By Donald V. Watkins
©Copyrighted and Published on January 26, 2019
Yesterday, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) announced that it has re-invited controversial activist Angela Davis and again named her the recipient of the BCRI’s 2018 Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award -- its highest award. BCRI announced the award earlier this month and rescinded it after complaints were raised among some of the organization's Jewish supporters.
On January 14, 2018, the BCRI Board of Directors issued a public apology for its missteps in conferring, then rescinding, its nomination of Dr. Angela Y. Davis for the award. Dr. Davis has been personally invited to reaccept the award. She has not responded to BCRI’s re-invitation.
The United Negro College Fund Disinvited Me To Dothan Mayor Mike Schmitz’s Fundraising Event
In 2016, I suffered through a similar degrading experience with the United Negro College Fund (UNCF). The incident happened after Mike Schmitz, the two-term mayor of Dothan, Alabama at the time, invited me to be the featured speaker for the inaugural UNCF Dothan-Wiregrass Mayor’s Luncheon he was hosting on December 9, 2016.
More than 100 business, civic, community and education leaders from across the Dothan-Wiregrass Area in Alabama were expected to attend the Mayor's Luncheon. The purpose of this event was to raise scholarship funds for area students and operational support to UNCF-member institutions.
Like Emory Folmar in Montgomery, and Richard Arrington, Jr., Bernard Kincaid, Larry Langford and William Bell in Birmingham, and Andrew Hayden in Uniontown, Mayor Schmitz sought my advice on a wide range of municipal government issues. As a result of these consultations, Mike Schmitz and I became supporters of each other and close friends.
On September 1, 2016, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a bogus lawsuit accusing me of “securities fraud” in connection with the sale of economic participations in my waste-to-energy business to a few friends of mine. The SEC issued a national press release announcing its lawsuit. Of course, the allegations were not true.
Mr. Schmitz, who is white, stood by my side and supported me in the face of the SEC’s frivolous lawsuit. His invitation to speak at the UNCF Dothan-Wiregrass Mayor’s Luncheon occurred after the lawsuit was announced.
Using his status as a highly successful businessman and popular mayor, Mike Schmitz secured early sponsorships for the Mayor’s Luncheon from MidSouth Bank, Alfred Saliba Construction, BBVA Compass, Eagle Eye Outfitters, Farley Nuclear Plant, and Wells Fargo Bank.
I had secured funding pledges totally $100,000 from business partners, which I planned to announce at the event. After I was disinvited, I released my business partners from their pledges.
Acting on instructions from the UNCF’s Atlanta Regional Office, Cherie Wilson, the Alabama Chapter coordinator for this UNCF event, called me a couple of weeks prior to the Mayor's Luncheon, without Mr. Schmitz’s knowledge, and disinvited me as the featured speaker. I was surprised by the call and reported it to Mayor Schmitz. He was angry that I had been disinvited and reaffirmed his support for me, even if he had to cancel the event.
I gracefully bowed out of the speaking engagement to avoid any controversy for Mr. Schmitz. Dr. Brian Johnson, president of Tuskegee University, delivered the keynote address in my place.
Ironically, one of the landmark cases I handled during my legal career involved the desegregation of Alabama’s 32 four-year public colleges and universities. This 25-year-long case resulted in the award of new court-ordered doctoral and expanded undergraduate academic programs for Alabama State University and Alabama A&M University. Additionally, both universities received nearly $600 million in new funding (above and beyond the regular state appropriations) as a result of this litigation.
While neither public university is a member of the UNCF, its member institutions in Alabama (i.e., Miles College, Oakwood University, Tuskegee University, Stillman College and Talladega College) benefitted, indirectly, from my work through joint academic programs and shared grant funding with Alabama State and Alabama A&M.
On the basis of false allegations in a politically-motivated SEC lawsuit, the UNCF disregarded all of the tangible economic and academic benefits bestowed upon Alabama’s largest two historically black public universities and promptly disinvited me as a featured speaker at the UNCF Dothan-Wiregrass Mayor’s Luncheon. Even though the UNCF turned its back on me, Mayor Mike Schmitz never did.
On October 10, 2018, the SEC voluntarily dropped all of its bogus securities fraud claims relating to the sale of economic participations in my waste-to-energy business. These allegations never had merit and were brought for the sole purpose of smearing my name.
My relationship with Mike Schmitz is rock solid. I admire and respect him because he is a true friend, visionary, and great leader. Above all, he is a good and decent man, inside and out.
My relationship with the United Negro College Fund is over. There is nothing the UNCF can say or do to revive it. I will never raise another dime for the UNCF. There is no excuse for the organization's behavior in this matter.
The lesson here is simple: “A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.” – Walter Winchell
PHOTO: Former Dothan, Alabama mayor Mike Schmitz. He is a true friend and great leader.
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