Statewide rally for black schools set

Supporters of schools with predominantly black student enrollment across the state are meeting in Detroit this weekend to discuss the fight against the closing of their school districts, from Benton Harbor to Detroit and places in-between.

“The Statewide Uprising Against Black School Dismantling” will take place at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit.

The event is free. Those who can’t attend can watch it live streamed at https://livestream.com/accounts/2710797/190914colloquium. More information can be found on the Facebook page, “The Statewide Uprising Against Black School Dismantling.”

There are many common factors that have led to the closing of predominantly black school districts across the state, said Associate Professor Tom Pedroni at Wayne State University. Pedroni is one of the organizers of the event.

He said black school districts must come together to point out the pattern and to find ways to stop it.

On the panel is Benton Harbor attorney Elizabeth McCree. She is expected to talk about the history of Benton Harbor Area Schools and what led to the state in May trying to force school board trustees to agree to close Benton Harbor High School in 2020.

Pedroni said representatives from the Inkster and Buena Vista school districts, which the state closed in 2013, are expected to speak, along with people from Highland Park, Muskegon Heights and Albion.

“We want to say that we’re here as a network to stop districts from being closed, or even schools from being closed,” said Pedroni, who specializes in researching urban school districts where the students are mostly poor and of color. “But in the end, what we really want to do is recognize that this is a pattern that keeps repeating itself and begin to isolate through discussion ... the different elements that seem to lead over and over again to this crisis.”

He said when state policies interact with poverty and racial issues, black school districts are negatively impacted the most. And the explanation is usually that local leaders mismanaged the district.

“All of us who are participating don’t agree that it’s as simple as that,” he said. 

Pedroni said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who took over leading the state Jan. 1, campaigned on a platform of ending strong-armed state intervention in school districts and cities.

“Instead, she talked about developing a true partnership agenda with afflicted urban districts,” he said.

That’s why many people were surprised when her office led the charge to close Benton Harbor High School, he said.

Benton Harbor school board trustees have rejected two state proposals to close the high school and are in negotiations with the state to create a community advisory committee to come up with a plan to move the district forward. Pedroni said that even though it appears that the state has backed down, the fight is not over.

“Benton Harbor is not out of the woods,” he said. “The circumstances that produced the recent crisis – declining enrollment, poor academics, the financial situation – those things are still in place that will continue to grind away at the district. We need a more proactive solution for districts like Benton Harbor.”

Along with McCree, other confirmed panelists are Deartiss Richardson from Inkster, Sonya Brown from Albion, Highland Park school board President Eban Morales, Assistant Professor Rema Reynolds of Eastern Michigan University College of Education and Helen Moore of Detroit.

Pedroni coordinated the event with Dana Hart and Paulette White, both from Detroit.

Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege