Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Signing day exposes problems with black male students

Three of the student athletes, who signed letters of intent to attend Division I schools from the 2010 Hillside High School state championship team, are playing at junior colleges.  Six are playing at Division I schools, while four others are enrolled in school, but not on a team.

Only two of the 16 who signed a letter of intent aren’t enrolled in school.  Of the 24 seniors from the team, 19 attended college, and only one failed to graduate. The promise of that signing day in 2011 is tainted by the disappointment related to all 16 not remaining connected to the school they vowed to attend; however, this story is not over.

Some may wonder why it matters.  Is it reasonable to track the progress of young men who made their mark by playing a game? Are these setbacks due to more than what shows up on the roster of a team?  What is the real story behind what happened to 16 young men who made us proud after signing letter of intents to play for Division I schools?

It matters because of what continues to haunt black men in higher education.  The story of the Hillside football team is no different than what takes place in black families from coast to coast.  An examination of other schools within the Durham Public School system will reflect numbers comparable to Hillside’s championship team.  The class of black male students that shows up on campus each year drops significantly each semester.  Sometimes it’s due to academic problems.  Sometimes it’s because of financial problems.  Sometimes it’s a lack of interest.

What sets the Hillside football team apart from the rest is the promise of a free education.  The gift of a four year free ride minimizes dropouts among students.  Black males who fail to return, for reasons other than finances, normally do so for two reasons: poor academics or disciplinary issues.

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Education, young black men are not attending, or graduating from, college at the same rate as black women. Although the absence of black men is more apparent at historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, black male students are scarce at colleges everywhere.

The national college graduation rate for black men is 33.1 percent compared with 44.8 percent for black women. Black men represent 7.9 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds in America but only 2.8 percent of undergraduates at public universities.

This education gap virtually ensures that black men will continue to have less earning power than their white counterparts and be underrepresented across a broad spectrum of high-paying professions.

Failure to obtain a college education leads to limited job opportunities, reduced earning potential, and stunted career advancement.  Those who fail to graduate face long-term economic and social implications. Without solid incomes and steady jobs, their ability to marry and support their families is hindered.  They struggle to secure credit to purchase a home or start a business. 

The report from the U.S. Department of education found that black male enrollment at Howard University declined from 3,070 during the 1994-95 academic year to 2,499 during 2009-10, while female enrollment declined by only 52 students, from 4,958 to 4,906.

While half of Howard students graduate within six years, most HBCU’s do not. Graduation rates at HBCUs are lower than the graduation rates of blacks students at white universities. At 20 HBCUs, two-thirds or more of all entering black students do not earn a diploma, and most are men.

A two year report released by the College Board in 2011 found that black and Latino men are measurable less educated than minority women and white men.  According to the report, 16 percent of Latino and 28 percent of black men age 28-34 had obtained an associate’s degree or higher as of 2008, while the comparable figure for white men was 44 percent and 70 percent for Asian men.

The report shares firsthand stories from minority men. One black student, who was enrolled as a freshman in a public university, shared disillusionment with the process.  “He remembers that all through school people told him to get good grades so he could succeed and go to college,” the author writes. “But senior year he realized it was all about money and affordability.”

Money is cited as the biggest setback in gaining an education. 16 student-athletes from Hillside High School obtained a free ride. It matters because it’s a ticket to breaking a disheartening trend among black men.  They can’t use as an excuse a lack of money to attend and graduate from college.

Each of them has an opportunity to get a head start toward building a life for themselves and their families.  We owe it to them to prepare them for what’s ahead.  They owe it to us to fulfill the promise that comes with signing on that dotted line.

No, it’s not the glory of playing football that matters.  It’s more about shifting a trend and, in the process, transforming the image related to black men.

That’s why it matters.

Monday, January 28, 2013

NAACP and Hispanic Federation fight effort to limit the size of sugary drinks

The NAACP’s New York state branch and the Hispanic Federation are coming against a NYC rule that would limit the size of sugary drinks.  The groups claim the rule will place minority-owned delis and corner stores at a disadvantage compared to grocery stores.

"This sweeping regulation will no doubt burden and disproportionally impact minority-owned businesses at a time when these businesses can least afford it," they state in court papers.  They stress the need for increasing physical education in schools as a solution.

