What a day: Unity Day Celebration brings out inspiring people

| January 30, 2014
Eric Hackley

Eric Hackley


To quote Tom Henry upon winning his first election for mayor of Fort Wayne back on Nov. 7, 2007 when he said “What a day, what a day.” That is how I felt at the Monday, Jan. 20, 2014 at the 29th Annual Dr. King Unity Day Celebration.

Not only were there a large number of Fort Wayne blacks in attendance, but there was an emancipation spirit in the air. I personally arrived at the Grand Wayne Center about 10:30 a.m. and before I realized it, it was 4:30 p.m. and the large crowd had started to dissipate. It was then that I realized that I had spent the entire day meeting and talking with people whom I didn’t know or I had not seen in decades. I was collecting business cards, talking with venders and old friends and the day had ended and I had not conducted one on-camera interview.

During this magnificent day, I personally encountered Negro elitism only twice. One black woman blew me off by letting me know that she was way too important and busy to talk with someone like me who once told me I was too radical. The other is a so-called black male friend who used to do camera work for me 30 years ago. He especially, as of recent, always makes it a point that when he sees me in a store or at black-oriented events to dis me for interviewing and writing about black people in a consistent, condescendingly non-verbal way, letting me know that no one cares about my efforts to make a difference in the black community or how black people perceive each other. And then there were some unmentioned politicians and educators there who we, over the years, mutually agreed to ignore and not communicate with each other and that’s absolutely fine with me.

But on the positive side, it was very enlightening and re-energizing. As I was communicating with people and doing what I do, a gentleman walked up behind me quietly and had nothing but superlatives to say to me. It was Wayne Township Trustee Richard Stevenson. Then way across the room I saw a beautiful gleaming smile and a person waving at me, it was Sharon Tucker, a political star on the rise.

Then I ran into entrepreneur Simon Bray, who I’ve known since before he attended elementary school. Now he’s doing business internationally and in cities across America. I met Odelet Nance, PhD, an educator whom I am expecting to interview soon. We had an interesting discussion on whether or not it’s too late to exorcise generational self-perpetuating slave mentality out of the mindset of black people.

I met Elder Paul D. Hayes and we had an extremely interesting conversation about the founder of his church, the Rev. James Hall and my dad Charles Hackley. In the 1950s, where Grace Temple Church of God In Christ is presently located, there was a building there called the Eastern Theater that my father owned where he showed black and Mexican movies. At this time the Rev. Hall owned an apartment house with a garage behind it across from the intersection of Lewis and Gay streets.
My dad and the Rev. Hall were longtime friends and as far as I know, they swapped properties. The Eastern Theater was transformed into Grace Temple COGIC and the Lewis Street. property became known as Charles Hackley Tax Service where my dad rented apartments in the house and used the garage as his income tax office.

Elder Hayes and I briefly discussed why the legacy of slave mentality has been so difficult to disrupt. Next to Pastor Donovan Coley, Elder Hayes is the only pastor in Fort Wayne who has shown a willingness to dialogue with me on slave mentality, a subject that some pastors have said will go away if I just stop talking about it. I will definitely follow-up with Elder Hayes to interview him on camera in more depth about an issue that for centuries has kept blacks divided.

I spoke with Anthony Beasley, one of the founders of Horizon Christian Academy, a new school that has some very impressive stories to share about the Academy’s growth and success in educating and reaching black young people.

And then there were two charming ethnic and biological sisters Cliffunya Haney and Kisha Johnson, owners of C&K Budget Mentors. I’m not sure if they’re twins, but they look just alike to me. Nevertheless, I’m anxious to interview them about subjects ranging from how they help individuals and families with budgeting issues, to group economic thinking all the way to the economic emancipation of black people.

One of the most unique entrepreneurs that I met was a young lady named Charita Niedermeyer, an independent kitchen consultant with The Pampered Chef. Not only is she representing intelligence in cooking, cookware, recipes and dietary nutrition, but she hunts birds and large animals with guns and bow and arrows. She also enjoys fishing. If asked to, I’m sure she could host an episode of “Wild Kingdom.” But, what is astonishing to me is, she is a black woman from Gary, Ind. I can’t wait to interview and ask her for recipes on how to prepare deer, bear, rabbit and squirrel.

Then I started noticing blacks who have family legacies that I hope to help document. First I saw one of the singing (the Rev.) Starks brothers from Alabama. There used to be five of them and one of the brothers died. Now four of them remain. For decades they have sung all over Fort Wayne and beyond and many of their children are musically inclined.

I then ran into Marvin Stewart and suggested to him about my doing a story about the great athletes in their family. Not only was Marvin a great athlete, his sister, Delores Johnson, was a State of Indiana track champion, brother Tommy has many first black pole vaulter accolades and Charles—who in the 1970s was a great high jumper—was at Indiana State at the time I was there, during the Larry Bird era.

Then I saw Ron “Batman” Kennedy, a Fort Wayne Central High School football legend who was a football star when I arrived at ISU. For years I have been trying to persuade not only Ron, but his brothers Larry and Julius who were also football stars in high school and college, to interview with me. But, the story here really develops when their sister, the late Janet Kennedy married the late Charlie Reese. The blending of the Kennedy and Reese family genealogy and resultant children, the story behind the generational scholarship and athletic success, needs to be documented to understand how they did that. I once asked Charlie Sr. a question about when his children were babies and when they cried, did he give them footballs and basketballs instead of pacifiers? The Kennedy and Reese family story needs to be documented for other large families to learn from.

I could go on an on about the people who I spoke with and didn’t have time to speak with. My intent here is to emphasize the point that we need to document or at least share our personal and family success stories with others to inform and inspire them when they are seeking answers about life’s challenges. Some families feel too modest and want to keep their successes low key out of fear that other blacks will hate them or become jealous of their notoriety or accomplishments. But blacks need to be more unapologetic about the things they’re good at and their stories need to be documented. In this way, we will bust the Fort Wayne Willie Lynch slave mentality myth that blacks are losers, incompetent, have no legacy and are predestined for second class citizenship in Fort Wayne and America.

Congratulations for doing a good job to MLK Club President Bennie Edwards and his team who put this year’s event together. I certainly was inspired by being in attendance and what a day it was.

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Category: Events, Local, Opinion

About the Author ()

Eric Hackley is a veteran independent journalist, television show host and producer focusing largely on history, particularly family history in the black community. His award-winning public access television shows have featured a host of local and national icons. Hackley can be contacted at hackonomicstv@gmail.com.

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