This weekend, my heart swelled with gratitude for the life Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. helped make possible for me and my family. His work paved the way for my father, the youngest child of an impoverished widow in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to attend an Ivy League college, pursue a successful career in international banking, and create economic advancement opportunities for thousands in developing countries through his work in microfinance.
Dr. King established love as the animating principle that sustained his nonviolent struggle for racial justice. It was the panacea that made possible his dream’s fulfillment. “Love is the greatest force in the universe,” he said, “... (t)he heartbeat of the moral cosmos.” Love, he believed, would empower our loyalties to “transcend our race.”
There is a beautiful simplicity to Dr. King’s life message, one that stands in stark contrast to the divisive emails Assembly member Christopher Constant sent nonprofit leaders, the media and municipal employees this past weekend. Mr. Constant felt the commemoration of Dr. King’s legacy of love and racial unity was an appropriate time to racialize a legal dispute between the Municipality of Anchorage’s legislative and executive branches.
Apparently, Mr. Constant remains livid over Mayor Dave Bronson’s termination of Clifford Armstrong III, the chief equity officer appointed by the previous administration, and his subsequent appointment of Mr. Uluao “Junior” Aumavae to fill the position. So, when Mr. Constant was extended a friendly invitation to join Mr. Aumavae and Mayor Bronson for a celebration of MLK Day, he responded by informing everyone on the email chain, including Mr. Aumavae, that he did not recognize Mr. Aumavae as the Municipality’s Chief Equity Officer and invited everyone to raise their “voice(s) for (j)ustice.” I am happy to oblige, because I believe his emails made a mockery of Dr. King’s legacy and were demeaning of Mr. Aumavae.
Mr. Constant engaged in the tired tactic of race-baiting when he wrongfully described Mr. Aumavae’s appointment as a “cynical act to divide a community.” Mr. Aumavae’s appointment was intended to unite our community, not divide it. As a member of the black community, I recommended Mayor Bronson appoint Mr. Aumavae to his post, not only because of his sterling qualifications but also to honor the values of diversity, inclusivity and equal opportunity Mayor Bronson and our city hold dear. It boggles the mind that Mr. Constant refuses to celebrate Mr. Aumavae’s appointment to the highest government office in Alaska a member of the Samoan community has ever held. Does he honestly believe his exploitative conduct promotes equity?
Mr. Constant also accused Mayor Bronson of failing to advance equity in this administration. Curiously, Mr. Berkowitz’s administration did not submit a federally required Affirmative Action Plan to the Assembly in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 or 2019, nor were any African Americans hired to serve in the office of Mayor Berkowitz. Yet, I suspect neither Mr. Constant nor his predecessors accused Mr. Berkowitz of failing to pursue equity. Simply put, Mr. Constant’s rhetoric does not match his record. At best, his criticism reflects a lack of self-awareness; at worst, it is naked hypocrisy. Mayor Bronson has appointed numerous women, three African Americans (including perhaps the Municipality’s first black chief human resources officer), an Alaska Native, and a Samoan to senior executive positions in his administration. Show me Mr. Constant’s commitment to equity by what he has said and I will show you Mayor Bronson’s commitment by what he has done.
I am disappointed and disheartened by Mr. Constant’s insensitive and opportunistic emails that risked provoking racial discord on a day intended to celebrate racial progress and promote racial unity. As we approach Black History Month, I request that Mr. Constant allow Anchorage’s Black community to enjoy the celebration in peace. Why not let the court judge the merits of our respective arguments, while we focus our attention on other important matters of municipal government?
Notwithstanding our differences, I invite Mr. Constant’s collaboration in this administration’s future pursuits of racial justice and equal opportunity. Like Dr. King, I have an “audacious faith” in our city’s ability to build a better tomorrow if we heed his counsel to run when we cannot fly, walk when we cannot run, or crawl when we cannot walk. Our shared objective is to keep pressing forward, even if progress is sometimes slow, until all of us fully inhabit what Dr. King described as “the city of freedom.” We shall overcome with or without Mr. Constant. Personally, I hope it is with him.
Niki Tshibaka is the chief human resources officer for the Municipality of Anchorage.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.