ONUMBA.COM – A conversation with Rep. Tracy Maxwell Heard, Minority Whip, Ohio House of Representatives, representing District 26
Ike Mgbatogu – Good evening Rep. Heard. My name is Ike Mgbatogu, and I am a reporter for the Ohio Call & Post Newspaper, the largest Black newspaper in the state.
It’s a pleasure to meet you.
Rep. Heard – Good to be with you.
Mgbatogu – Let me start by asking you to introduce yourself to our readers – your hometown, your background, the district you represent, and of course, whatever else you would like to say about yourself.
Heard – I am a native of Chattanooga, Tenn., Raised in Akron, Ohio. Got my degree in Communications, and moved to television news. I was a TV anchor with an ABC [news] affiliate in Northeast Ohio. From that point got into politics working for the Clinton-Gore [campaign] in 1996. That brought me down to Columbus where I was an aide to my state senator. And from there, started working on various other campaigns. I started the Millennium Solutions and was consulting, doing public relations work, and that’s how I really got into that community. Ad this spawned, for a while, into non-profit, and that’s when I learned the best lessons and the reasons I have interest in running for office myself versus working behind the scene getting other people elected, because that’s where I really learned what the needs of the community that I lived in were, and made the connections about how to be impactful and bring solutions to the community for the challenges that we face.
Mgbatogu – I read that your philosophy in life is, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.” And that’s from the book of Matthew, Chapter 6, and verse 33. As a politician, and more specifically, as a legislator who is involved in making decisions that impact the lives of many Ohioans, how would you characterize or frame your political philosophy in terms of what drives your thinking about how you vote on issues?
Heard – Sure, I am by definition of my title a representative. I am elected and sent forward by my community to represent and cast votes on their behalf. So, my personal perspective is driven by my faith. My personal philosophy is driven by my faith. It is the perspective from which I operate personally and professionally. It is what I believe makes me accountable to my constituents. On an even deeper level, because it is not just that I am accountable and responsible to them in terms of being elected by them, but in terms of being a citizen of the community. I have an obligation to my brother and his issues and his needs whether I am elected or not. So, as an elected official, specifically in the legislature, my faith impacts how I think. Whatever your personal code is impacts the job that we do here. I view the budget as a moral document. That budget says, these are the things that, as a community, we say are important. Or I should say, that we have identified as important for the community because it is a small segment of the community that establishes those priorities. Now, in an ideal situation, that information is being driven from the bottom up, you know, the community is telling their representatives what they want them to focus on. That’s what they bring to the table within their caucus. That’s what they bring to the floor in terms of legislation that they craft. It should be responsive to the people in the community that they represent, directly in terms of your district, and universally in terms of the state of Ohio.
Mgbatogu – Gov. Strickland lost the last election to Republican John Kasich by 2 percentage points. Strickland being incumbent, that’s rare. What happened, what went wrong? Why did the governor lose?
