Wed, Jul

Memories of a Ferguson Beyond Racism: Ode to a Wonderful Algebra Teacher

MY OWN WORDS-When I think of the name "Ferguson", I think of one of the most awesome human beings I've ever met:  my eighth-grade algebra teacher (Mr. Ferguson) who was charming, instructive, brilliant, humorous and intensely charismatic.  Th at he was African-American was something that meant very little to us junior high school students in Long Beach, CA in the 1970's. 

Algebra was not an easy subject for me, although math was one of my academic strengths (I was one of those strange weirdos who loved both math/science AND history/humanities).  Algebra is an exacting course that leaves no room for even the slightest of errors--showing your work gets partial credit but even the tiniest of missteps gets you an incorrect answer. 

But Mr. Ferguson--always with a quote from a famous Greek philosopher or some other famous historical mathematician, and always with a smiling face who kept the class laughing and engaged--made an otherwise dry and tough subject as enjoyable as any person ever could. 

And none of the kids really cared much about his race, or would ever denigrate him merely because he was of a given skin color.  This was Long Beach, this was the 1970's, and while racism certainly did exist in the thoughts and comments of a few it was just not that big a deal for most of us ... and certainly Mr. Ferguson was part of that dynamic. 

Ditto for those physicians I worked for in my various medical groups who just happened to be mostly black.  Did they garner the respect of everyone who worked for them?  Of course, but anyone who would have thought them any less for their racial background either kept it to themselves or didn't really think much of it.  Because it was and is never mentioned. 

Unfortunately, we appear to have those who get a lot of money, attention and air time by MAKING us think about it, and by continuing to ram it down everyone's throat that racism abounds, and that we must continue to make race a BIG issue. 

Well, most of us in America--like it or not--have moved on from that.  Noting that a person is of a given skin color, or noting that a couple are of mixed race, is something that might elicit an eyebrow raised here or there, but for most of us we're getting pretty sick about being told we're back in the 1960's. 

Particularly after we've elected an African-American twice to office of the highest position in the nation: President. 

However, I do not blame most African-Americans for being angry.  If I were a young African-American man, I'd be infuriated ... but the problem for African-Americans (and for those of us who care about their future) is WHO they should be infuriat ed at.  To a large degree, most of us are infuriated for similar reasons as what we're seeing in Ferguson. 

It's easy to "blame Republicans", but the daily killing of African-Americans in Chicago and New York and Los Angeles is NOT going on in cities located in the Deep South.  The economic devastation of cities such as Detroit and Washington, D.C. is NOT being overseen and encouraged by Republicans. 

Sorry, folks, but the American Dream, and in particular the Dream of African-Americans to succeed, is still alive--but our economic idiocy and childish adherence to failed paradigms is what's to blame...and it's beyond just African-American communities because the rich-poor gap is affecting ALL Americans. 

Certainly, it behooves us to have more representative and diplomatic police forces to achieve cooperation with local communities, and to not come across like occupying forces, but without economic opportunities it's darned hard to keep the peace. 


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For example, after past years of anger and rioting, South Los Angeles still doesn't have the right opportunities and prioritization of our civic leaders ... but yet these civic leaders keep getting elected!  

And re-elected!  And re-re-elected! 

Which makes me, as someone who's concluded that this nation cannot move forward together until various African-American and other communities can find the right environment for optimism and growth, very sad ... and convinced that some of our fellow citizens, African-American or otherwise, must really love the taste of their own knuckles. 

Because they keep punching themselves in the mouth again and again and again. 

And if someone declares that we need new leaders?  No, THAT person is the problem.  And if that person is African-American, Lord help that person from all the verbal and other arrows that will be fired at him/her. 

At least we can get away with kicking out race-baiters like Jackson and Sharpton, whose "leadership" has produced results that have left African-Americans with virtually none of the hope that their forebearers (think MLK and Rosa Parks) left to not only black Americans but to ALL Americans.

Is it now time, or will it soon be time, to weigh in on the current President as to whether HE was the right person to help black America, or ALL America for that matter?  Hard to be certain, but the time will come and the time must come to make that judgement. 

On a similar note, black Americans want to be included not only in white America but in an America that is (whether we want to acknowledge it or not) increasingly Latino and Asian, and of such mixed-race makeup that the entire black/white issue is becoming increasingly less relevant as well. 

The average black resident in Ferguson, or the average resident in the St. Louis area, or the average American, just wants a good job and a reasonable shot at the future.  

Ferguson residents don't relate to or even know who these looters are (many are probably not even from the area, hence their willingness to trash that neighborhood), and they want a police force they can trust and work with.  

After all, Los Angeles' crime rate went down and stays down with a fairly small police force by community outreach from the LAPD--not with harsher police tactics.  There is room for both hiring minorities who represent the communities they police, and room for training police officers to be the heroes they usually are, not the rare idiots that we must remove. 

Anyone who wants to throw gas on this festering fire in Ferguson is almost certainly part of the problem and not the answer.  If this keeps up, then the recommendation that appears most reasonable and realistic is for local residents (black or otherwise) to get up and move away from there if there's no opportunity or hope for the future. 

For the rest of us, though, it'll be both reasonable and realistic for us to just focus on our friends and family members (who are increasingly black, or of all races) on who they are, and to not limit them to a skin color any more than we'd limit them to a hair color or eye color. 

Mr. Ferguson, my respected and beloved algebra teacher, was part of the answer back in suburban Long Beach in the 1970's--and he's part of the answer now.  

Perhaps the rest of the answer is to encourage movement of hardworking Americans away from dysfunctional communities like Ferguson if it's deemed impossible to reform those communities...but perhaps those with anger should be directed to who is TRULY keeping them down (and it might NOT be the usual suspects).  

I've never forgotten Mr. Ferguson, and despite my Google search I was unable to find him--but I wish I could thank him for being such a great teacher and role model ... 

... and for making it so evident and obvious (even if it was never stated, and never needed to be stated) that his skin color meant nothing to showing what it takes to be a great human being in the United States of America.


(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee.  He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at [email protected] .   He also does regular commentary on the Mark Isler Radio Show on AM 870, and co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us.  The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)






Vol 12 Issue 68

Pub: Aug 22, 2014