Cornegy, Black Clergy Question AQE’s Racial Makeup

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Councilman Robert E. Cornegy, Jr. (D 36CD)

By Stephen Witt, Kings County Politics

City Council member Robert Cornegy, Jr. (D-Bedford-Stuyvesant, Northern Crown Heights) and an organization of Black ministers from around the city are wondering why a nonprofit education advocacy organization, which purports to speak on behalf of Black and Brown students, does not have a Black or Brown executive director or any Black or Brown people on their board of directors.

The matter came to Cornegy’s attention from Mobilizing Preachers & Communities (MPAC) CEO and Rev. Dr. Johnnie Green, who is taking umbrage at Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) Executive Director Billy Easton, who hails from Albany but continues to speak out on behalf of Black and Brown students in New York City.

“I pastor in Harlem and MPAC churches are throughout 330 Black neighborhoods in New York City,” said Green. “We don’t know who Billy Easton is, and he has never reached out to us, but we do know he doesn’t come from our community and neither does the chair of his board. And whether they use frequent-flier points or not to visit our communities, it doesn’t change the fact that if Easton and his chair cared about Black and Brown students he would have a Black or Brown person as chair or executive director.”

This caused Cornegy, who has six children that have either attended in the past or currently attends both charter and regular public schools, to also question Easton and the AQE motives.

“It has been brought to my attention that African-American clergy in New York City have questioned the authority and ability of your organization to speak on behalf of Black and Brown students here in New York city because neither you, the AQENY board, nor the AQENY board chair are representative of communities of color and do not live in New York City. Furthermore, your board is not composed of educators or education experts but experts in other fields. If these claims are true, they would seem to undermine the credibility of AQENY in representing students of color,” Cornegy wrote in a letter to Easton yesterday.

Cornegy noted that he and other City Council colleagues of color take the education of their students extremely seriously and want to ensure AQENY is best equipped to advocate on behalf of the communities of color that its mission most directly impacts. As such, he asked:

* Is it true that both the AQENY board chair and executive director are white?

* Is it true that both the AQENY board chair and executive director do not live in NYC?

* How many times have you visited a predominantly Black or Brown school in NYC in the last year?

* How many times has the AQENY board chair visited a predominantly Black or Brown school in NYC in the last year?

“For years, AQENY has been at the center of education advocacy, holding itself out as a champion of the less privileged. Yet, there has been little scrutiny into where the organization is based and who operates it. I am sure that you can understand the concerns of communities of color in not wanting to be used by individuals outside of the community for other agendas,” Cornegy wrote.

AQENY Executive Director Billy Easton

Easton responded that, “Cornegy’s attempted attack on AQE is the result of the fact that AQE asked him several times to return a contribution from billionaire Dan Loeb after Loeb made an outrageously racist comment about NYS Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.”

Easton, who e-mailed the response in a co-written statement with AQE Statewide Advocacy Director Zakiyah Ansari, who is Black, noted Cornegy didn’t return Loeb’s donation.

“Since we called him out for this, he has chosen to attempt to attack our work to win the $4.2 billion in school aid that New York State owes to schools statewide—74% of these funds are owed to Black and Brown students statewide.

“Unfortunately, Mr. Cornegy has been absent from this fight. It is well-known that AQE is a statewide coalition, our core organizational members are New York Communities for Change, Make the Road New York, Citizen Action of New York and New York City Coalition for Educational Justice, all of which are membership organizations that together represent tens of thousands of public school parents, students and families,” they wrote.

AQE has long been aligned with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) in opposing charter schools, even though charters often outperform regular public schools in communities of color.

Additionally, AQE has also been playing a leading role in trying to unseat Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) State Senators Jesse Hamilton (D-Brooklyn), Jose Peralta (D-Queens) and Marisol Alcantara (D-Manhattan), all of whom are lawmakers of color with well-earned reputations of being hardworking on both legislative issues and constituent services.

AQE argues that because the lawmakers have a ruling coalition with the majority Republican Senate they shouldn’t represent their districts.

This partisan stance, which a number of white-run liberal “progressive” organizations take, is increasingly drawing a wedge between them and a growing number of Black Democratic lawmakers who believe a more bipartisan and issue-oriented stance better serves their districts.