Hardy Brown, II
I heard it through the grapevine that Westside Action Group was having a “meet & greet” event last Friday evening so my wife took me to see what was going on in the community and touch base with some of the fellas. Plus my friend Don Griggs had me develop a presentation on WAG’s impact in the community since its inception by Robert “Bob” Parker and a few of his close friends including me.
I especially enjoyed when Don talked about meeting Marvin Gaye during a WAG event and how he recounted a conversation they had about “sexual healing” while they were in the men’s restroom. Everyone broke out in laughter as he told his story. It was ironic that while watching television on Saturday night Marvin Gaye appeared on the 25th anniversary of Motown singing his hit “What’s Going On” and I went to the event because of what I “heard through the grape vine.” My observations at the WAG meeting kept “grapes” as a metaphor fresh in my mind.
You know people can be compared to grapes when you think about some grapes are grown to make raisins, some jelly and jam and some wine. At the meeting the members had the superintendent and board members of the Rialto Unified School District as speakers to respond to a brewing situation that they did not agree with, however the WAG members acted like grape jelly and were afraid to act like wine grapes.
It appeared to me as though the grapes were laying in the meeting fermenting but was not quite ready to tell the superintendent just what was on their mind. I found out after the meeting that what prompted them to invite the superintendent to speak, was to address the termination of an African-American administrator and some staff members. Instead the superintendent talked about the district statistics and what he wanted to do. In my evaluation of the meeting it was a missed opportunity for the superintendent and WAG to share the true feelings of many people in the Black community.
In my opinion and in the minds of many others, the Black community is under attack in California and the nation: our Black superintendents are being pushed out of jobs, our Black school board members are being replaced, our Black teachers are being told to learn Spanish in order to keep their jobs, our Black youth are being denied employment at some fast food establishments because they do not speak Spanish, our Black elected officials are being told they will be the last to represent people on city councils, school boards, in the assembly and senate districts in LA, the IE, and other locations, in banking some managers are told to learn Spanish in order to get promoted.
Yes grapes are good as jelly, jam, juice and yes even wine is good for that special occasion or Jesus would not have turned water into wine at the wedding. In my opinion it was a special occasion for WAG to express their frustration with a personnel decision in order to learn the truth from the Rialto management.
It’s clear that over the past five years the Rialto School District has been losing its student population. Black students have gone from 3,663 or 13.7% in 2011 to 2,747 or 10.6% in 2016. Hispanics have increased from 21,073 or 78.7% to 21,489 or 82.7% over the same period. Whites have gone from 1,222 or 4.6% down to 957 or 3.7% over the same period. And because of this attrition of students there have been cuts in personnel, and rightly so. But the questions folks had on their minds at that WAG meeting, but clearly didn’t ask, were if the African-American staff members are being treated fairly, or targeted because of their race?
As a former school board member, I knew I could always rely on an organized group of African-American employees to address these issues, often before they made it to the board agenda. I also knew that members of the community, still fresh from the protests of the sixties, didn’t hesitate to attend our meetings and ask during public comment.
I strongly suggest that the district’s African-American employees come together and stand-up for what is right and that the community – including my fellow WAG members – ask the tough questions even if it means going to a board meeting and addressing the issue in public comment. If you don’t try to find out “what’s going on” in your school district, who will?