Be My Guest

To Understand Black Colleges- Guest Column by Wesley C. Pugh, Ph.D.

It is not my usual intellectual behavior to respond to newspaper – popular print media matters, due to a plethora of reasons – oftentimes being that I have more important activities to engage myself; with one major priority being to teach talented African American (and a select number of equally talented Caucasian as well as Hispanic) students at a Historically Black College / University (HBCU) – Cheyney University of Pennsylvania (the oldest historically degree granting Black College/ University in America).

I am compelled to address Jason Riley’s (September 28, 2010) Wall Street OpEd piece, Black Colleges Need A New Mission (once an essential response to racism, they are now academically inferior); because it carries a message that if left unchallenged, potentially positions readers with a mindset that greatly distorts the vast merits of HBCUs, and does a tragic injustice to African Americans (and others) who have / had any association with such institutions of higher education.

I am a full professor (12 years) who teaches at a HBCU. It is serendipitous that the Riley piece appears one week after The Chronicle of Higher Education published an insightful article, Why I Work at a HBCU , that highlighted the dedication and accentuated the excellence as well as positive intangibles that anyone associated with an HBCU realizes as beyond the measure(s) in which Riley attributes / identifies in his research citations.

Riley’s contention that President Obama needs to “shake up the status quo” of HBCUs, in a fashion similar to the President’s K-12 education reform agenda, is grounded in a logic that highlights his quantitative perspective that “90% of Black students spur” such schools; that in a comparison of standardized tests scores (SATs), no Black college ranks with the “Ivy League” standards; and, the graduation rates of HBCUs are well below the national averages. (I would submit that these statistical profiles also apply to a vast number of predominantly white institutions of higher education.)

While Riley’s editorial may reflect factual evidence, it omits / ignores context – explanation – understanding – and insight into what HBCUs continue to do; have historically done; and, are uniquely equipped to do better (in some / many instances) than
even the “Ivies.”

HBCUs continue to provide an opportunity, and access to the American dream of realizing one’s potential through education in a nurturing environment. While many non-HBCUs and even faceless online educational opportunities have opened up options for African Americans, the millions who continue to “miss-out” on higher education is unconscionable in a country that prides itself on being the beacon of freedom – opportunity and hard work leading to success.

In fact, if the K-12 education reform initiatives of the Obama administration are 50% successful, HBCUs will realize increased enrollments; a higher quality / better prepared student, and be the avenue that millions of urban educated students will travel, because the Ivies and other so-called select universities (predominantly white), will not admit them.

Riley’s editorial focused on standardized test scores, that even many select universities realize do not predict a student’s academic or life success. He cites research from 35 – 40 years ago to call into question the current merits of HBCUs. These are “old views” that were challenged then and shown to lack research credibility beyond the writers’ biased perspectives.

HBCUs educate highly talented young people who oftentimes demonstrate a level of resiliency that is complemented by a vast array of capabilities which the verbal / math sections of the SATs can never capture.

Black colleges/universities are at a crossroads; yet for reasons very different form what Riley posits. HBCUs must be given an opportunity to be put on a level playing field with their white counterparts. That has never occurred.

At Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, not even a $50 million federal civil rights award is enough to compensate for the historical roots of inequities and racism that continue to limit HBCUs from competing successfully with white institutions of higher education.

The sense of quiet intellectual rage by myself and others against Riley’s editorial could go on in a manner that similarly equates to Black Scholars and enlightened White intellectuals in academia who objectionably responded in the late 60’s and early 70’s to Jencks, the Coleman Study, and others’ research that suggested students of color were not intellectually capable of academic success unless “exposed to White classrooms/classmates,” as Riley implies related to the new vision for HBCUs.

As a graduate of Dartmouth College (BA) (attended for 6 months Talladega Colleges—an HBCU); Harvard University (Ed.M.); and the University of Pennsylvania (Ph.D.), the students I teach at Cheyney University, especially in the Master’s Degree thesis class, when I return their drafts for corrections / re-writes, etc.; they have often commented to me, “Are you trying to make us work as a Harvard – Dartmouth – Penn student?”

My response is always the same, “Excellence can be found at any institution of higher education. The Ivy League does not have a lock on excellence!”

The dedication and quality of faculty and administration, as well as the commitment we bring to excellence, when further supported by increased resources, funding and an understanding of what HBCUs continue to do that is uniquely our own method of preparing students for success in America; and maybe with the help of a Black President, the mission of HBCUs (instead of being revisited) can be realized!

Dr. Wesley C. Pugh, a graduate of Dartmouth College, Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania, is a professor at Cheyney University in Pennsylvania.

Point of View Columns

A Secret Revealed


We should all be pleased that education has achieved a new level of importance in the national discourse. The recognition that education is directly related to economic development, quality of life and the public policy direction of this country seems to be spreading to all sectors of society.

The structural and systemic defects in this country’s economy are critical causes of the depression-like effects that too many Americans suffer. Nevertheless, the improvement of this economy is literally impossible without improvement in the educational system. Uneducated boys and girls become unemployed men and women who are limited consumers and then the cycle resumes.

The notion of quality of life encompasses more than food and shelter, or even great food and sumptuous shelter. It also encompasses an appreciation for the arts and literature and music and the consequent government support for those institutions and systems that preserve and encourage the very best that the human spirit can offer.

When too many people have too little education and exposure to these aspects of the quality of life, the institutions and systems that literally define a civilization and its people begin to weaken and are jeopardized. Quite literally, civilization suffers when support for arts and culture becomes politicized as the province of the so-called “ellite”.

It is unarguable that a well-educated citizenry is more likely to be more demanding of the political process. That sound bites and slogans can define a political philosophy is sad and dreadful. That large masses of people can be led with misstatements of facts and tortured analyses of events is dangerous. Basic and fundamental education is not the province of the “elite”, indeed the provenance of compulsory and free public school education has been one of the foundations of the continuing experiment in democracy known as the United States.

Education is not defined as a constitutional right. Of course, neither are food, shelter or healthcare and yet somehow progressive men and women of good will have determined that education, sustenance, shelter and healthcare are hallmarks of a compassionate, good and smart society and should be supported by the appropriate institutions of the government.

And now that education has taken its rightful place in the forefront of public discussion the critiques and proposed solutions swirl around us in a blizzard-like fashion. And sometimes it’s difficult to get a clear vision of the present and the future, much less the past.

What is clear is that there are substantial areas for improvement in American public education. Most indicia and criteria rank American schools and students behind too many developed countries. What is also clear is that in a characteristically American approach, more money is being spent of public education than ever before. So the root problem may not just be about the resources available for education, but rather how those resources are allocated.

We hear the debates regarding public schools versus charter schools versus private schools with vouchers thrown in for good measure. The teachers’ unions are alternatively seen as the problem or an indispensable partner in the progression towards positive change. And we all seem to realize that the opportunity of a lifetime for every child in school becomes less attainable every day that right choices are not made when it comes to education.

