A Fireside Chat with Bob Kean: Maryland Resident, Father and Man of Conviction

Updated: May 1

by Wamara Mwine

Wamara Mwine: Glad to see you Bob and happy to hear your opinions on these serious subjects. Can you give our readers a little more background on your life, career, family, etc. for a greater context of who you are and how your beliefs were formed?

Bob Kean: When I was little, Roslyn was a village setting and relatively quiet place. Over time it transitioned to a booming commuter suburb of NYC. We moved mainly to cut the cost of living as housing became affordable and taxes rose. My chief regret was leaving Roslyn HS as the quality of education there was excellent although I did not take as much advantage of that as I should have, being a somewhat lazy student.


I spent most of my early years in Roslyn, New York. My mother was a homemaker and my father an officer in the Merchant Marine. He spent the WW2 years shipping supplies mostly in the North Atlantic. Both of them came to the US just before WW2. Mother took the last boat out of Bermuda in Sept 1939. Father, a Canadian, was already established in NYC. The family moved to Roslyn when my sisters were little. Even though I may look like my ancestors came over on The Mayflower, you can see I am a first generation American.


Wamara Mwine: Excuse me Bob, I have visited Roslyn and it is a quiet safe neighborhood not too far from Adelphi University where I began my college years. The sustainability of a place like that must be a stark contrast with the urban Baltimore terrain. Was there any culture shock in moving to Maryland?


Bob Kean: It was really different coming to Maryland. First, when we were in Roslyn the water was nearby. Here the beach was a long trek. Also, there was adjustment to living in a large city as opposed to a still somewhat low-key atmosphere. The schools here were not quite as good. Edmondson was on split shifts due to large student population. Baby boomers, you know! It took a while to acclimate.


I am not native to Maryland, but I have lived here in Maryland since I was 15 years old, finishing my last two years of high school at what was then Edmondson HS in West Baltimore. Aside from around 6 years in Baltimore County I have resided in the city. I think given that I can offer some informed comments.

I spent most of my early years in Roslyn, New York. My mother was a homemaker and my father an officer in the Merchant Marine. He spent the WW2 years shipping supplies mostly in the North Atlantic. Both of them came to the US just before WW2. Mother took the last boat out of Bermuda in Sept 1939. Father, a Canadian, was already established in NYC. The family moved to Roslyn when my sisters were little. Even though I may look like my ancestors came over on The Mayflower you can see I am a first generation American.


My business career was mostly spent as a commercial credit executive. During that time I had the opportunity to meet a lot of interesting people, at times under challenging circumstances. I am accustomed to trying to resolve disputes and/or debts without permanently alienating the possibility of resuming amicable relations. I left my last long-term position after a competitor acquired the company. I still do some independent work when called upon.


I have in the past been active in community affairs and served as an officer and director of a nonprofit business creditor organization.

Wamara Mwine: The state of Baltimore's education system, teen crime and pregnancy are a real embarrassment. 2,700 teens have been arrested in 2019 alone. I spoke to students Baltimore's Kipp Academy about these issues during guest teacher week in 2019. I saw an important opportunity not to talk about my career in journalism, but instead focus on public behavior, diet and the goals of attending college.


But my words have fallen on a tone death school system where “1,000 babies born to teenagers in Baltimore each year,” according to the Kids Count Data Center. In my unpublished letter to the editor submitted to the Baltimore Sun, I brought some of these factors to light.


I wrote, “This appears to be a growing trend, with students missing more than 20 days of school a year. It is a distraction for teens to become mothers at this alarming rate. But for a young Father to suddenly have to provide for a child can lead to a career in crime. A shocking number of murders have plagued Baltimore.


Bob Kean: Now, as to the issues you cite, I can only say the causes are many and the solutions are few. There is no need to try to change human nature in that quest as that always leads to tyranny and ruin.


First, you mention the perilous state of our education system. We all know that is not an easy fix. Children will find it difficult to learn if their home environment is chaotic and impoverished. I had the good fortune to be born to parents who did their job. I was at least somewhat literate and numerate before I started school.


Those who did not have that advantage are often the product of too young parents that are themselves uneducated and have other challenges such as criminal records and/or substance abuse.


With a nihilistic street "culture" that devalues education many children start the education process unprepared or hostile to the same. That has to change and there is not enough money in print to make that happen. The culture has to change, PERIOD. The behaviors that create and sustain poverty can only be changed through individual decisions. Young people have to be sold on the virtues of those behaviors.


The so-called pipeline to prison mainly is filled with the product of out of wedlock births to those least able to provide a nurturing childhood for their little ones. When I was at Edmondson there was no such thing as a pregnant girl in the halls. This was not considered acceptable and those few who did become pregnant were sent to an alternative school. I might add that the racial profile of the school at that time was around 85% Black. I will be pleased to show my yearbook to anyone who thinks I'm exaggerating.

