Op/Ed | By Nehemiah D. Frank
People’s intentions will always be judged better by what they do rather than by what they say.
All words are superficial until the poker face has dealt its cards.
And the superintendent for the Tulsa Public Schools’ district nor its school board members expressions and wordplay exempt from the rules of the game.
None of them can truly be trusted to operate for the will of the people, especially for the ambitions of black people and their black children.
TPS superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist’s actions are beginning to speak louder than the words projected from her mouth.
In 2017 in an interview for The Black Wall Street Times just before Christmas, Gist informed me how equity was important to her and that she “loves little black children” and wants them to become successful.
I chose not to publish and air the video on The Black Wall Street Times’s platform out of fear that I might be hoodwinked at some future date, and I didn’t want to play a roll in fooling my community into believing that true equity, that would aid in the closing of the academic achievement gap between Black and White children in Tulsa, was ever a true possibility in Tulsa Public Schools.
At Monday night’s school board meeting, once again, I despairingly witnessed the horrid social atrocity of my community being played by one of Tulsa’s institutions, an institution that wasn’t designed for large-scale Black success.
There may be some bright spots, but there is a whole lot of darkness when the majority of the schools are rated Ds and Fs by the state’s standards.
There is, however, a method to the madness of institutional racism and how it operates within public school systems throughout America — rather its intentional or unconsciously performed during the animalistic firing of messages between synaptic gaps in order to keep one’s employer happy — the Tulsa Public School Board members who will renew Gist’s contract a few years from now.
Furthermore, conforming to societal peer pressures is a norm, especially for those who are elected and seated at the decision-making table.
Even if those who helped them get elected happen to be of a different opinion, those seated at the table will almost always side with power because they believe it prevents them from abdication.
Our elected officials, and in this case — the Tulsa School Board members, are chosen because the people believe that board members will vote in the people’s favor and that they will act, and with integrity, as the people’s advocates and voice of the multitude behind the closed doors of the ivory towers.
From time to time, however, the representatives find themselves caught between two stools. Sometimes they fail us.
At a school board meeting, board members Jania Wester, Shawna Keller, Ruth Anna Fate, and Suzanne Scriber voted against the will of an entire community in order to save the school district money.
The majority of the board to all appearances appeared tone-deaf.
Board members Jennettie Marshall, Brian Hosmer, and Stacey Woolley voted in favor of what the people wanted. They all voted no, unmoved by Gist’s last attempt to sway them.
After initially telling the crowd that she was going to vote no, Fate changed her vote at the last minute and voted yes, publicly deceiving the crowd who were depending on her no vote.
Jania Wester seemingly fooled the people into believing that she would also vote no on closing another school in North Tulsa.
Community member after community, young and old publicly approached the podium’s microphone and told their school board to vote no on closing their neighborhood school.
The rationale for why they ignored the voters’ demands will always remain an unimportant variable.
What they need to understand is that when their constituents tell them to vote a certain way on an action item, they should do it and commit to it.
When they don’t, the voters are prone to viewing the elected’s actions as an act of defiance in the eyes of the very people who helped get them elected and ushered to their, very temporary, political thrones.
Consider this, it is a fact, both historically and presently, that Black schools across America are usually the first to be sacrificed for the betterment of ‘all’ students.
Hence, Black students and Black schools are the vulnerable minority in every American city. They are in constant need of protection and consideration when it comes to the white majority’s decision-making and the powerful institutions that either negatively or positively affect Black life and inevitably aid in the shaping of our community’s future success.
I honestly think that we as a community are placing too many of our eggs in one basket with TPS. This is why I am a firm believer of school choice. I have yet to see TPS implement equity on the macro level in its schools for black children.
Superintendent Gist was at the helm of this decision to close another north Tulsa school — Gilcrease, a predominately black school, and she visibly and publicly pushed back against the community, a black community that has grown accustomed to tone-deaf superintendents and school board members who seemingly regard most of their ideas as irrational or inadequate.
Furthermore, she told the North Tulsa Education Taskforce that TPS wouldn’t close any more schools on the predominantly Black side of town. She broke that pledge when she decided to shutter just one more school before the end of the school year.
She also personally informed me and led the North Tulsa community to believe that the North Tulsa Education Taskforce was onboard with closing Gilcrease Elementary.
Education advocate and community leader Joyce Smith-William cleared that up last night, calling BS at the school board meeting, stating that the North Tulsa Education Taskforce was blindsided by the recommendation to close Gilcrease.
The Taskforce recommended a moratorium on school closures in North Tulsa.
I undoubtedly think that Gist felt the full weight of the legal and fiscal responsibility on her job as superintendent of Oklahoma’s second-largest school district.
Importantly, I don’t believe she intended to harm or break the heart of Tulsa’s black community.
I know her decision to forcibly push this closure on our community was hard and that she truly believes it’s the right decision.
Perhaps she can see what we yet cannot.
Perhaps she’s wearing another poker face, ready to hoodwink the black community again, like we’ve been done so many times before.
That’s to say that the trust remains broken between the district and the city’s black community.
It’s always difficult to make decisions when money is on the line; nevertheless, financially sound decisions have always trumped over Black comfort in this capitalistic society we ironically call the land of the free and the home of the brave, and it has historically.
This unjust narrative continues to be controlled by a white American majority and the pawns who seek to appease them for their own personal gain.
This is why I’m calling BS on Tulsa Public Schools’ decision to close another north side school because they ignored the voice of a Black School board member and Tulsa’s Black community.
Nehemiah D. Frank is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Black Wall Street Times and sits on the Editorial Community Advisory Board at the Tulsa World. He graduated from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL, and earned a second degree in political science from Oklahoma State University. Nehemiah is a rising voice in America and an emerging leader in the educational justice and equity movement. He’s a motivational speaker and presented a TED Talk at the University of Tulsa in the spring of 2018. Nehemiah is also blogger at Education Post. He has been featured on NBC, Blavity, and Tulsa People.