Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sorry, Mr. Mayor

For the past several days I have been rather harsh with the mayor of our fair city.

This morning I was teaching Sunday school. My class and I were studying the commandment to love your fellow person as yourself in chapter 19 of Leviticus. My students explained to me that loving your fellow person meant treating him or her as you would wish to be treated. As they were explaining it, I realized that I have not been showing love to Mayor Wilder. I certainly wouldn’t want someone to treat me as I have been treating him.

So, Mr. Mayor, I am sorry. I will try to dialogue with you in the future in a more civilized manner.

Even a Maven must learn from his students.

Still Dreaming

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., August 28, 1963.

I have always been moved by these words. First, because Martin Luther King, Jr., was such a brilliant speaker, and when I read his words I can still hear him speaking. Second, because Dr. King’s words are so consistent with the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 16:20: “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” In the Hebrew, the repetition of the word “tzedek, tzedek” makes it clear that justice is not something we can just sit around and wait for—we must go out and seek it. To me, a nation in which we judge people without reference to their race, ethnicity, nationality or religion, would be a truly just society.

Unfortunately, last weekend we found out that even though more than forty years have passed since Dr. King’s speech, we are nowhere near having a color-blind society. As the results of the two NFL conference championship games were discussed, it was stressed that history was being made. The coaches of the two teams—Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears and Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts—are both African Americans and therefore the winning coach of the Super Bowl will be African American.

There was little discussion of the brilliant seasons these two coaches had: No talk of their strategy; nothing about their ability to motivate their players; nothing about how hard it is to get their teams to the Super Bowl. No—the only thing relevant was that both coaches are African Americans.

The same day we were told that the Pittsburgh Steelers had hired Mike Tomlin to be their coach for next year. The story stressed that Tomlin will be the Steelers first African American head coach.

Sorry, Dr. King, your dream is still unfulfilled. We still judge people by the color of their skin.

Does this make sense in football? I can just imagine a 210 pound quarterback looking across the line of scrimmage at the four huge 320 pound defensive linemen who intend to break every bone in his body as soon as the ball is snapped. Then he looks at the five men on his offensive line and thinks how nice it is that his linemen are 40% Caucasian, 40% African American, and 20% Pacific Islander.

Are you kidding? All he cares about is whether those five guys are willing and able to protect his body from the oncoming horde. Any quarterback who concerns himself with the color, ethnicity, nationality or religion of his offensive linemen will probably end up on his butt in great pain.

We need to stop labeling people. We need to stop referring to each other as hyphenated Americans. We need to fulfill Dr. King’s dream and stop measuring people by the color of their skin, their ethnicity, their religion, or any other group identity. We need to recognize that Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy are great football coaches. Period!

Oh, I hope it is a wonderful Super Bowl.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Stop it Mr. Mayor, You're Hurting the City

Today I sent this email to Mayor D0ug Wilder:

Mr. Mayor,

I read with dismay your statement in the January 21 Mayor's Visions Newsletter "School Money Cannot Continue to be Wasted." Coming after your similar comments in your "state of the City" message, I can only conclude that your statements are intended to inflame public opinion against the School Board, the Superintendent of Schools, and others in the Richmond Public Schools administration. I consider it extremely irresponsible for the mayor of a city, whose job should include uniting the various factions in the city, to try to stir up so much animosity against decent public servants.

Your assertions that the school administration is wasting millions of dollars of taxpayer money while getting little in the way of results, is extremely misleading. The fact that you do not agree with some of the actions of the School Board does not mean money is being wasted. To assert that the Richmond Public Schools is not making progress in improving student achievement ignores that our schools have improved significantly in the past few years.

I am sure that the members of the School Board and the Superintendent are not satisfied with the progress that the schools are making. They are doing what they can to improve the quality of the schools.

You, on the other hand, can do nothing other than criticize, limit the City's share of school funds, exclude schools from your City of the Future and dispossess the School Board from its offices. In your January 20 speech, as reported in the Times Dispatch, you said you were not trying to pick fights with school officials. You said that "this has nothing to do with personalities" and that you have no desire to run the Richmond Public Schools. Unfortunately, your statements and actions make it hard to believe that your intent is innocent.

