Editor’s Note: The Greater Chestertown Initiative worked this summer on a series of questions for the candidates running for one of three Kent County Commissioners to be elected in November. Over the next four weeks, the Spy will share the candidates responses to one of those questions every week.
In the May 17 edition of the Kent County News, an editorial described how racism endures in our county. What work needs to be done to build the inclusive community Kent County should be, and how would you implement that work? How would you show the African American and Latino communities they are essential to the success of our county?
l just had the gentlemen who is doing some work on the Legacy Days. When he found out I had graduated from high school in ’69 which meant I went through that whole integration when it started, he wanted to interview me. I’m going to tell you what basically I told him. When I grew up here in Rock Hall, it was a commercial seafood town. Blacks and whites all worked together and played together. And i’ll tell you when the blacks and whites starting going to Rock Hall High
School, it really didn’t seem to be a problem. Maybe it’s easy for me to say because they were coming to our school. But we didn’t have the real problems you might see on television. I think we’re very fortunate with that especially in Kent County. We all lived together, and it was just a natural thing. But as far as African Americans and the Latinos and how we can show them they are essential to the success of the county,
I think you need to look around at the Clarence Hawkinses, at the William Pickrums, at the Leon Frisons, leaders of this community, the preachers. Some of our more important department heads are African Americans. For example, Herb Dennis is an African American and he is the Warden of the Kent County Detention Center. One of the best we’ve ever had. And I’ve been around long enough to go through several changes of wardens. We have Myra Butler, who is in charge of Parks and Recreation. She plays a big role in Kent County, and she’s in charge of the Community Center and all of our park land. We try to make sure that African Americans and Latinos are included not only as department heads and workers, but on our boards as well. And we’ll continue to do that. I Believe everyone has a chance in Kent County.
It’s easy for me to answer because some of my best friends are African Americans and Latinos. if there is racism in Kent County, it certainly isn’t anywhere in my travels. My father died when l was about 4 years old. His best friend was an African American and sung at his funeral. I mean we don’t look at things that way. I tend to treat everyone the same regardless of who they are or what they look like until they prove to me that I shouldn’t. That’s the way I do it. It’s one of the only good things my wife says about me. She says you might not have many, but one of the good qualities you have is—i’ve seen you walk into a meeting and you take the poorest person there and you talk to them like they’re the richest.” That is an impressive trait. I try to do that, and I would suggest everybody else do the same.
The African Americans and Latinos are essential to the county. People are not born racist. They are taught it. I personally think everyone in life should be giving the opportunity to succeed in whatever they do. When I played sports in high school it was just a bunch of us kids just having fun trying to win a game no matter what color you are. Watching my son play sports 35 years later I saw the same thing. Routing for a bunch of kids regardless of color trying to win a game.
When I worked at Dixon Valve we were just a bunch of folks regardless of color or even gender just trying to get a job done. I have always been a goal oriented individual and don’t worry much about race. One of my commitments toward the community and making sure we are all on an even playing field no matter what color or gender you are. Everybody deserves an equal shot no matter who you are. It is all about equality. Our differences are our strengths, we learn from each other and grow together.
When it comes to racial problems in our community we must practice the golden rule of treating others how we would like to be treated. I would have an all inclusive government where the African American and Latino communities will have equal opportunity to serve on committees and participate in all aspects of county government. All citizens will be treated with respect and equality when it comes to living and participating in our community. All county departments will be expected to provide the same services to all of our community without a racial or ethnic divide.
I will continue to identify opportunities for inclusive opportunities. This must be encouraged through all our social networks, i.e., churches, business groups, social and service groups, etc. These groups must have an inclusive frame of reference.
- How would you show the African American and Latino communities they are essential to the success of our county?
Showing by example is the best method. I have appointed the first female African-American Department Head in this county. As an African-American, I have been a role model for this community and have successfully been elected as County Commissioner multiple terms. I have aggressively sought African Americans and Latinos for county employment and to serve on county boards and committees.
As a personal story, when I returned home after a career in the Coast Guard, I was not well received at an Economic Advisory Commission meeting. In fact, I was asked why I was there. After careful thought, I decided to run for elective office. One of my goals from the beginning was to insure inclusiveness in county government.
As a County Commissioner, I’ve supported the Local Management Board. This Board works tirelessly to make sure this is achieved. Rosemary Ramsey-Granillo, as the Director of the Local Management Board, has worked to achieve this goal and is tasked with some actions;
- Create a vision for the role of local government and local child and family serving agencies in achieving results for children and families.
- Develop plans to command public and political attention and support for programs that will achieve results for children and families at the local level.
This Board is concerned with inclusiveness and demands it.
I will encourage the development of an African-American, Latino and non-minority business directory, sponsored by the County. This will provide local governments and residents a resource to utilize these local businesses.
All county employees should get racial and gender sensitivity training periodically. All other local county governments should do the same.
Inclusion is imperative to the County’s overall success. All ethnic and racial backgrounds add value to our community. As an elected official I work to move the County and all of its citizens forward without a racial or ethnic divide. As previously stated I am a Commissioner for all people and have a 6 year record of serving all.
Recently, the Kent County News did us a public service by pointing out that in 2018 racism and discrimination are still very much present in Kent County. This Editorial also reminds us that Kent County’s historic record in this regard, down to the 1960s and 70’s, is not encouraging. Thus, the admirable steps being taken now, e.g. the Social Action Committee, an active schedule of events at Sumner Hall and Legacy Day, can be assessed against this background.
It’s essential that minorities actually believe that they are listened to, that they are heard and that actions are taken as a result. More African-Americans and Latinos must be invited to become involved in County management. Minorities must be hired to deliver County services. County commissions and boards should also include more minority members to become part of the decision-making process.
An initiative to identify, recruit, hire or appoint minority members should be a Commission priority.
This must start with teachers and administrators in the public school system. African American and Latino children and their parents will begin to believe they are essential to the success of the County if they are seen to occupy essential positions.
The Commission can launch an outreach program by emailing their weekly meeting agenda to African American church pastors and those from Shrewsbury Parish and the Galena Catholic Church. These individuals should be invited to speak at the meetings, to suggest agenda items and to serve on ad hoc issue committees. The Commission can also fund a video archive of their weekly meetings on the County website.
And finally, one Commission meeting per month should be conducted in each of the other four incorporated towns to encourage attendance by residents who do not live in Chestertown and are without personal transportation.