McKinney reflects on personal significance of Black History Month
For some, just getting to drink at the same water fountain as their peers was a struggle.
Don’t forget, and remember where you came from, said Niskayuna Councilman Jonathan McKinney on what Black History Month means to him. `Black History Month really isn’t about Black History, it is about a process of indentifying injustices and creating a plan to correct them, and making sure these injustices do not reappear in some other form in law.`
McKinney is the only African-American Niskayuna Town Board Member, and one of the few non-Caucasian suburban government officials in all of The Spotlight’s coverage area. Even with the lack of racial diversity within some governing bodies, McKinney doesn’t necessarily see it as a negative situation.
`I don’t think race should be a criteria,` said McKinney about running for office. `You should be representing your people, so you should have similar experiences and similar demographics to the people that elected you.`
For instance, African-Americans are a minority in Niskayuna, so it doesn’t surprise McKinney that he is the only one. Government officials often represent the population of a community or region. Growing up in the town helped him get elected, he said, because he already knew a lot of people and had developed good relationships, and he believes the demographics of Niskayuna are starting to change.
`The interesting thing about Niskayuna is it is a very cosmopolitan city,` he said. `You are seeing the racial make-up of Niskayuna changing over time.`
When he was a kid, he said he barely ever saw another black kid in his town. Now, he said, there is more ethnic diversity in the district, due to the growth of surrounding businesses, such as the planned General Electric Battery Plant.
`If a diverse board helps the collection process of allocating resources, if that diversity helps our decision making process, then that is important,` he said. `Now, at this stage in Niskayuna, I am not sure that my race offers anything new and anything unique, because we are such a diverse community.`
While he was growing, his interest in civic involvement developed because he knew some day he wanted to do his part to contribute to his community. History was another subject he enjoyed, and he understood changes in racial equality only occurred because people stepped up.
`I always promised myself that I would contribute,` he said. `I look at my service as paying tribute to those that came before and made it possible for me to even run and pave the way for future generations to make sure they have the same opportunities that I had and even more.`
While a lot has been done to move toward racially equality, he said, the fight isn’t over.
McKinney recently attended a training convention in Georgia and said there is a difference in the surrounding community there compared to Niskayuna. He said, while there, he went into a restaurant in sweat pants and waited to be served. For 20 minutes, he said, he watched other people coming in and promptly getting served before he was finally waited on.
`Kids in Niskayuna don’t realize that some people are still fighting the Civil War,` he said. `Today we still experience racism even in my own town.`
While locally, he said, there isn’t too much racism prevalent, but he still notices getting treated differently sometimes when he is just out in his causal attire. At those times, he said, he never tells people that he is a councilman, and he lets his money do the talking by taking his business elsewhere.
McKinney said it is important to expose kids to what can happen if they don’t get involved and understand what could be and what barriers are still out there that need to come down.
`Government will create laws to hurt you, so one thing to remember in Black History Month is no law should just be taken for its face value,` he said. `Government has a tendency, because it is run by people, to take on personal views on how the world should be.`
Although he admitted telling people to not trust their government might sound odd coming from a Town Board member, he thought is important for people to question what their government does and what effects those decision have on them.
`No one should trust government. You should question anything that happens,` he said. `Being able to critically think about a situation allows you to make smart decisions.“