Pertinent to that issue I will also make note that in 1965 a White House adviser, Daniel P. Moynihan, later a NY Senator, filed a report that cited out of wedlock birth stats of around 28% Black as a crisis potentially creating a time bomb of poverty and civic disorder. The report was met with a lot of outcry from Black leaders and others who said it was defamatory. I say it was prophecy. By the way, the White (out of wedlock birth rate) is almost 30% now. That is hardly positive either.


As to whether or not senior “educrat” leaders such as Santelises and her predecessors are worth large salaries, I would say yes if they actually got results.


In this area, as well as others such as politics and business, we have developed a cult like worship of leaders that we expect to make miracles. Those expectations lead to disappointment and cynicism. Sorry, that is not the way forward. We, as individuals, have to lead first and then elect or appoint leaders worthy of us.


Wamara Mwine: I suppose there are options, best practices, even in the health code in these old school buildings. A recent report on Fox 45 News suggests a majority of students are failing. Can you give me some idea of how you might address this if you were in charge of the school system?


Bob Kean: That sounds like the old “If you were King question.” Maybe you are asking the wrong guy because I would first mete out stiff prison time for littering. The failure rate is astounding and has been for over a generation. Most of the factors driving that tie into your previous question regarding the toxic effects of teen pregnancy and associated consequences. Children from these types of substandard family situations need to be exposed early and often to strong role models offering them exposure to the benefits of so-called middle class values on their future prospects.


Unfortunately, many parents seem to want to subcontract some of their responsibilities to the school system that, as currently structured, is not capable of managing and should not be asked to do so. The level of chaos in the buildings needs to be brought under control. Persistently disruptive students need to be taken out of classrooms so the actual work of learning can proceed. If some parents don’t like it that is too damn bad. The physical plants of many of the school buildings are in bad shape and have been neglected for a long time. Bring them up to modern standards, PERIOD. If we display pride in our properties students may have more respect for same.


Wamara Mwine: What are your thoughts on racial profiling? Covid-19 has seen a anti-Asian backlash in America. A friendship with a Baltimore restaurant owner, Billy, ended abruptly over racially charged accusations stemming from me giving Catholic gifts, sunglasses and herbal supplements to his young white staff. Billy went further to spread those accusations to a close mutual friend. I saw this action as defamatory, especially when Billy admitted it to me in a phone call. I give many gifts every year, especially during the pandemic.


Bob Kean: Racial profiling is the touchy issue of the day. I would be the last to deny that occurs but many factors lead into that. Often perception creates an alternate reality at times. In Baltimore, around 65% of the population is Black.


Does that mean that statistically police actions must conform along that line? Of course, Blacks are going to interact with police more just because of the racial composition of the populace. When I first came to Baltimore in 1965 there were almost no Black officers. It is obvious that has changed. So have police practices. There is still much work to be done. However, handcuffing legitimate law enforcement activity in the name of profiling ultimately has the most negative effect on the very community most in need of order.


The Asian aspect of profiling you raise has received some attention lately. I am not aware of any stats that show profiled crimes in that category. Anyone who blames a US person of Asian ancestry for the pandemic is just plain idiotic. The issue plainly originated in China and I won't go further with my opinions on that. It would be interesting to find out if there is data of any particular demographic group attacking Asians.

It is unfortunate you had the experience you cited with the restaurant owner. If he had some policy about customers giving things to staff, he could have let you know that upon the first occurrence. If you knew him that long you should have some idea what his personal beliefs are and I doubt you would have knowingly stepped on that.


Wamara Mwine: Exactly, the trouble is again with my clearance and no history of violence, the premise of danger is laughable? Do you think I am a danger to society?


Bob Kean: You are a mild-mannered fellow and see no reason to deny you any WH clearance unless that was just politically motivated. Based on my interactions with you over the past few months, I see no basis to perceive you in any way as a potentially harmful person. Further pertinent to your unfortunate experience with your longtime friend it is also possible he may have some latent issues around race that were triggered by your interaction with his staff. Given how long you were associated, I find that somewhat doubtful but people do at times change in unpredictable and unfortunate ways. I hope at some time you two can reconcile or at least have a reasoned discussion why things went South. Not knowing the other party precludes my coming to any conclusion.


Wamara Mwine: I am glad you could note the obvious and I have no intentions of reconciling with Billy. The Harvard Business Review study on unconscious bias is what I am really getting at. The tendency to form stereotypes and assumptions about certain groups that makes it difficult to make an objective judgment about individual members of those groups. Confirmation bias is then followed up by seeking evidence that confirms those initial perceptions, as Billy did, while ignoring contrary information (28 years). And my Dad was the first African to graduate from Harvard Law School.