Heard – Part of what happened is we are still making strides to come out of this recession. The economists said the recession ended in June or July of 2009. That may or may not be true. I am not an economist. I don’t know exactly how or what the measurement is for determining when the recession ended. However, one thing I am certain of, whether that’s true or not, we certainly have not gotten to the point where the average citizen is feeling the relief from the end of the recession. Unemployment is going down, but not fast enough for the average workers to start getting back in mass numbers into the work force. African-Americans and minority communities and women are always the last in. We always have the highest unemployment numbers. So when you are dealing with the challenges, and I’m talking of extreme challenges, I mean, we were a breath away from the biggest depression ever. So, I mean, it wasn’t kind of things were kind of rocky, things were really, really bad, collapse of the financial market, housing crisis, foreclosure, all of these things, these are the things that were impacting the masses. And the bailout that happened didn’t happen for the people. They happened for the people who ran them over. So, that’s problematic in terms of turning the economy around because the people who need to have income to a level where they have disposable income and are feeding that into the economy to rebuild the economy, they weren’t rescued. There was no relief for them. So, the infrastructure was saved, bolstered up, and there was some attempt to create some trickledown effect to the people in terms of dollars that’s going to the banks. Well, they never put that money out on the street, but they didn’t send it back, either. You know, they decided it wasn’t a product that was profitable enough for them to invest at the time to market…The people at the top were getting fatter by the day. The money that was being made up there was just obscene. So, when you have that kind of extreme imbalance, certainly when the fallout comes, it’s going to be devastating. Should we have bailed them out? I don’t think we had a choice, if we didn’t want our society to collapse. However, I think we should have done better on the foresight side in terms of how we were going to enforce or force the benefit of that down the pipeline to the citizens, to the small businesses, so they could stay afloat, so that banks who were just bailed out didn’t have the option to sever credit lines for people who in no way had been bad customers. People were losing credit lines that had never been in default, they had never had any kind of negative relationship with their bank. They just decided they didn’t want to carry that much paper out there anymore. So, all of this trickles down to impact us on the state level and our ability to balance our budget, to create safety-net for people who are struggling through this, because Ohio was in a unique situation because not only were we the victims of the same recession that was happening around the state, we were also the victim of 16 years of Republican administration that was horribly mismanaged. They always want to say we are all about spending, spending, spending, well, its all about relief for the masses, the greatest majority of the people of the state. The criticism that they are leveling at us for the four years that we had control over it are the very same criticism that we leveled at them. The problem is that we didn’t have sufficient time, they had 16 years to fix it, we had four. And you can’t turn 16 years around in four years, and the public was impatient. And when you add impatience on top of lies that are being told about what the current state of affairs really are, you know, there’s just a great deal of mistrust, and you know, people kind of didn’t know which way to turn and I think that’s indicated by the fact that there was no mandate in the governor’s election. And, it was so close. Unfortunately, it wasn’t close enough on our side.
Mgbatogu – Gov. Strickland was in office for 4 years. What would you say were some of his greatest accomplishments, if any, particularly for the African American community?
Heard – One of the greatest was what he did with education reform. There was some mockery going on, on the other side of the aisle. They wanted a place holder for House Bill 1 because the governor had run on education reform. So, they are holding this, well, give us your plan. We have been chastised by the Supreme Court. That’s a lot of problem, and it’s a lot of problem that you can’t solve overnight, certainly not when you are in the midst of a recession, and have challenges at the state level, as well. And so, he took his time, more than a year to look at this, and had interested party meetings with people all around the state of Ohio, and all round the country actually, because he was looking at models everywhere of where there were successes and how those successes could be overlaid onto the product, if you will, that we were trying to deliver the students in the state of Ohio. He was committed to an equal education for all students regardless of wealth of your community, which is by definition what public education is about. It’s about quality education for everyone wherever you live. And he was trying to return us back to that kind of model. Also, trying to get away from the cookie cutter, he eliminated test and the teaching to the test, and reducing class sizes, and giving support to teachers so they had the tools and the professional development they need as well, creating mentoring situations between teachers that were demonstrated as leaders and great educators to the new teachers that were coming in. And trying a learning environment that was ideal for the student. There was a lot of creative and innovative, a lot in the language that we talked about, because all children don’t learn the same, trying to create an environment where a teacher can teach to the student instead of to the test, based on what their strengths and abilities are, and how they engage in learning. So, there is a greater success for more students, not just those that can fit into the model that has been created. Beyond that, there was a homestead exemption, giving property relief to seniors, there was the tuition cap on higher education so that, not only were you restoring equity and quality to the K – 12 segment of the education pipeline, but that once they successfully matriculated from that, that there would be access based on affordability to higher education. I think he did an outstanding job with that. In terms of employment, one of the things I worked most closely with him was inclusion, and the three executive orders that he put forward to make sure that 584 was enforced. I mean, we had laws on the books for 40 years, saying that we had one of the few remaining set asides laws in the country here, that mandated that we create access and opportunity for minority businesses and women and disadvantaged businesses. But it takes more than having the law on the books; it takes political will to enforce that.
