I sat in the Tyler ISD School Board meeting last night anticipating a vote and a decision that I would support–whatever the outcome–out of respect for the leadership and authority of the school board. I came away incredulous! The motion to change the name of Robert E. Lee High School and begin the new name selection process was followed by stony silence. The board president reminded the members that seconding a motion did not infer or require an affirmative vote. More silence from the dais and the crowd of approximately 100 citizens. The motion was allowed to die for lack of a second. What was going on? In the July board meeting, just two weeks previous, board members had expressed frustration with continued focus on the name change issue and rejected the ideas of more community input meetings or a subcommittee for further study. Instead, they urged an up or down vote on whether to change the name as a means to bring closure one way or another to the entire issue. I was not the only one bewildered after the board’s refusal to allow a vote in this special meeting called for that purpose. Though not the movie setting, “dazed and confused” would be an apt descriptor for many faces in the crowd.
Approximately a year ago after the incident surrounding the controversy of a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, a grassroots effort focused on changing the name of the south Tyler Robert E. Lee High School sprouted and grew. Equally as quickly a counter group took root, and Tyler, once again was a divided community. More accurately the racial tensions that have long remained lumps under Tyler’s beautiful public carpet of roses and azaleas were exposed. The carpet was ripped up and the dust flew!
In September 2017 board members initially signaled support for a name change with one member asking, “Is it fair to make African-American students attend a school named for the leading figure of the Confederacy?” Another stated in reference to the name change, “This is not changing history, this is making a positive impact today,” and urged the board to “do the right thing. . . It’s time for a change.” So what happened? What changed in eleven months?
Unfortunately as the year progressed, the public and, I can only assume, the private discourse was not always civil and respectful. Dueling Facebook groups logged on and petitions swirled. Honestly, when I saw some of the posts, my heart broke and I thought, Oh, no, no! Let’s not go there! Attendance at school board meetings skyrocketed. Items regarding the name change issue were on the official board agenda four times during the past year. Approximately 150 to 200 citizens made public comments at these and other board meetings with the numbers for and against the change fairly equal. Needless to say, it was at times ugly.
Yes, the nature and tenor of the discourse changed. It became louder, more fractured, less civil, and at times plummeted to accusation and name-calling. Regrettably, some folks on both sides allowed their emotions and passions to cloud and disrupt their reason and respect. Interestingly, as the board members spoke moments prior to the “vote, but no vote,” their primary focus, with a couple of exceptions, was on the community. They expressed, sometimes loudly, their disapproval and disappointment in the process and chastised folks for the divisiveness, the disrespect, the lack of courtesy and civility. They argued that the name change issue was a political and social issue and not germane to the function of the board—to focus on successful student outcomes. They took offense to this issue “being forced upon the board” and “the predicament that we have been placed in.” They argued that a name change would be a betrayal of the taxpayers who approved a bond to construct and renovate John Tyler High School and Robert E. Lee High School and changing the name was equated to a “bait and switch” scheme. (Note: The actual proposition on the May 6, 2017 Official Ballot-Bond Election did not include the names of the two high schools.)
What I found even more interesting and unsettling was that again, with only a few exceptions, the board members did not talk about what they believed would be the impact of a name change or no name change on current or future students. Although they espoused their focus as a board was to work toward positive, successful student outcomes, I did not hear, “I believe changing the name would have a negative/positive impact on student achievement because. . .” I also did not hear, “I believe changing the name would have a positive/negative impact on our community because. . .” Logically, every issue before the board should be viewed through the lens of how will this impact student outcomes/achievement. How will it impact our community as a whole and thus our community of students? With few exceptions specific answers to these vital questions were not a large part of the board members’ discussion at this or any previous meeting to my knowledge.
