The Dream Killer Who Looks Just Like Me

Sometimes the people who kill dreams of getting out of Black communities look just look us. A reflection of how Black leaders responsible for ensuring Black people have access to public resources don’t always make the best decisions. Sometimes we’re not saved because our own people fail us.

The Dream Killer Who Looks Just Like Me
Photo by Bailey Torres on Unsplash

I love my people. I love helping them, but I hate wasting my time. I hate being ineffective even more.

Sometimes, you can’t save Black people crying out for help, but it’s not for the reasons you may think. Sometimes our dream killers aren’t White people. Sometimes, our dream snatchers, dream killers, and fun sponges look just like us. Sometimes our own people are our worst enemies.

It was a hard lesson to learn.

Some people don’t want our people, especially our children, to be saved. And we wonder why our communities don’t thrive today.

A Community Problem

Back home in my old community in South Carolina a few years ago, our county decided to get rid of its parks and recreation (parks and rec), as well as the historic pool in the African-American community. The county pool was installed back in the 60’s, during the Jim Crow era before I was born. White folks could go to the YMCA to swim, and they had access to public sprinklers. Blacks weren’t allowed to swim with Whites back then. Even as times changed and desegregation occurred throughout the community, the segregate pool remained stuck in the 60’s. The pool was a source of pride in the Black community in the little rural town, and saved many of our children.

The Black parents were devastated to say the least to learn their only source of recreation would suddenly be closed for good.

Over the years, the county didn’t maintain the pool and recreation center appropriately (with much delight to White taxpayers of course). The County Council decided to build a civic center with ball fields that everyone in the county could use, but those facilities were not created with a pool. White residents never wanted to use public dollars for the public pool in their community. These White residents in the County had the notion only Whites deserved certain amenities paid for with public tax dollars like parks and pools, and they made sure they elected people who maintained the same attitude over the years.

White residents got state of the art dog shelters and a dog park on prime real estate while Black residents were grappling with their only safe space being closed.

Eventually, the YMCA built a state of the art facility (with an Olympic-sized pool) and expanded its recreational activities to cater to the White, wealthy families already utilizing their facilities luring those disgruntled White families away from utilizing the County’s parks and recreations facilities. Anything to keep their children clean and sanitized.

Community Leaders Got Rid of Parks & Rec

When the numbers of children enrolled in the county’s parks and recreation programs were not enough to sustain it, the county decided to shut the program down altogether leaving the African American children and families without parks and rec programs. A few of the African American parents got together to create AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) sports leagues to supplement the loss of rec sports. Soon after the county got out of the parks and recs, the county informed the community they were also closing the Black pool.

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The Black Community Stood Up for Young Black Lives

Black community members protested, wrote editorials, and stormed council meeting in force to sway the council’s decision on closing the pool. It was at the very beginning of the police killings, and although we didn’t have police killings, there were lots of other things alleged. Black Parents needed that Black safe space.

People held their own grassroots community meetings, created online campaigns, and even tried to raise money to prevent the pool’s closure. Concerned Black and White community members attended the County Council meetings, giving passionate pleas highlighting the need for safe spaces in the community for Black children, and highlighting some of the other projects the county spent lavishly, which was primarily White spaces like the downtown area.

After hearing the pleas and petitions, the council decided to hold one more public meeting, mostly for show, to decide on what they planned to do with the pool as well as the property the pool sat on.

I attended the meeting, just to get a feel of what the building and pool meant to the families in the area. I wasn’t from the County, so I didn’t have the sentimental attachment to the property, but it didn’t mean I couldn’t care. I did care, and I understood the need for safe places to play for social and emotional development. While my family never used the facilities (we had a pool at our home), I wanted children in my community to have the experience and opportunity to thrive.

As a community activist and a grant writer, my interest was piqued. I wanted to do what I could to help. I had just written (and was awarded) a $3.5 million dollar grant for former employer, and I had years of fundraising and grant development experience.

