After U.S. Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas agreed to speak at an awards ceremony for a middle school in Maryland, Kenneth F. Johnson, a school board member, objected, saying Thomas’ views had no place in Prince George’s County MD, the fastest-growing Black jurisdiction in the country.
He convinced the school superintendent to “dis-invite” Thomas. After a great deal of controversy, Thomas was reinvited and spoke to a standing ovation inside the auditorium and a protest outside. The entire incident has provoked discussion about whether students should be shielded from or exposed to differing views.
Prince George’s County School Board Member Kenneth E. Johnson’s “dis-invitation” to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to speak at one of the schools in the county, because of his personal I causes me to believe that the county is well on its way to becoming a ghetto like Harlem, where the undisciplined parents have chased the decent parents out of Harlem schools. Chaos brings on destruction. Building cannot take place in chaos.
In the world of academics, small-mindedness is not accepted because it limits the learning field. Children who are not allowed to review the many different opinions or facts of a specific situation are not being given all the ammunition needed to succeed. They are being sent into battle with their hands tied behind their backs. When I was a student in Harlem, I was forced to be disciplined enough to listen to the arguments of others. That skill served me well at Howard, Harvard and Nova Southeastern universities.
As a youth, following the leadership of Malcolm X, I found little to excite me in the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Whitney Young, Thurgood Marshall and Roy Wilkins. I listened to these men because I knew they were bright, and I knew I did not have all the answers. The knowledge I gained from listening to them has also served me well. The good life comes when we listen to everyone.
Why Limit Opportunities?
Whether we like it or not, Clarence Thomas is a Supreme Court justice. This means that young people from Prince George’s County who end up as attorneys may some day have to argue before him. Why limit their opportunities to get to know the man at the earliest possible chance? Do we believe future white lawyers are not studying Clarence Thomas and the other justices? How backwards do we want our children to become? Do Black attorneys protest the Supreme Court because justice Thomas is seated? Do they tell their clients that, because of justice Thomas, they have limited their practices?
It is the height of stupidity and arrogance to believe that by eliminating free speech that one is saving a community. The Black parents of Prince George’s County have to decide what they want to happen in their schools: Academic success or political confrontation? The school leadership in Harlem chose political confrontation and now have some of the worst schools in America. Parents who had the ability to move their children out of the Harlem schools, into better learning situations have done so, leaving the financially poor children with fewer Black role models and fewer Black college-trained parents to advocate in their interest. If Prince George’s County residents follow the dictates of Johnson, they will also see their talented, hard-working students leave the district.
Black parents who are serious about the education of their children do not hesitate to move their children when they get the first hint of education malfeasance. Already, there are signs that all is not well in paradise.
The superintendent, Dr. Jerome Clark, who followed the dictates of Johnson, and forced one of his principals to “dis” justice Thomas, had to beg Thomas to come into the district. He now has the majority of his board members wondering if he is up to the task of being a bold educator, or if he is just a political hack who bends to the personal wishes of school board members. This is a casebook example of how NOT to run a school district.
Wrong Message Sent
The superintendent should now understand that when you are rebellious against authority — and you yourself are an authority figure — you are telling people that they do not have to be civil towards you. This is not the kind of message that superintendents should send to the children and adults of their districts.
When Johnson and Clark publicly rebelled against Thomas, they told the citizens of the county that they do not expect people to act civilized at school board meetings. The lesson that they put forth is: If you disagree, force a change by any means necessary.
Black protest in America occurred because we were denied our constitutional rights, not because we wanted others to lose their rights. We expect gangs to threaten the rights of others. We don’t expect, or accept, elected officials and school officials to act like gangsters.
How can we deny free speech to a United States Supreme justice, and then try to convince people that they must work within the Constitution? At most, as Black Americans we are just 12 percent of the population. We don’t have the numbers to control America. Our survival is based on the citizens of America obeying, the Constitution. When they don’t, we suffer. Booker T. Washington said, “When you have your head in the lion’s mouth, you pet him gently.”
Johnson and Clark seem to believe they can smack the lion. If the Black parents of Prince George’s County want to follow these men over a cliff, they should not blame others when they fall. The educational leadership in the county is trying to get a public relations firm to create a new image for the district. This is a waste of money. The only way to build a positive image for a school district is to produce serious students. You don’t do this by denying free speech, causing chaos, and promoting personal agendas on the backs of schoolchildren.
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