By Beverly Gadson-Birch
A whole lot of discussion is swirling around town and on Facebook following National Action Network’s (NAN) civil disobedience protest at last Monday school board meeting. Parents, community leaders, clergies and other stakeholders have been appearing before the board for years addressing inequities in education. And, for years, their concerns have ignored. In exchange, the Board has carefully devised plans after plans to perpetuate a dual educational system in Charleston County. Additionally, they are master manipulators. They have been successful in pitting one group against another. They know who to deal with and who to leave out. They know who to let in the back door and who comes in the front door. And, if you don’t go along with their program, you are “blackballed” and viewed as an “agitator”.
I sort of like that word, agitator. To some, agitator means to “get under your skin” of “get on your nerve.” To me it means being relentless—never giving up. Frederick Douglas, a great orator and one of my most admired “agitators” had this to say about agitate: “Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground.” And, Douglass’ response to a young man who wanted to know what he could do to advance the cause of freedom was “agitate, agitate, agitate.”
The reason the protest turned in the direction it did was is that the Board bailed out. The protesters were told to take their seats. The protest caught many in the audience off guard, including this writer; it was bound to happen. Sometimes, you must give people what they want. After years and years of civility, NAN said enough. Black parents and organizers said enough. And, I say “enough!!” The Board would no longer silence their voices. The protesters said “no more excuses, promises, delays, maltreatment, miseducation and misdiagnosis of black students.”
The state of education in CCSD is deplorable when it comes to black and brown students. And it’s hasn’t been that good for white students as well. The Board has been successful in covering up decades of ineptness; they have done little to bring students’ performance up to a level of measurable success. Most of Charleston County Schools are still on the bottom. And the ones not on the bottom are majority white charter and magnet schools. Check the records!
While denouncing the protestors, the Board continues to denounce their message. They are opening the door for more protests. The message is simple and clear: Listen!! The protestors said they are not going away. The system has caused irreparable damage to students and students cannot wait another 12 to 15 years for the Board to correct the problem. I have very little hope that anything constructive will happen unless the Board publicly acknowledges the problem. Study after study has shown a pattern of racism. So, now what? Does the Board want to study the study? They know what the problem is—racism. Yep! They don’t like to deal with the “elephant in the room.”
While penning this article, the Legislative Delegation was meeting to fill the vacant seat of former school board member, Michael Miller. Out of the two candidates under consideration, Chris Fraser, a former school board member, was voted in as the replacement. Herbert Fielding, a candidate during the last election, should have been appointed to the West Ashley seat. No, that would be too much like doing the right thing. I hold out little hope that Fraser will do anything else than “business as usual.” Fraser, if signed and sealed by the Governor, will make up five whites on the Board and hold the majority vote. According to Fraser, “he had some input in selecting the four candidates endorsed by the Coalition, but he will act independently.” Give me a break!