by Chris Stevenson
Two weeks ago, some black people told their kids to take a day off from school. And roughly 47% of Buffalo’s student body listened to them. Actually children of all races were absentee. That Monday afternoon’s District Parent Coordinating Council (DPCC) rally on the steps of City Hall was hopefully what Samuel L. Radford III said it would be; a beginning, not an end. There was a good crowd considering the unreasonable (for ordinary cities) weather. I expected him and most of the other featured speakers to pump the crowd up. What seemed to be missing was what an old friend of mine referred to as the 800 pound gorilla; dialogue specifically directed towards the parents as to why their kids are dropping out or failing.
Were the situation different, like say the black and Hispanic dropout rate of 75% done over a significantly shorter time span than 40 years, then I’d be inclined to blame the parents less and the schools more. Of course the reality is less myopic than the views of no-doubt most of the parents of that rally. Both sides share a huge chunk of blame, neither side seems willing to accept it. As a result, on 5/16 Buffalo’s students were offered a day off from doing what too many were already doing, missing classes, and/or flunking their courses. To more than a few, encouraging Civil Disobedience to any students, many of whom are routinely disobedient is a bad idea.
Radford is Vice President of the District Parent Coordinating Committee. Initially a band of outraged white parents from around Buffalo acting as watchdog (since ’99) over the Buffalo schools that most of their kids attend. Radford and other members of the Buffalo Local Action Committee smoothly and persistently worked their way in a few years ago. Radford over the years has been carefully groomed to look like Buffalo’s angry black man, oh don’t get me wrong, he is a great orator, powerful speaker, big on policy and protocol. But how angry can he be if he already holds office in the Buffalo Local Action Committee, the Community Action Organization and maybe even Grassroots (The DPCC is funded through a federal grant)? Radford works at the pleasure of the Mayor, by his own admission to me 3 years ago, he answers to the chain of command of L. Nathan Hare, who himself answers to Byron W. Brown. Given Brown’s dislike of any hint of black radicalism, one can only assume Radford’s true role as that of diffuser, not the agitator he is being made to look like.
Not that all diffusion is bad, his diffusing any negative sentiments and plots to ouster schools Superintendent Dr. James Williams ala’ James Harris, is good (not that Williams is all that, one of the DPCC’s issues is ironically ATTENDANCE!; As in low attendance, of which many see him as being directly responsible for since one of the first things he did was after he was hired in ’05 was a mass-layoff of Truant Officers). His diffusing any animosity between the School Board, Williams and the Buffalo Teachers Federation (BTF) is right on time. I know of his efforts to achieve conflict resolution in the black community. It’s the times he is called upon to diffuse public outrage against police misconduct that he and I part company.
Buffalo needs real anger because it’s really suffering. What we get from our best-known activists borders on two extremes; too polished and protocol like Brown’s activists, or too much misplaced anger and wacky behavior from another activist who initially has good ideas; Darnell Jackson. In between there is slim and none. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education shows Buffalo lags behind the national average of the adult black population. Of those over 25, 84% have completed high school (92% for similar-aged whites). That means there are 3.6 million African Americans over 25 years of age who have not completed HS. In another national study “40% of black and Latino students in the US are in schools that are over 90% Black and Latino” in an ’09 study by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project. These are often what “Colorlines” calls high-poverty schools. Of course the white school poverty rate is lower (32%), but a by-product of the plot to under-educate urban schools. I for one do not favor re-integration, we need more black leaders pushing for quality education in predominantly black schools.
More than any other major city with a population of over 250K, Buffalo’s core problem with it’s schools is race. Many times whenever whites notice a significant black population increase, their need to perform their jobs at a quality level experiences a letdown both internally within the individual and collectively as a group. Police are less anxious to solve black-on-black crime, sometimes manifesting an outright refusal to pursue the suspect if they harbor some personal or collective animus towards someone. This leaves it to local blacks to depend on each other. When you have a city with a vast amount of outsiders occupying the best and most crucial jobs, what you essentially have is a group of foreigners dealing with a mostly black population while at the same time saying to each other how they hate Buffalo. Yes they speak English, but that is where most similarities end.
Within the public schools in Buffalo this basic lack of understanding and unwillingness to work with black youth has harmed even the future of more than a few white students. Many of today’s white teachers are indifferent at best and outright saboteurs and sexual predators of good black students (males in particular) at worst. These are some of the causes on both sides of the schools/parents coin that have to be looked at and solved beyond partisan loyalty and old rivalries.
So it was on the 57th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education that Radford stated that the “system is broken.” Radford likes to emphasize teaching not to improve test score, but to improve learning. That may work for some Charter Schools, but as for public schools, I feel there is nothing more refreshing than straight A or B student. Accept no substitutes. When haven’t grades and learning gone hand-in-hand? Hare-as did others-harkened to the past: “We had the best schools when we had neighborhood schools.” Local Nation of Islam Minister of Mosque 23 Dahveed Muhammad struck an interesting note toward the end of the event; “We need a new educational paradigm… If anyone of us could look at the school system as a bank, and we look at our children as money and we leave our money in a bank. And we go back in four years and find out that 75% of our money is gone, none of us would want to keep our money in a bank like that. We don’t expect to put our money in a bank and find out our investment has been robbed from us. But our kids are much more important than money.”
The brother is absolutely correct. In fact all of the many speakers made great points that appealed to the emotions, my concern is if there is a long range plan to solve these issues, and if there is, would Radford, Hare and Mayor Brown, plotting from just the 2nd floor, allow it to happen? More on the Buffalo Board of misEducation, the BTF, , and the DPCC and the BLAC (whew) in future columns.
Chris Stevenson is a regular columnist for blackcommentator, Political Affairs Magazine, and a syndicated columnist. Follow him on Twitter, and Facebook, you don’t have to join any of them. Watch his video commentary Policy & Prejudice and The Network for clbTV. Respond to him on the link below.