Mgbatogu – It’s been quite an interesting 100 days for Gov. Kasich. During the campaign, he did say he would do some of these things, and yet folks voted for him, including some that are now angry at him. Certainly, the governor did not get a huge mandate, but he won. What’s your reaction to that, and what message do you have for the people of Ohio in the next election?
Heard – All of the focus right now is on SB 5 and repealing that. But I believe the message is to pay attention. When he [Kasich] was running for governor, because as you said, there really are no surprises here, he was very forthcoming with what his plan was, and what he was going to do. The surprise for me is that anybody is surprised. He said here is what I am going to do, here is my agenda, here is my focus. Usually, politicians are accused of not keeping their campaign promises. He is keeping every single one of his…there are people who did support him who are being negatively impacted by the decisions that he is making now, and they are very upset and feeling very betrayed. But again, I am not sure why? Because why would you support someone who has told you what their agenda is and if there’s part of that agenda that you don’t support, why would you support that person? So now that he is delivering on his words, that’s your guy. If he was not representing what your issues and concerns were, why did you vote for him?
Mgbatogu – Senate Bill 5, this is one of those instances where the governor offered hints about where he stood with organized labor when he talked about breaking the back of the unions. You voted against the bill. Why?
Heard – Because it was unnecessary. There was no reason to eliminate collective bargaining. It is a mechanism, not a mandate. Anything that was desired to be accomplished, anything that they wanted, to ask additional sacrifices of these employees could have been asked and negotiated and accomplished through collective bargaining.
Mgbatogu – Opponents of SB 5 will try to overturn the law in the November Ballot. How would you assess the chances of SB 5 being struck down by Ohio voters?
Heard – I am very optimistic. But it is quite an undertaking to keep focus and maintain the momentum and passion attached to an issue for six months. If you first look at how regular election process plays out, it’s those final two weeks to 2 months when people tune in , and really start to pay attention, what’s out there, what am I going to vote on, that kind of thing. The first part of this is we have to get enough signatures to get it on the ballot. [231,000 signatures required] There’s an election before the election, because the first return is going to determine whether or not we even get on the ballot because if we don’t get that far, it’s already over, because SB 5 has passed, and will take effect. We are trying to repeal a law that was passed. The first step is to get the signatures, and that’s why it’s important that we make people understand that this is not a Democratic issue, and this is not a Republican issue.
Mgbatogu – Gov. Kasich appointed the first 23 members of his cabinet before naming one African American. You and other Black lawmakers unleashed your anger about it. But since then, the governor has named two African Americans to the cabinet, Michael Colbert to the Department of Job and Family Services, and Harvey Reed to run the Department of Youth Services. How would you assess the governor’s mindset when it comes to the question of inclusion and diversity?
Heard – He has no value in it. When you say to a state senator, I don’t need your people, in a public forum, that’s a pretty aggressive statement. I believe it speaks to his philosophy in general. I don’t think he sees the value in diversity. To make such an aggressive and insulting statement like that, I think it speaks to his maturity. There’s a part of his personality that is immature and prone to tantrums, he is thin-skinned, and that’s not a good trait for a leader.
Mgbatogu – Ohio law requires the state set aside 15% of the state’s contracts for minority businesses. Recently, Gov. Kasich hinted he is thing about raising that number. He has instructed his agency directors to review their agency operations and advise him on that. One thing is very clear. The goal of 15% is not currently being met. What should the administration do to meet that goal, which by the way wasn’t met in the Strickland administration, either?