Palatial schools with computers at every desk will not be enough to turn the tide. Fully incentivized teachers who are especially-trained in their areas of discipline will not be enough to make a difference. None of the proposals will be enough without a major and categorical shift in the attitude of American parents towards education.

We live in a country where 30%-40% of the children are obese or on their way to that sad condition. Very few children are born obese – clearly there is a parenting element that has not been addressed. It is difficult to believe that a parent who is sufficiently detached from their child’s physical well-being is going to be fully engaged on the topic of educational well-being.

This is an issue that transcends race, economic status and geography. Wealthier parents may pay for more services at a private school, but too often it is with the intent that the school will provide the oversight, supervision and inspiration that is not found at home. In less privileged households that oversight, supervision and (most importantly) inspiration goes missing.

Most teachers will gladly tell you that the greatest challenge in their job is not the school building or the salary or the students. It is parents who do not instill a respect for education in their children.

It is the parents who stubbornly remain disengaged from this most important and sacred of parenting obligations. It is the parents who demand that schools teach but do not help their children to learn to be good students in terms of their behavior, language, mode of dress and attitude.

The secret to our education dilemma that rarely gets the spotlight is the parents. No one can expect the education system to become some magic black box that takes children in on one end and turns out well-educated and contributing members of society on the other.

Knowing that parents are the unspoken problem in too many instances, the rest of the education system cannot get a pass. No child chooses their parents and the randomness of birth should not fully determine his/her future.

School systems and educators will have to be more creative and more innovative in reaching children who lack full and proper parental support. If football and basketball coaches can do it history and science teachers can as well.

They must.

Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – September 24, 2010

Summer has departed. A disappointing season to be sure, too hot, too angry and too crazy. Autumn usually promises a cooling a soothing moment before arid chill of winter, but probably not this year:

The Tea Party at the Gates

There has been much talk about the Tea Party movement and how it represents a populist surge that is therapeutic and cleansing. It has been likened to being a high colonic for the body politic.

But nothing in politics is ever that simple. There are deep seated resentments and restrained urges towards meanness that are now in the light of day, having been given legitimacy by a seemingly supine Republican Party leadership.
Current G.O.Tea Party Republican candidates for Senate promise to bring an agenda to Washington that does not seem to be therapeutic.

There is one candidate who believes that unemployment insurance may be unconstitutional (Miller – Alaska). There is another who believes that women in the military vitiate the preparedness of the American armed forces (O’Donnell – Delaware). We can’t forget the candidate who questions the legitimacy of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Paul – Kentucky). And then there is the potential United States Senator who proposes to abolish the Department of Energy and the Department of Education as well as Social Security for good measure (Angle – Nevada).

I wish that someone would ask Michael Steele or Mitch McConnell or John McCain or Sarah Pailin if they really believe in this madness. Prior inquiries have been greeted with pabulum-like homilies about the right of the local electorate to express itself. But, of course, the United States Senate passes national legislation that affects everyone in this country.

Does Michael Steele really believe that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should be reconsidered? As an African American Mr. Steele and his family personally benefited from this historic legislation, does he give Rand Paul a pass on this one?

John McCain has spent his entire life in the military and has always been a supporter of women serving in the armed forces of this country. Is he prepared to support Christine O’Donnell and her antediluvian views on this subject?

Sarah Palin presumes to belong to America now, but she never hesitates to refer to her Alaskan roots. No state has benefited more from the policies of the Department of Energy than Alaska. Is she prepared to correct Sharron Angle on this subject?

Clearly there is anger and resentment and bitterness flowing through this country. Candidates who channel that anger can be successful in the short term. But if those emotions are only channeled in a destructive direction Steele, McCain, Palin, etc. may regret reaping what they have sown. And so will the rest of us.

War Without End

“You have to recognize also that I don’t think you win this war. I think you keep fighting. It’s a little bit like Iraq, actually. . . . This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids’ lives.”……General David Petraeus from Obama’s War by Robert Woodward

This one quote from Robert Woodward’s new book is chilling and sad and heartbreaking. If the military proponents of the war in Afghanistan do not believe that the war is “winnable”, however that may be defined, then why are hundreds upon thousands of men, women and children going to die as a result of that war?

It is clear to many that the security of the American homeland is not tied to the war in Afghanistan in terms of protecting the citizens of this country. The security of this country is undoubtedly endangered by the anger and resentment arising from the collateral deaths of thousands of civilians sucked down into the cauldron of war. And yet, this country still goes forward in this war without end.

The Mouths of Gift Horses

There is an old saying about not looking a gift horse in the mouth. A fairly benign advisory needs to be brushed off given the events of this Friday.

On September 24th, Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook and said to be worth over $7 billion, will announce a gift of $100 million to the Newark (New Jersey) school system. This gift represents 10% of the annual budget for that city’s school system and is by far the largest individual gift that it has ever received. Newark Mayor Corey Booker will accept this gift on the Oprah Winfrey show. So what could be wrong with this picture?

Some critics are carping that Mr. Zuckerberg is making this gift because an uncomplimentary bio-pic entitled “The Social Network” is opening in theaters at the same time. Somehow, this $100 million donation to the children and teachers and administrators and parents in Newark is supposed to blunt or deflect the inevitable criticism that will flow after “The Social Network” hits the silver screens of the world.

The thought that comes to my mind is “Who cares?” Tens of thousands of people will benefit from Mr. Zuckerberg’s largesse. In this era of naked and rampant greed and selfishness perhaps a few more of the mega wealthy men and women of this country will use the fig leaf of charity to hide their nakedness.

Carnegie, Rockefeller, Morgan, Ford and many others have done it. If Mark Zuckerberg wants to burnish his image by doing undeniably good and charitable work, here’s hoping that a few more tycoons, athletes, rappers and bankers follow his lead.

Have a great weekend!

Point of View Columns

G.O.Tea Party

It was with great interest and no small sense of irony, that I read a recent article about Democrats debating whether or not to link the Republican Party to the Tea Party movement that is surging and deluging the right wing of the right wing. I actually wonder if predicate debates involved determining if the sky is in fact blue or if the law of gravity is a scientific fact.

My unsolicited advice is to simply state the facts – the Republican Party has become the carrier for the virulence and ugliness that is the Tea Party and is as dangerous and as toxic as the legendary Typhoid Mary or Gaetan Dugas, also known as Patient Zero (reputed as having been responsible for introducing the AIDS virus to North America).

The historical legitimacy and institutionalized stature of the G.O.P. has been hijacked and has been used to camouflage the nihilism and racism and extremism that are the true hallmarks of the Tea Party movement. And the traditional Republican leadership has been a willing participant to the hijacking, kind of like the Stockholm Syndrome gone wild.

