As regular readers know, I am not in the business of writing stories the way the subject wants it written and that anyone, subject or reader, is unhappy or even angry about my reporting is both not new and not something that causes me to alter my reporting. Any journalist who writes to please their subject is no longer a journalist but a flack.
I was singled out last night by name by Rachel Motley, one of the speakers at the Police Brutality rally at City Hall. A recent New Rochelle High School graduate, she expressed a great deal of anger directed at me by name because, she claimed, I disparaged a Black history class she took as a senior and that I was demeaning her personal history and that of every black person in attendance.
No. Not even close.
The class she referred to was taught by former Principal Reggie Richardson. In a critique of his failure as building leader I noted that what may have worked in his prior job at a school of 400 students did not translate to a school of 3,400 students and that included teaching a class to a select group of students, I used the term “vanity class” to which Ms. Motley took exception.
I do not believe it is appropriate for a speaker at a public protest to target a journalist while they are their doing their job reporting on the protest as she did. It is hypocritical to use First Amendment rights to attempt to suppress someone else’s rights but she is a college student so maybe she will learn that over time.
That said, I stand by my statement on Reggie Richardson and I will explain why.
I expect few people knew what Ms. Motley was talking about but they certainly recognized she was extremely angry, even vengeful, and she wanted them to join her by attempting to foment anger against me all because I had expressed my view that I did not believe it was appropriate for the Principal of the second largest high school in New York State with over 3,400 students to devote a large part of his time each week teaching a class of 30 students. While wonderful for them it amounted to neglect of the other roughly 3,370 students at the school – “fiddling while Rome burned” in my view.
If Mr. Richardson had wanted to offer courses in Black History he had the authority and wherewithal to hire a teacher to teach that course. It was a “vanity class” in the sense that he was neglecting the job he was paid a great deal of taxpayer money to do so he could do something he enjoyed more than running the school. That was, in my view, self-indulgent and a dereliction of duty. Readers may disagree but that does not make my view of the matter wrong or right.
The problem is Ms. Motley and others have repeatedly and publicly sought to mischaracterize my statement as not a criticism of Richardson but as my opposing the high school offering a course in Black history and then extrapolated from that the idea that I do not want Black people to know Black history or even their own personal history — the implication being that the racist denial of Black history is something I have endorsed and so I am a racist and anyone who disagrees with their misinterpretation of my remark is racist too.
Not only is this false but demonstrably so. Unfortunately, the many people who have become interested in how the school district is run were nowhere to be found in the early years of Talk of the Sound.
Ms. Motley was in Elementary school when I was at board meetings advocating (alone) for integrating a Black history curriculum across all grade levels. And not just Black history generally but New Rochelle’s own Black history.
In 2010, I edited and published an 8-Part series on the Lincoln School Desegregation Case in anticipation of the 50th Anniversary of the Kaufman decision which recognized the concept of “De Facto Segregation”. As a result of my efforts, events were held to celebrate the historic milestone.
In my reporting, I learned that few if any students knew anything about, arguably, the third most important civil rights case in U.S. education which occurred in New Rochelle (followed only by Brown v. Board of Education and the Little Rock Nine case).
I spent a year advocating for the District to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Lincoln case which did come to pass. As part of that advocacy I proposed that the New Rochelle Board of Education adopt a policy that no student (not Black students but all students) could graduate from New Rochelle High School until they demonstrated proficiency in the history of the Lincoln case and its impact on education in the United States. To accomplish this a grade-appropriate curriculum would be developed at every school and a required course on the case would be offered at New Rochelle High School.
I also proposed a bronze statute to commemorate Paul Zuber, the lead attorney in the case, and the families who were the parties in the case, along the lines of what was installed in Little Rock.
Ironically, the one person at New Rochelle High School who did incorporate material from the 8-Part series I published into his curriculum was former Social Studies Department Chairperson Steven Goldberg who was recently hired as Interim Principal at New Rochelle High School.
The idea propounded by Ms. Motley and other recent graduates that I would oppose a course in Black History at New Rochelle High School is simply not the case. I actively promoted this very idea for over a year, a decade ago, long before Reggie Richardson even heard of New Rochelle High School.
I still believe a curriculum based on the Lincoln case should be required for every student at New Rochelle High School and I would still like to see a Bronze statute based on the case at the high school or some other prominent location like City Hall.
Maybe instead of fabricating implications of racism, Ms. Motley and her fellow New Rochelle High School graduates might consider working towards the sort of positive, concrete (or bronze) change for which I have advocated for more than a decade.