This letter is not about President Donald Trump. This is not intended to be another litany on the resurgence of blatant racism in our country. This is about the problem of silent African-American leadership on critical issues facing our community.
Frankly, I do not know if it is fear or a dependency on finances of others that has brought most of our Black elected officials to a shameful state of paralysis at a time when leadership is needed from our pulpits, to our schoolboards, city councils, state legislators, and congressional leaders on critical issues from the environment to affordable housing. Our communities rarely, if ever, hear from the people we vote for, addressing our real needs and concerns.
Maybe it’s because they’ve seen too many of our outspoken leaders silenced or in prison. For example, I was so heartbroken to see how castrated our leaders were when Norfolk’s former Treasurer, Anthony Burfoot, was burned by the unequal criminal justice system in Virginia, that sent him to prison and exonerated the former Governor Bob McDonald for similar charges. Our leadership went silent, or protected their own interest, failing to realize that the same unequal criminal justice system is waiting for its next victim.
In Virginia Beach, NFL Hall of Famer, Bruce Smith and others called for a disparity study. They were met with resistance by the mayor who is serving at the mercy of God. But what was amazing was that few Black elected officials joined in the effort to right centuries of wrong. Please note that a backroom silent endorsement is not the public outcry that is expected from those who lead. The backroom brand of leadership is a critical part of our problem. If you’re not prepared to speak publicly against the evils that we face, you’re a part of the problem.
I deliberately delayed writing this letter to the New Journal Guide until after the Primary Elections were held. So now that we know who will be running for both the Democratic and Republican seats, I want to raise some relevant questions to those who want to be elected in November;
1. Other than promising to work on the budget for education, what do you propose doing if elected to rescue Norfolk’s failing schools?
2. What are you willing to do to end the decades of coal dust coming from Norfolk Southern?
3. What would you like to see done in the region to bring down the cost of tolls and to prevent additional tolls?
4. Are you willing to join the groups concerned about economic disparity in our region and state?
5. What are you willing to do to lead our city and state in helping Norfolk State University?
6. What are you willing to do to end the domination of the state budget by a handful of state legislators?
7. What will you do to help with the hiring of minorities and the rate of minority graduation in the state?
8. What is your proposal for the creation of African-American businesses locally and statewide?
9. Are you willing to lead in the re-creation of Afr’Am Fest?
10. What is your vision for the redevelopment of Calvert Square, Young Terrace, and Tidewater Gardens (the Saint Paul’s quadrant)?
I hope that the voters will pay close attention to what you say in private and in public. Your private conversations must also be your public stance.
Reverend Anthony Paige is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church, Lambert’s Point in Norfolk.