Exhibit A: The REPUBLICAN senatorial candidate in Nevada, a Tea Party alumna by the name of Sharron Angle, is on record as saying that if a woman is impregnated as the result of rape she should not be permitted to have an abortion. Instead, according to Ms. Angle, the woman should look to “make lemonade from a lemon moment” and forego abortion and have a baby conceived by force and violence. Not one Republican leader has refused to support Ms. Angle’s candidacy.

Exhibit B: The REPUBLICAN senatorial candidate in Delaware, another Tea Party savant by the name of Christine O’Donnell, is on record as saying that women in the American military academies tends to weaken the capabilities of the armed services. Despite the fact that women in the military as an issue was decided many years ago, Ms. O’Donnell felt compelled to dredge up the bones of this moldy corpse of discrimination. Not one major Republican leader has refused to support Ms. O’Donnell’s candidacy despite the fulminations of Karl Rove to the contrary (he is supporting her, by the way).

Exhibit C: The REPUBLICAN gubernatorial candidate in New York, a Tea Party troglodyte by the name of Carl Paladino, has admitted to distributing e-mails containing pornography, titles like “Run Nigger Run” and has referred to the Jewish Speaker of the New York State “the ant-Christ”. While it is amazing that thousands of New Yorkers would find Mr. Paladino qualified to serve as governor, it is even more amazing that not a single Republican leader is sufficiently repulsed or revolted by his commentary to speak out against him.

We are witness to the Republican Party hierarchy remaining silent while their Tea Party spawn refers to President Obama as Hitler and an enemy of America. We have heard Republican candidates and wannabe candidates use terms like socialist, communist and Nazi when referring to President Obama and his Administration and I no longer wonder when they will hit bottom. The answer is never.

The silence of the Republicans, and too many Democrats and independents, is dangerous because hyperbole begets more hyperbole until the entire political discourse becomes overheated and potentially destructive. When “the tree of liberty must be watered by the blood of tyrants” becomes a campaign slogan we should be concerned. When “Second Amendment solutions to our political issues” becomes a political strategy we should be afraid.

America does not do metaphor very well. Not too long ago a misguided fool and Tea Party advocate flew his plane into an IRS office building to protest big government. He not only killed himself, he also killed an innocent IRS employee who thought he was serving his country and was not its enemy. We should be afraid to ask what is next.

But we should not be afraid to speak out against the madness that is being foisted upon the American people. The bright light of public attention and scrutiny must shine on the bizarre, fallacious and misanthropic rants and ravings that are thinly disguised as campaign rhetoric.

In point of fact we are witness to an effort designed to fundamentally change this country. Talk of “taking this country back” is not idle chatter. This is a clarion call to take this country back into a time when civil rights and social compassion were simply not a part of the national dialogue. It is a call to take this country back into the hands of an almost entirely white, monochromatic segment of this population, relegating everyone else into the class of the “other”.

That is why the Lower Manhattan Islamic center controversy is so important. Today it is the Muslims and the Arabs. Tomorrow it is the immigrants who can be racially profiled. It is always the black people and the day after it may be gays or Jews or any other “other”. The stampede towards mindless prejudice in the name of some barely articulated concept of patriotism and nationalism is a story that has been told many times in history. It never has a happy ending.

It is time for those of us who have a different vision to be heard. Silence would be a greater sin than all the clarion call for injustice.

Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – September 17, 2010

Fall has arrived. Once the NFL season begins in earnest there is no meteorological dispute. Summer may officially depart next week, but autumn has definitely arrived. And, now that all of the midterm primaries are concluded, the silly but deadly serious season has also arrived:

Enough is Enough!!!
In the most recent edition of Forbes magazine, an article, “How Obama Thinks” written by Dinesh D’Souza needs to be read at – I commend this piece of journalistic offal posing as an erudite analysis of President Obama because it calls our attention to the very deep and deadly dangers coursing through the veins of the body politic these days. Please read this one quote from this damned and damnable architect of hate and confusion:

“Our president is trapped in his father’s time machine. Incredibly, the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s. This philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anticolonial ambitions, is now setting the nation’s agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son.”

To make matters worse Newt Gingrich, that well-known paragon of justice, fairness and intelligent insight, picked up D’Souza’s filthy baton and ran another few media laps with it. Gingrich proclaimed that the bizarre and illogical analysis articulated by D’Souza clearly demonstrates the dangerous path that President Obama has chosen for these United States.

I think that it’s about time to understand and to clearly state that the critiques and criticisms being directed against Barack Obama have little or nothing to do with policy differences and are most certainly rooted in the ancient muck of racism and bigotry. The fact that Forbes magazine would print such a scurrilous and intellectually useless article about the President of the United States can only be explained by the deep seated racial and ethnic prejudices that still infect this country.

If we continue to wait for “reasonable” conservatives and mainstream pundits to finally say enough is enough, we will be waiting for a very long time. And it is not enough to shrug off pseudo intellectuals like D’Souza and wannabe leaders like Gingrich, assuming that most of the American public will not take this foolishness seriously.

Consider that more Americans think that Barack Obama is a Muslim today than when he was elected President. More Americans today think that Barack Obama was born outside of the United States (and therefore is not legitimately the President) than before he was elected to the office.

While the Obama presidency is submitted to a death of a thousand rhetorical cuts, too many of his supporters have remained mute. It is clearly time to push the “unmute” button before the waves of disinformation, distraction and pure hate that are spewing over the national landscape become insurmountable.

You can comment on, you can ask your elected officials to speak on your behalf. This is the media era, you can send in your own op-ed articles or comment on Point of View. The point is – DO SOMETHING! Enough is enough!

Remember 9/15
Just as it will always be important to remember 9/11, we should never forget September 15, 1963. It was on that day, a Sunday, in the morning in Birmingham, Alabama that bloody and vicious aspects of racism surfaced again in this country. This time through the bombing of a church that resulted in the deaths of four black girls.

This awful and unspeakable act was damnable in the absolute. What was worse is that the bombing was intended to kill the young people in the choir who were about to prepare for the church services.

And what was the offending act that motivated this bestial outrage? It was the sustained and extended protests by the black community in Birmingham against racial discrimination in the city and state and country in which they lived.
Ultimately the disgust and dismay engendered by the Birmingham church bombing added to the rising tide of sentiment and common sense that resulted in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawing most types of racial segregation and discrimination throughout Alabama and the rest of the United States.

So in a very real way the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a memorial to the four black girls who were killed on September 15, 1963 along with the hundreds and thousands of other black and white people who died and suffered in furtherance of the greatest social change in this country in the twentieth century.

And it is this same Civil Rights Act that Tea Party activists, conservative Republicans and so-called strict constitutional constructionists would eviscerate or eliminate if given the opportunity to do so. Rand Paul, the Republican candidate for senator in Kentucky is on record as saying that he would not have voted for this bill if he was a senator in 1964. United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has publicly cast doubts on the constitutional viability of this historic legislation and has gone further to say that he would have voted against the majority in the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision that ruled that racially segregated schools were unconstitutional.

