Kenneth L. Hardin: Nonprofit doesn’t serve just one demographic

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 12, 2021

If I had a penny for how many times people have remarked, after actually spending time getting to know me, “You’re nothing like I read or people have said,” I could retire early.

I’ve heard those exact words from a local philanthropist, whose name adorns structures in our city, a current bank VP and so many regular Salisbury folks.

Now, if I could take how much I actually cared about what people thought of me and translate it into dollars, you might be able to get a small cup of coffee. When I stopped tying my value and self-worth to someone else’s misguided and uninformed opinion of me, I found peace. What I’ve discovered, especially in this neck of the woods, is when people don’t have access to you, can’t figure you out or are unable to manipulate and control you for their benefit, they create an erroneous perception to meet the false narrative they’ve. I’ve been called angry and portrayed as the scary Black boogeyman by people here to further their political and social agendas. I’m neither. When you’re unwilling to allow your character to be assailed, your name to be impugned, willing to question the status quo, stand up to political bullying, and call out those who espouse hate and bigotry, you’re a target.

Growing up, I reiterated and drilled into my three sons the importance of protecting your name and maintaining a sense of integrity. I told them once people lose respect for either, you have nothing. I’ve worked hard to build a strong reputation and character, so I’ll fiercely and unapologetically fight to ensure they remain intact. I had to do so recently after being criticized by my skinfolk for the way in which I disbursed blessings from my nonprofit organization.

That’s interesting in itself because since I employ cultural pride and call out purveyors of racial animus and division, I’m often pegged as having disdain for those more melanin challenged. Nothing could be further from the truth as the only people I despise are White racists, Black bigots, and all those quietly complicit living in the middle. I took offense at the assertions against the nonprofit and offered a passionate response.

The Mission of The High Road, Inc. is to be an advocate for all undervalued and underrepresented people, focusing on ensuring equity, fairness, and equal access. The word “All” is capitalized for a reason. It came into significance over the last weekend after we blessed 10 families with full Thanksgiving meals in November, which included a turkey, ham and all the trimmings. For Christmas we blessed five families with toys, clothing, shoes and Walmart gift cards to help with buying additional toys. The joy was momentarily interrupted when I received a call Saturday sharing criticism. I was asked if I’m so publicly vocal on social media and in articles promoting cultural uplifting and putting the Black community first, why did it appear we were only assisting White families.

I don’t typically allow the uninformed and misguided opinions of others to rub me the wrong way, but after hearing the comments, I was hotter than if I was actually standing on the face of the sun. I got out of bed, shaved my face and head, took a shower, brushed my teeth and then sat down at the computer in my office where I recorded a blistering 10 minute video.  I called out those Black folk who had the audacity to question my integrity and the commitment to the organization’s Mission. Yes, there was some salty language, but sometimes it’s necessary to reach those who don’t understand or appreciate more civil discourse. I stressed the point that poverty, struggle and need have no racial composition or gender, so we gave to families based on who we identified that had the greatest need. This was done objectively using a third party’s without regard for skin color. We gave to Black, White, Hispanic and two special needs families, but that shouldn’t even have to be explained. I added with passionate and colorful language that it was my nonprofit, and I would run it the way I wanted without concern for how anyone felt. I instructed anyone who had an issue with how I did to reach out to me personally. I assured everyone the conversation would not be pleasant.

  I was passionate and defensive because this organization was not created to only serve one demographic. I see too much of that already occurring in this city. I wanted to ensure those that are often ignored and relegated to the margins to feel as if someone was there for them. Character and integrity are important to me and I will fight to maintain both.

Kenneth L. (Kenny) Hardin is a former City Council Member who lives in Salisbury, and is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.