New Generation Of Black Leaders More Concerned With ‘What’s In It For Me’

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.



  1. Supposedly money has no color. Here in Bridgeport we know dollars in different denominations are “green” but that word has been co-opted by Mayor Finch in his pursuit of an environmental agenda that places park and playground development ahead of youth development in our schools when it comes to tax dollar spending.
    When a Bridgeport youth proceeds through local grades and earns a high school diploma, does that certificate stand for anything in the jobs marketplace today? And if the school opportunity was wasted for any reason, where does this non-graduate cycle for life support? The college graduates who proclaim local high school diplomas do not generally find work in the City because City services and City debt service is neither as efficient nor as effective as it could be, and thus it costs more than it should. Why is there no watchdog function left in City governance?

    Money issues, whether as earned income or as taxes to be paid, are part of our lives. They cross all racial, religious and national origin lines. Why does it seem to me so difficult to find others in this City who will hold City fathers (and mothers) responsible for what they do in the name of the people with our money today, the use of our common resources like land, and our future, in terms of the commitments to debt repayments and other promised benefits into the future, decades hence? Who will join to address the common cause of financial honesty? Time will tell.

  2. John Marshall Lee, I agree with you. One thing Mayor Finch can do is to give preference to City resident thereby creating a jobs programs for the taxpayers who pay the salary and benefits for City workers. This is a win-win for everybody.

  3. JML and Ron Mackey, I concur with both your observations. The bottom line is with Mayor Finch and David Dunn at the helm of the Civil Service Dept. a Bridgeport education can’t get you a job in the city in which you were educated. So if a Bridgeport education won’t get you a job in Bridgeport, where in hell are Bridgeport-educated children supposed to go?

  4. I have been saying it for years, such is the case with these New Black Leaders. They have been totally about the uplift of themselves and the guardian of their own personal issues. But they did not elect themselves, even though some of them are trying to stay beyond their legal terms, lol. They were elected by the very people they do not advocate for, in some cases more than once. These are not children of the struggle, these people believe they made it on their own and not on the shoulders of the people who came before them and suffered to make a way for them. A lot of people need to do some soul-searching and fix this problem. These so-called leaders take no stands, make no public statements and don’t advocate on behalf of anyone, they are just a bunch of opportunists I’m sad to report. It’s embarrassing, but it must be publicly discussed and remedied, so the people who need these institutions will be better served by them.

  5. A number of things Donald Day did not mention is the fact the Firebird Society started giving away smoke detectors and installing them all for free back in 1987. It’s nice Mayor Finch and the fire chief have their organization now do this but the Firebird Society was years ahead of the mayor and fire chief. In 1991 then-fire chief Gerald Grover (from Philly) was able to get a large number of smoke detectors and ask Local Fire Union 834 to have firefighters install smoke detectors in Bridgeport residents’ homes. The union refused and Chief Grover then asked the Firebird Society would we take them and install them and we accepted his offer. We worked with ABCD with those smoke detectors and over the years with ABCD to install smoke detectors at no cost. ABCD provided the names and addresses of those in need and we got that list and installed them. Also, along with ABCD the Firebird Society made yearly donations to their “Toys For Tots” Christmas program that was held at Longfellow school where Jettie Tisdale was the principal. Not only did we make a financial donation but our members played Santa by helping to give out toys to parents, their children were not allowed in so the parents could select the gift they wanted for their child and wrap it, this gave them a spirit and feeling they were doing something for their child. The Firebird Society also gave out college scholarships in the name of our deceased member Joseph Kirkland Sr. These are just a few things we have given back to the community we serve.

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