A betrayal of trust: the closing of North High School

The latest in the continuing betrayal of education in our community, this time the closing of North High School, occurred in the Minneapolis School Administration Headquarters Assembly Room at 807 Broadway. I attended the meeting, which was filled to capacity by 5:30 pm Tuesday, October 12 (with overflow in two other large rooms with closed circuit TV).

As our beloved Nellie Stone Johnson, co-founder of the DFL, always made clear, the pathway to mainstream American prosperity and economic development starts with education: “no education, no jobs, no housing.”

Those surprised by the superintendent/board saying North High would be closed are among those who refused to hear my June 11, 2008 column: “How can we save North High School?” Its end looks near, a sacrifice to Northside gentrification. Here we have a four-way betrayal: education, Black young people, North High, and Black neighborhoods being changed to White.

They also refused to hear my 2002 book’s chapter on education:

“…Clubbing the Cubs Into Inferiority and Helplessness: Stop the Clubbing and Teach Skills, Optimism, and Hope.” And today, Minneapolis still fails African American students and their communities with the triple whammy of poor education, not hiring Blacks, and gentrifying Black housing to White.

Every TV station was there on Tuesday — public radio, too. The lame duck board of directors was in place to receive statements from those who were gathered, but the board chairman was conspicuous by his absence as the strategy to have an outgoing member serve as chairman and gavel things to order backfired.

Then Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson attempted to present her anticipated recommendation to close North High, setting off an eruption of the underlying volatility. One board member referred to the crowd of Blacks and Whites as being driven by emotion.

Yes, emotion was present, but also present were facts, details, recommendations and history. Speaker after speaker blasted the district’s decision and expressed their feeling that a trust had been betrayed, and that the future of the education of the African American community continued at risk.

During her formal presentation, Superintendent Johnson was interrupted seven or eight times, causing the presiding chair to threaten to suspend the meeting.

He didn’t. I think he understood that such a reckless action would create consequences far beyond what the district, city and others had planned for.

Most troubling was the absence of the leaders of civil rights organizations, including the absence of Black ecumenical leaders. In my 50 years as an advocate for the African American community, I have never seen an issue of such magnitude to the community be so debased and ignored by the total absence of the Black religious leadership.

This absence is understandable. One of the agenda items of the Oct. 12 board meeting was the awarding of contracts to build the district’s new headquarters along the 1200 block of West Broadway in North Minneapolis, and the appointment of a special oversight committee to guarantee the employment of African Americans in the construction of the District’s $27.5 million crystal palace.

These Black religious leaders don’t want people to see how much they receive for signing off on continued failure. It is no accident that one of the members of the oversight committee heads the church that is across the street from the planned headquarters, and another member heads up one of the most incompetent Civil Rights Departments in the United States.

The result? Silence from those who used to have a commitment to pursue justice for the African American community.

The politics of it all revealed itself within minutes of Superintendent Johnson completing her recommendation. It was blocked from being acted on by an incumbent board member who quickly moved to ask the superintendent to withdraw her recommendation pending a more in-depth examination of the recommendation.

Just as extremely outrageous and disingenuous as the superintendent going public with her recommendation earlier (the seven board members had already given her a thumbs up) was the reality of the political damage: throwing the superintendent under the bus by those who had helped her develop her significant and historical plan of betraying the community’s trust, a community that believed in her and believed that her word was gospel, that she acted with integrity and forethought.

But it appears that, in the final moments of her presentation, political decisions were made to sacrifice her, as have many other African Americans been sacrificed.

Nellie Stone Johnson trusted we’d get education right sooner rather than later. Why do so many violate the sense and sensibility of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s book title, Why We Can’t Wait?

Stay turned.

Ron hosts “Black Focus” on Channel 17, MTN-TV, Sundays, 5-6 pm and co-hosts Blog Talk Radio’s “ON POINT!” Saturdays at 5 pm, providing coverage about Black Minnesota. Order his books at www.BeaconOnTheHill.com. Hear his readings and read his solution papers and “web log” at www.The MinneapolisStory.com.