On the Outside, looking In. A question for the Black community… Why not Howard Eagle?
By Jim Greco
Our schools are failing. And the ones primarily impacted by those failings are mainly poor
children of color. The situation is critical, and the need to act with urgency is crucial. But that urgency is
not there. It exists only in well-spoken words, at opportune times, mostly benefiting the speaker. That is
true in most circles and at all levels. However, I would like to specifically concern this piece with politics
as they exist within Rochester’s black community. Please understand that I offer only thoughts and
questions strictly as an observer and activist.
I have seen the endless parade of would-be candidates running for the City School Board for
over twenty years. I also ran three times during that period. The vision locked in my mind is the
overwhelming number of unqualified and uninvolved candidates who lacked any real knowledge of the
Rochester City School District. Yet, they always seemed to be chosen. I understand the workings of the
political machine. In this case the Monroe County Democratic Party, but I do not understand the black community. How do they accept candidates who can offer no real or meaningful change? Children are suffering the wrath of racism and disenfranchisement. Shouldn’t a sense of urgency within that
community be reflected in its choice of candidate? Several years ago, while running for office, I attended a legislative district meeting for the purpose of gaining the Democratic Party endorsement. The district was predominately black. There were fifteen candidates present. At the end of the questioning, a vote was taken. The candidate placing first, who was a black clergyman, received more votes than all other candidates combined! The unsettling thing was that he literally did not answer a single question the entire night. He simply sat there with his hands folded. The man knew and said nothing and won. How? How did the black community consider this man to be a viable candidate? How is it that some other man wasn’t? In this case, that other man was Howard Eagle.
My experience with Mr. Eagle has shown me that he is a man unafraid to stand up for what he believes, regardless of personal and/or professional consequences. He is also a man who possesses an unrelenting devotion to his people. I witnessed his confrontation of entire faculty at the school where he was teaching. He stood up to express his concern and outrage at the fact that students were passing their English classes, yet could barely read the Global Studies textbook in his class. It wasn’t merely a question. It was an indictment not simply of that school but of the entire school system. How does this happen and how is this allowed to continue? The response from the faculty was basically no response. Their real concern was Mr. Eagle. He is always confrontational. His words are inflammatory. He is angry.
And? How should one deal with injustice and racism? How should someone confront the results of such actions that have so harshly impacted generation after generation of people of color and continue to do so to this very day? Should one ask permission to speak? Should one be told which words and temperaments are acceptable? Maybe in history we can find an answer.
Frederick Douglass was the recipient of the same criticisms. He was confrontational, inflammatory, and unapologetically angry. He was also advised to temper his speech. His responses were defiant, and definitive. He said, “The eye of the reformer is met with angry flashes.” That resistance to reform is unchanged. He added, “With brave men, there is always a remedy for oppression.” The need for confrontation was and still is real. Being criticized for his choice of words in his speeches and writings, he responded, “I will not equivocate. I will not excuse. I will use the severest language I can command.” And in response to his temperament, he declared, “Oppression makes a wise man mad.” Frederick Douglass: confrontational, inflammatory, unapologetically angry, and revered. Unfortunately, true reverence ends with official sanctioning. Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, and
Martin Luther King are all held in high esteem. They are safe in public celebrations in history, and no longer pose a threat unless someone uses their words and temperaments to continue the fight. And once they do, they are tagged with the same criticisms that were once directed at those men. Why?
How do such men gain reverence, but those who follow in their footsteps do not? When did it become unacceptable for a black person to be angry? Did Malcolm X not say “How can a black person living in this country NOT be angry?” Or to be inflammatory? Did Frederick Douglass not say, “It is not the light we need but fire.” I see the same criticisms flung at Mr. Eagle. Not only in the white community but in the black community as well.
Mr. Eagle is a highly intelligent man with more credentials than most of the candidates who have run for the City School Board over the last twenty years. That is more than simply my opinion. He is experienced, knowledgeable, and consistently involved with and committed to the black community. I am on the outside looking in, and I do not understand. Where is his support in that community? How did three Caucasian women with no real ties to that community get elected to the City School Board in the last election?