Kenny Hardin: What happened at Livingstone
By Kenny Hardin
I’m a servant leader, not a politician, so I don’t play politics when dealing with folks. My ego and self-worth are not tied to this Elected Official title. On the evening I was sworn in, I said my intention was to help end suffering and I made it clear I would work tirelessly to reduce crime and violence. If I offend anyone in pursuit of living up to those promises, I’m ok with it. Throughout the campaign, I gave people insight into my no-nonsense character and approach, yet people continue to act as if they just met me yesterday.
I get results both as a community advocate fighting for equity and inclusiveness and as an elected official pushing for openness, transparency, access to information and increased operational efficiency. My phone rings constantly with people seeking my assistance, intervention and resolution. I’ve sought positive outcomes for private citizen concerns as well as brought people to the table to resolve issues with the school system, local businesses, the hospital, the city, fire and police departments. I’m fine answering my phone at 2 a.m. to set up roundtable discussions, but don’t ask for my assistance and then get upset with the strategies I employ.
I refuse to fall into the trap Bill Cosby did back in 2004 with the now infamous Pound Cake speech. In his remarks, Cosby was extremely harsh on the Black community criticizing everything from single parent homes, poor speech patterns, a cultural focus on materialism or consumerism and a lack of personal responsibility. It’s easy to cast aspersions, castigate and condemn when you’re in a position of privilege and don’t have to endure the trappings of poverty and hopelessness. I know Blacks in highly visible roles that feel as if they have to be overly critical of the Black community for assimilation, acceptance and approval from the mainstream. I won’t engage in this, however, I won’t yield to blind allegiance and refuse to call out wrong and misdeeds either.
I don’t have a personal issue with Livingstone College. I’ve been a fervent supporter and defender of the school over the years and as recently as two weeks ago to the mayor. I proudly participated in the homecoming parade and remained for several hours afterwards enjoying fellowship. After receiving the first call about unrest at 10 p.m., I received so many more about escalating events. I got out of bed and went to the campus. My intention was to be a calming influence and diffuse tensions that could’ve resulted in students and officers being hurt. Interestingly, two days prior, the sheriff and I had a phone conversation where we said we hoped nothing would escalate on the coming Saturday night.
As tensions increased, I put myself in the middle of the students to serve as a buffer while pleading with them to adhere to officers commands to disperse. As I walked through the gathering, I spoke to students one-to-one and yelled out to others urging them to continue moving. I told the students this was not what the college or community was about and implored them to adhere. The 15 to 20 officers showed great restraint in the face of the students’ refusal to comply. The students were respectful towards me, but many hurled angry profanity laced taunts at the officers accusing them of violating their First Amendment rights. I had just spoken to the lone student who was arrested five minutes before officers descended upon him and placed him in handcuffs.
As I walked onto the campus past the horde of flashing blue lights of the numerous police cars, I dialed a friend, and allowed him to listen to the entire episode through my headphones. As I left the campus nearly two hours later, we both shared our displeasure and disgust with the way things escalated. The kids were wrong whether they or the college acknowledge it. Several hours later while out for breakfast, I ran into an administrator from the college and engaged him in conversation. I offered my assistance in talking with the kids during a called assembly about conflict management and community pride
What is more disappointing is the response I’ve received for speaking out. People are more upset with me for sharing my frustration and honest views instead of being incensed at 200 people fighting. I’ve been told there are certain issues in the Black community that shouldn’t be addressed publicly, the school was in the midst of a fundraising campaign and my comments could negatively impact donations, I’m trying to purposely sabotage the school’s reputation, why was I not over at Catawba digging for negative things to report and a student asked me why is it that I never come to the Black community or the school to promote positive efforts.
Instead of being upset with me for speaking out on the riot, fix the problems so it doesn’t reoccur. We can’t keep hoping for change and progress, but then pick and choose what issues are off limits to openly address. I’m not a politician, so I’m not going to engage in ego stroking conversations or refrain from addressing problems for fear of hurting someone’s fragile ego, regard for color or the zip code.
Kenneth L. Hardin is a member of Salisbury City Council.