Heard – First, let me speak to the Governor Strickland part. Two things Gov. Strickland did in effort to hit that number was, first of all acknowledge that it wasn’t being met. Second of all, establish a score card which reviewed internal departments, not just external relationships with contractors, but every single state agency and department was accountable to that number, as well. And establish executive orders to say, basically, I am serious about meeting this. Unfortunately, he didn’t have significant time to really move the needle that far. Currently, [under Kasich] I think it is incredibly disingenuous, insulting…why would I have any care or see any validity in you saying that you are going to review increasing the percentage of inclusion when you have done nothing to get to the current number. So, instead of them recognizing the fact that I have made no commitment, I have not giving any directions to my current directors and administrators that they are to continue the score cards, that I have a commitment to moving that number and making sure that we hit it, instead, he is trying to get the focus off the fact that he has done none of that and doesn’t intend to do any of that by saying I am going to increase the number. Let me get them all excited about the fact that I am going to increase the number so that hopefully they won’t notice that I am not doing anything about trying to hit the number that we have now. So, I am not impressed by that at all.
Mgbatogu – You sponsored House Bill 86, the prison reform bill. Why is prison reform important to you?
Heard – It’s usually important, not just from a fiscal standpoint, although that’s important, but the more important part to me is the human capital that we are trying to save versus the actual monetary capital. [We need to divert] people into treatment …versus incarceration. If you are an addict, it does nothing to resolve the situation. All you do is turn that addict into a better criminal. It is disingenuous to say that we want to reduce crime, we want to reduce the recidivism rate, and we want to reduce the cost, when you are not doing anything to rehabilitate the offender. What you are doing is making them a better criminal. You are not giving them any support at reentry towards housing, towards employment. As a matter of fact, we throw all kinds of obstacles towards employment.
Mgbatogu – Your Democratic caucus is totally outnumbered, 51 – 40. There are only 40 of you in the House of Representatives. What has been the impact of that in terms of participation in governing the state of Ohio, and being a part of the debate over ideas?
Heard – It’s an absolute shutout. Absolute. It’s shameful. There’s nothing. There’s no communication. There’s no interest. It is an absolute shutout.
Mgbatogu – Have you personally met with the governor? How did that go?
Heard – I have met with the governor. I have to say, in fairness to him, it was unexpected in terms of the way the meeting went. His comments were inclusive. However, to date, I have not heard from him about anything that we discussed. So, it was a surprising and interesting and amusing conversation. However, to no yield. I expected it to be a bit more confrontational than it was. So, it was welcomed that it was not. We actually had a real dialogue. But again, it was for naught. It was just lots of pretty conversation that went nowhere.
Mgbatogu – The House recently approved the governor’s $55.6 billion bi-annual budget, keeping intact nearly all of the governor’s cuts, to education, local government, school districts, and others. What’s your take on the governor’s budget, which he believes is what’s good for Ohio?
Heard – I can’t agree that he and his caucus and his party believe that they are doing the right thing. There’s so much smoke around the numbers. In the beginning, we didn’t even have the numbers. It was conceptual. How do you have a conceptual budget? It was categorical. No, what are the numbers? You know, I need to be able to do the math on this and percentages. No, tell me what the bottom line is. Tell these constituents and organizations that represent the constituencies how they are going to be impacted so they can plan accordingly. I think it just serves the interest of a small number of people whose agenda they are pushing.
This is an amusing dynamic that’s manifesting itself in Ohio and around the country, specifically in about nine different states, Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, Pennsylvania, etc. And there’s a top – down agenda that’s orchestrated and created by an incredibly small number of people, but engaged and supported and delivered by a number of representatives at all levels. But the thing that I find sad is that none of them realize that they are not in the club, that all of this benefit is for people who belong to a very small exclusive club that they will never be a part of, even as Republicans, because it’s really more about power and wealth than it is about political affiliation.
Mgbatogu – The budget is now with the Senate. What’s the one thing you would hope the senate would restore in terms of cuts?
Heard – I can only have one? Because so many of them are so connected. If I absolutely, absolutely, I mean, local government is huge, huge, and so far reaching. I am going to say that’s really, really a close second, but my first would have to be restoration of our education reform plan and the funding plan that was attached to that. Because everything hinges on education. When you have a level playing field in terms of access to a quality education, people can create options for themselves. Education is a pathway, and education is the linchpin for everything else. Our economic development is linked to education. Workforce development is connected to education, which is all about job creation, which is about economic stability. That impacts the housing market. That impacts having a job, having access to health care through health benefit. That impacts a community. So, all of that is connected. And to me, the foundation and center of it all is education. So, if I can only pick one thing, I think if we got education right, there would be so many things that would self correct based on doing that right. It would just impact so many things automatically just by virtue of doing that correctly, that would have to be my number one.