Backers of the rule cite escalating obesity rates as justification for a move that could become the model to shift a ghastly trend.  According to the federal Center for Disease Control, obesity rates are higher than average among blacks and Hispanics. Representative from the NAACP and the Hispanic Federation acknowledge the impact sodas have on minorities, yet contend the impact on minority business owners outweigh the risk of growing obesity among minorities.

One has to question the validity of the fight against the soda rule.  You’d expect hostility from the Pepsi and Coco-Cola Bottling companies, but it’s disheartening that organizations formed to fight for the wholeness of minorities would take sides against the health of those grappling with their weight.

Obesity is rapidly becoming America’s leading public health problem.  The Harvard School of Public Health concludes that obesity is second only to tobacco in causing death among people under the age of 70 in the U.S. Obesity causes or is closely linked with heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol, asthma, sleep apnea, gallstones, kidney stones, infertility, and as many as 11 types of cancers, including leukemia, breast, and colon cancer.

Along with physical health consequences, obesity has social and emotional effects that include discrimination, lower wages, lower quality of life and depression.

The health care cost associated with obesity in the U.S. was estimated to be as high as $190 billion in 2005, and continues to rise. The cost includes money spent directly on medical care and prescription drugs. Add to this the cost of lost days of work, higher employer insurance premiums, and lower wages linked to obesity illness. It impacts recruitment for the armed services, with data showing close to 30 percent of young people in the U.S. being too heavy to qualify for military service.

“The higher rates of obesity among ethnic minority and low-income children, when combined with the adverse health effects of child obesity, are likely to produce continued racial and economic differences in health outcomes,” reports The Future of Children: A Collaboration of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and The Brookings Institute. “Preventing obesity for all children may be a way to reduce socioeconomic and ethnic health disparities.”

Given the research that links health disparities among minorities and ties to economic difference to obesity, why has the NAACP and the Hispanic Federation decided to fight a rule that could aid the people they serve? What can be said about organizations taking on issues that stymie efforts to save lives and minimize economic inequalities?

There’s truth to the claim that this rule will negatively impact minority businesses in NYC.  I’m not saddened by that.  I support minority business, yet lack compassion for those who have a business model that hinders the lives of those they serve.  As the NAACP fights for the rights of business owners, officials in NYC are doing their best to help end obesity among those addicted to those sugary drinks.

Those suffering from this rule need a new business model. Get with the program!  It’s sickening that the NAACP and the Hispanic league have failed to understand the enormity of the epidemic facing those they serve.  They should stop this battle and get on board. 

They can help by educating business owners and citizens about alternatives to sugary drinks.  They should build on what has been started.  The answer is not in court.  The answer is to shift the culture.

This drink is for change.  Raise your water and share with me in a toast to good health.

Friday, January 25, 2013

What happened to the 16 football players who signed to attend college?

National signing day is a big deal for a high school athlete.  The day has evolved over the years, with cameras to broadcast the selection of blue chip studs.

Athletics take precedent over academics. The ability to run, jump, shoot and pass overshadows the ability to excel in the classroom.  Fans obsess over the incoming freshman class.  Visions of championships linger as the announcement of approaches. The life of young athletes is minimized by the echoing cheers of those who place championships over degrees.

Lost in the shuffle for athletic supremacy are the myriad of men and women who feel through the cracks.  The exhilaration overshadows the sad memory of those who could have made it, yet failed to fulfill the promise of the day they signed their name to attend college.  Many athletes never make it past the first year.  Far too many leave us wondering what could have been if they had passed the grade.

The signing of Tyrone Outlaw, Jr. to attend the University of North Carolina – Greensboro rekindles memories of the man he’s named after. Tyrone Outlaw, Sr. was arguably the most sought after basketball player in the history of the PAC 6 athletic conference.  He shared player of the year honors with Courtney Alexander, a freak of an athlete at Jordan High School who signed to play at the University of Virginia before transferring to Fresno State to play for Jerry “The Shark” Tarkanian.

Alexander was the 13th player selected in the 2000 NBA Draft by the Orlando Magic.  He was named the Rookie of the Month in April that year after averaging 22.9 points per game, and was named to the NBA-Rookie Second Team.  Outlaw, in the eyes of many, was better than Alexander.  Outlaw Sr. out played Antawn Jamison in the East-West All-Star Game, and was set to play at North Carolina State University.

