Remembering the Life and Times of Glenn Cunningham
Our next political person is Glenn Cunningham from the city of Jersey City, NJ. Jersey City is one of the towns where I grew up. Glenn’s older brother Lowell and I were great friends. We were successful in helping to keep Glenn on the right track. We were not so successful in doing the same for ourselves.
In those long-ago years, when Glenn became the Mayor of Jersey City I was chair of the Black United Front. We really had a great relationship. In fact, he honored me at a ceremony in City Hall in Jersey City and gave me keys to the city.
His wife, Sandra Cunningham is a State Senator in Jersey City. I thought it was keeping in line with what we are doing regarding our church's influence. It would be appropriate to include Glenn Cunningham.
Follow our series, I Remember, coming from my soon-to-be-published book titled
Passing of the Human Giant Spirit.
Mayor Glenn Cunningham
Sunrise: September 16, 1943, Jersey City, New Jersey
Sunset: May 24, 2004, Jersey City, New Jersey
Flying home across a Houston, Texas, sky, after a few days of rest in the Puerto Vallarta sun, my wife turned to me and said, "I don't know how to tell you this, but I've got to tell you before you hear it on the radio."
Oh, God, what is it now?
"Glenn Cunningham is dead," she said.
"Yes, he died while riding his bike; a heart attack, I think."
"Maybe Wednesday morning. I received the call from the church. We didn't know how to tell you."
At least I think that's what she said since my mind was racing back through time to the Jersey City of my youth.
I knew Glenn as a little boy. His older brother Lowell and I were running buddies. Our lives were less than honorable, but we vowed to keep Glenn straight. I would always say, "We didn't do a good job on ourselves, but I’m proud of Glenn. We must have had a positive influence on him.”
We were proud of him. Glenn had worked hard, maintained his integrity, and never forgotten his past and his people. He started as a patrolman and became captain of the Jersey City Police Department, serving twenty-five years. He was appointed head of New Jersey's U.S. Marshal's office by President Bill Clinton and served for five years. He was elected mayor of Jersey City in 2001 and Jersey City State Senator in 2003. (In New Jersey you can hold both offices, Mayor and state elected offices.)
The last time I saw Glenn was in 2003 at a Kwanzaa program organized by the Veterans activist Khybili Tyariri at City Hall in Jersey City. Glenn appeared hale and hearty and was with his lovely wife, Sandra. We reminisced about old times, and he shared with me what he wanted to do for Jersey City. After I finished my keynote speech, he gave me the keys to the city.
I spoke with him a few weeks later and asked him to do something about the construction blocking up the street where Queen Latifah had her office, interrupting her business. A few days later his deputy Mayor Drayton called back to say it was done.
I also asked him to co-chair a gala being planned in my honor. I told him he would be the only elected official I’d approach for the job. I had so many friends who were elected officials if I had started down that path, I wouldn't have known where to stop. But, because of our special relationship, I felt justified in making this exception.
My mind came back to the plane. I heard my wife say, "I just spoke to him. I called his secretary to tell her to convey to Glenn that the gala scheduled for June 18, 2004, was postponed to December 11, 2004, but he came to the phone. He sounded upbeat. He said he was looking forward to the gala. He was prepared to do whatever I wanted him to do."
Life is so fragile.
We seem sometimes to swing on a gossamer thread, yet we are made tough and can endure almost anything. Life is made of such apparent contradictions. "Boast not thyself of tomorrow, for thou knowest not what tomorrow shall bring forth," says the Bible.
I thought of my oldest brother, Alonzo Jr., who had been found dead in his home in Philadelphia just a few weeks before Glenn’s passing. I reflected on my own recent experience with a heart problem.
My doctor called me one morning urging me to come to his office before noon. I had just returned from my morning exercise program, stretching, walking, running, and shadow boxing. I felt fine.
When I arrived at the doctor's office, he directed me to go downstairs for an EKG. Why was this necessary? I had my annual physical. Blood work was okay, "perfect." Why was another test necessary? I completed the exam and returned to the doctor. He read the markings, and looked up, trying to remain calm.
"I have to put you in the hospital," he said.
"When?" I asked, startled.
"What's the problem?"
"Heart flutter, a form of arrhythmia."
"What does all that mean?"
"It means your heart isn't pumping properly. If the blood from the top chamber isn't flowing properly to the lower chamber, the remaining blood can clot, if the clot reaches the brain you die, or get a stroke. We have to keep you under observation for a while."
"How long?" I asked.
"I don't know. We have to see" he said.
As it turned out, it was five days.
I pondered if Glenn had had the same problem I had experienced.
I thank God because it was only through my intervention to get my wife to make an appointment for her physical that I nonchalantly asked the doctor about my EKG exam. Had not my wife been having some discomfort, I would have never called the doctor, and who knows what would have happened? After the doctor examined me, my wife's discomfort disappeared. It was as if God was saying, "I've got to get somebody's attention in a hurry…”
To be continued…