Mr. Mayor, I suggest that you keep eating the stuff that is already on your plate and allow the School Board and the Superintendent to do their jobs.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Mr. Wilder, Stop Playing Politics With Our Children

An article in the January 17 Richmond Times-Dispatch says that the leaders of Mayor Wilder’s commission on education are unhappy about “feuding” between the Mayor, the school administration and the city’s elected School Board. In my opinion, however, the article seems to place most of the blame on the School Board and ignores the fact that any feud that exists originated in Mr. Wilder’s efforts to force the School Board to follow his orders.

Since he has taken office, Mr. Wilder has been acting as if his election was an anointment and his inauguration a coronation. He insists on having his way and has waged war on any person or entity that refuses to go along. Whether it is the Performing Arts Center, a new stadium for the Braves, his battle with the City Council over whether it or the mayor has the power to legislate for the City, moving bus lines so that riders do not sit on the steps of his State Library, euthanizing the Maymount bears without his permission, punishing Creigh Deeds for opposing legislation Mr. Wilder proposed as Governor, or many other issues, King Doug’s rule has been “do it my way or not at all.” He reminds me of a kid we had at the school yard when I was young. Although we had a stick, the ball was his, and if we wanted to play stickball we had to play by his rules. If we refused, he took his ball and left.

His Excellency Mr. Wilder finds it unacceptable that, despite his huge election win, Title 22.1, Chapter 5, section 22.1-28 of the Virginia Code provides that “The supervision of schools in each school division shall be vested in a school board selected as provided in this chapter” rather than in the mayor. It is unthinkable to Mr. Wilder that any entity in the City of Richmond is authorized to operate without his control. So, just as he spent much of his first year in a power struggle with City Council, Mr. Wilder is now out to force the School Board and the school Superintendent to do his bidding.

Mr. Wilder fires all the shots. First he announces that Richmond Public Schools will not receive any more City funds for its operations in this year’s budget than it received last year. Then he announces that he is eliminating new school construction from his City of the Future because the School Board is not closing schools before their replacements are built as he demanded. Finally, he reminds the School Board that he is evicting them from their offices at City Hall at the end of the current school year. Mr. Wilder even tried to purge independent thinkers from the School Board by supporting opposing candidates in last November’s election.

The one thing that His Excellency doesn’t seem to care about is that the real victims of his vendetta against the School Board are the children of Richmond. Mr. Wilder must have his way, no matter who suffers. It is time that Mr. Wilder stops playing politics with the futures of our children.

Wrong Analogy, Mr. Hargrove

For those of you who noticed, I have not written since November. This corresponds with my being afflicted with some mysterious, nasty, devastating malady. Now that I am on the mend (or at least I hope I am) I take up the pen. I have been provoked by the statement made by the honorable Delegate Frank Hargrove, Republican, from Hanover County, that asking the Commonwealth of Virginia to apologize for slavery is like asking “the Jews to apologize for killing Christ.”

I think Mr. Hargrove misspoke. I’m sure what he meant to say was that asking the Commonwealth to apologize for slavery was like asking Christians to apologize for eighteen centuries of perpetuating the hateful lie that “the Jews” killed Jesus. This calumny enabled the church (both Roman Catholic and Protestant) to justify treating Jews as somewhat less than humans. It justified massacres, murder, rape, beatings. It justified burning Synagogues and destroying Jewish sacred books. It justified forcing Jews to live in walled ghettos, forcing Jews to wear identifying badges, excluding Jews from most occupations, expelling Jews from many countries, and generally keeping Jews in a state of subjugation for more than eighteen hundred years. All of this was done in the name of a god of love. It created an attitude of anti-Jewish feeling in Europe that eventually climaxed in the murder of nearly six million Jews, including more than a million children, by the Nazis. It contributed to the almost inexplicable fact that nearly all of the perpetrators of the Nazi Holocaust (all of those who pulled the triggers and all of those who herded naked victims into the death chambers) were born as Christians.

I think that because Mr. Hargrove probably had no ancestors who were held in a state of life-long bondage in our beloved Commonwealth and had no relatives who were murdered in Europe it is easy for him to advise African Americans to just get over it and to accuse Jews of being thin-skinned. And, it would be relatively harmless for him to express these views in private. However, it is totally unacceptable that he express them from the floor of the House of Delegates. Mr. Hargrove has embarrassed his constituents in Hanover County in particular, and the citizens of the Commonwealth generally. I hope the voters in Hanover County let him know in November that such conduct in a public official is not acceptable.