Outlaw, now 36, has a criminal record dating back to 1996, and is now facing federal drug charges.

It’s not what shows up on signing day, it’s what shows up in the classroom after names are signed.  The cheers from people packed in bleachers on signing day are the barometer of success after seasons of more wins than losses.   Students and parents at Durham Hillside held their heads in pride after 16 football players from the 2010 state championship team signed national letters of intent.  It was viewed as evidence of both athletic and academic prominence.  Those familiar with the travails of the school celebrated the good news of a long season of bad headlines.

It was proof of a new day.  Signing day meant a new day.  16 players headed to college.  16 reminders of hope springing from a field of unrelenting failure.  Poor academic performance.  A high dropout rate.  The presence of gangs and violence.  Both students and parents craved more than the bad news connected with the school they were proud to call their own.  The answer was football.  16 examples of good things coming from a school so many viewed as the least of these.

An undefeated season was followed by the state championship.  The championship was followed by the signing of 16 football players to attend college.  What happened to the 16?

Vad Lee, the quarterback, signed to attend Georgia Tech, and led the Yellow Jackets to a win over the University of North Carolina on November 10, 2012 at Keenan Stadium. Lee rushed for 112 yards and 2 touchdowns, and passed for 169 yards and another touchdown.

Where are the other members of that championship team? Of the 16 players, only five were on the roster at the school they signed with this past football season.  Treshawn Council, who originally signed with East Carolina University, played at Louisburg College, but has transferred to play at East Carolina University.

10 players from that team can’t be accounted for on the team roster of the school the signed to attend..  Myer Krah and Jamaal Williams remain on the roster at the Navy Academy.  Derick Vereen is at Elon University and Zac Giles is on the roster at North Carolina Central University.  What happened to the rest? 

It’s critical that we refrain from making assumptions related to those who can’t be accounted for on the roster of the teams they signed to play for back in 2010.  Some may have transferred.  Others may have dropped from the roster for other reasons.  It’s a mystery, yet one worthy of solving.

We cheered with them on signing day.  Should we forget them after the promise of free educations is fulfilled, or should we question what happened to prevent them to make it to the end of the game?

The game doesn’t end on signing day.  The clock stops when they walk across the stage with a college degree.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Charges dropped against Nickerson but this will not go away

The word came to the crowd shortly after the end of the rally.  As thirty people protested the arrest of Stephanie Nickerson, a judge dropped all charges against the women beaten by a Durham police officer.

In addition to charges being dropped, the crowd was informed that Cpl. Brian Schnee resigned two days ago.  It was a small victory for those still broken upon viewing the battered face of Nickerson after Schnee decided to teach her a lesson about the power that comes with wearing a badge and gun.

Nickerson was charged with resisting an officer and assaulting a government official.  Nickerson and her supporters claim the case is about police brutality, and they demanded the dropping of all charges and the firing of Schnee.  The court ruling seemingly put to rest the battle for justice, but the fight against the police department has just begun.

The evidence against Schnee supports the charge of police brutality.  In addition to the physical evidence are three 911 calls from witnesses begging for assistance to stop a police officer from beating a female.  “3rd caller: was arguing with PD in background…caller adv officer schnee punched her fem friend. Stating he put her friend on the ground and kept punching her in the face,” read the notes from the 911 dispatcher.  “Additional caller stating pd punched her friend in the face…addl call – anonymous – stating pd are attacking a woman…others are trying to restrain him in middle…male attacked a woman.”

Nickerson’s battered face, the witnesses, 911 calls and video evidence were enough to convince the judge to put an end to the madness.  Schnee’s departure may have been a forced resignation.  What follows is uncertain, but the case is still under investigation. 

“No is the word we learned to say when we refused our frozen peas,” Nia Wilson, executive director of SpiritHouse told those standing in the cold to protest Nickerson’s arrest. “We are taught by our teachers and parents rules, rights and laws that apply to everyone.  As we grow older we learn if you are poor, black, female or from the wrong neighborhood you live by a different set of rules.”

“This is more than a seemingly isolated incident,” says Roland Staton, first vice president of the Durham Branch of the NAACP. Staton gave status the expose the disparity of arrest and charges based on race in Durham County.