Maybe, to the detriment of all, some in the community allowed their emotions to guide their discourse, and in the end, perhaps the majority of the board members did as well. As school board members and leaders of the community, they failed to lead. They failed to remain objectively focused on the issue—a school name change—and how that change would or would not impact student outcomes, now and in the future. Granted, it is a difficult, highly charged, emotional issue with prospects for a general consensus being very bleak even in the process of extended civil discourse. Surely, the board members knew this. Also, I would hope they knew when they ran for office that there would be times of difficult decisions, contentious personalities, unhappy people, and they could possibly, most probably, at some point be the target of someone’s ill-temper.
The community expected a vote. The board members had lead folks to believe that they wanted a vote, a decision. Why didn’t it happen? Why did our leaders fail to lead? I have my ideas, which are purely speculative and probably, for now, are best kept to myself. As I left the board meeting amidst the dazed and confused, I heard various descriptors–cowards, shameful, no moral courage, gutless. Well, I don’t know about all that. I do believe, in this instance they failed to rise above the fray, maintain their focus on the best possible student outcomes, measure the issue through that lens, and vote on a difficult issue. On this occasion, they failed to lead. One board member stated prior to the “vote, no vote” that no matter what the board had done up until this point this is how they’re going to be remembered. Unfortunately, I believe he is correct!
Again, it is 3:04 am, and I have been awake for an hour with these thoughts banging around in my head. So I might as well get up and write it down. I am not one to bandy around scripture, and in this instance I feel a bit compelled. In doing so I claim Matthew 10:27
What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roof!
Day before yesterday seemingly out of the blue a portion of scripture popped into my head, “I am going to do a brand new thing.” I immediately associated that with our current local issue regarding changing the name of Robert E. Lee High School. I let a day rock on and the scripture kept coming up so I looked it up. Literally, I googled it as I have a hard time holding on to chapter and verse. Isaiah 43:18-19
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not
perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and
streams in the wasteland. (New International Version)
I found it interesting that when I went to my Bible(s) these verses were marked with dates and notes. Apparently, I had been here before—learning to let go of the old and letting God do a new thing.
At any rate, I see some application for the verses in our current REL issue as most of the arguments in favor of keeping the name center around our personal memories and traditions of the school. “It is our heritage!” claimed one proponent of saving the name. I agree! It is our heritage, and we will fondly remember some of our high school experiences and traditions. Also, it is time to turn from focusing on our history and heritage and begin looking forward to this “new thing.” The new school under construction “springs up” even now. It is time to turn from our heritage and focus on our future legacy. It is time to ask, “What will be our legacy, our bequest to future generations and our community?” In answering that question, let’s begin to truly “perceive” all the possibilities of this “new thing” this “brand new thing?” (The Living Bible)
We know the deeper context of Isaiah 43—man’s rebellion and God’s redemptive grace—has universal application. I find verses 5-7 somewhat, maybe particularly, relevant to our current circumstances. Apparently, the people have become divided and scattered, but God says he will bring them from the east and the west. He will command the north and the south to “Give them up! Do not hold them back.” Sons will come from afar and daughters from the ends of the earth. To me that sounds a bit like unification and reconciliation.
Have we become a divided and scattered people? Do we need unity and reconciliation? Could this turning from the old and moving forward with this “brand new thing” possibly be a step on our way through the desert, the wilderness? I don’t know! I only ask the questions. My personal answer is “Yes!” because I certainly don’t want to thwart or hinder the possibilities of this “brand new thing”—new school with a brand new name.
Perhaps, if we harden not our hearts and let the better angels of our nature be our guide we will come to experience all the possibilities of this “brand new thing.” Through and in it all let us remember Lincoln’s words, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bond of affection,”
What is happening in Charlottesville? We know what’s happening in Charlottesville! Again, factions of our society have chosen some one, some event, some thing to rally around and espouse their opinions and beliefs-prejudices and ideologies perhaps. And, again, being the diverse peoples that we are, opposing factions have rallied in protest. And again, mutual respect and rationale thinking has been replaced with anger, hate, and violence. And again, sacred lives have been injured and killed. When will we learn that we must come to respect human life, be respectful in our disagreements, and seek peaceful cooperation and co-existence with one another? Succumbing to violence harms us all, physically and/or morally, and contributes to the decay and demise of our nation.
