City School Board candidates on representing a diverse community
In advance of Election Day Nov. 7, Charlottesville Tomorrow has produced in-depth nonpartisan voter guides, featuring exclusive one-on-one interviews with all the candidates for the Charlottesville School Board and Charlottesville City Council. In advance of the election, we will also feature their responses to important questions about their qualifications, priorities, and key quality of life issues so that our citizens can compare candidates’ answers and make an informed choice.
Charlottesville Tomorrow’s 2017 Election Center website also features candidates in Albemarle County and links to the full written transcript and audio of these interviews.
All the following passages are verbatim excerpts from our interviews.
CHARLOTTESVILLE SCHOOL BOARD, SECOND IN A SERIES
If elected, what will you do to help our community move forward in the aftermath of this past summer’s violent demonstrations and how will you seek to best represent and effectively serve our economically and racially diverse communities?
It was a heck of a summer. It’s been hard on everybody. I would hope it’s been hard on everybody. I think it’s eye opening and you’re right Charlottesville’s definitely in the spotlight and it has been tough. As far as moving forward, that’s a great question. I think there are a lot of conversations are happening a lot of dialogue in a lot of different areas within our community. I think the administration was incredibly supportive to kids and families and staff at the beginning of the year and I think they continue to do so. I think we need to continue to keep this in the forefront — this weekend we had another showing of scare tactics — so it’s not something that I think is going away as far as the events or the incidents that have kind of stirred the pot. I am doing my best personally to show up to be a good listener. I want to be part of these dialogues, initiate the dialogues. I will be available and I will be accountable to anybody who wants to approach me as a board member or as a community member to share concerns that they have. I think we need to do this in a positive way. I know there’s a lot of anger and in pockets of the community, and rightly so, but I think we need to find a way to sit down and talk about the issues that people are angry about with the intent to be positive and work together. I will do that and I will be accountable and I’ll be present. That’s what I can do.
This past summer, for some, was more horrific than others. Having had the knowledge and experience of the race riots of 67 and 68, I was very surprised by the numbers of people that I have met that have never experienced anything of this magnitude. I always felt that what was going to happen on August 12th was going to be much greater and have a much more negative impact than July 8th.
Most people that I met were very, very concerned about the Klu Klux Klan on the 8th. And I was not — I was more concerned about the persons coming that were here on the 11th and 12th because they represent hatred, and their hatred comes from a place of anger. The Confederate flag means a lot to some, and not so much to others. But what has happened is we as people do not sit down and hear what the other person says. You have to listen. If you believe in the Confederate flag, don’t scream and shout and holler — talk to me as I’m talking to you. If I don’t believe in the Confederate flag, I don’t need to scream, shout, and holler — I need to sit and I need to talk to you. We need to listen to each other.
The statues were not the issue. The issue was race and economics. Julian Bond said it best — everything in this country is trumped by race. And so when people walk into the room and they look different, others are intimidated. Everyone has a right to his or her own feelings. It is the way that you express your feelings that brings about the negative discourse. If you are listening to the conversations that are currently being held in City Council, people are talking about race and people are talking about economics. Self-preservation is the first law of man. If you don’t have a job, you’re hungry. If you don’t have a job, you don’t have anywhere to live. If you have a job that is paying low wages, you don’t have a place to live. You can’t take care of your basic necessities. And we have to begin to look at what are we doing — not “we” the school board because the school board cannot create enough jobs for everyone living in the city limits of the City of Charlottesville. So what are we doing in the City of Charlottesville to make this city economically affordable? Are we bringing in more jobs? Are we developing more jobs? Are we doing things for housing and infrastructure? Are we improving housing? Are we ensuring that there’s housing?
The neighborhood in which I live just recently had a house go on the market for $499,000 plus. It sold within a month — in fact, probably within two weeks. A half a million dollars is not a starter home. How many families that live in the City of Charlottesville could have afforded to purchase that home? And I am not in a brand new community. We look at the homes that are being built in the city. Are these homes affordable? And can the persons living in the city afford to buy the homes? And when you are feeling shut out of the process, when you are feeling disenfranchised from the process, you want people to know that and you want people to hear that. And I have spent my life as the director of Upward Bound, attempting and working diligently and tirelessly for my students to be heard and for their families to be heard, and I will continue to do that because our families that live in moderate income housing and low-income housing and subsidized housing are important and they cannot be discounted.
You have no idea what I learn from my Upward Bound families and their friends that live in their communities. I am very fortunate. But what most people don’t know is my mother’s mother was not a college graduate. She did day’s work and she was an elevator operator, and my mother and my aunt are college graduates. So they worked — her parents worked to ensure that their children had better than they. I have worked to ensure that my children have better than I have. And when you’re out on the campaign trail and you’re talking to parents, I don’t care where they come from. I don’t care what their zip code or their address is. They all say, “I want better for my child than I have.” And my Upward Bound students, which are these students that we are talking about today, are having better than their parents. And their parents are in there, they’re concerned, they ask the questions, and they’re standing before us today at City Council and at School Board to say, “Hear us. Help us. Help our children become important citizens, not only in Charlottesville, but in the country and in the world.”
That’s a difficult question because [there are] so many ways to impact that. One of the things that I think I would do, that I am doing now — in this community working with nonprofits and volunteering and tutoring and mentoring in the community and ultimately decided to run for school board in 2006 — but I had been doing that for well over 15 years — is to let all of our families know about the opportunities to be involved in the community. I think that if some of our families knew, if the public knew, that some of our students in our community — you know, they may have three or four families living in a small apartment because their parents may not want a family to go homeless. And so you imagine that they have this situation where they don’t have a little quiet space in their house where they can go squirrel down and do their homework. They always have someone around them that may throw off their concentration, or their parents may have to work two or three jobs and they don’t have anyone to help them with that math problem that they have to do by the next day. I think if families knew the opportunities that were out there, then maybe they could, you know, not legally, but just maybe adopt a family that they could provide some support to, that they can, maybe, if the son or daughter, because their mom is at work, that they could say, “You know what, I’ll take your son or daughter to the tutoring or after school program,” or whatever it may be. To let families know of the various opportunities in our community.
It comes full circle — I was just in Walker Elementary School, just on Tuesday. I happened to be in the office at the first day of school, and I saw a lady walk in from the International Rescue Committee and she walked in, she had a family four behind her. And I was in the office, I kind of was sitting down, and she said, “Well this is the first day that I would like to enroll this family in school.” And I’ve never actually seen that process before of what happens. You know, they had never, they probably just — I don’t know — I would imagine a couple of months ago, they may have been in a refugee camp, somewhere that we’ve seen on TV. And here they are, here in the City of Charlottesville, enrolling in school for the first time. And I wish — I know this is radio — I wish you could have seen the smile on the two kids’ face, and the parents’ face. Because they’ll probably say, “We now have some normalcy in our family.” And I was like, you know, as bad as these, as long as these meetings get and things, that is what we are here for. To educate kids. And to provide opportunities for this family. I’m sure that this family, likely what they’ve been through, they’re going to take advantage of every opportunity that the school system has to offer. And I think that we need that, I need that reminder every once in a while, and I’m glad that I happened to be there that day to see that process. And that receptionist, by the way, welcomed the family and said, “Here’s what you do.” There’s of course a lot of forms that they had to fill out, but they were ready. They probably would have been there all day if they needed to fill out paper, because I think that that family was ready to start this new chapter in their life.