The beating of Nickerson will not go away.  Is it more than an isolated incident?  That’s the claim Police Chief Jose Lopez made after three of his police officers were arrested and charged with breaking and entering, assault and false imprisonment for pushing their way into a home in Northern Durham.  That incident was the most recent in a series of events that raise questions related to a culture of abuse within the Durham Police Department.

Protester waved at the family of Carlos Riley, Jr. as they made their way to court. Riley is in jail with a $1.5 million bond involving nine charges, including shooting a police officer.  Riley and his supporters claim the officer shot himself. 

“Charges of abuse among members of the police department has dramatically increased over the past year,” Staton told the crowd.

“Someone has offended one of our women and we take that seriously,” says Minister Curtis Gatewood, 2nd vice president for the North Carolina NAACP. “You don’t come into our community and openly put your hands on one of our women.  Not gonna tolerate an attack on our women on the West End, or the East End. Not on the North or South side of town.  We won’t sit back as our women are being attacked.”

That’s what separates Nickerson’s case from the rest.  You can’t beat women and call it justice.  Those who are called to protect and defend women from the abuse of men can’t be caught doing the very thing others have fought to end.  You can’t place bruises on the face of women and justify it as a police strategy.  You can’t punch a woman in the face!

The charges have been dropped.  There are other pending cases that deserve public attention, but this isn’t over.  The resignation doesn’t end the fight for justice.  Dropping the charges won’t undo what Schnee’s fists painted on Nickerson’s face. 

“Chief Lopez thinks he’s not accountable to the community,” Wilson says. “He refuses to speak and answer question raised by those in the community.  We won’t stop until we get answers.”

Nickerson won’t face charges.  Schnee no longer works for the police department, but this is not over.

You can’t hit a woman in her face. I learned that lesson before I said no to my peas.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Durham Public School System faces lawsuit for failing to protect student

The Durham Public School System is facing a lawsuit from parents upset with the handling of two incidents regarding their child.  The two cases expose potential concerns related to a lack of policies and the enforcement of policies aimed at protecting students.

“My child has a right to go to school and be comfortable,” the parents wrote in a letter sent to Eric J. Becoats, superintended of DPS, on January 8, 2013. “She should know without a doubt that the adults that have been placed in her life from the school system are here to help her at all times. This has not been the case for my child.”

The letter shares the story of an alleged sexual assault when the student was in the 8th grade at the Durham School of the Arts.

“It took the school over 48 hours to inform me,” the letter states. “Mr. Ferguson (Michael Ferguson, assistant principal) showed us the video of the assault and I asked if a police report had been done. He told me no. At that time I went and found officer Michaels myself and called him to the office. He informed me and my husband that no one had even told him about the incident.”

“Ferguson informed me and my husband that he met with my daughter and asked her if she knew why boys did this to little girls,” the letter continues.  “He implied to her that it was her fault that she was a victim of this sexual assault. The young man was found guilty of this charge. But is that your policy? My child was a minor, and a victim, and a “man” told her it was her fault that she was sexually assaulted and he didn’t even call us to let us know until days later. It hurts to know that she didn’t even tell me because she thought this was her fault. As a result of this my child did have to have counseling.”

The second incident occurred on November 12, 2012. The student was assaulted by two students at Hillside High School.  EMS was called to the school to transport the student to the hospital.  The parents were told the student was sitting at a cafeteria table when she was hit by a female student causing her to fall and hit her head on the window seal or floor.

The parents were told an administrator rushed to the aid of the student, and assisted her to the office to be seen. 

“When I arrived at the hospital and saw the multiple bruises on ….. face and knots on her head. I kept questioning my husband (about) the story that we were told, and due to the injury, at that time, my child had no memory,” the letter states.

The parents met with school administrators who related the same story - their daughter was sitting in a chair at the table when she was hit and fell on the floor or window seal. The parents were assured it was an altercation between their daughter and another student. The school administrator told them a school official helped their daughter off the floor and took her to the office.

“When I got home, to my disbelief, a video of the fight had been sent to my child,” the parent writes.  “None of what the school had informed me was true. No one helped my child up, nor did they break up the fight. No adult helped my child while she was unconscious on the floor and had her head repeatedly stomped on. “

The parents says the video shows another student grab their daughter from behind by her head and neck “throw her down to the ground, and start stomping on her head multiple times while she is unconscious.”