Mgbatogu – After this gig, what’s next for Rep. Heard as a politician? Are you eyeing any higher office? What’s in the future for you?
Heard – This is absolutely the best thing I have done professionally in my adult life. I think everything that I have done has demonstrated some relevance in this job in my ability to understand something, to connect with people, to connect dots in things we are doing. And I think everything that I have done was just in preparation for this opportunity here. I feel an extreme sense of responsibility, there’s a great satisfaction in it, my days are insane and crazy all the time and that’s OK because I love my job. If you have ever had a job you didn’t like, 8:30 comes really fast and 5:00 o’clock is so far away. If I have an 8 hour a day, that’s like part time to me. So, but it’s OK, because I love what I do. And I experience such a value in what I am allowed to do and the contribution I am allowed to make even if the contribution is standing up and fighting what’s happening right now. I have had the opportunity by actually moving things. Now, my contribution is fighting. It’s a different posture, but just as necessary. So, in terms of future, that’s kind of hard to say, because when you are talking about the political landscape, things are very fluid. You don’t really know. I didn’t say, OK, in 2006, I am running for the state legislature. I knew that was something that I had an interest in. I like that kind of government. I knew that’s how I wanted to engage. My desire was not to just be an elected official, just to stay elected for the rest of my life. I like this job, I like the legislative process.
Mgbatogu – You will probably like it even more as a U.S. senator. Is that a possibility?
Heard – I was moving that way. Now, that opportunity is incredibility remote simply because of the odds. Not because I couldn’t do the job, but there are only two in the state and people tend to die in senate seats. There’s not a revolving door in those. So, for that opportunity to even become viable in a political career is unique. Just because you are in the political world doesn’t mean that everything is an opportunity for you, because there are good people in places. Charleta Tavares is a senator in my district right now. I think Charleta is fantastic. I don’t have any intention of running against her. That’s an opportunity for me. But I wouldn’t because I think she is great. So, there’s deference to her and the contribution that she makes that I think has value. So, everything that you might find intriguing isn’t always available to you. I would love to go to congress. My congressman [Pat] Tiberi is pretty entrenched. He has been there a while. He is a great fund raiser. He just moved up in leadership. Anything is possible in politics. That would be an uphill battle.
Mgbatogu – You don’t think he [Tiberi] is vulnerable?
Heard – Oh, I think he is vulnerable. I think he is vulnerable by nature of his own record and the things that he has done. But understanding politics, and understanding how much they would do to protect that seat, I understand what the challenges would be in trying to take that seat from him. There’s a rumor that the reapportionment that’s going on right now, with the redrawing of the lines and all of that, that there’s a possibility for a new seat in Central Ohio. They are going to lose up in the North because population is decreasing. Well, we are growing here. So, there’s a possibility there could be a Central Ohio congressional seat created. That would be an opportunity for me. And it’s one that I would likely go for. I love what I do, and I would love the opportunity to take it to the next level, and that’s what the next level would be.
Mgbatogu – Do you think that a Black person can win a U.S. Senate seat in Ohio?
Heard – Yes.
Mgbatogu – Growing up, did you aspire to be a politician or did you consider going into a different career?
