over by Jackie Wagstaff. How did this organization that has been around for 74 years get to the point where they will endorse a candidate that can’t win?”

Those inside the Committee blame Whitley for rousing trouble at Committee meetings. “He calls himself a minister, but the way he acted at those meetings was not of God,” a member who asked to not be identified said. “We were talking about something totally unrelated to what he raised.” Whitley claims it was the lack of a credible process that got under his skin.

The battles between Clement and the Committee began during the primary when Clement made it clear that he didn’t care about the Committee’s endorsement. Members of the Committee had an issue with Clements refusal to pass out the endorsement flyer from the Committee. “We weren’t going to pass it out because Cora wasn’t endorsed,” Whitley said.

What followed was the big story of the election. The four incumbents-Bill Bell, Cora Cole-McFadden, Howard Clement III and Mike Woodard-formed their own PAC and created an endorsement flyer with their names. “Nothing like this has ever happened in Durham,” Whitley said.

Whitley went on to talk about how the Committee has allowed personal agendas to get in the way of sound judgment. Some on the Committee spoke of their desire to replace the current City Council. Four of the newcomers to the political scene-Steven Williams, Sylvester Williams, Darius Little and Donald Hughes-teamed up to fight against the Council. Each campaigned for change, but neither was able to communicate to the public why a takeover was necessary.

The bond between the challengers was exposed in an email Darius Little sent to Sylvester Williams. Williams attacked Little for supporting Howard Clement instead of his write-in-candidacy. The email provides an inside view of the behind the scene working of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. Take a look at part of what Little wrote.

I don't dislike you at all, so it wasn't personal Sylvester. However, when I've busted my chops in the Durham Committee, only to have a person that's never been in there, come in and get more votes than tells me all I need to know: I need to make new friends. I can't imagine how Bill feels after barely getting the endorsement. And that began, by supporting Howard Clement, over a write-in candidate. These people are not villains. And even as my political enemies, when I was running against them, they were nicer to me than those who were supposed to be my allies (alays gossipping and being two-faced). I can do bad by myself and with friends like some of these people, who needs enemies. Luckily for me, I owe nobody a thing but Fred and Thelma White. And my conscience is clear with the Lord bc I operated in the right way. And by not being divisive, as others have been, I've not severed a lot of relationships in the long-term, for temporary gain…

I will go to my grave with the mindframe that people vote based on relationships, not endorsements. You've lived in Durham all your life, never been in legal trouble, are a preacher and I got as many votes as you did. And I've not been in Durham 1/10th the time you have. I had no endorsements, you had 2. People vote on relationships. So I'm building relationships and frankly, establishing a relationship with Howard Clement, his donors and supporters (as he and his family introduced me to all of them last night at his celebration party), helps me more than going against the current council, by supporting a "write-in" that in no way was going to even make a sniff at winning.

Example: at the DCABP endorsement, it was a tie with the Mayor and his challenger. So the old-guard wanted the Mayor out. But in general body, Bill won. How? People vote on relationships and Bill had a couple more established than his challenger. He won, even at his worst. As did Howard. After all that smack talk about Howard working against the committee, not ONE of the Committee's officers got up and made a motion to do a no vote. So, since they were cowards, I joined his campaign. Obviously, they had no problem with what he was doing. Don't be fooled by these people, they talk a good game, but come gametime, will leave you standing there looking silly.

Little’s email raises serious questions related to the role of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. Most troubling is the move among some to oust Bill Bell. Change isn’t always a bad thing, but why would the Committee vote to place the leadership of Durham in the hands of a person with no political experience? The change that was hoped for wasn’t as much about making Durham a better place, but more about making a statement about the power of the endorsement process. Sadly, it all leaves the Durham Committee further disconnected from the Community they seek to serve.

Most black people in Durham are disengaged from the Durham Committee. The only question left to be answered is what will happen now that they are viewed as a joke by those who depend on them for leadership.

It’s hard to understand why the black people on the Committee fought so hard to replace those good black people on the council. I’ve heard a change is gonna come, but what type of change is this?