“There is not an adult or law enforcement officer in sight anywhere. No adult helped my child. There was enough time for children to run over to the fight, for it to be videoed, and peers hold one student while another stomped on my daughters head, but not enough time for an adult to get to my child to assist. Not even assist her off the floor,” the parent writes.

The parents ask important questions. “What is your policy? Should administrators been in certain parts of the cafeteria to monitor for these issues? What is the role for law enforcement in the cafeteria? Do you have policies for these things?”

The parents claim the incident followed a history of bullying.  After reporting the bullying “the teacher’s solution for my child was to ignore it. This has been confirmed by the school and the teacher called me. I asked him why he didn’t report this bullying. I told him that he had an obligation to report it. He stated that he was very sorry. He stated that he thought ……would leave her alone. Is this your policy?

The student who committed the assault was allowed to return to school on January 3, 2013. The decision was made by the due process panel at Hillside High School. The decision can’t be changed. 

“It’s my understanding that the panel didn’t have the video and did have the knowledge that ___was told by ___on 11/2/12 (while I was at the school) that they jumped on my child thinking her friends would jump in and there would be a big brawl but my daughters friends didn’t jump in. The actions of ___and ___ appear to be premeditated,” the parent writes.

“The school placed ___ back in the class with my child. My daughter texted me and stated that ___was staring at her and rolling her eyes at her. I told ___to ignore it. This is the same thing the teacher said before my child got hurt the first time.  These behaviors are still out right bullying.”

“Does my child have to be hurt again?” the parents ask.

“This county spends so much money on children that are ‘troubled youth’.  Who helps the victim? Who advocates for the good child that’s the victim? My child came to me, and I couldn’t protect her before but I will do everything in my power to protect her now. It just seems to me that ignore it is not the solution.”

“I don’t know why the bullying policy wasn’t followed. I don’t know why NO adult came to my child’s aid when they all reported they were in the cafeteria when this happened. I don’t know why the parents (my husband and I) weren’t told the truth.  If the truth wasn’t known at the time that’s what you tell me.”

There are a lot of unanswered questions.  Have policies been broken?  Is this student the victim of a system that works harder to maintain its image than in protecting students from being assaulted?

We talk about the need for parental involvement in our schools.  When parents get involved, the truth comes to the surface. 

It’s like that line in that movie – “you can’t handle the truth!”

Monday, January 14, 2013

What should we do with our guns?

It’s difficult to contend with aging parents.  There’s the emotional drain associated with hearing changes in their voice and watching them move slower to get to the other side of the room.  Frequent long distance phone calls to inform you that mom or pops is in the hospital, again, stirs loads of guilt related to not being home to take care of your parents.

There’s a long list of things that must be done.  You find yourself between wanting to be present with your parents while struggling to keep your head above the water.  There is never enough time, money and support to bring balance to a life made fragile by the one thing none of us can avoid – time.

My recent trip back home to watch over my ailing father revealed a truck load of needs.  They fluctuated from arranging for his bills to be paid by automatic bank withdrawal, to contacting home health care agencies to find services for him when he returns home.  There are emotional needs that can’t go unmet.  I had to be sensitive when talking to my dad about renovating his home to make it easier for him to move around on his own.

Some problems go away by signing a check.  Others require patience.  Some involve being present to hold his hand when his feet are too weak to stand.

One of the biggest worries involves my father’s guns.  He has lots of them. He has collected them over the years.  He was a hunter back in the day when he was strong enough to walk on his own.  My father grew up hunting.  It was the way my grandfather fed his family.  It was more than a sport.  It was a way of life.

Those guns are a part of his life.  Each has a story.  It’s what my father did to release the burden of work.  The rifles in the gun case share space with handguns.  My father believes in his right to protect his family from intruders.  It’s a view rooted in a past that forced him to do things with his hands and guns to keep enemies away.

“I don’t know what I’m gonna do with my guns,” my father told me during my visit.  “I know you don’t want them.”

He’s right. I deplore the guns sitting in the living room like furniture.  I don’t like the gun hidden near the bed.  I hate guns, and my father knows it.

I’ve hated them since the day I killed a rabbit with the gun my father gave me to prepare me for life as a hunter.  I was a natural.  My first kill scared me.  The force after squeezing the trigger was too much for a 10-year-old to comprehend.  I held in my hands the power to take life.  I knew it.  I felt it.  A part of me enjoyed it.   The other part feared the power to end life.