Heard – No. This was not part of my plan. You know, I grew up in a household where both of my parents were very committed to the civic process, to voting. My mother was a school teacher, and I went every election with her after school to go and vote. I remember that they asked my father to run for council 2 or 3 times in my life. He wasn’t interested in holding those positions himself. So, I was aware of and committed to a sense of civic duty, but for me, that meant paying attention, supporting good people and voting. It wasn’t like, oh God, I could never do that. It just wasn’t my interest. No, it just wasn’t what I thought I was supposed to be doing. Again, I was a communications major. I grew up in the arts all my life. My plan when I left going to college was I was going to be a theater arts major. Until my dad said, I don’t think so. I have been in theatre all my life, I have been dancing for 19 years, I considered myself a triple threat, I was a singer, an actress, a dancer, I was going to Broadway, you know, and that was my dream since I was a kid. For a while I wanted to be a doctor. I was very fascinated with that, and then I thought, ah, not so interested in that. And when my father and I really had a serious conversation, he said why would I pay for you to go to college for four years to do something you have been doing all of your life. How much better are you going to get at it? How about we invest in something that gives you a backup plan, just in case you are not the next Lena Horne? Let’s come up with a backup plan. And he was the one who suggested communications to me, which was a no brainer because I had always been on the school newspaper. I love to write, and it was a strength of mine. So, I’m like, Oh, OK, I guess I could do that. And I really enjoyed it. When I was going to college, I really enjoyed that study. And it ended up being a great fit. When I came out of college, I was planning to go to Hong Kong and live for two years just because I wanted to live abroad, wanted to live somewhere where there were lots of people from all over the world, and have that experience. I wanted to go to a very eclectic place where they spoke English, but where there’s a lot of stuff happening, lots of different people. And just as I was starting to really make my plans, I got a phone call and got offered an internship at the local TV station, which was ABC affiliate, and so I went. I said OK, I can postpone it [the trip to Hong Kong], no big deal. I don’t have a commitment or anything. I got in there, and within the first two weeks of my internship, I got hired as a reporter. And my first day on the air was Halloween, by Christmas; I was sitting in the anchor chair. [It was in Akron.] And it was done. I mean, the things they tell you in school would never happen, happened. Because they say it would be five years before you are ever on the air, you have to pay your dues. You have to do all that work. I happened to be in the right place at the right time. There’s lots of transition. It was something I had a natural aptitude for. I was comfortable with that. And boom, suddenly, Hong Kong was gone. I am sitting in an anchor chair. So that’s what I thought was my trajectory. And then suddenly, three years later, station closed, it sold. We were not expecting that. So, that’s how I ended up with Clinton- Gore. That was my introduction to politics from career perspectives. I got hired on to do minority media, so I was doing brochure and literature pieces and designing, and that kind of stuff. And when we had all of those in place, they said we are going to open up an office here, and we need somebody to run it. We would love for you to look at that. Me and a gentleman named Charles Walker ran that office. Got hooked into the statewide network. And when it was all said and done, my Senator came up to me and said, so what are you going to do next? I said, I think I am unemployed again. I’m not sure. So, he said, you seemed to have liked this, you were good at it. Why don’t you consider coming down to Columbus and being my aide? I’m like, OK, what do you do? I didn’t even know what an aide did. So, I made some calls, talked to some people, and I said, it’s only two hours from home, why not.
Mgbatogu – Who was your senator?
Heard – Sen. Lee Harrington. So, he just asked me for your commitment. And I was there pretty much a year, I started with him in February, that following February was when I went on my own, started consulting, and just working with different candidates. Picked up an issue campaign. That issue campaign, the COTA levy campaign is what really got me hooked into the community at grassroot level, and that’s what led to the community development thing. That’s what brought me here in Columbus. That’s how I ended up getting into this. Not my plan.
Mgbatogu – Kind of a curious question. If Gov. Kasich decides to offer you a lofty position in his administration, will you accept it?
Heard – Wow. That’s a loaded question. My immediate response is, no. I don’t know how I would be effective, but given an assignment like workforce development and minority inclusion, and having the authority and the latitude in that area, it would almost be irresponsible not to do it, if I really have the latitude to accomplish something, because that’s my charge to make a difference, to make a change, to deliver something positive for my constituent, and for the state of Ohio. I mean, that would be a larger platform, I was working for him, but my charge would be to the entire state of Ohio. So, my first answer would be no because I don’t think that’s a realistic possibility. But if it were, and were allowed what I deemed necessary to be successful in whatever that assignment was, I may say yes. I just don’t see that happening.
