By Glenn Dowell
It has finally happened. The Clayton County School System is a major topic of conversation of people who do not live in the county. My friends in Atlanta regularly tease me about the antics of members of our Board of Education. They call my attention to the frequent and negative publicity Clayton County is getting in the media. There is one central theme, however, in their chiding me: which side is right and which side is wrong? Distrustful of the media, my friends appear to be predisposed to giving board members Ware, Walker, and Kitchens credit for withstanding the public's ridicule and criticism of their actions. Some of my friends even say that the women are being unfairly persecuted. They mention that Atlanta's first black elected officials suffered the same humiliation and encountered an unfriendly media which portrayed them as inept and unable to perform the duties of their job.
Which side is actually right over at the board of education? As I have said in the past, there is so much controversy surrounding the board that Clayton County taxpayer do not know if they shouldn't just send them all packing in order to restore the public's confidence in the school system. How to actually send them packing, however, is another story. A recall initiative by the voters would not be successful. Black people do not have a history of allowing whites to lead a recall of their black elected officials. When the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce recently blasted the Board's black members, a few ministers in a press conference, immediately went on the defense to support the black women. From my perspective, the Chamber opened itself up for the reciprocal attack by the ministers. The question many blacks and some whites ask rhetorically about the Chamber is what has the Chamber of Commerce done for our county lately other than to hold monthly meetings and social activities? Was the chamber's attack designed to distract attention from its history of mediocre success in attracting business to the county? A better question to ask is what success has the chamber had in the past five years in attracting new business to our community, especially leading up to January of this year? It appears that chamber president, Shane Moody's ill-advised and sophomoric attack on board members has backfired and will result in further racial polarization of this county. Unfortunately for Mr. Moody, the attack came off as white men attacking innocent black women, which I am certain was not his intent. Mr. Moody has his work cut out for him. He should first clean up his house over at the Chamber of Commerce. His attack of the board members would have been more palatable had his approach included support which was racially balanced. In fact, I would have liked for Mr. Moody to have convened a press conference with support from local organizations, Realtors, builders and community leaders in launching his attack.
Mr. Moody missed his opportunity and by his action may be held ultimately responsible for inflaming racial tensions in a community that is already in turmoil.
With all the frustration concerning the school system possibly losing its accreditation over the board being cited for interfering in its day-to-day operation, hysteria appears to have overtaken the county. Parents and students rightfully are concerned that our students will lose their eligibility for the HOPE scholarship. Already, I am told that some parents are not taking any chances. They are contacting Realtors to move to other areas where there are quality school systems. Would these parents have left Clayton County anyway? No one knows for sure. What is certain is that there is a crisis in our community that should not be left to pimps in our community to solve. I am still at a loss as to why we cannot get more whites and blacks together on how to address the school board fiasco. At the various protest meetings concerning the board issue, the same people seem to recycle themselves for the sole purpose of getting publicity under the guise of being concerned about our children. Taking the various organizations into consideration which we now see in the media as demanding the resignation of certain board members, I would have to say that I understand why some blacks and whites remain distant from the controversy. These protesters focus on rumors and do not seem to be concerned about using available facts as ammunition in ousting board members. Some of the protesters are so hostile and out of control that most people would rather keep the board than embrace them as leaders.
I have a prophesy to make concerning the board crisis. Unless a coalition is forged that will get the attention of whites and blacks who seem immune to the daily diet of information demanding the resignation of Ware and her colleagues, the same board members will conceivably be reelected. It has always been truly amazing to me that with all the intellect we have in our great county, that outsiders believe that our board members appear to represent the best that we can select for public service.
Glenn Dowell, Ed.D. is executive director of Youth Empowerment Project, Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org