As November 2nd and election day approaches, it is important to note that those who would dismiss the meaning and import of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – which now addresses issues of discrimination in addition to racism, such as gender discrimination and rights for the disabled – are dismissing a major moment in the history of this country.

That Act was the result of sacrifice and dedication and determination to change this country. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a memorial to many sacrifices and those who dismiss it dishonor those sacrifices and the men and women…………and children who died in making it a reality.

Whatever Happened To……Fairness?
Advocates of messages of every sort are regularly counseled to “stay on message”. Whatever distracting facts or circumstances might arise, it is important to stick to the basic themes of that message.

I had always believed, however, that news reporting was supposed to present the facts, not a message. Clearly that message has not gotten through to Mr. Raymond Hernandez, a reporter for The New York Times.

On September 14th the Democratic primary election in New York had a number of interesting results. The primary that garnered national attention was the one that involved Congressman Charles Rangel.

There have been some supporters of Congressman Rangel who are of the opinion that one source of his travails and adversity has been the press. It is a very subjective perspective indeed, and one not easily proven or supported by facts.

And yet…..I was at the Rangel campaign celebration on the evening of September 14th and I witnessed a large and jubilant crowd at the Uptown Grand supper club in Harlem. At 11:30 p.m. Congressman Rangel gave a rousing speech after his electoral victory had been confirmed.

Mr. Rodriguez reported that this speech was given to a crowd of 75 people.
Having been present I was surprised, as were other attendees, to read in the September 15th edition of the Times that 75 people were in attendance as we collectively recalled a crowd of at least 200 and perhaps closer to 300 were in attendance at precisely 11:30 p.m.

It is hard to believe that a trained and respected reporter like Mr. Rodriguez could be off the mark by a factor of 3 or 4 in estimating the crowd. It is even harder to believe that he and his colleagues at the Times would be complicit in some effort to intentionally diminish the size of the crowd cheering Rangel.

But that subjective perspective regarding the press and Congressman Rangel held by more than a few is a little bit easier to understand.

Have a great weekend!

Be My Guest

Never Forget – Guest Column by William Burgess III

Sunday, September 15, 1963 at 11:00AM

Today marks the 47th Anniversary of the terrorist Bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church in my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama and the tragic death of 4 friends of mine.

Bless their souls & supreme sacrifice for our freedom.

Never forget,

William Burgess is the President of The Burgess Group – Corporate Recruting International – He was a pallbearer at 3 of the 4 girls’ funerals (Carol Robinson/14, Cynthia Wesley/14 & Denise McNair/11 yrs. old).

William H. Burgess, III
The Burgess Group – Corporate Recruiters International, Inc.

Excerpts from "The Pride"

The Pride – Chapters 13 & 14

Chapter 13
And so it begins…….

As I sit listening to Miles Davis riff his way through “Silent Way” with a young Chick Corea, I still can remember so many details of Winner’s memorial service. I certainly remember how cold that day was. I don’t think I will forget my sunrise dalliance with Lisette anytime soon. And it would be hard to ever forget that surreal and bizarre encounter with Bonita Woolsey.

As the doors of the church opened, the chilled early morning mourners eased their way through the massive wooden doors, searching for their assigned seats so that they could assess the status which had been accorded to them and to others. These things were very important to some people.

I was simply looking for my seat, which I knew would be in a “special” row given my relationship with Winner. As I turned to go down the center aisle however, I happened to run into Ed Koch, the former mayor of the City of New York.

Ed Koch had been defeated by David Dinkins in his bid for a fourth term as mayor. He had been mayor for so long that some younger New Yorkers thought Koch’s first name was “Mayor”. When he was first elected mayor by a coalition of blacks and Puerto Ricans and liberals who found him to be far more progressive than the more “questionable” Mario Cuomo (who later became governor of New York), it was fully and absolutely expected that Ed Koch, the never-married Greenwich Village citizen and native New Yorker, would move forward in the liberal tradition of Robert Wagner, John Lindsay and Robert Kennedy.

Ed Koch fooled everyone. He turned out to be the Democratic Mayor of New York who had no problems endorsing of Ronald Reagan. He turned out to be the Mayor of New York City who actually bragged about closing the hospitals in the historically black communities of Harlem and Bedford Stuyvesant.

Ed Koch turned out to be the Mayor of New York City who wanted to be portrayed as the one white politician in New York City who would “stand up” to the swarming black and brown mobs who always wanted something, who always wanted more, more and more, who always wanted something for nothing. He was the one Mayor of New York City who would call a spade a spade (so to speak), and not bother to apologize. He was Rudolph Giuliani before there was Giuliani – or maybe it was the other way around.

Koch was elected at the end of the Sordid Seventies in New York City. It was a time which had witnessed the President of the United States telling the town and its indomitable people to “drop dead” during its legendary financial crisis. It was a time when the moniker “Sin City” had replaced John Lindsay’s “Fun City”.

Being the astute and seasoned politician that he was, Koch decided that he would found his administration on the twin pillars of High Ideals and Good Government. By getting the reformers and good government types on his side, he would be free to show his real colors when the time suited his purposes.

Prior to his actual inauguration as mayor, he decided to demonstrate his belief in Good Government by selecting only “The Best” as the commissioners who would preside over the Byzantine complex known as New York City government. He established an almost infinite number of screening panels, one for each of the over thirty departments.

These panels were composed of experts who, in many instances, were in serious need of a life. After all, the Parks Department panel was composed of people who spent their every waking moment worrying about New York City parks (to each his own). Each panel was supposed to interview every possible nominee to be commissioner of their area of expertise. It was not a pretty sight and only the brave needed to apply.

The final part of Koch’s Good Government Plan was that he would interview the top three survivors of this veritable Iroquois Gauntlet. As fate would have it, he found himself interviewing me, one Paul Taylor, a young, black, Ivy League-type, who was a candidate to be Commissioner of the New York City Department of Human Rights.

In 1977, that position really meant something. Legends and leading lights like Eleanor Holmes Norton had held the job in the past. I had no way of knowing that Ed Koch had other plans for that job in the future – namely evisceration.

I remember that we met in the basement of a nondescript office building on Park Avenue. I also remember that I was focused and locked in and ready for this job interview. At the time I really wanted to be the next Commissioner of Human Rights of the City of New York. I had come to feel that it was my destiny. I had already convinced myself that I was by far the best person for the position.

I had read everything about the job. I had done my research. I had already drafted a series of bold and brilliant new initiatives and proposals that was going to put into effect in my first ninety days in office.

I knew everything about the job. I was ready for anything that the new mayor could ask me. I wasn’t arrogant or cocky. I was just supremely confident. I was ready.

