Retired city firefighter Donald Day shares a perspective on leadership differences in the black community past and present. Day served as president of the Firebird Society and fought for racial balance in the Fire Department.
With all the press about a vacuum in the black leadership here in Bridgeport, from the NAACP and our black organizations, I felt compelled to address this issue. Let me quote Reverend Dr. Anthony L. Bennett, “There is no one black organization that speaks for all the black people here in Bridgeport.”
The Guardians as well as the NAACP have changed to organizations whose leadership is busy fighting among themselves while trying to curry favor with the white leadership of the Mayor’s office. The Firebird Society has avoided these kinds of distractions because the past presidents value Ron Mackey and my input and seek our participation.
The Firebird Society knew we couldn’t count on the NAACP, the church or our black politicians to advance our cause in the Bridgeport Fire Department. If we were to facilitate change we had to do it by ourselves. Our members were older brothers who were products of the Civil Rights movement; members who were part of the Black Panther Party and for the most part, blacks and our Puerto Rican brothers thought they were one and the same, with no differences. That one dynamic no longer exists in either the fire or the police department. We understood there are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them, together we chose the latter.
Today, young blacks who are thrust into leadership positions don’t understand not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. In 1992 I was elected as president of the Firebird Society and as a leader who was a visionary with a poorly developed sense of fear and no concept of the odds against me, I gravitated to brother Ron Mackey who knew every political leader as he served on the Democratic Town Committee and he served as the Vice Chair of the party and he understood there is a time to let things happen and a time to make things happen. For the next 16 years we ran the Firebird Society as co-presidents, under my leadership for six years and Mackey for another ten years.
Early on in our tenure as presidents we understood two things, we would never talk to anyone who couldn’t facilitate change and everybody had a boss. Brother Mackey knew the political power brokers in the city and I was full of ideas on how to advance our cause. We were able to accomplish that by running classes that resulted in about 50 blacks, Latinos and women becoming firefighters and at least 30 more becoming engineers and officers. We came up with the concept and idea of preference points for city residents. Mayor Joe Ganim, Mayor John Fabrizi and Jack Colligan, Director of the Civil Service knew the City of Bridgeport would be a better place to live, work and raise a family with the inclusion of blacks and they worked with us diligently to make that happen. We no longer have that luxury with the current administration that has fought to whiten the fire and police departments to the detriment of the black community.
It appears the new generation of black leaders is more concerned with building their resumes than the fight for blacks in the community. It appears the new generation of black leaders is more concerned with what’s in it for me. I see a leadership vacuum in black organizations and leaders that no longer believe to accomplish great things; they must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe. Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. As leaders we must care more than others think is wise, risk more than others think is safe, dream more than others think is practical and expect more than others think is possible. The future for blacks in Bridgeport depends upon our new leaders embracing this philosophy.