I was ready to roll up my sleeves to help. After reading a news article about the latest meeting held by the concerned citizens and how dismissive the council was. I decided to volunteer whatever I could to help them win. The poor Black people who used the pool were the underdogs, and I’m sure they had no idea what they were going up against. I put on my best face and headed to the courthouse.

The Political Shenanigans Begin

Well, the County Council announced their plans for the meeting via a public announcement in the regional paper. The plan was to have one final meeting to take proposals for groups or individuals interested in taking over the facility and pool. The County was giving the piece-of-shit building away to any fool who would take it (we learned it was a piece of shit a little later). The curious fool that I am, I decided to inquire about the facilities.

I contacted the county manager and asked to tour the rec building and pool. I had never been inside of the property in all the years I lived in the county, so I wanted to know what I may be getting myself into. It was eye opening.

For some reason, the county manager was laying it all on the line with me. I think he knew the county was full of shit, so this was his way of spilling the beans without spilling them (he left shortly after the pool debacle). He was White, a good honest guy with integrity. He was our only ally I’d later learn.

As we toured the facility, the manager told me the building was loaded with asbestos, and really needed to be torn down. The county did not want to deal with renovating the old facility to bring it up to code per EPA standards. They were ready to let rec center sit idle until some grant money came along to tear it down.

I took the tour with a few other locals who were members of the NAACP, older people with sentimental attachments to the property and pool. I heard all sorts of stories from the old heads about the good times, dances, and swimming done at the facility. For some, it literally kept them out of trouble, saving their lives. These people went on to become pillars of the community, and all attributed their successes to having the rec center as a haven instead of the streets.

After the tour of the facility, the county manager basically told us it would take close to a million dollars to remove all the asbestos. It had to be removed a certain way, and it had to be removed before the building could be torn down to avoid air exposure. I was shocked. How could the county not be doing anything about this before now? How did the facility remain open all these years without the County notifying the Black residents? Why were they passing the buck to someone else, making it their problem? What about the poor Black people without a pool, people who couldn’t afford to go to the YMCA?

My blood was boiling.

Next, we toured the pool. The pool looked fine on the outside, but the county manager told us the pool wasn’t grounded when it was originally installed back in the 60’s and was never renovated. It also had a crack someplace and was losing large amounts of water costing the county hundreds of dollars monthly to replenish.

The County Manager said he would never allow his kids to get into it. If lightning struck it, it would’ve electrocuted all the Black kids inside of it. We all were flabbergasted, again. There were no words for the disgust we felt. We also learned the County Council, even the only two Black member of the council, had made an agreement to “bus” a few little Black kids over to the pool in the summer and pay for it. Bus our kids to the once segregated YMCA, a constellation prize for only a limited number of kids in the summer.

Just some old bullshit!

I questioned how the County could pay a religious organization with public tax dollars for public purposes? The county manager didn’t anticipate me having such understanding of public funding, so of course, it was time for us to go. He gave us a quote for repairs based on assessments given to the county and informed us about how the process would go for selecting the facility’s new owner. They were going to give the building a way for $1. A property that is valued over 2 million dollars, requires nearly $1.5 million in renovations, being given away for $1. Happens all the time in communities around the nation.

The group I toured the property with already had a 501(c) 3 designation (a nonprofit status recognized by the IRS) and were ready to take on the project. I told them I would in-kind my fundraising services to the group if they won the project, and I would put together a bid. The county manager gave us one more important tidbits before we departed. He said one of the two Black County Council members was over the county’s park and rec community and had already been in discussions with another Black community member to “give” the building to.

Me:

The community member “pre-ordained” to inherit the community property did not have a good track record of operating public charity’s successfully. This woman was a minister, who had a track record of operating strip mall ministries, frequently moving. She also had her own day care center, but no nonprofit management or funds development experience outside of collection plate calls in her church.

The county manager urged us to put a bid in, because he did not feel the other candidate offered a viable option or had the fundraising experience I did. It was going to be a giveaway he insisted, and the building would never be used if it was given to her. He also noted there was a $500,000 match commitment by an anonymous donor if we could raise $500,000. That was nothing for me. I loved a challenge.

