Dr. Walter Cooper’s take on politics, the Black middle class, the RCSD, local organizations and the Black church


Dr. Walter Cooper, former Eastman Kodak research scientist and Regents Emeritus of the State of New York

Dr. Cooper in his own words:

We do not have an active NAACP in the community. If we did, we would be celebrating its 100 years in Rochester.

It’s an indictment of the lack of understanding and the lack of the Black middle class to participate at a level it should be, dictated by our historical memory in this community and the rest of the nation.

We have an unthinking insensitive Black middle class.

They go to Church, but the Church is an excuse for not doing the right thing by our children. I don’t go to church because it’s irrelevant.

If a Church is meeting the demands of its parishioners, it will have a library and it will teach African American History. You see, if our churches were relevant, around July 4th, they would be reading Frederick Douglass’s- Freedom Day Speech. But they don’t know about it because they don’t say anything about Black History. Even if you go back to Jesus, he chose intellectual strong people to be his disciples. Paul was an intellectual of his time. He was taught by a philosopher on the Island of Patmos, who was also a mentor to Plato, but the preachers aren’t going to talk about that. They are not interested.

It is true, ‘By their works, He shall know them.’

You don’t see any of our churches having bus tours to the new African American Museum in Washington, D.C. There are no buses going there. They are keeping the people ignorant. To me, I’m religious to this extent. I ask God not what he can do for me but what can I do on Earth to bring about a semblance of His Kingdom on Earth.

He has given me everything I need... strong arms, a strong back, and a good mind, if I use it. Blacks don’t have a sense of identity individually or collectively. If they had it individually, we’ll have more individuals charting out their own future and becoming educated and leaders. Collectively, we run to the church to pray to God for things we can do on our own initiative.

The Black middle class has forgotten that people in the early sixties made it possible for them to get an education. That’s why we don’t have a NAACP. You have twenty-six Black lawyers in this town, and you don’t have a NAACP.

The school is a broken system, sometimes you have to destroy a system before you can repair it and that’s where we are now. Not only has the structure of the school system failed our children but many of the Blacks who participate in that system has failed also. I don’t absolve any of them from not being guilty and I think you have to put that across. The Regents have done everything to make the school a viable school.

It’s not Black or White teachers. Good, educated, workmanship like teachers create scholars. In 2012, the former city school district superintendent Bolgen Vargas bought 12,000 books of Frederick Douglass: The Narrative of a Slave. Every 7th grader was supposed to get that book. About eight months ago, a person I know who was working in the district at that time, I told go into the storeroom and you will see unopened copies of the book, probably all 12,000.

The mayor should take a further step forward knowing the deliberation on the Board over the last eight to ten years has been fraught with nothing but dissension and a non-focus on the education and lives of the children. If I was mayor, I would request the power to appoint a Board of Education. I would bypass what many consider the constitutional provision of using the ballot as a means of choosing your representatives for the Board of Education because it has failed us. And I think the Title I Parents Organization has failed us.

If we lived in a humane and sensitive community at least they would’ve been people who are responsible approaching Senator Gillibrand to ask for a complete investigation in the operation of the Title I Parent Organization. If it was effective, the parents would be reminded time and time again of their responsibility to their children future through the instrument of education.

And we need leadership from our local organizations.

Local organizations like the Urban League is nothing like me as a co-founder and early members of it operated during the 1960s. In 1966, I started the anti-lead poison drive. And responding to the fact, the Black family was eroding, we ran a three-day conference on the Black family in 1988. You don’t have anything like that. But they cry and say they can’t do anything because of poverty.

The Rochester Area Community Foundation fund projects but they put it in the hands of conservative Blacks and Whites that isn’t going to change anything.

You ask yourself the question:

Where is the young leadership? There is none! Why? They pour money into the Boys and Girls Club, Teen Empowerment, Urban League and other institutions but there’s never any new leadership that shows up. Where are they?

Why should we promote and praise a combination of the United Way and the Rochester Area Community Foundation to spend 8 million dollars on studying the design of poverty?

That’s Ludicrous. It just provides an income for a whole lot of mediocre people.

At the United Way, they have an African American Leadership Development program, a Hispanic Leadership Development program.

Where’s the output?

Where’s the product?

Where’s the new leadership?

If you had new young leadership, we would have a NAACP.

If you had a thinking and sensitive middle class, we would have a NAACP full of prominent Blacks and Whites. As member of the NAACP, we had prominent Whites including Mrs. Gannett of Gannett Newspaper (D&C), Harper Sibley of Western Union, Ida Bell Lent and Ruth Rosenburg. But they were pushed out of the organization.

What is you left with? Nothing!

Why would you want to be involved with an organization that’s not doing anything?

When Rev. Goff took over, all he was doing was angling to fill his pocket with some money. We as a people got to get away from the Black ministers not doing what they suppose to because they’re not going to do it.

It’s unlike the 1960s, I can name countless young educated Blacks and Whites who were involved in local Civil Rights organizations that were teachers in the city school district and a resourceful group of young leaders on the ground fighting to better our community.

Our social institutions must begin to develop and produce more than poverty stats.
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