And then, after shaking hands and going through some perfunctory resume questions, he asked his first substantive question. A question which I presumed was meant to begin his serious inquiry into my qualifications for the position of Commissioner of Human Rights for the City of New York.

“Do you have any white friends?”

There was a nanosecond or two of shock, disbelief and realization before I could say anything. I felt as if I had either lost my hearing or my mind. I tried desperately to recover my equilibrium.

“Excuse me?”

“Do you have any white friends?”

I have had many interviews and conducted many interviews before and since that fateful meeting. One thing I have learned is that there are times when you know that you have the job or client, no matter what, and there are times when you know that even if you could stand on your head and spit gold doubloons, you are not going to get the job.

Initially I was shocked, that Ed Koch, someone that I knew, albeit tangentially, could ask such a stupid, asinine, bullshit, racist and idiotic question. I could not believe my ears! And then I composed myself and got a grip. I recognized the situation for what it was.

Ed Koch had no intention of appointing me to this job. His mind had been made up long before he came into the room. And then the perverse streak that I harbor and nurture, a side of me that is rarely exposed to the light of day. It slipped its leash and made its appearance on center stage.

“Actually Mr. Mayor, there are very few people who I call friends, and none of them are white But, I do know a few white people if that would help. I actually think I can remember their names if you give me a minute to think.”

No response to the response. And I must confess to some disappointment as I was hoping to engage in a little rhetorical fandango with this knucklehead who presumed to dupe so many millions. Ed Koch had an agenda that would not be denied. And it his mindset was certainly not going to be disturbed, much less derailed, by a wisecracking nonentity who wasn’t even going to be in his administration.

“What do you think is the reason for the high level of anti-Semitism in the black community?”

A Greek chorus in the back of my mind started chanting “Oh shit!” over and over. The issue was no longer whether or not I would get the job. The question was would I have to fight my way out of the small cubicle in which this interview was being conducted? Koch was not a small guy. And I knew that his biography was lavish in its reference to his being a real deal combat veteran. But the perverse side of me was not going to back down. No way. The fun had just begun.

“Well Mr. Mayor, its not that we black people hate Jews. We just hate all white people and in many instances, particularly in the ghettos where we live, Jews are usually the only white people that we see. Actually, the black Jews in Harlem don’t have a problem at all.”

There were some perfunctory parting words and that was pretty much the end of the interview. Not only did I not get the job, I didn’t even get a “regrets” letter thanking me for my interest. After that dance with the devil, nothing that Ed Koch did as mayor ever surprised me.

As I was escorted to my seat by a white-gloved usher (about five rows from the front, immediately behind the Tomlinson family members) there was not too much time to dwell on my Ed Koch saga. As visions of the former mayor evanesced into forgetfulness, I do remember thinking that Winner would have loved the white glove touch, although in his earlier years he had been nothing like a white glove type of guy.

It was getting close to show time. It was time to absorb and observe. The memorial service for Winner Tomlinson was another occasion and another reason for The Pride to gather.


Introducing……. Diedre and The Pride

The Pride is the term that I have used to refer to the black men and women, lions and lionesses actually, who have risen to prominence on Wall Street, in corporate America, and in the canyons of its law firms, accounting firms and management consulting agglomerations.

Being in New York, I am, of course, speaking of the New York version of The Pride. But The Pride is in Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Philadelphia, Washington, Miami, New Orleans, Oakland, San Francisco, Denver, St. Louis and Los Angeles. Actually, The Pride is to be found all over America.

As a charter member of The Pride, I know that we are the beneficiaries of the seismic changes that hit America in the sixties and seventies. It was a change that allowed some black men and women to actually achieve on the basis of their ability and some limited opportunity.

The Pride consists of some of the most interesting, talented, intelligent, bizarre, insufferable, heroic, treacherous and memorable people that I can ever hope to know. I don’t kid myself, whatever I see in The Pride, the good and the bad, is in me too.

Many of them I genuinely like and some I love like brothers and sisters. Others are just too grasping, self-centered and opportunistic to suit my tastes. However, these are character traits that have virtually insured their success in these United States of America.

As I sit here now, pleasantly ensconced in my Sugar Hill townhouse, I know that I cannot afford to be too self-righteous or judgmental. After all, on that cold winter day, I sat in the sixth pew wearing a custom-tailored Giorgio Armani suit with a shirt sewn to my specifications by a Romanian shirt maker on West 43rd Street named Georges Tourvarian. My solid gold cufflinks were from Zimbabwe and the tie that I just happened to wear that day I had picked up at a little shop just off Bloomsbury Square in London. I know that The Pride is a part of me and I am a part of The Pride.

But as I sat there that morning, I couldn’t help but feel that I was a participant in some kind of surreal game. I have always known game when I saw it, and this was one of those times.

After all, most of the members of The Pride who were in attendance were certainly not there out of love or respect for Winner Tomlinson. They were there out of curiosity or speculation. They were there because there was business to be done, contacts to be made, acquaintances to be refreshed and refurbished.

I am not being judgmental. Its part of the American way of doing business, and there is no reason to begin to suggest that the charter members of The Pride would conduct their business any differently.

Consider this analogy: Dr. James Naismith put a peach basket on a wall and “invented” the game of basketball. It was meant to be an exercise regimen for football players in the off-season. But after Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Michael Jordan and Fly Williamson got involved, the game became The Game.

Business and finance and politics have danced a dance for many years in this country. But the dance never saw the likes of Bonita Woolsey, Gordon Perkins, Edwin Tomlinson or……….Diedre Douglas.

“Hello Paul. No surprise seeing you here. You do seem unusually thoughtful this morning. I hope you don’t mind if I join you?”

The always intoxicating fragrance of Ivoire de Balmain announced the arrival of my ex-wife as she slipped into the pew and somehow materialized next to me. I have always tried to pay attention at such events and to this day it still amazes me that she was able to appear at my side and surprise the hell out of me.

I don’t think of myself as some kind of all-knowing, ever-vigilant Yoda prototype. Nevertheless, I would like to think that I would have some vestigial awareness of the fact that my ex-wife was in the house.

But then Diedre Douglas has always been something of a surprise. She has always been a luminous presence and a wondrous woman.

“Good morning Diedre. Now I know this is an important event, if the divine Miss Douglas is making an appearance!” I spoke sotto voce.

“Don’t yank my chain Paul. It’s too cold and too early for your usual nonsense. At least try for an original line or two.”

It has always amazed me how Diedre could use words to cut to the bone. More amazingly, I have never seen or felt the blade, until it was too late. Every time, it has been too late. This was yet another one of those times.

“With all due respect to Winner, it looks like the usual suspects are filing in. No surprise there.”

“No, Diedre, I guess there is no surprise. The surprise would be if the usual suspects didn’t show for something like Winner’s memorial service.”

I couldn’t help but noticed the understated by entirely elegant black dress with purple trim that she was wearing. I am no expert on women’s clothing, but I would have bet that it came from the St. John’s collection. Of course, that would only be a guess on my part.