“Why don’t you take the guns with you,” my mother demanded. “Someone can break into the house and steal his guns.”

Her anxiety was intensified after the Sandy Hook Elementary School became known for more than teaching kids to read.  The national debate regarding the need for stiffer gun control laws demonized those who own guns.  The National Rifle Association made things worse by pitching an agenda that protected people’s right to own assault weapons. 

“No one should have the right to own an assault weapon,” my father said as we watched the news coverage from the Sandy Hook Elementary School.  “You can’t hunt with one of them.”

Guns mean different things to different people.  People like me view them as an evil that needs to be eradicated from society.  People like my father have guns because they are part of their history.  Others keep guns to kills people.  A few have them to prepare for a revolution.

I don’t know what will happen to my father’s guns.  Some are collector items.  I do know that my dad has the right to decide on his own.  I can’t take them away because of the disgust I carry for guns.  I’m tempted to, but those guns are part of his journey.  He has to decide when it is appropriate to let them go.

My father’s grapple over his guns reflects America’s tension over what to do with the same.  We each come to the debate rooted in a culture that sways opinion.  Some live in communities that require guns for protection.  Many love to hunt.  It’s a mixed bag that reminds us of the rich diversity that makes us states and people united despite our differences.  It’s tough finding consensus when we bring such complexity to the conversation.

I don’t know what to do with my father’s guns.  America doesn’t know what to do with its guns.

The answer will come.  We simply have to keep talking and listening.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The strange union between black leadership and school choice

It was a difficult conversation.  I listened as Marcus Brandon, NC’s representative of the 60th District, passionately gave his pitch in support of charter schools.  I left wondering if the goal of diversity is dead.

It’s one thing to contend with conservative Republicans backed by the big pockets of the Koch Brothers. How does one discount the funding of rightwing organizations like the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity and other groups supported by the Koch brothers? They have made clear their goal to dismantle public education and run schools like a business judged based on the data taken from standardized test scores.

Brandon pitched the importance of parental choice, and argued that it’s a right protected by the Constitution.  He claims school choice is critical in narrowing the achievement gap in North Carolina. Brandon thinks there’s a correlation between black parents taking control of schools and academic performance.  I suggested that parental involvement doesn’t necessitate the opening of more charter schools.

Why not improve what we have prior to throwing the sink and the rest of the kitchen out the door?  This is especially true in lieu of mounting evidence proving that charter schools aren’t a sure remedy to poor academic performance.  A 2009 Stanford study found that only 17 percent of charter schools provided better education than regular public schools.

 “I think [racial and economic] segregation is the sinister subtext [of school choice].” Brian Jones, a New York City teacher and activist with the Grassroots Education Movement, stated on the blog Salon.  “Very wealthy benefactors are going into Harlem and promoting segregated schools as a solution. But the Civil Rights movement saw racial justice as bound up with economic justice. The school choice movement claims to be about racial justice, but distances itself from questions of economic justice. Under the banner of ‘school excellence,’ school choice advocates would like for us to forget about equity.”

I asked Brandon to address the consequences of supporting a system that ultimately dismantles the hard work that went into integrating public education.  North Carolina is at risk of turning the clock back to the days of separate and unequal schools, but this time it’s being pushed by black Democrats who buy into the message being fed by wealthy, white conservatives.

In North Carolina, Art Pope and the Koch brother push the privatization of education as a way to personally profit.  Karey Harwood, ethics professor at North Carolina State University, says the application of the business model to education “pits schools against each other in a competitive market, and that’s really not the best way to go about improving school quality. In fact, it’s very counterproductive.”

I talked about the vicious campaign to take education out of the hands of administrators and teachers.  The end result will be the formation of competing education system that profits from parents disillusioned with public education.  It’s a slippery course, destroy what is left and create an alternative aimed at making a profit.

I talked about the myth of school choice.  The tactics used reflect the strategy of a hostile takeover.  It begins with seducing parents with promises that can’t be fulfilled.  It’s followed up with rhetoric blasting teachers and their unions.  Parents and teachers are systematically divided against one another as a way to further promote school choice.

Parents are encouraged by the promise of being heard after years of being discounted.  They relish the potential of participating in a school that offers more parental input.  They’re not told that charter schools offer less involvement. 

