From the Super Bowl to the Black and Puerto Rican Legislative Caucus: Two Memorable Weekends
March 25, 2016 by Herbert Daughtry
I went from the Super Bowl Weekend in Santa Clara, CA to a super gathering in Albany, NY the following week. The occasion was not a sporting event unless you interpret politics as sports. It was the New York State Association of Black & Puerto Rican Legislators 45th Annual Legislative Conference with its myriad of events, workshops, meeting, etc. For me, it presented three proud moments. Leah was the Sunday morning speaker; Donna Brazile was the Dinner speaker; and, I was getting the Lifetime Achievement Award.
The invitation letter stated, “On behalf of the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators, it is indeed a pleasure to inform you that you have been selected as the recipient of the 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award. The award is presented to an individual who has spent a lifetime accepting responsibility for social, political, and economic empowerment for communities of color. Your involvement in the community makes you a worthy recipient of this distinction. We look forward to seeing you, your family, and friends on Sunday, February 14, 2016, 2:00 p.m. at the Albany Hilton in the Hudson Ballroom.”
On Friday, at about 3 p.m., I decided to take a solitary drive to Albany. Car rides are relaxing experiences for me. I can think without interruption, enjoy the beauty of Mother Nature, listen to music, or even have a conversation with myself. The drive took about three hours. It could have been less, but I missed my exit.
Night had fallen when I arrived at the hotel. The lobby was crowded. There was an immediate difference in this lobby than the one at Santa Clara. There was a camaraderie which expressed itself in greetings, handshakes, embraces, smiles, etc. After I had checked in, I immediately retired to my room and got ready for bed.
There was one particular trip that we – our church, The House of the Lord Church – made to Albany many years before. I was trying to remember the date and the reason. Through the night, I was haunted by the visit we had made. When I returned home, I began to search through my files, and I found what I was looking for.
Our newspaper called the “Victory,” which we published on March-April 1977, recorded our trip to Albany. It addition to its articles, it had rare photos of some of the elected officials – some of whom had made their transitions – Assemblymen Tom Fortune and Tom Boyland, and State Senator Vander Beatty.
The editorial written by our editor, Ms. Rosalind Sparrow, captured the reason and substance of our trip to Albany. She wrote, “Going to Albany was a personally enlightening experience, for though I have listened to Rev. Daughtry discuss the necessity for the church to be aware of and involved in the political decisions which affect society, I remained skeptical and unconvinced. I believed that politics was so corrupt that it had long ago ceased to fulfill its promise to do the will of the people. I was critical of all politicians, receiving their frequently racist, often asinine decisions with a resigned pious acceptance. I believed that the people could do nothing to effectuate change.
“Nor did an increase in Black representation seem the cure, since many Black politicians did little to alter the status quo for the poor. Their main objective often seemed to be emulation of the basest qualities of their white counterparts.
“Certainly, the kernel of truth inherent in these beliefs is undeniable, yet, it is but one viewpoint in a complex issue became clear to me in Albany, as I viewed what I believe to be another side of the political issue. While there, Chairman of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, Assemblyman Al Vann escorted us through the legislative halls, obviously proud that we were his people, a representative body of the ‘folks back home.’ As we met with and questioned elected officials such as Carl McCall, Vander Beatty, Tom Fortune, Woodrow Lewis, Ed Griffiths, and others, a theme began to emerge with which I was familiar. They, without exception, felt that it was a good thing that we had come, and that we were all registered to vote and educated in at least the rudiments of political procedures.
“They lamented the latent force that the Black Church remained, expressing the hope that it would one day realize its potential and rise up to demand accountability of those entrusted with the people’s welfare. Some expressed ambivalence concerning certain moral issues on which they voted (such as the abortion bill), wishing that there were more opinions forthcoming from the Black Community as a whole, and the church community, in particular. Coming to Albany with fewer votes behind them than white officials, the Black politicians felt that it was absolutely necessary for their home communities to at times be vociferous, rather than engaging in the difficult fight for the voiceless, faceless mass.
“Moving from this assemblage to the General Assembly, I watched as Rev. Daughtry gave the invocation and the church choir sang. Some white politicians were visibly upset, smiling in vague discomfort or mock patronage. Those Black politicians on the floor, many whose roots are in the church, stood up, praising Rev. Daughtry’s speech and the choir’s singing, making it understood that these were representatives of those for whom they fought.
“I place no laurels on the head of an politician, nor am I naive concerning the corrupt nature of politics in general. But I became fully cognizant of the undeniable link between the church and politicians. As long as both ostensibly work for the good of man, they cannot be separate, and indeed, on many issues should work as a combined force.
“It is difficult to convey an idea to unyielding minds, for it is so much easier to resist change and cling to patterns, often erroneous, yet comfortable. But there is deep satisfaction when the idea is finally not only received, but acted upon. I am certain that Rev. Daughtry felt that satisfaction in Albany as he saw the kernel of his dream come alive, and I hope that he also experiences a wee bit of satisfaction as I munch my humble pie.”
… to be continued.