Even though the mink that she wore was also understated, I am certain that it cost a year’s salary for some midlevel corporate executive. Even now, when I think of her wearing that mink I have to smile at the thought of the next part of our conversation.

“Lovely fur you’re wearing, by the way.”

“How kind of you to notice, Mr. Taylor. What happened, did you take your “happy” pills this morning? Or is there a teenage cheerleader convention going on in town that has you in such a pleasant mood?”

“Ouch! You should be careful with that tongue of yours. You’re using live ammo today.”

“I’ll thank you to leave my tongue out of this conversation.”

Diedre has always had a way of delivering lines in an absolutely stern fashion with only the hint of a flash of humor that dances through those large and lovely eyes of hers for the briefest of moments. I thought that I saw that flash that morning. Was that double entendre or was it just my imagination, running away with me?There was no way that I could be sure. So I continued.

“Duly noted, Ms. Douglas. But have you noticed how many of your sisters are wearing lovely furs this morning? I mean, the fur is flying this morning!”

“No Paul, I did not notice. But now that you mention it there is some excellent taste in furs being shown here this morning. What’s your point?”

We were able to carry on this conversation more or less freely, as the doors of the Riverside Church were now wide open and the invited guests were streaming in. Even as people tried to maintain proper decorum and solemnity there was a great deal of energy in the air. Our conversation was not particularly noticeable.

“Well Diedre, even my untrained and unsophisticated eye can see minks of every description–nutria, blackglama, what have you. I have seen beaver, sable, fox, raccoon and ocelot. But doesn’t it make you wonder why, at a high profile event like this, we haven’t seen one animal rights activist. Doesn’t that surprise you in the least?”

This was not the first time that I had raised this issue with a woman of color, so Diedre’s response didn’t surprise me in the least. However, even though I had known the woman for twenty years at the time, the crystalline gravity and sheer intensity of her response took me by surprise. As she arched her eyebrows I knew that I had treaded on very thin ice indeed.

“Paul, my dear, you don’t see any animal rights activists here because they know that they would have the living Jesus beaten out of them if they even thought about spilling paint on one of these sisters.
“I’ve got to tell you, as a black woman I have to put up with indignities every day that you men can’t even dream about. I have to take shit from white men, white women and my beloved black brothers. I will be goddamned to hell if I would let some chucklehead who cares more about a glorified rat than black children in Harlem or Tunica put a drop of paint on anything that I own and have earned. Anything!”

There was silence between us as I absorbed what Diedre had told me and reflected upon it. In all the years of protests concerning the wearing of leopard, raccoon and mink furs, I realized that I have never ever seen even a tiny story or article about paint being thrown upon a black woman wearing a fur coat.

A few people spoke disapprovingly about Aretha Franklin after she wiped out an entire species of fox to get the fur for the outfit that she wore to Bill Clinton’s first inauguration. But I don’t recall any cans of Sherwin Williams being opened in protest of her outfit. Talk is cheap and hospital bills are not.

In fact, ever since that conversation with Diedre, I have paid more attention to this subject. I am still waiting for the brave and noble animal rights crusader who loves those cute little minks so much he or she is willing to risk their lives by throwing a can of Malaccan Cinnamon Crimson Red Dutch Boy paint on a female member of The Pride in a mink coat.

The sense I get is that activist would be dead before the last droplets of red paint hit the ground as cunningly concealed scimitars, Uzis, stilettos and tridents were drawn from scabbards, holsters and other unknown and unspeakable hiding places. I have to confess that it would certainly be worth the price of admission at any price.

Diedre’s comments rang sure and true. And on a very real level I could understand what she meant. Even after all the master’s degrees and Perry Ellis outfits and American Express Platinum credit cards, as a black woman she had to stand guard over her dignity, her self esteem, her personhood. There was no telling from which direction the next dignity-denying assault might come.

This was deeper water than I had anticipated in initiating this conversation. Maybe, just maybe, I thought, Diedre and I might have an opportunity to talk like human beings again. At the time I had no idea of what fate had in store for the both of us. For the moment, we both realized that it was best to just let the intensity of the moment pass so that we could resume our role as voyeurs.

Point of View Columns

To Stop “Stop Snitching”

Our days swirl with news and commentaries from all over the world. Some seem to come directly from outer space without even slowing down while going through the ozone layer.

The midterm elections have a back to the future aspect as prospective voters ponder the advisability of rebuking the policies of President Obama and going back to the policies of the Republicans who promise not to be inept, profligate and deceptive……..anymore.

We have a true loon of a pastor in Florida threatening to burn Korans in protest of Lord knows what. The predictable uproar from the global Islamic community (which has been famously offended by cartoons and novels in the recent past) was actually drowned out by the stentorian tones of the White House and the Vatican condemning this literally inflammatory stunt.

And, not to be outdone, the likes of Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin predictably felt compelled to step into the lower Manhattan Islamic cultural center imbroglio. And that’s when we started to hear about analogies of Muslims to Nazis and comparing the building of the cultural center to the burning of Korans. And if your head is already spinning, get a supply of Dramamine for the next few months because it is going to be a bumpy ride.

The war in Afghanistan rages while the economy continues to be a bubbling brew of bad news with a touch of hope. There are issues relating to the environment and health and education that simply won’t wait until Congress comes to its senses and realizes that now is not only the time, it’s the only time.

It is, therefore, understandable that we may lose focus on the day to day events that are truly life and death in nature. Take, for instance, the now six year old slogan to “Stop Snitching” which has been in use in many urban communities. The slogan is meant to encourage witnesses to crimes to refuse to cooperate with law enforcement authorities, presumably so that the perpetrators of the crimes will not be caught. And this results in the perpetrators being free to commit more crimes against the friends, family and neighbors of the witnesses.

This mindless, self-destructive bit of inner city marketing has been co-opted and copied by suburban youths or all ethnicities and hues, in the name of “keeping it real”. And somehow, six years after “Stop Snitching” first was heard on some miscellaneous rap video, the slogan and its underlying theme continues to be part of the contemporary lexicon.

The leaders and members of racist and racialist organizations from the Knights of the White Magnolia to the Ku Klux Klan to Posse Comitatus have racked their pea-brains for years trying to come up with new and innovative ways to strike terror and fear into the hearts of black Americans. By torchlight and by fluorescent lamps they have hoped and wished and prayed for ways to bring dismay and hopelessness into black communities throughout this country.

But if they combined their double digit IQ’s and came up with their very best idea, the racists and racialists couldn’t come up with a better tool to implement their evil designs than “Don’t Snitch”. And the sad part is that this slogan was created by black people for black people. And the even sadder part is that since most black Americans are indeed law abiding citizens and not criminals, it is only the vicious and predatory element of the community that can benefit from the specious notion that cooperating with law enforcement to help catch a murderer or rapist or thief is “snitching” and therefore wrong.