“Historically underserved groups may see it as a solution to inequality. I can understand why some parents buy into it at first. If you feel like your child’s education has been neglected or if you’re a member of a group that has historically been underserved, you feel like finally someone is paying attention. But, in fact, school choice often disempowers parents,” Jones stated on Salon.

Brandon points to Barack Obama as proof that school choice is a bipartisan issue.  Obama is a critic of teacher unions and has pushed for the expansion of charter schools.  Obama’s support of school choice isn’t enough to offset the real backers of destroying traditional public education – the Christian Right intent of keeping their children out of public schools. They want school prayer and a place less tolerant to the LGBT community.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Goldwater Institute, the Tea Party, Heritage Foundation, Alliance for School Choice, Friedman Foundation, Heartland Institute, Reason Institute, and many other right-wing groups are all behind the plan to dismantle public education in American in favor of school choice.

Public education in Durham is under attack.  11 applications to open new charter schools in Durham made their way to the state Department of Public Instruction.  Durham currently has 10 charter schools.  Brandon argues the high number reflects disenchantment among parents in Durham.  I contend the public opinion related to public education is the result of a calculated campaign to destroy the image of Durham and its schools.

The train must be stopped before it’s too late to slow the efforts of people intent on taking us back to the days when everyone in a classroom shared the same race, class and interest.  We learn best in diverse settings.

No, our schools aren’t perfect, but I trust those in charge of the Durham Public School system to find a way to improve what we have.  It’s hard to do that when so many are committed to defeating every plan to remedy what is wrong.

It’s a lesson some refuse to hear.  We’re in trouble when black Democrats can’t support public education.

We haven’t overcome when too many want to go back to the plantation. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Bill Bell leads City Council in alluding discussion regarding race

Mayor Bill Bell should teach a class on how to lead when the potential for division lurks.  Bell handled the vote to replace Mike Woodard on the City Council with class.  I hope members of the Durham Board of County Commissioners are taking notes.

The remaining members of the City Council selected Don Moffitt to serve out Mike Woodard’s term which ends in December.  Moffitt, the former chairman of the Durham Planning Commission, won in a 3-2 vote over Anita Daniels. Eugene Brown, Diane Catotti and Steve Schewell, the three white council members, voted for Moffitt.  Bell and Cora Cole-McFadden, the two black members on the council present at the meeting, voted for Daniels. 

Absent was Councilman Howard Clement. Clement’s health has kept him away from meetings over the past year.  If present, the vote could have been split based on race.  A split vote would have made it difficult for the council to declare a winner.  Clement’s absence helped Bell slay the elephant in the room.

Bell quickly moved for a second vote to make Moffitt’s appointment unanimous.  End of conversation.  Controversy deflected.  No headlines involving division among members of the City Council.

No one was shocked by the maneuver.  Bell prepared members of the council by informing them he would call for a unanimous vote early in the process.  Pressing the importance of a united decision is further evidence of how Bell understands the importance of keeping race out of Durham politics.

The selection of Moffitt was a tough call.  Moffitt’s appointment to the council maintains the white majority, but most agree that Mike Woodward transcended race.  The allegiance between Brown, Catotti, Schewell and Moffitt could be perceived as a problem among those concerned about the affairs of black people.  Given Clement’s inability to attend meetings, the council is left with two blacks they can depend on to fight their agenda.

Bell’s swift move to declare a unanimous winner reflects a radical difference in the management of city government versus the county.  The potential for a 4-2 advantage would be big news if this was county government.  It’s not news today due to how Bell and the members of the council have worked to place the needs of the city above racial politics.

Bell refused to elaborate on his reason for backing Daniels.  Cole-McFadden talked about the need for another woman on the council.  She didn’t mention race.  “It’s important that we consider the population of women who live in Durham,” she says.

No one on the City Council mentioned race as a factor in appointing Moffitt over Daniels.  The absence of race talk is the result of the hard work to place policy and procedure above the type of race trap that has hindered the Durham Board of County Commissioners.  Add it to Bell’s legacy as an advocate for unity when the norm is to fight old battles.

How soon we forget that it was Bell who championed the cause to merge the former Durham and County school systems.  Bell, then chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, endured criticism from both whites and blacks, yet stood firm in ending a long history of separate and unequal education systems.  Some may contend that the merger began the demise of Durham’s public education.  Others submit the merger helped mend race relations in Durham.

