By Barney Blakeney
I repeat this often – “Plan your work and work your plan.” My late cousin Winfred Miller used to say that’s what his father, my Uncle Teddy Miller, admonished. My uncle was a smart man. Not much formal education, but like his father before him, raised a house full of girls who all went to college, got married and led productive lives. My uncle continued the legacy left him by his father Washington Miller. It’s a legacy our clan continues to benefit from today.
I never met my grandfather. Wash Miller died before I was born, but I’ve come to know him. My mother talked about him often and lovingly. She and my father would tell stories about their upbringing during our evenings around the wood stove that warmed our home. I’ve heard the ones about each of them having to walk to school through miles of snow so many times I’ve mentally relived it all my life.
I never had to walk very far to school. At one point, our family lived right across the street from the elementary school I attended. My high school was on the next block. I don’t know whether it was my mother’s or father’s idea, but everywhere we lived was close to our schools. I like to think they planned it that way.
I’m not much of a conscious planner. I consider myself more the spontaneous type. I’ve become more forward thinking since Winfred told me what his father used to tell him about planning your work. Despite how I consider myself, my ancestors’ predilection for planning, I think is a part of me, so I do it subconsciously. That’s not to say I always plan well, consciously or subconsciously.
Two issues I worked on last week make me focus on planning your work and working your plan – the proposal to locate Allegro Charter School for Music at the Burke campus and the redevelopment taking place in the East Central Neighborhood of the Charleston peninsula along the Huger Street/Meeting Street/Morrison Drive corridor. There’s a lot of hubbub about those initiatives in the black community. But I’m afraid, as usual, black folks will raise hell and complain and white folks will get what they want anyway.
Both issues makes me sick on so many levels it’s almost incomprehensible. As the late great Burke High educator Miss Altimeze McGriff used to say, “Time is passing. Are you?” For decades black folks in Charleston watched progress march on and failed to plan. And now that change has become so apparent its reality slaps us in the face, some black folks want to hold on to a history that no longer is relevant.
Personally, I don’t share the concern that Allegro at Burke will forever change the school. That’s going to happen anyway. It doesn’t disturb me that black folks who still live in East Central will further be displaced by redevelopment occurring along Huger Street, Meeting Street and Morrison Drive. Most of ‘em are gone and they ain’t coming back. What bothers me about the redevelopment taking place at Burke and in East Central is that for lack of planning, black folks allowed themselves to be left out of the progress.
At one point black children comprised the vast majority of students in Charleston County School District. Shucks, black kids comprise about half the district’s students now! At one point blacks held the majority of seats on Charleston County School Board! But for decades black leadership failed to leverage that influence into governing clout that could mandate how schools would develop into the future.
No collective planning took place. Some black folks got good jobs and made some money. But there was no plan to insure the district’s black students would get what our ancestors sacrificed to give us. Black folks are crying crocodile tears over the disparities suffered by kids at Burke and the former Lincoln High, but it was the leadership, or our lack of leadership, in the black community which allowed and even perpetuated those disparities.
When I think about the opportunities black folks had to chart a different course for public education in Charleston County it makes me sick. White folks abandoned public school in Charleston County 40 years ago. When integration resulted in predominantly black Constituent District 20 schools in the late 1970s, I’d watch two lil’ white girls who lived on Mount Pleasant Street catch a city bus on Meeting Street each morning to North Charleston High which then still was predominantly white so they wouldn’t have to attend Rivers High that had made the transition from predominantly white to predominantly black. For years I lamented how black folks had proliferated top positions in the district’s administration yet black kids continued to suffer academic disparities.
The same thing happened in city government. Folks today are squawking about how former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley administered a process of elimination, uh I mean gentrification that displaced thousands of black residents on the peninsula. How could we forget that from the day Joe Riley took office until 2012 there were six blacks among Charleston City Council’s 12-member body? Currently there are five blacks on the council. For much of Riley’s administration, most of the members of his executive staff were black.
In both Charleston County School District and Charleston City government there were some black folks who worked diligently and tirelessly to promote an agenda that would insure black folks in this community would benefit from the progress coming forth in the future. Many of them still are working to help others see some enhanced quality of life. Some of those folks have moved on into the private sector. Though they’re older and sicker, they’re still laboring in the fields. And then there are some who still are milking that cash cow.
That’s the part that sickens me. The greedy continues to deprive the needy and some folks who ain’t got enough sense to come in out of the rain refuse to get out of the way so that younger smarter talent has the opportunity to shine. Can anybody say Kwadjo Campbell?
Our failure to plan has doomed Burke to an uncertain fate devoid of black folks input regardless what happens with the Allegro proposal. And gentrification will determine how East Central is redeveloped without the presence of black folks. As my uncle used to say, you’ve gotta plan your work, and work your plan. He also used to say that if you don’t have a plan, somebody else has a plan for you.