We are well aware of depredations and lawlessness exhibited by too many police in too many communities. The perception and reality of police brutality and misconduct in minority communities remain stubborn challenges for local governments and law enforcement. But if you ask the mother or father of any young black boy about the greatest danger that their child faces on the streets of Nashville, Los Angeles, New York or any other urban location, they will tell you that it is not the police.

Errant, arrogant and indefensible police misconduct occurs on too many occasions. Violent, murderous, misogynistic and senseless violence is perpetrated by black Americans against black Americans every day. The single most frequent cause of death for a young black man is another young black man. If the Klan was killing black people at the annual rates achieved by other black people there would be protests and claims of genocide being practiced.

Because the actors in this sad tragedy are black people – killing other black people – there are no massive protests. Instead we get “Stop Snitching” which some people think of as a quaint and quirky bit of urban culture. Some people think is darkly humorous. And too many people take it seriously. The prosecutors and police in just about every urban center can recount case after case – for murder, rape, robbery, child molestation – that has to be abandoned because witnesses cannot be found or the witnesses refuse to testify.

There are so many challenges that exist in the cities of this country. Some are systemic in origin and many are being addressed by strong, bright and creative men and women who understand that challenges can be met and overcome. The total elimination and eradication of “Stop Snitching” would be another important step in the right direction.

Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – September 10, 2010

Summer only has a few more official days to go – already it seems as if the fall season is upon us. The run up to the November elections is already so intense it seems that we should get ready for two months of breathless reporting on every poll result and the uttering of every pundit and politician. In the meantime, the beat goes on:

I wish that there was a way to give no notice whatsoever to Terry Jones, the loopy minister in Gainesville, Florida who proposes to burn 200 Koran’s this Saturday. He has managed to gather attention from the White House to the Vatican to every major news organization in the world.

As I see it, the only beneficiaries of this outrageous expression of hatred and intolerance are al Qaeda and the companies that print Korans (a Muslim group has stated that it will purchase 200,000 Korans in response to Saturday’s Koran burning).

I don’t mind publishers making money but I am very concerned that the very freedoms that bewilder and anger al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists will once again give rise to dangerous and violent behavior. The reality is that this silly Koran burning should be a non-event, not worth of any news coverage. But there is also the reality that Islamic extremists have issued death threats over the creators of works of fiction and cartoons, so there is no chance that there will be a muted reaction from the global Islamic community.

I remain unreasonably hopeful that CNN, Fox and the rest of the world media will turn their backs on this madness and that the Gainesville Fire Department will find a pretext to show up and douse the blazing Korans as soon as the conflagration commences. Let the minister sue the GFD on Monday.

The beauty of blogging is that you can edit even after publishing. Now it turns out that Reverend Jones has agreed not to burn the 200 Korans in exchange for the developers of the proposed Islamic cultural center promising not to build at the current proposed site near the World Trade Center. And then, Donald Trump (!!!!!) gets into the act by promising to buy the current proposed site for the Islamic center at a 25% premium in exchange for a promise to build the center at site at least five blocks further from the World Trade Center.

If a scriptwriter went to Comedy Central with this story they would be deservedly tossed into the street. Somehow the organizers of the Islamic center have allowed their project meant to promote peace and harmony to be equated with the foul Koran burning plan of a demented cleric in Florida. Somehow faux sensitivity trumps (literally) constitutional rights. Somehow we are supposed to believe that this is some kind of victory for brotherhood and the advancement of peace.

This entire tawdry series of episodes should be canceled. We may never reach the bottom of political discourse but we have come very close this time.

I will confess to having been a big fan of boxing. But the dilution of talent and the choreographed matches and proliferation of championships has made the sport less interesting to me, leaving me to remember Ali-Frazier and Leonard-Hagler battles as the height of boxing as I knew it.

And then along comes the boxer and buffoon, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. to prove that there is absolutely no limit as to how stupid an individual can be. Especially if they feel empowered by success and unfettered by good taste or common sense.

Mayweather and Manny Pacquiano have been dancing around the issue of actually boxing in the ring for the better part of a year. The reasons why the fight hasn’t happened yet really don’t matter; I think that you can attribute them to the general choreography of the sport that would be something of an art form if it wasn’t so predictably derivative.

The facts are that Floyd Mayweather is an African American and Manny Pacquiano is a Filipino. The history of boxing is full of ethnic battles have always drawn attention and gained ticket selling publicity. Unfortunately, no one told the esteemed Mr. Mayweather that even when trash talking to build up the audience, there are lines that should not be crossed. Mr. Mayweather may even have deluded himself into believing that because he is black he is not capable of being a racist.

Mr. Mayweather is wrong.

In a recent rant, he called Pacquiano a “yellow midget” while his (no doubt paid) retinue howled with laughter. Mayweather went on to say that he would make Pacquiano “make him some sushi” after he beat him in the boxing ring. The shameful language continues (and those who care to go to YouTube can find the entire disgrace for yourself).

No one should expect Floyd Mayweather to be a spokesman for honor and brotherhood. And Mr. Mayweather should not expect to be called anything but dumb for his shameful rant and dumber for his failure to offer even the rote apology that celebrities issue in these instances.

Floyd Mayweather has a lot of African American fans and supporters. He only pays a few. The rest do not need to laugh at or encourage this foolish and dangerous behavior. Just as rappers and comedians used the word “nigger” so often it now shows up much too often in the mainstream, the use of racial epithets in sports by the Floyd Mayweathers of the world can also metastasize into a very ugly presence in the world in which we live.

Have a great weekend!

Excerpts from "The Pride"

The Pride – Chapters 11 & 12

Showtime on Riverside

As soon as I heard that shrill voice braying and careening over my shoulder, I knew who it was. Bonita Woolsey, Esq., the Corporation Counsel of the City of New York. In her role as the de facto Attorney General of the City of New York, she had a lot to say about which lawyers would write the legal opinions verifying the validity and probity of the billions of dollars of bonds that the City of New York sold every year. These were legal opinions that generated huge fees for the firms fortunate to be selected by the esteemed Ms. Woolsey.

And so, she was definitely someone with whom I had to speak. And, in the bizarre nature of my personal universe, she was also someone that I definitely could not stand. It was nothing specific. It was just something incredibly visceral and undeniable.

“Ms. Woolsey. Its always a pleasure. It’s been much too long since we have had lunch or breakfast or drinks. How is life in City Hall treating you these days?”

“Mayor Dinkins has me on 24 hour standby, or that’s what it seems like. I thought that being a partner at Shearman & Sterling was hard work, but this job is eternal.” Bonita smiled through teeth that would make an orthodontist retire to a monastery on a desert island, taking a vow of eternal silence upon entry.

