October 16th, 2018
Thinking for Ourselves
Effecting the Children
This week the Michigan League for Public Policy released a new report on the crisis of education in our state. It identifies the failures of decades of so-called reforms and argues for a honest look at systemic racism embedded in these efforts
The report urges legislators, leaders and all concerned people to face “the inescapable truth of deep inequities in educational opportunities and outcomes for children based on race, ethnicity, place and income.”
It continues, “While all children can learn and deserve a top-notch education, children of color and those living in low-income communities face barriers to educational success from cradle to career. Attempts to improve Michigan’s educational system without addressing those barriers will undoubtedly fail.”
The study puts the failure of state educational efforts into a broader context explaining that “educational disparities do not occur in a vacuum and can be traced to public policies that limit employment and housing options for many parents, fail to adequately recognize the added costs of teaching children who live in high-poverty neighborhoods, and view investments in teachers as a “diversion” of school funding away from children.”
The report concludes with a series of recommendations to law makers. These recommendations are not new, but they point to how inadequate recent legislatures have been in addressing the needs of our children.
The first step, the report says is for policy makers to “consider the impact of potential budget and policy decisions on children of color and low income communities.” It goes on to recommend investment in “efforts to reduce poverty and ameliorate the impact of poverty on learning.”
These first two recommendations should guide any decision, anywhere. The simple question, “how does this effect the children” should be a basic standard of judgment. By this standard most of the policies enacted by our city fail. Water shut offs, foreclosures, punitive testing, lack of transportation, escalating rents, and the use of public money to build jails and entertainment center all fail to meet this basic standard.
As we consider this report, I was reminded of one published more than a year ago by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission. It was described at the time as “a searing 135 page report,” documenting the impact of “systematic racism” and the “complete failure of government.” The subject was the Flint water crisis. That report also “delved into the history of race and racism in Flint.” It linked structural racism to emergency management legislation and “called for changes in the state’s emergency manager law and more training on racial bias at all levels of state government.”
“It is abundantly clear that race played a major role in developing the policies and causing the events that turned Flint into a decaying and largely abandoned urban center, a place where a crisis like this one was all but inevitable,”
The Flint report concluded with this warning. “We cannot predict what the next crisis will be, when it will occur, or in which decaying urban center it will happen. But we do know that unless we do something, it will occur, and it will disparately harm people of color.”
These reports are bringing to the forefront of public discussion a reality that most of us know every day in our bones. It is a reality that diminishes the lives of all of us, but especially those of our children. The urgency for deep, structural change has never been clearer. Care for the children. Advance democracy. Provide the basic necessities for life. Our challenge is to find new, collective ways to craft just futures for our children and ourselves.
For Immediate Release
Coalition for Ensuring the Black Legacy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
Community Coalition Challenges the C.H. Wright Museum Board over Controversial Jefferson Exhibition and Lack of Community Representation in Museum Leadership
A Coalition of 20 community organizations, bolstered by social media campaigns (MoveOn.org and ColorofChange.org) that collected more than 17,000 signatures, has been rebuffed by the Board of Trustees of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History (CHWMAAH) in its effort to win community representation on the Board, and prevent the hosting of the exhibition, “Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty.”
Recently the Coalition wrote to the Museum Board to oppose installation of the Jefferson plantation exhibition during Black History Month, 2019. The exhibit seeks to represent the slavery experience in ways that delete or obscure the essential features of the plantation system: inhumane violence and terror. As such, the exhibit erases from history the sufferings of our ancestors, and fails to acknowledge their extraordinary capacity to overcome the oppression to which they were subjected. This falsification of history is offensive and inappropriate, given the heinous practices of slaveholders like Jefferson, and given the nature of current race relations in the U.S., where police violence and murder of our youth continue to plague our communities. Thousands of signers have supported the Coalition’s insistence that such an exhibit should not be featured at the CHWMAAH, which was founded to uplift and inspire the African American community.
In a letter to the Coalition, the Museum Board has reiterated their determination to host the Jefferson exhibition. They also rejected the Coalition’s proposal that there be community representation on the Museum Board and the CEO Selection Committee.
The recent ouster of CEO and President, Ms. Juanita Moore, prompted the Black community’s concerned response. Ms. Moore was dismissed suddenly, despite her stellar record of creating financial stability for the Museum, and raising the programming of the Museum to a level of national recognition and enthusiastic community support. Within two months of her leaving, the Board appears to be moving towards other staff changes, alerting the Coalition that the Board intends a new direction in policies and programs. We are concerned that this new direction is intended to accommodate corporate/private, White supremacist interests –like the Jefferson exhibition — rather than those of the African American community at large.
Indeed, it appears that the Board member who is taking the lead in imposing the Jefferson exhibition is Euro-American attorney James P. Cunningham of Williams Williams Rattner and Plunkett law firm, Birmingham, MI. The other Board members appear indifferent to the outrage of 17,000 individuals who have signed the petitions against the exhibit.
Are the Board Members aware that Jefferson made an enslaved child, Sally Hemings, the bearer of seven of his children (only four of whom survived to adulthood)? Are they aware that for over a century, white historians in the U.S. attempted to cover up this history, dismissing the claims of African American descendants of Hemings and Jefferson, until DNA science made it impossible for them to do so? Having no alternative now but to recognize Thomas Jefferson’s outrageous hypocrisy as a slaveholder, such historians now want to recast Sally Hemings, the enslaved child, Jefferson’s victim, in the following contradictory ways: “…Negotiator. Liberator. World traveler. Enslaved woman. Concubine. Inherited property. Mystery.” (Press release, Office of Cultural Affairs, City of Dallas) What unmitigated deceit!
At a community meeting held at Sacred Heart Church on September 19, 200+ activists carried out a nomination and election process to vet 10 community representatives to join the Museum Board, and four community representatives to join the CEO Selection Committee. The following were the criteria for nomination:
- Ten or more years of ongoing engagement in community service or organizing to advance and protect the rights and well being of the African American community
- Demonstrated leadership and trust of community
- Interest in, knowledge and advocacy of African American history and culture
- Readiness to collaborate to generate resources to maintain African American institutions
The following well-known community activists were elected:
Ms. Theo Broughton
Mr. Jamon Jordan
Ms. Marian Kramer
Mrs. Helen Moore
Ms. Monica Patrick
Ms. Tawana Petty
Prof. Charles Simmons
Ms. Maureen Taylor
Mr. Paul Taylor
Mr. Malik Yakini
Alternate: Mr. Khary Frazier
CEO Selection Committee
Atty. Jeffrey Edison
Dr. Gloria Aneb House
Mr. Michael Imhotep
Rev. JoAnn Watson
Alternate: Dr. Kefentse Chike
The Coalition is appealing to everyone who treasures the Museum, both locally and nationally, to speak out, send letters and texts to the Board Chairperson, Mr. Eric Peterson (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Interim COO, Mr. George Hamilton, retired Dow Chemical Executive (email@example.com). Demand that the elected community representatives be seated on the Museum Board and on the Selection Committee for the new CEO, and that another exhibit, representative of our people’s hopes and strivings, be brought to the Museum to celebrate African American History Month, 2019.
The next meeting of the Coalition will be held at 6:30 p.m. on October 10th at West Side Unity Church, 4727 Joy Road, Detroit.