“The whole world opened to me when I learned to read.” — Mary McLeod Bethune
For decades, a workable relationship between organized labor and African American leadership existed in Minnesota. They do not necessarily speak with one voice, but, regarding financial consideration, they do. But for the last decade, this relationship has frayed, not in terms of financial considerations but in terms of standing up for real education for African American children.
Legendary civil rights activist Nellie Stone Johnson clearly stated: no education, no job, no housing. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that although many Blacks were not qualified (lacking education and training), we are qualifiable through education and training.
Bussing was a misguided policy of racism in education: that Black children could only learn when with White children. We expect that from Whites but not Blacks. And so we were quite shocked to hear the recent attacks on Lynn Norgren, White president of the Teachers Federation by powerful Black leaders and their Black organizations.
For a number of recent months, the Teachers Federation, the Minneapolis Board of Education, and the superintendent have met at least 19 times in extremely intense negotiations. These negotiation sessions, by law, can be made open to the general public. It’s only when negotiations break down and mediation is asked for that such negotiations can be legally closed, according to legal sources familiar with Minnesota law.
After Federation President Norgren revealed discussions about others in the meeting, especially by Twin City foundations who talked of the incompetency of African American children — not because of poor education but because the are incapable of benefiting from a good education — she became an enemy of the state. She became a target of those who embraced statements by African American leadership against the Teachers Federation and organized labor.
For them, only the “adult who’s” on all sides and their organizations matter, and not the “student who’s” (the children, whether American or immigrant, whether Black or White). This is rather stunning in light of the Federation’s 10-point proposal offered in negotiations, that would improve educational access, opportunities, operations and options for African American children and other children of color, not just Whites.
We are hearing that deals have been cut within different racial communities, including the African American community, but for adults, not children. This questions the presence and effectiveness of pubic education.
Community leadership conspiring to help themselves will hurt the educational opportunity of our children by denying them many opportunities to move forward with the general masses. Efforts must be made to assure African American parents and their African American children, that they are still valued and important, that their future is important to all who seriously support the African American child.
As the Federation has stated, “the opportunity gap [for Black children] is a problem that has its roots in the racism, classism and White privilege of our city. We know that we must accompany social and economic reforms with education change in order to solve it.”
Conditions facing Black America and the African American community in the Twin Cities are too threatening and too dangerous for brinkmanship. We don’t need John Foster Dulles-type leaders with a cold war doctrine of “to the brink.”
This is not about building a wall; it is about tearing down walls. This is about supporting the need for excellence in education, employment and housing on behalf of African American children and their parents. Expect nothing less from those who say they stand in defense of the African American child and their communities.
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