I had to marvel at how, in one sentence, she managed to make sure that I remembered that she had been the first black partner at one of the top law firms in America, that she held a very, very important job in the biggest city in America, and that she was a confidante of the first black mayor of New York City.

Bonita Woolsey was one of those people that you could stand being around for about……ten nanoseconds. After that she seemed to be the manifestation of all annoyances. There was her braying laugh, her phony veneer barely covering the nudity of her hypocrisy and her unbridled ambition. And probably worst of all was her clear disdain for everyone and everything she surveyed. She was possessed of the unshakable belief that Bonita Woolsey was the undeniable center of the only universe that counted – hers.

What I remember most about her that morning was her…….teeth. After all, I had to be cordial, my business, and that of some of my best clients, was connected to the peremptory whims of the esteemed Ms. Woolsey. I have always felt that I could stand the company of anyone if business was involved.

So I was prepared to converse with Bonita and to make sure that at the end of our conversation I had done everything to make sure that my business interests were unimpeded and unscathed. But her teeth! My God!

All of her front teeth seemed to wander in boldly independent directions making her smile seem something straight out of a Salvador Dali painting, perhaps during his Mescaline Period. But on this particular morning there was, could it be? Something was clearly stuck between two of her front teeth.

Was it this morning’s whole wheat toast or, heaven forbid, last night’s collard greens? There was no way of knowing, and that was information that I simply never wanted to know. There is such a thing as too much information.

This was a living, breathing, braying illustration.
But her particle-ridden smile was hypnotic, and as we chatted, I felt myself trying to resist staring. It was like trying not to look at a hairy mole that resembled Mount Everest or a scar in the shape of a palm tree or a tattoo of the image of the Virgin Mary on someone’s neck.

“If it was going to be an easy job Bonita, Mayor Dinkins never would have needed to choose you.” I felt my eyes wander toothward.

I simply had to find a distraction. Anything would suffice. I could feel the precipice of disaster approaching, beckoning, begging me to make the jump into the abyss of mockery and perdition. It was simply too early in the day for this kind of bullshit.

“Flattery will get you everywhere Mr. Taylor. But to tell the truth, the private sector never seemed more appealing. When Mayor Dinkins gets reelected this year, I have promised him one more year and then I’m back at S&S, unless a better offer comes along.”

“That’s understandable Bonita. You have certainly served your time.” I remember thinking, why is she telling me this? And then I found out.

“I know that our conversations are always off the record, but this is really and truly off the record, O.K.?”

“Bonita, my lips will be sealed for eternity.” A few more cars were pulling up to let off passengers in front of the church. The press was starting to stake out their positions for their television cameras and still photographers.

The sun was bright and it was still frightfully cold. I continued my silent, subliminal prayer for someone, anyone, to rescue me from the impending risk of embarrassment and professional doom. No one came.

“Frankly Paul, I am seriously thinking of going back into the practice of law. Of course my former partners at S & S will have been back in a heartbeat. But I think that I am ready for new challenges.”

“You have already overcome so many challenges Bonita (I suddenly, and with horror, realized that a subtle insult might be perceived and prayed that it would fly below her radar. It did), what mountains are left for you to conquer?”

I must confess that at this particular moment I had not a clue that this conversation was about to take a more than serious turn. After all, I was just making conversation and trying to stay occupied until the doors of the church opened. I was also trying not to stare at Bonita’s many and multi-angled teeth.

“Let me get right to the point Paul. We can talk about this later. But I want you to think about us being partners. With your experience and my contacts we would be quite a team. I think “formidable” would be a good word, don’t you? I can make money at S & S, but I don’t kid myself, I can be there for one hundred years and I will only be a partner in name only. To tell you the truth, I don’t know if that is what I want any more. What I do want is a chance to find out how good I can really be. I know that this is something out of left field for you, and that we have to make time to talk about this. But think about it for now, will you?”

“Here comes Mayor Dinkins now, I have to go. Speak to you soon. Ciao!”

Bonita turned on her stiletto heel and I was truly one stunned buffalo soldier left in her wake. I was reminded of the expression from some old Stepin Fetchit-type film character, “Well slap my face and call me stupid!” And frankly, I could have not been more shocked if Bonita had done just that.

There was no way that I could even begin to fashion a response to her non-proposal. Although, I must confess that even that at that moment, despite my having something less than warm and fuzzy feelings for Bonita, the practical aspects of our alignment, as she so succinctly pointed out, had some real advantages. Of course, Winner Tomlinson’s memorial service was neither the time nor place for such discussions.

But given the flow of events in the near future, it was a discussion that I did not forget. But at that moment, it was time to go into the church.


Now about that church….

The Riverside Church is a colossal monument to God built by the colossal fortune of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. John D., Jr. was the eldest male heir of the greatest businessman and possibly the most rapacious entrepreneur in American history.

We will never really know if he built Riverside Church to atone for his father’s many sins. It may be that he felt that it was more important to fulfill an edifice complex, a construction/building disorder that was clearly transmitted genetically in its full glory to his son, Nelson Rockefeller, the governor of New York State a few decades later. Or maybe John D., Jr. just liked Gothic cathedrals. Or maybe he just felt like it.

It stands like some granite sentinel across Riverside Drive from Grant’s tomb. Indeed, the Riverside Church is a huge, silent stone commitment to the belief that there may be something more to life than life itself.

As I entered the church that morning, I couldn’t help but think about medieval times in Europe when huge cathedrals were built as part of a socio-political effort on the part of the powerful to keep the powerless occupied. After all, idle hands are the workshop of the devil and political dissidents. Revolutionaries and dissidents of varying pedigrees and radically differing degrees of success have been known to also show up when there is some of that nasty idleness lying around.

The royalty of a particular era would get together with the reigning religious leaders to declare the need for the construction of a monument to God and His everlasting glory. The church would openly and actively support such an initiative from the pulpit. In turn it would support the taxation and control over society by the State that royalty would have to impose in order to finance and complete such a project.
Since a project like the construction of a gothic church literally took centuries, this meant that generations of the poor and powerless would be employed as poorly paid, but busy, masons, carpenters, stone cutters, glaziers and bricklayers.

While the Riverside Church did not take generations to complete, there is no doubt in my mind that John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and his inherited fortune represented a part of America that could be called royalty. After all, he was the son of the same John D. Rockefeller who engaged in price-gouging and shockingly monopolistic strategies that strangled any hint of competition. And he was the son of the same John D. Rockefeller who employed the rather interesting labor relations tactic of having his employees shoot and kill striking workers (along with their wives and children) at one of his silver mines.

John D. Rockefeller probably never felt the need to receive approbation from anyone. On the other hand, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. had the luxury of reflection and contemplation. He did not need to build a fortune. His task was to institutionalize it, nurture it, and humanize it. And maybe, at the end of it all, maybe that’s what building the Riverside Church was really all about. Only John D. Jr. himself knows, and he is certainly not telling anyone anything anymore.