By Barney Blakeney
There is none so blind as he who will not see. After 40 years in this business I’ve learned to accept criticism. Much of my work is critical. If you can dish it out, you must be able to take it. But that’s not a common trait. A lot of people can’t accept criticism. Of course, there’re all kinds of criticism. I think the only kind that makes any sense is constructive criticism.
I must admit however, I was taken a little aback the other morning when I got the text from Charleston County School Board member Rev. Chris Collins accusing me of character assassination in a story I wrote about his asking the Charleston County School District Superintendent to circumvent the selection process to admit his child to one of the county’s best schools.
I put my big boy pants on first thing every morning, so I was ready for the backlash. It comes with the territory. Thankfully I learned a long time ago two qualities are necessary to do this job well – objectivity and accuracy. Admittedly, I don’t always get it right, but I figure I do it right more often than I mess it up. The only people who can stay on the job regardless how much they screw up are elected officials. But I’m human. I make mistakes. So I tossed Collins’ criticism around in my brain to make sure I didn’t allow my personal feelings to impact the story. Then I read the story to insure it said what it should. I came away satisfied I did my best.
Now, I’m not the greatest writer in the world. I’m sure the story could have been written differently, the elements expressed better. But I think the story was fair, balanced and objective. Still, I felt badly that Collins was the subject of the story. Collins has served on Charleston County School Board three terms. He’s serving his fourth term. I think he’s done a decent job. I believe his heart is in the right place. I don’t always agree with him, but I think he’s done a credible job of carrying the water for Black constituents in the county. But this thing about getting his kid in a good school ahead of others because he holds a position on the school board – I think that’s just wrong.
There was a time Black folks couldn’t serve on school boards. I was a young man when Septima Clark and Rev. James Campbell became the first Blacks to serve on Charleston County’s school board. That was only yesterday, ya’ll! It took a lot of struggle and sacrifice to get Black folks on that board. Folks marched and protested, lost jobs and freedom so Black folks could sit on that board. They did it so all Black children could have the opportunity to get a quality education in Charleston County – not just those who sat on the board! That’s what white folks had been doing for the previous couple hundred years!
Black folks didn’t make all those sacrifices so a few who got the opportunity to get elected could take advantage of the perks. Those who rationalize “That’s what the white man does” I think are missing the point. Because we have failed to develop and elect visionary leadership, our kids suffer.
I read through the education category of Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture’s ‘The State of Racial Disparities in Charleston County, S.C. 2000-2015’ report. At the beginning is a quote from civil rights icon Ella Baker – “In order for us poor and oppressed people to become a part of a society that is meaningful, the system under which we now exist has to be radically changed”. Part of the responsibility of those we’ve elected to participate in the decision-making processes is to change the system – not take advantage of it.
Racial disparities in Charleston County public schools are most egregious, said the report’s author, Dr. Stacey Patton. The disparities in student suspensions and expulsions give some indication of what she means. The disparities in student achievement tells one story, but disparities in suspensions and expulsions tell quite another. A kid can’t learn at school if he ain’t in school. Although only about 46 percent of the county’s total number of students is Black, in 2014-2015 about 85 percent of the students suspended from Charleston County schools were Black. And Black male students represent the overwhelming majority of suspended students. Of the total 47 students expelled that year, 40 were Black males. A 2016 American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit found that hundreds of students, some as young as seven years old, were being charged for minor infractions many might consider ‘normal adolescent misbehavior’ such as loitering, cursing or refusing to follow directions. In Charleston County Black students are six times as likely to be referred to the juvenile justice system for ‘disturbing school’ as white students.
Now I figure everyone wants the best for their kid, so I don’t blame Collins for wanting to get his kid into a good school. But brother, you can’t ask them white folks to circumvent the process, leave a paper trail and expect them white folks not to call you out on it! Bruh, you can’t ask for preferential treatment when the rest of us have to labor in the dust just ‘cause you on the school board! Yeah, yeah, yeah. We all know them white folks do it all the time, but you ain’t white!
This whole thing about specialty schools – magnets, charters and others – is all about alternative choices for certain people. They provide private schools at the public’s expense. We know that. Don’t get mad at me. Your job, my brother, is to change that dynamic.