The “thing” that has become the rallying point in Charlottesville, and other places, is a statue. In this instance the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, a prominent figure in our nations history during the Civil War. The debate over removing the statue is burning! Proponents for removal argue the statue is a symbol that honors Lee, the Confederacy, the enslavement of hundreds of thousands of African Americans, and memorializes racism. Proponents for keeping the statue argue it honors our Southern Heritage.
It is a statue-mere bronze and stone. Although Charlottesville officials report it will cost $330,000 to remove it, it has no value compared to a human life. It is a statue the primary purpose of which is to make us remember. Yes, we need to remember the Civil War-slavery, succession, reconstruction. We need to remember the misery, the suffering, the cruel, inhumane treatment of our African American brothers and sisters, the families broken and destroyed, the deaths both off and on the battlefield. We need to remember and embrace this portion of our national history as the horrific and tragic era that it truly was. We, white Americans, need to confess and repent for the sins of our fathers and perhaps in some degree our own-the sins of fostering white supremacy, either intentionally or unintentionally, and subjugating African Americans to the horrors of slavery and oppression. Out of genuine confession and repentance, can we ask for forgiveness? In no way being able to know the experience of my African American brothers and sisters, I dare not speculate on what they might need. Could we not rally, even around the statue, for these purposes? With remembrance and repentance, can we then refocus on hope and healing amidst our national values- truths that we hold to be self evident, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”?
What’s happening in Charlottesville is reported as “white nationalist” rallying around the Lee statue honoring “Southern Heritage.” Really! I don’t think so! Folks are carrying Nazi flags, chanting “blood and soil,” as well as “Jews we will replace you.” Doesn’t look or sound at all like “Southern Heritage.” One might ask, “What nation?” Maybe shades of another nation bent on white supremacy in another horrific and tragic historical era, and hopefully not our nation of America today.
And, by the way, I don’t know that the presence or absence of a statue is going to change hearts and minds one way or the other without the presence of meaningful relationships and community. We need a narrative change, a paradigm shift. We need to remember, repent, forgive, and refocus on hope and healing grounded in our national self-evident truths.
Note: Occasionally I hear or read something that just simply makes me say “Oh, Geez,” and I can’t help but respond. Well, this is one of those occasions!
The Tyler Morning Telegraph Wednesday, June 7, article, “East Texas lawmakers respond,” is evidence of a huge problem we face locally and nationally. The problem –labeling and the growing division and partisanship reflected not only in our politics but also in other vital areas of our communities. This concerns me deeply.
In the article these comments were made: Sen. Hughes – “…it’s easy for conservative bills to get lost…” Rep. Schaefer, “Gov. Abbott just scheduled a conservative home run derby.” Rep. Hefner, “…special session includes many important conservative priorities…” It is disappointing that our local legislators, elected to represent the common good for all the PEOPLE, seem more focused on labeling and promoting an ideology. We, all of us, must stop thinking and talking in terms of labels and ideologies if we hope to heal the partisan wound in our nation. If we don’t, we will surely “bleed out” and die–no longer the nation of the people and the beacon of democracy and freedom to the world.
Let’s make the effort to drop the labeling and ideologies. Maybe if we start by changing our language, our heads and hearts will follow. Let’s talk about the substance of the legislation. What will the legislation do? Is it just and helpful? Will it pass the test of equal justice under the law and non-discrimination? Let’s think and talk about the people affected by the legislation and how they will be effected-physically, emotionally, financially, socially. I hope and pray our strength and courage as a people and nation will rise to the top.
Teach the children. We don’t matter so much, but the children do.
