This fact will become all the more obvious as we advance through the story of Bob Shannon, a black high school football coach once heralded by Bill Clinton as one of his 53 faces of hope (during his 1992 presidential campaign).
President George H. W. Bush dubbed Shannon "a beacon of hope in a sea of despair."
You see, Shannon coached the East St. Louis High School football team, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Kevin Horrigan was embedded with his program for the 1990 and 1991 seasons. Horrigan published a much celebrated book on the story of Shannon, titled The Right Kind of Heroes:
East St. Louis, Illinois, is arguably the most dangerous and desolate city in America, perhaps our stalest example of urban collapse. With the nation's highest murder rate, it's a city in which half of the 41,000 residents are unemployed and 75 percent receive public assistance.
In a city where most young men wind up on the streets, in jail, or dead, the high school football coach has sent dozens of his players on to college on football scholarships. He has done it with hard work and absolute dedication to virtues that went out of style in East St. Louis decades ago.
This is the story of Coach Bob Shannon and the East St. Louis Flyers. It is a true story about a coach who won't give up and a team that has beaten all the odds.East St. Louis is virtually all-black, the home of the "40 Days Without Violence" campaign and the celebrated return of Midnight Basketball (with the stated goal of keeping the black teenagers of East St. Louis off the streets and engaging in crime).
But for a brief moment in time, the exploits of Coach Shannon were to be celebrated, and lauded by national politicians on both the right and left.
Though 2015 represents an opportunity to reexamine the book, for Coach Shannon might have been employed in the all-black city of East St. Louis but he commuted to and from the embattled Illinois city (on a clear day, from the roof of East St. Louis High School one can see the Gateway Arch in downtown St. louis).
Coach Shannon, who coached the all-black East St. Louis High School Flyers from 1975 - 1995, lived in Ferguson.
And recall, Ferguson in 1980 was 85 percent white and 14 percent black.
Those black political leaders in East St. Louis expressed their discomfort at Shannon for living in the three-quarters white city of Ferguson:
This is perhaps the biggest sore point with the power-brokers - not that he goes home to his wife, but that the home he goes home to is in Ferguson, Missouri, which lies near the St. Louis airport some twenty-five miles from East St. Louis High School.
"They tell me I'm selfish for criticizing the city when I don't even live here," he says. "I figure it this way. You only have one life to live, and I say you ought to live it as comfortably as you can. Hey, I come from poverty. I want to live in a place where they pick up the trash, where you call the police you can be sure they're going to come. I don't think it's selfish to want to go home and be secure." (Horrigan, K. (1992). The right kind of heroes: Coach Bob Shannon and the East St. Louis Flyers. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, p. 26)There's one more mention of the (then) nearly 75 percent white city of Ferguson in the book:
Bob Shannon, a black man who grew up in the segregated South, went to an all-black college, has been employed in an all-black city his entire career, lives in the suburb of Ferguson, one of St. Louis's few integrated communities. Shannon doesn't live there because it is integrated; he lives there because it's safe. His approach to racial questions is practical, not political. (Ibid, p. 198)Ferguson, Missouri is now 70 percent black and roughly 26 percent white.
Soon, the city Coach Shannon praised for being safe, one where tax-revenue funded, public services (trash removal and police) worked will inevitably degenerate to the level of government he criticized the all-black city of East St. Louis for failing to provide.
The soon-to-be nearly all-black city of Ferguson's future is none other than that described in the pages of The Right Kind of Heroes. [Blacks in Ferguson May Finally Get a Voice, DiversityInc.com, 2-7-15]:
The statistics are downright alarming.
How can a town that is 67 percent Black be properly represented by a city council that is 93 percent white, a police force that is 93 percent white, and a white mayor who “sees no racial divide”?
Fortunately, this may all change this spring, when the Black community in Ferguson perhaps will finally get a voice.
Currently, five out of six city-council members are white, but three of them are scheduled to vacate their seats in April.
As of now, there are eight candidates competing for those open seats, and four of them are Black.
Because both candidates for one of the seats are Black, Black representation on the council is guaranteed to double. The two remaining Black candidates are also battling for a single seat (against two white candidates); if one of them wins, the city council would suddenly triple its Black representation.Ferguson's future looks a lot like the one East St. Louis has enjoyed since white people left it in the hands of black people to maintain, in the process being in absolute political control of the city's fate...
It's a safe bet in a few years Midnight Basketball leagues will begin to appear in Ferguson; it's a safer bet the "40 Days Without Violence" campaign currently underway in East St. Louis will migrate one day to the city Coach Bob Shannon once called home to because it was a safe and secure community.
That, of course, was a community boasting an entirely different racial population... and a community's health is a reflection of nothing more than the people who call it home.