The Challenge

I had 7-days to put together a bid. I worked in concert with the group I toured the rec center with to prepare and submit a plan a viable, realistic plan. We were certain we would win the bid. With my skills, and their community connections combined with their NAACP community clout, we had this thing locked…or so I thought.

The meeting was held, as expected, community members were passionate about why the county should reopen the center. The community members weren’t privy to all the asbestos and grounded pool details for fear of the natives uprising. I had to promise the City Manager I wouldn’t share what I learned, so I kept my promise. I know he didn’t have to tell me all that he did, so I valued his truthfulness. It’s more than I can say for the rest of the lying asses on the council.

At the end of the meeting they called for bids for the rec and pool. I skipped to the front to turn my bid in to the council. As expected, the woman the county manager warned us about also turned in her bid. It was so thin. I just knew from my years of proposal reviewing she couldn’t possibly have all the info in the proposal necessary for a governmental entity to make an informed-decision. The Council announced they’d received two bids. They would examine those and decide within 7 days.

Next up… More Bullshit

The County Council committee for selecting new owner called us all in and asked us bunches of questions. The Black county councilwoman over the parks and recs, the same one that closed, oversaw screening the candidates. She seemed irritated by my group’s persistence. We weren’t supposed to provide competition. She seemed annoyed with our proposal. She knew me. I had worked with her congregation unsuccessfully to secure grant funding. It turned out, they had some funds before and mismanaged them. Once I discovered the church had a not-so-good reputation that preceded them, I discontinued my works. I was on the poo-poo list.

In any event, she tried her best to give us an unbiased interview, but I could feel her disingenuous countenance coming through as the meeting progressed. Her line of questioning in general was so off the mark and irrelevant, we knew the decision was in the bag for her friend. After the council woman finished interviewing us, she thanked us for coming, and they interviewed the woman, her pet. They were all grins like old friends meeting for lunch. We could feel the crap in the air. We knew we weren’t going to get the pool and rec center. We felt it.

Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

Black People Making Bad Decisions, Blocking Black Progress

Sure enough, the County made an announcement in the local paper they had awarded the building and pool to the least qualified candidate, with no fundraising experience. The explanation given in the paper by the Black County Council woman was that she wanted to make sure the building was given to someone with “ties to the community. I worked at the community college. My kids went to school in the county. I volunteered on all types of board. What am I, chopped liver?

I didn’t have “ties” to the community because I wasn’t born in the county. Nobody knew my mama and daddy them (it’s a country thing), so I was a labeled an outsider. I cared for my community though, especially the kids. I was a social justice activist. An activist who had previously spoken out at prior County Council meetings about how they spend taxpayer money, like for dog parks instead of parks for urban youth.

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The Beginning of the End

The keys were transferred to the new owner, and life went on. The Black dream killing councilwoman suggested that I work with the new owner, her buddy. I refused. Not because I was bitter, but because the new owner’s reputation preceded her, and I don’t work with mess. I don’t have time to go to jail about someone else money, that’s my mantra. Soon after getting the keys and the deed to the property, the new owner (another Black woman) held a community event to celebrate the transfer of the property to what was supposed to be the community. The event consisted of cleaning up the outside, cutting the grass, holding a fundraiser that raised $25,000. That was it.

Nothing else has been done to make progress towards the goal of getting the center back open. The children in the community still have no safe space. Murders of youth, something that was never an issue in my old community prior to the closing of county parks and rec services, are now as frequent as they are in larger non-rural communities.

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No Justice, No Progress, No Peace

Nearly 8 years later, the rec facility still sits empty. No asbestos has been removed. The pool hasn’t been grounded, and the leak has not been fixed. The city has given multiple citations for not keeping the property up to city code. The place is rotting, doing the same thing it would have done if the county kept it.

The people in the community are angry yet again, feeling as though the money raised went to the new owner’s church/daycare. Later, some of the council members said privately the whole process was a farce, and that the Black council woman had already made her decision before the last public meeting was held to solicit the bids. They felt the process was unfair.