Bell insight on the vote to replace Woodward is another classic example of his keen sense of what matters most in Durham.  As passionate as many are about race matters, Bell keeps the politics on the backburner so that the council may focus on what matters most.  A simple unanimous vote made it clear that this council refused to get trapped into making a decision that would pit black people against whites, and the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People against the People’s Alliance.

The council silenced the critics.  No games will be played with the City Council.  It’s time to move on and get back to the business at hand.  Moffitt will serve well.  Daniels would have done the same.  Both options were good for Durham.  It’s a gift to the city when we’re presented with two highly credential options.

Bell and the City Council have raised the bar on how to function above the politics of race.  All minds are clear. Everyone agrees.  There is no room for contention.

Way to go Mayor Bell.  Does everyone agree?



Monday, January 7, 2013

Candidate for City Council pushes to legalize marijuana

I chuckled when Jason Melehani told members of Durham’s City Council he favors legalizing marijuana.

“I admire your chutzpah,” said Councilman Eugene Brown after hearing Melehani’s position on legalizing marijuana and treating addiction as a health problem rather than charging people with a crime.  There were more than a few in the room willing to stand with Melehani to decriminalize marijuana. 

A few deep breaths and chuckles were needed to offset the confusion related to Melehani’s comment.  The City Council has no power to impose laws regarding marijuana usage.  Its way out of the jurisdiction of the City Council, leaving me baffled by the issue coming up in an interview to determine who replaces Woodard.

You can’t blame Melehani for placing the issue on the table.  Citizens across the nation are pressing governments to rethink the war on drugs.  The question before the council involves process.  How can Durham lead the charge to change state marijuana laws? 

Is this one we want to fight?  If so, what are the odds that state legislators will listen to those advocating for change?  Is it worth the fight?  If so, is this the time, or do we have more pressing issues that need to be placed on the local agenda?

On the surface Melehani’s mention of decriminalization seems out of place.  A further analysis unveils the correlation between poverty, incarceration and a vicious cycle that must be stopped.  It would help to know how many people are denied work in Durham due to an inability to pass a drug test. It would help to know the relationship between unemployment and substance abuse, and to begin forming strategies to employ those who can’t pass the test.

Melehani’s point is a good one.  If we approach it as a health problem it can be treated.  As long as we treat it as a crime we are left with no option but to enforce laws devoid of a strategy to end the cycle of addiction.

Someone may argue this is not a matter that the City Council is obligated to consider.  It should be left up to state legislators and law enforcement to handle.  In the meantime, the City Council should focus on economic development, housing codes, public transportation, crime and the management of the city’s infrastructure.

Someone else may argue it’s too big a problem for the City Council to take hold of at this time.  Many are content with continuing the battle over the 751 S. Development project.  More and more, it’s beginning to feel like the agenda of city government is determined by those living outside the inner city core.  How does the council determine what is worthy to be heard?  Are members of the City Council defined and limited to the few committees they serve on, and the typical line items they vote on each month?

Is there space for a conversation that could shift the tide in Durham?  

It’s an uphill battle.  It’s one that is politically charged, but maybe Melehani has made a suggestion worthy of consideration.  No, it’s not within the jurisdiction of city government.  Yes, we are faced with a conservative state government that is unwilling to listen. The obstacles facing state legalization of marijuana make it the type of battle suited for Durham.

Durham has never been defined by the politics of the rest of the state.  Maybe Durham can lead the way.  Durham has done it before.  Durham fought for stiffer gun laws.  Durham has a history of defining and redefining the meaning of the phrase “we the people”.

Members of the City Council will announce Woodard’s replacement at tonight’s City Council meeting.  Anita Daniels, Don Moffit and Ed Kwon are the other three candidates. Daniels has received the endorsement of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and the Friends of Durham.  Moffit has the endorsement of the People’s Alliance.  Melehani and Kwon are political newcomers.

As farfetched as it may be, Melehani’s suggestion may be what North Carolina needs – a municipality that, after considerable deliberation, leads the charge for decriminalization in the state. Some may call Durham crazy, but it comes with living in a city that takes pride in having the spirit of a bull. Melehani may not get the nod, but his suggestion fits the spirit of Durham.

We don’t think like others.  We don’t act like others.  We’re the most tolerant city in America.

We consider the needs of all our citizens. 

That’s leadership.