The views expressed in this column reflect those of the columnist and may not reflect those of the Asbury Park Reporter.
I think it’s safe to say my first Board of Education meeting was one for the books. As a resident and mother, I’m sad to say I attended my first meeting on January 26th. It was a production to say the least. The night before, I went to my first City Council meeting in support of the Springwood Avenue Rising Project. Though I had a glimpse of the infamous Rita Marano, even she couldn’t have prepared me for what was to come the next evening.
It started out easy with an introduction to the board members, followed by the principals presenting Teacher and Student of the Month awards. We watched a slideshow of test scores accompanied by well-dressed words that, naked, meant the children were failing miserably and the teachers didn’t deserve a pass.
At first, when they opened the microphone for the public, I felt bad for the board members because of the way people were speaking to them. This feeling was fleeting. Nurse Nancy Phillips is our generation’s Teretha Jones, and she took to the podium to make it clear. Though many may have missed the jewels she threw due to ducking the stones mixed in, I did not. She managed to ruffle every feather in the room, but did nothing to delay or stop their ability to fly.
Terri Ivory, President of the Concerned Black Nurses of Central New Jersey, gave her respected accolades and proceeded to offer herself along with members of her organization to aid in halting the slash of the Allied Health program in Asbury Park High School. Her most prolific statements expressed the need for medical professionals of color for their impact, influence, and abilities in the field. “I would have to say that if we don’t start supporting our young people into professions that would allow them to be leaders in the community, and stay in the community, then our community is going to die. Plain and simple.” She also emphasized the importance of having caregivers from Asbury Park specifically assigned to care for Asbury Park residents and patients. “What better person to take care of you than a nurse that understands where you come from.” It makes sense.
When students of former Allied Health teacher Sarita Gogan started talking, I sat up straight in my seat. The amount of emotion in their articulation was enough to break any mother’s heart. Through their cracking voices they stood tall while advocating for themselves and what they knew was right. Between their college credit program being dropped and losing a teacher who was more like a mother, it was clear these kids were dealing with some serious issues and wanted answers to their valid questions. They had three minutes to talk which proved to be more than enough time.
After they spoke at the podium, the students left the auditorium and went out into the hallway and continued their discussion. Then, there was a break in the meeting. Suddenly, the doors flew open and Superintendent RaShawn Adams charged into the hallway, ejecting and displaying the most inappropriate energy possible for his position. He was in a defensive stance, projecting with a condescending tone, and moving his hands while addressing four teenage girls and one teenage boy.
One of the students asked “Why did you come out here like this? I’m scared, let me back up.” This had no effect on his demeanor at all. His clear lack of professionalism and respect for the students and their families was evident.
The whole experience made me proud and ashamed at the same time. I was proud of the students for standing up, while ashamed of the adults trying to keep them in their seats. Imagine the damage RaShawn’s actions could do to them. For instance, this situation may have stifled their opinions, stilled their voices, and destroyed their trust in the school system as a whole. I personally would love to read the code of conduct for RaShawn’s position, just to be clear on how much of a Super he is. It seems his signature suit is merely his anti-hero costume and he mistakenly showed his true identity in the halls of Bradley Elementary School that night. Charles M. Blow wrote, “One doesn’t have to operate with great malice to do great harm. The absence of empathy and understanding is sufficient.”
As the meeting came to an end, RaShawn did say that the Allied Health Program will remain; they are simply stuck in the throes of the hiring process, which still never answered the question he was asked repeatedly that night. What were the children to do until then? My guess is that they’ll keep making TikTok videos in class, because that’s what they have been doing.
I believe it’s time to start the conversation about what’s really being done in the schools. What are the standard protocols of the people who are sitting up high and looking down low instead of into our faces? These people are signing big checks in the City’s name, while comfortably watching it die. They’re attending the Governor’s Ball while our children aren’t prepared for careers that don’t require one.
We as a community must do better in the honor of our children. The next generation will rise up. The only question is, will it be in the name of Malcolm or Martin? Neither guarantees them a long life, while both offer a legacy stolen due to being left unattended by the very people they were fighting for.
Remember darling, the show must go on, and in good fashion.