The Latter Rain Cathedral on Bristol Avenue was the setting for the community forum “Rooting Out Injustice, Piece by Peace” Monday night regarding actions taken by the Lockport City School District.
Lockport School Board trustees were asked to attend, explained Teria Young, Parent-Teacher Association vice-president and speaker. Of the board, only Trustee Renee Cheatham was present.
Kevin Barrett, an assistant principal in Clarence and husband to Anna Barrett, one of the few Black teachers in the Lockport School District, was the conductor of the forum, oftentimes holding out a microphone to someone in the audience. There were about 20 members of the community present, including Mayor Michelle Roman; Fatima Hodge, mother of the late Troy Hodge who passed away two years ago this week in police custody; and former alderwoman Flora Hawkins.
“There’s three main concerns that emerged from this community,” Barrett said. “The first one is the concern regarding a Brother’s Keeper grant that was received. The second concerns the DEI that’s being implemented in our district. DEI is Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. And the third is regarding the safety policy.”
My Brother’s Keeper
Those assembled were told by Young that she had found that the Lockport School District had been awarded a My Brother’s Keeper grant of $500,000 over the next four years.
According to Young, the purpose of the grant was to increase the academic achievement and college and career readiness for male students of color.
“The initiative is effectively focused on building respectful and trusting relationships between home and community and school,” Young said. “So, my concern with the grant is that they have it and they need to meet with us, so we can tell them what our needs are and our concerns are for our children. They got the grant and they want to tell us what needs to be done in our community.”
Young said that she felt that the grant was purposefully hidden from herself and other members of the community. After learning of the grant’s existence, she confronted the board in a letter, to which they responded that she was hearing misinformation.
“This grant has so many different programs that we can have,” she continued. “Before they implement it and tell us what they’re going to do with the money, they should come and sit at the table and have our opinion of where it should go.”
“In the wake of George Floyd and other tragedies that have taken place to people of color, the state responded in what are, more or less, suggestions on what should be taking place in school districts,” Barrett said. “So, they started putting out documents and you started seeing terms like ‘cultural relevant pedagogy.’ That’s when they really started defining what diversity was, what inclusivity was, what equity was.”
Barrett said that the state didn’t mandate school districts to adopt any such policy, but wanted them to respond to it. In Lockport, he said, there is a concern that positions are created that are beyond accountability and largely unknown by the community. That’s the concern with the installation of a position related to DEI (Enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion).
“The question that the community would like to pose to the board of education and the administration is how can a community be informed of why the position is created and also receive follow-up on whether or not the position addressed the area of need?” he said. “I believe that point was made by Miss Young earlier. How will they know what we need? How do they know what our concerns are, right? You create a position, but you really don’t know if that position addresses the needs of this community.”
The last issue addressed was the hiring of armed retired police officers as guards in public schools. Pearly Jones addressed the crowd.
“To me it seemed like they want the police officers to come into the schools with guns,” Jones said. “Now, I do understand Lockport to be a little violent, but we’re nothing like Rochester, Buffalo and all these other places. If you have to have a gun, they should be locked up. You’re dealing with elementary children. You don’t need guns with elementary children. Not even to the high school.”
Paula Travis, PTA president, also stood up to speak on the issue.
“I just want to clarify,” Travis said. “These men they are talking about are not actually current police offices, these are retired, suspended, fired. They are security guards that’s it. For them to walk around carrying a gun? Anyone here could do the same thing. I brought that to them and I said, ‘Listen, how does it make you more able to protect our kids when I’m certified the same way you are? I’m certified in CPR, first aid, Narcan, active shooter training. So, how does that make you more able to protect these kids?’ They couldn’t give an answer.”
Travis noted that the committee to make a recommendation which she and Jones were on also included two of the retired officers whose jobs were on the line.
“I asked them to do a 50-A on every officer that’s on there,” Travis said. “The response was, ‘They’re already part of our system, so we can’t go back and ask for it.’ Yes, you can. They law says you can. A 50-A states their disciplinary actions for the last 10 years.”
James Patterson, a candidate for Rochester’s school board, was also at the forum and had some comments to make.
“My thought is, you don’t have enough people in the community supporting this committee here. Somehow you got to get the message out to other individuals in Lockport that you’re having these types of meetings,” Patterson said. “You’re going to have to organize. You’re doing a great job with what you’re doing. … But these pews should be filled with blacks, browns and whites.”