Kenneth L. Hardin: Residents feel they have no one to lean on

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 12, 2023

I channeled actor Morgan Freeman recently.  I didn’t star in a blockbuster movie or make millions of dollars doing commercial voiceover work either. I used one of his movie lines to describe my feelings with the condition this city finds itself with rampant drug overdoses, escalating crime, continual gun violence and homelessness.

His 1989 film, “Lean On Me,” dramatized the real life struggle of a principal fighting to turn around a N.J. school that had deteriorated so badly, the government planned to take it over.  In 1967, as a teacher, he tried to warn leaders, but they chose money over progress. As he stormed out of the school, Freeman’s character yelled, “This place deserves exactly what it gets!”  Two decades later, we see the school had descended into chaos as the song “Welcome to the Jungle” blared loudly over moving images of the school mired in depravity. I said those words in my Freeman voice to a caller and here’s why.

For over 30 years, I’ve tried, cared, fought and given, but I’m tired. Prior to my weariness, I was met with resistance, arrogance and ignorance from insincere, cowardly, two-faced so-called community and political leaders that placed personal agendas and tribalism before people and progress. I’ve been on the receiving end of hate filled, vitriolic messages and have borne the brunt of many aggressive encounters from people who’ve then had the audacity to feign righteous indignation and call me angry when I refused to stand silent and allow them to verbally assail me. 

In 1989, a year after I was honorably discharged from the military and moved back to this little slice of marginal Heaven where my property taxes just skyrocketed, I started getting involved in the community specifically working with our youth.  I went to our then city manager and tried to explain that there was emerging gang activity on the West End. I was ignored and told Salisbury didn’t have gangs.  In the mid ’90s, I led the first community revitalization effort.  It ended in disaster because the city never included the residents in the agenda planning and then criticized them publicly like a jilted lover.  Nearly 30 years later, they’re asking for a do over, but are confused why no one cares. As a City Council member, I walked the streets alone at night talking to gang members until some coward called the Charlotte news and accused me of cavorting with gangs. While on City Council, my voice was muted, I was left out of discussions and even told I needed to “learn my place.”  Two leaders even engaged in political treachery having me investigated with a baseless harassment accusation to impugn my character.  My attempt to bring a Boys & Girls Club to this city was met with hostile resistance, continued interference and major obstacles until it died.  I was told it would take money from the YMCA. You now have a generation of children mired in criminal activity instead of positivity.  Not one city leader has visited my Veterans Center. There’s much more but I’ll stop so this doesn’t turn into a short novel.

If you think the fatigue extends to me alone, you’re exceedingly naïve. My weariness is shared by many other folks on the rainbow color spectrum.  I was in the grocery store last week and two seniors shared their anger, frustrations, and concerns with this city.  They added that they’re no longer willing to participate in the orchestrated sideshows that have yielded little progress in 30 years.  I was in a local big box store when an elderly couple said, “it seems like since you’re no longer involved, no one is fighting for us.”

I’ve tried to explain to our blind and deaf so-called leaders that people, especially skinfolk and the poor, want to feel like they’re woven into the fabric of the city. Instead, what they receive is pandering, patronizing, art, parks, and immaterial objects that do nothing to enhance or improve their lives.  They ignore real problems people are experiencing and think showing up at a cultural event somehow makes them relatable, No one cares if you’re there because you’re never there when they’re in a real crisis. The late labor unionist and civil rights activist, A. Philip Randolph, said, “A community is democratic only when the humblest and weakest person can enjoy the highest civil, economic, and social rights that the biggest and most powerful possess.

We can’t afford to continue to allow our communities to resemble jungle-like reptilian reservoirs where Serpentes of all colors slither about killing each other and decimating families through guns and drugs.  We need people who are willing to stand up for what’s right instead of what’s popular or profitable. We need role models and leaders, but most of all, we need people we can lean on.

Kenneth L. (Kenny) Hardin is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.