Photo: Big Joe Henry in New Orleans post Katrina
By Grace Cangemi
When it comes to putting a political agenda ahead of the well-being of our children, some NJEA members here in Monmouth County are leading by their shameful example. The victims this time are the children participating in the annual Basie Awards at the Count Basie Theatre.
The Basie Awards, acknowledging the achievement of local children in the performing arts, has been attacked by a Howell music teacher and her NJEA friends. This year's volunteer host, NJ 101.5 radio personality Big Joe Henry, has stepped down in the wake of a made up controversy masterminded by Regina McAllen and a few bullies from the NJEA. While Big Joe has never offered any comment about the NJEA, school boards or budgets, these folks have decided that fighting the presence of someone whose fellow employees have at times been critical of the NJEA is more important than supporting the kids they are paid to teach.
As a proponent of full disclosure, I must start off by saying that I have never worked with Regina McAllen and the NJEA to create a charity that returns over 97% of its fundraising to the New Jersey charities it supports. I have never spent the day before Christmas with Ms McAllen driving a rented UHaul full of toys to needy families in the heart of one of our poorest cities. I must say that I have never spent an evening with Ms. McAllen or the NJEA in 100 degree heat on the beach giving children a chance to sing their hearts out in a talent show that reaches thousands of people. I have never seen Regina McAllen and her union buddies spend hours in a hot, sweaty Santa suit bringing Christmas gifts to families that lost everything they had in Hurricane Katrina. Although it appears that Regina McAllen is a music teacher, I have not worked with her or the NJEA to found a scholarship to help a kid from New Jersey attend the Berklee College of Music, one of the most prestigious music schools in the country. I have seen Big Joe do all of that and more.
While Ms. McAllen and her NJEA pals were busy lobbying and collecting their paychecks, I watched Big Joe Henry and his radio station, NJ 101.5, stand beside us to help thousands of New Jersey kids as well as children all around the country.
Let me be clear. I admire the dedication and passion of many teachers. I stand in awe of what some of them have accomplished with their students (this is my little shout out to the Red Bank Middle School Band, their teachers, and all the other groups like them).
Politics has no place in academic achievement and recognition. The NJEA and Ms. McAllen have set an appalling example. In her published letters to the Count Basie Theatre, she has talked about the possibility of losing her job, but she never once mentioned her students. Good to know where the NJEA’s priorities stand.
Again, in the effort of full disclosure, I am a founding board member of the Rock and Roll Music Fund, as is Big Joe Henry. I am an avowed Republican – the only one on our board. Big Joe has never, to my knowledge (even though I goad him endlessly) taken a political position. Our membership tends to split firmly at 50% to each side of the aisle. And when it comes to helping kids, NOBODY CARES ABOUT POLITICAL AFFILIATION.
EXCEPT THE NJEA. Apparently, as Ms. McAllen would have you believe, simply knowing someone who disagrees with the NJEA makes you ineligible to help kids.
Forget that you do it for free.
Forget your exemplary record of service to your community.
Forget the hundreds of thousands of dollars you have helped raise.
Forget your hands on dedication to needy families.
Forget your ongoing support of police and firefighters.
You don’t count because you don’t pay dues to the NJEA.
What a disgrace.
The Basie Awards are a wonderful acknowledgement of the talented children in our area. Big Joe could have had a well-deserved night off instead of volunteering to host an event that honored these special kids. Instead, as I have seen him do time and time again, he offered his support.
And Regina McAllen and the NJEA say he’s not good enough. He works for NJ101.5 and some of their personalities (not Big Joe), publicly disagree with their union.
And that’s reason enough to toss the kids aside and take what should be a lovely and memorable event and turn it into a political hatchet job. Their bullying, “me first” tactics have once again put our kids last.
The children being awarded Basie Awards deserve a host as qualified, caring, and distinguished as Big Joe Henry.
The children who are seeking a future in music, theatre, and the performing arts deserve a champion as passionate as Big Joe Henry.
Big Joe Henry has once again put children first by stepping down and trying to remove the controversy. He did it to preserve the integrity of an event that should focus on kids. I know Big Joe well enough to know that he would rather we leave this go and focus on the kids. And when the Basies are awarded, I hope that we will. But in the interim, it is vital that we step back and take a hard look at the NJEA and some of its members and realize who really puts our kids first.