Times columnist helps Valley CDC celebrate

  • Journalist Charles Blow speaks April 12, 2018 to an audience at the Hadley Farms Meeting House. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Journalist Charles Blow speaks Thursday at Valley Community Development Corp.’s 30th anniversary celebration at the Hadley Farms Meeting House. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Journalist Charles Blow speaks April 12, 2018 to an audience at the Hadley Farms Meeting House. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY


  • Journalist Charles Blow speaks April 12, 2018 to an audience at the Hadley Farms Meeting House. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

Friday, April 13, 2018

HADLEY — “Bearing witness.”

That’s how New York Times columnist Charles Blow described the motivation behind his writing process in an interview prior to giving the keynote speech at the 30th anniversary celebration of Valley Community Development Corporation Thursday night at the Hadley Farms Meeting House.

During his 30 minutes of speaking and 30 minutes of answering audience questions from some of the more than 200 people in attendance, Blow hit upon themes of poverty, race and the criminal justice system. He also tossed in a few comments about President Donald Trump.

Valley CDC provides housing and programming aimed at low- and moderate-income residents of Hampshire and Franklin counties. The nonprofit has created 224 units of rental and ownership housing in its three decades, and Executive Director Joanne Campbell said another 209 units are currently in its pipeline.

Blow was introduced by former Northampton mayor Clare Higgins.

“We live in scary times,” Higgins said.

She said that it is a frightening time to be a poor person, as well as a person of color, and she said that Blow was a voice of reason.

In his presentation, Blow provided counterpoints to a number of widespread talking points about poverty and the black community. He noted how Trump had described life in inner cities as “hell” and how the president had rhetorically asked those living there what they had to lose.

“The answer was and remains, everything,” Blow said.

He spoke out against the “othering” of communities, and the feeding into a draconian impulse to punish and suppress others.

“More law and order is simply code for organized state oppression in many of these communities,” he said.

He said that high-crime, high-poverty neighborhoods are not the result of organic development, and that these very areas were created as a result of government policy on multiple levels, and generations of discriminatory practices.

“America has ghettos because America created ghettos,” he said.

He also noted the connection between the high rate of black single motherhood and the high rate of incarceration of black men.

Blow said that the oppressive use of the criminal justice system is not confined to Republicans. He also said that some municipalities have resorted to using the police to raise revenue by increasing fines as an alternative to increasing taxes and cutting of services.

“They bleed cash … from black and brown flesh,” he said.

Blow also noted that for some life is a very fluky thing.

“For some folks, life is a hill,” said Blow.

He noted that some people start at the bottom while others start halfway up or at the top. He then finished with a strong declaration.

“For God’s sake, stop pretending that there’s no damn hill,” he said.

This prompted a standing applause from his audience.

In the question-and-answer period, Blow talked about institutional racism and how the North is not immune from it, noting segregation in New York’s schools, the formerly active stop-and-frisk policing policy in New York City, and how Martin Luther King Jr. fought for fair housing in Chicago toward the end of his life. He pushed back against the belief that racism is only a Southern thing.

“No, it’s your thing,” said Blow.

He also returned to this theme at the end of the presentation when it came to inequality, noting the high levels of income inequality in blue states.

“Liberal cities cannot lecture anybody else until they take a long hard stare in the mirror,” he said.

A number of questions were addressed to Blow about Trump, whom Blow has frequently criticized in his column. Blow, however, told people not to have faith in the president’s removal, noting that no president has been successfully impeached in the history of the United States.

“The founders made this incredibly hard because they wanted it to be hard,” said Blow.

The final question that Blow was asked, albeit in a playful manner, was whether or not he would run for president himself. Blow did not answer, as applause broke out.

Valley CDC reached out to see if Blow would give the keynote speech, for which he was paid, in 2016. Campbell said that the group wanted an energizing and inspiring speaker, and that a national speaker had also been chosen to attract new people to its organization.

“They wanted to hear Charles Blow talk,” said Campbell.

Speaking to the Gazette, Blow said that he believed this was his first time visiting the Valley. He said that the architecture and houses were beautiful and that it was “probably very pretty when it’s not brown.”

Speaking about his writing, Blow likened being a columnist to writing a never ending book. Asked how he got to become a New York Times columnist, however, Blow said that he had no idea.

“My career’s a fluke,” Blow said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com