Don't forget the past, forge the future

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."

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