So, did I.

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Sometimes Black Folks Just Won’t Allow Us to Save Us

Sometimes, our own people won’t allow us, qualified and competent Black people, to save us. They just don’t want anyone to be saved if they aren’t the ones doing it. Some Black people have “takeover spirits.” They want to be in charge, and will do anything to maintain that power, including depriving the people and communities they are elected to serve. Their power supersedes any and everything. Even your community’s health.

The Black councilwoman’s decision cost the entire Black community access to recreational facilities and that pool. She didn’t make an informed-decision, she made an emotional decision. In the meantime, crime rates in the communities surround the pool rose, and working and poor parents were without a place in the community to send kids after school for tutoring, playing, and swimming. Annual community events previously held at the rec like Back-to-School bashes and feeding the homeless Thanksgiving dinners were no more. People in the Black community were pissed. They had been tricked.

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The Black Community Is Enraged

The Black community complained publicly about the lack of progress and the lies about the rec, starting Facebook posts, and holding meetings again. Eventually they contacted an investigative reporter from the local paper to get help and answers. Somehow, the reporter got my email address, and sent me a request to interview me. I no longer lived in the state, but he wanted my take on what happened. I respectfully gave it to him with both barrels, straight no chaser. The reporter told me the county happened to “lose” all info related to the bids and anything that happened prior to the transfer of the county’s property. I emailed him what I submitted a few years ago. He was impressed. I even still had notes contradicting the Black councilwoman’s current stance on the state of the donated facilities.

The reporter also informed me the county was considering acting against the new owner for not fulfilling her promises made in order to have the property transferred to her in the first place. Go figure, and I don’t care anymore. I’ve moved on, and I told the reporter this. I was in a new state, and no longer had ties to the area.

The new owner was also being investigated for mismanaging funds raised that should have been used for the restoration of the rec center and pool. After the article expose and public shaming, she later responded to the allegations basically telling us all what I already knew…she was in way over her head. Uh…really?

At the end of the day, I feel good because I tried. As I reflect on the entire situation, I’m saddened. Although the predominantly White County Council members made the decisions to not only allow the rec center and pool to be built inferior and failed to maintain either piece of property appropriately, the Black councilwoman was responsible for making the decision to not fight during her time on the council to ensure the Black community got what they needed. Black politicians on the County Council failed to do the right thing for Black people, the same districts they are elected to represent (for close to 20 years). The new owner stole from her own people for personal gains.

Bad leaders with bad intentions came wiped out all of the good of grassroots efforts. Black children didn’t get to experience the joys of having a community center filled with love and safety. The taxpayers failed to support all its community. Black taxpaying families were deprived of having a safe place to send their kids, because the Black council woman allowed their dollars to be used for White public spaces.

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Sometimes Our Enemies Look Like Us

I learned I couldn’t blindly trust Black leaders would always do right by Black people. I stopped listening to what they say, I now watch what they do. No longer do they get a Brown Brother/Sister pass because we are POCs (people of color) in leadership.

Nope, nope, nope and hell no.

Source:Giphy

I’m good on that!

Sometimes, Black leaders and public officials don’t want the disadvantaged to be saved, and some of the Black people they align themselves with don’t want our people to be saved either. They see disadvantaged people as some of the most giving people, and the most naïve. These types of leaders are more dangerous than any blatantly racist White person in my opinion (besides 45 and his cronies that is). It’s like sleeping with your enemy.

These greedy crooks smile in our faces, then stab us in the backs. Having the same Black skin color does not equate to having the same comeuppance values and interests. Some people are all out for themselves, and they are hiding in strategically yet pompously in governmental and religious institutions. Because they are often hidden in positions of power, they have ample opportunities to exploit the poor, the helpless, marginalized communities, the ignorant, and sometimes those of us with good healthy brains sometimes.

This can happen to any group of marginalized people, regardless of color or ethnicity.

Know your devils.

“You gotta know when to hold’em, Know when to fold’em, Know when to walk away, and know when to run”
~ Kenny Rogers

Marley K., 2018