Mgbatogu – Outside of folks in your family, who would you consider your hero(s), living or deceased?
Heard – Esther. [The book of Esther in the bible] I admire her courage to take advantage of an opportunity that she just literally fell into, really by nature of her beauty, turn that into a whole nation of people. And to find the courage to be able to say, if I die, you know, I believe this is it, this is why I am here, for a time such as this. So Esther is a big one for me. She is pretty cool. And pretty universal, in terms of how applicable that story is throughout time. I admire the brilliance of Dr. King and Malcolm X, which is, I think, is the similarity for them. And I admire the differences of the two of them, and their styles. I think I am more like Martin in my personal style, but Malcolm definitely lives inside of me. I feel a personal connection to all of the people that came before me.
Mgbatogu – Should Blacks do more to acknowledge and salute the life and work of Minister Malcolm X?
Heard – I don’t think we lose anything. I think that there’s a segment of our population that shies away from that because of fear, the perception of what people would think of them if they identify with someone like Malcolm X. But I think that depends on how you define Malcolm X. There are people that want to depict him as a negative, militant, violent personality. And that’s not who he was. I never met him face to face, never had a conversation with him, but of all the documentaries that I have seen, of the books that I have read about him, that’s not what I walked away with in terms of who he was. I think he was just like everybody else. He was a working progress. And to his advantage or disadvantage, that played out on the public stage. He went through a number of phases in terms of evolution of himself as a man, all of which happened in the public eyes. So, there are things he probably would say he may have done differently, may have said differently, maybe not. Because everything good or bad leads to the next step, and its part of the fabric of who you are, it has value in terms of honing you. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego being in the fire, and we all have a fire that we go through. And I think it happens more than once in our lives. I think there’s an intentional divine reason why Martin and Malcolm were on the stage at the same time. Because I think they were both effective because they were a perfect counter to the other. And I think they had the same message. Malcolm shook them up, scared them, to a certain extent, and I think because of his personality, and even because he was misunderstood in some cases, he created a space for Martin to be effective.
Mgbatogu – Have you been to Africa?
Heard – My first opportunity that I missed to go to African was when I moved to Columbus to work in the legislature. I have a friend named Nathan Oliver who was a rare books and art dealer. He was a professor at Kent State and transitioned into that. And because he made frequent trips to Ghana, possibly 2, 3, sometimes 4 times a year, he established relationships with the people of Ghana. And there was an outreach mission in ’94, ’95, between ’94 and ’97 from Ghana to Africans all around the Diaspora, wherever you are, to men of African descent specifically. And they came to the United States [And Akron got picked]. They were trying to encourage people to come back and establish relationships in Africa, specifically in Ghana. And went to the extent of picking seven men, I think it was, and enstooling them as official Chiefs in Ghana, and Nathan was one of them. And we have been friends for years and years, and he‘s getting ready to make another trip to Ghana. And calls me and say, hey, you want to go to Africa? I’m like, Yeah; you know I want to go to Africa. When are you going? Now. I’m like, OK, explain. And what happened was that there was a woman that was part of a trip he was about to do who had a death in her family and was not able to go and everything was paid for. And I’m like, Oh my God. And I said I would love to go, Nathan, but I just started a job two weeks ago. I can’t just walk into my boss [office] and say I’m going to be gone for three weeks, is that OK? I didn’t even know how to say that. I said, thank you so much for thinking of me, you know, but I can’t go. So, I missed that opportunity. The Ohio Legislative Black Caucus has been talking about doing a trip to Africa again….I feel a void not having done that [traveled to Africa]. My Godfather is from Nigeria. Everyone that I know that goes comes back with the same exact experience of how they felt being there, and seeing that many Black people. All my friends that have been there and come back, they are like, you are not whole until you go. You are really not complete until you have experienced the place of your birth.