Wamara Mwine: Now lets get into the larger issue. White Supremacy has been on the rise, especially during the Trump Administration. One might conclude this culminated in the January 6th Capitol Hill insurrection.


What is your take away from what happened that day? My experience in 2000, when covering politics, is my belt had to come off each time when going through security while visiting Senate and House offices. I have never been up those front stairs because they are always closed off. Do you believe this was planned, including the deliberate scaling back of Capitol Police? What responsibility for this incident personally falls on President Trump?

Bob Kean: I see the White Supremacy term bandied about quite a lot in the news and can only say I reject the concept out of hand but this is an issue that is being abused by many on the political left as a cudgel to suppress free speech and discussion. In any group harboring certain ranges of beliefs there is what one might describe as a tail of the curve at either end. Those types tend to be repugnant and should not be used as an example of the larger group.


I find the violence of either end of the spectrum abhorrent. Statistically, the bulk of violent behavior over the past several years has originated from the left. I don't recall any White Supremacists torching Portland, Seattle, Milwaukee and other cities. If I'm wrong, someone please correct me. A lot of the problem is that mob violence and rioting has been justified by some in politics and the media due to various injustices, real and perceived. If you smash windows, loot and assault people you are breaking the law. Quite simple.


The riot at the Capitol was a heinous act committed by numerous individuals and I think many of them were just out to create trouble. Many were also just part of a crowd that entered without intent to damage or harm people. It was not an insurrection. That term is applied to a group that is armed with intent to take power. This sad event is also being used politically by Democrats to tar all supporters of Trump as racists and sundry other pejoratives. Additionally, it is being used to promote further suppression of civil liberties through enhanced surveillance by the Federal Government.


The Patriot Act was sold to the nation by GWB (President George W. Bush) as essential to national security. It has subsequently been abused by the DOJ and FBI, especially during the 2016 campaign and thereafter. Unfortunately, Trump embraced the gathering and while he did not promote the riot he wound up owning it anyway. Let's not forget that around 600,000+ people were there and the tail of the curve part, 5-600 maybe, behaved accordingly. The very fact that this group entered in the first place was a failure of the Capitol Police to staff up for the possibility of disturbance. The FBI had information and did not coordinate with them properly.


My thought on the Federal Government overall is that the efficacy and accountability of same has become inversely proportionate to size and scope. That can apply to other levels of government also. The security barriers surrounding the Capitol are unnecessary and a source of shame. It should be removed immediately. I hope that I have not been too verbose but you raise a lot of issues that don't lend themselves to sound bite size answers.


Editors note: Over several weeks, I had the great honor of having chats with Bob while arriving and leaving the gym. It struck me that he had some real convictions. I also sensed a responsibility to capture these ideas in a formal interview. I want to acknowledge Nicholas Hartley, a friend from New York, who stayed in close contact during this time. The bar incident proved to be a distraction, but later an opportunity to address in Bob's interview. Nick said, “Billy wants you locked up and throw away the key.”


Nicholas spent hours contributing to a 1,698 word rebuttal letter to Jill, Billy's wife. Upon visiting Baltimore, Nick had actually been to Jill's bar. Nick paid $38 for the Lyft out there to Towson. The Coumo sexual harrasments scandal further fueled Nick's anger. Nick compared both scenarios and said there were no similarities. He said, “You never initiated any physical contact with Billy's staff, unlike Coumo. Where are the gifts now if everyone was so uncomfortable?” While I researched Bob, Nick wrote passages in the letter. Then Nick insisted on sharing Jill's letter and pictures of my gifts with Bob, which I did. In Washington, a spiritual mentor, Ramon Davis, surfaced in my old diverse neighborhood of Adams Morgan. Like Nicholas, Davis as an African-American, had a strong reaction. This serious approach and his full involvement in the details, took away my concern. Davis was prophetic and his dramatic effort left me some solace and ability to re-direct my efforts towards Bob and addressing the larger issues of racial division in America.


As Bob, sent his first draft of answers on Asian profiling, the Atlanta spa shootings erupted. This created a real emergency to change my hyperlinks to reflect this historic moment. Ramon Davis went further to call it God's plan that my interview came at this intersection where Asians were killed by a white man in America. Queens College Frank Wu taught me about this Asian backlash 20 years ago. Frank's phenomenal book Yellow: America Beyond Black and White resonated and the recent acts of Asians explored from a perspective only Frank could tell.


For Bob, I hope this interview gives your family a lifetime memory of your presence and thoughts. I pray, in the words of Dylan Thomas, “Do not go gentle into the good night, old age should burn and rave at close of day, rage rage against the dying of the light.” Amen.