Mgbatogu – If you get a chance to go, what country would you like to visit?
Heard – I have friends in Ghana, so I would like to go there. And I have connections there. I heard about it. As I said, my Godfather is from Nigeria, so I would like to go there. So, I am not sure that there’s any place that I don’t want to go in Africa. I would love to have the freedom and the money to travel the continent.
Mgbatogu – Sen. Ray Miller is unwavering about his view that African Americans should identify with Africa as their ancestral motherland? Do you agree, and why?
Heard – Oh, absolutely. I had the fortune of growing up in a situation where that was never a negative in my life. You know, there was a time in this country when Black people did not want to be identified as Africans. And that was by design. And it goes all the way back to slavery, because there is power and a sense of self that comes from identifying with your place of origin. And everybody else has it except for us. And we were the only ones who did not self identify that way. You have Asian Americans, Italian Americans, Latin Americans, and European Americans. Everybody was something else, except us. We were colored. We weren’t a people.
Mgbatogu – A people not linked to a place of origin
Heard – Exactly. So, we have had all kinds of evolution of, you know, we were negro, we were colored, we were Black, when we got to the point of being African Americans, I was like Yeah. Now, you start to figure out who you are. There’s great power that is relinquished in not self identifying with your place of origin. Because you are just flapping in the wind.
Mgbatogu – Because of that, is this it? Is it likely to migrate to something else?
Heard – I don’t think so. Because I think we have finally come to a point where we have accepted that, and we are comfortable with that, and we have found pride in that. I was never absent that because of how I was raised, because of having a connection with a Godfather who was from Nigeria. So, that was part of my personal consciousness. So, it was offensive for me to hear Black people say disparaging things about Africa or Africans or to be insulted by that connection. To me, it was idiotic. I mean, where do you think you came from? What do you identify with? Who are you, if you are not African? And also, because I grew up knowing that it was the center of civilization, that it was the cradle of it all. Why would I not be thrilled to be part of where everything began? All of that is brainwashing, again, going back to slavery, and how they separated us, and how there was that intentional separation and segregation from who we are, because they understood the value of knowing who you are.
Mgbatogu – What should be done to get young African American boys and girls interested in school, not just high school, but also college?
Heard – Two things. First of all, to the conversation we were just having about Africa. I think that’s really, really important. We cannot just connect children to their culture and heritage in February. They need to know the value and the power of the contributions we have made globally from birth on. If you don’t know who you are, you are at a severe disadvantage and extremely vulnerable to the determinations of other people about who you are. The other thing is, you have to give children examples and access, which is what happens to the majority population. They need to know a doctor. They need to know somebody with a job. All children, no matter where they are. There needs to be something that’s part of the public education curriculum that makes sure that every child has someone in their lives regardless of their circumstances, that’s going to expose them to all of the possibilities of the world which belongs to them, regardless of where they start out, and put them on a path toward college education. It has to become the expectation. It has to become the expectation in terms of funding and access, because otherwise, you are intentionally setting people up to fail, because when my parents went to college, that was exceptional for Black people to have college degree. By the time it came time for me to go to college, it was necessary. OK. It had shifted from going to high school and graduating and being able to get a job in a factory, and make a way to support you and your family. That didn’t exist anymore. Well, now, it has evolved even beyond that. I mean, it’s not just about having a bachelor’s degree, do you have a graduate degree, do you have a doctorate degree in something. Depending on where you want to go, the more education you have, the more well rounded you are, the more competitive you are. So, it’s not just about putting them in that academic pipeline, but also giving them access to other things, having them hooked up to internships, having them have little jobs in the summers, where they go to work in places under the supervision of some Black person there. So that they really get the full experience about what it means to be in this environment. And what it means for this Black person to be here, and how it would be different if they were not there. So, we have to be intentional about it. We can’t just talk about it, we have to create a plan and inject the children into that plan. We have been talking about it for a long, long time and we can’t wait on someone else to do it. That’s one of the biggest things that we have to do. We have to take responsibility for ourselves.