— Mary Oliver
This was my morning read. My heart aches as the truth of Oliver’s words is juxtaposed with the recent actions of our Texas Senate. In passing SB 1018 our elected senators are in so many ways saying that children do not matter. SB 1018 will allow the warehousing of immigrant families and children in family detention centers licensed as child care facilities. Not only would these centers be licensed, but they also would be allowed to waive certain minimum standards established for day care centers. Why would we allow ANY facility to “care” for children in a place or manner that does not meet a minimum standard of care? Our Senators seem to be sending the definite message, “You do not matter, and we don’t care!”
Another aspect that makes SB 1018 even more abhorrent, if that is possible, is the fact that the bill was written by the GEO Group, a for-profit corporation that operates these types of detention centers often referred to as “baby jails.” https://www.texasobserver.org/texas-senate-votes-license-baby-jails-child-care-facilities/
The bottom line is that our elected Texas senators have approved the for-profit incarceration of families and children in “licensed” facilities that do not have to meet minimum standards of care. We do have better options available to us! What are we teaching our children, all our children? Surely not that their lives matter! I am appalled and ashamed of our senators’ actions. Our own District 1 Senator Bryan Hughes authored this unconscionable bill. As I said, my heart aches for us all, especially our children.
I am a little late to the party with this commentary! I have been caught up in my own ruminating, reflection, and recovery from the last eighteen months of our horrific, unprecedented presidential campaign and election trying to get my perspective and stability refocused and centered. I am not completely there yet, but moving forward. Upfront! I voted for Hillary. Both candidates were/are flawed as all human beings are with some being more so than others. Given Hillary’s upbringing in middle-class America, her decades of national and global public service in both domestic and foreign affairs, her heart for and demonstrated efforts on behalf of all families and children, I truly believe she was, and still is, the most experienced and best qualified person to serve as President of the United States. That being said, Donald Trump is our President-Elect. And, in all honesty, I believe it is a travesty that in our “alleged” democratic nation someone who did not win the popular vote will be elevated to the highest office in the land. Barring defections during the Electoral College vote, that is what will happen on December 19. There are rumblings of such a defection; however, we all know that is unlikely. Yet, given the history of this election – never say never! In the meantime, let us resolve and hear Mr. Trump’s pledge “to be President for all Americans” and remember Hillary’s gracious words and move forward giving Mr. Trump “an open mind and a chance to lead.” I intend to do just that even as I continue to speak out for the values I hold dear, the values our nation was founded upon — justice for all, domestic peace, our common defense, our common good, the blessings of liberty for all, and a more perfect union.
A more perfect union! Of all the flaws, both individual and as a nation, illuminated by this campaign and election none are more glaring than the deep divides among our people. We (and the media and pollsters) have sliced and diced ourselves into such varied social, racial, cultural, economic, religious, etc. groups that one might ask, “Where are the Americans?” That’s a good question, but an even better question might be “Who are the diverse American people?” If we are to find that “more perfect union,” we must reach out and seek to know one another. We are allowing our “tribalism” and suspicions of the “others” to destroy us – our families, our communities, our nation, and ultimately, ourselves – our souls. We rally around candidates and causes. We protest policy and positions. Yet, we fail when it comes to reaching beyond our tribal groups to embrace, know, understand, and respect those of other groups. When will we learn that foremost we are all of one “tribe,” and at our most basic level need and want the same things – respect, love and acceptance, peace, safety, liberty, happiness, and opportunities for prosperity.
What are we called to do to seek and nurture that more perfect union? Though admittedly an idealist, I am not naïve enough to believe that a “perfect” union is possible, and if so, it might be a bit boring, but I do believe we can do better. We must do better if we hope to avert greater division and civil disturbances among our people. Maybe we could reach out to one other person outside of our routine tribe and seek to know them better, listen, try to understand and walk in their shoes, build a relationship. Maybe we could begin to speak up when we see or hear someone being ridiculed or demeaned. Let them know that they are worthy of respect. Let the offender know that his/her actions are not acceptable. Or, maybe we could open our homes and host some “get to know you” gatherings. I am sure there are many things that we could do to foster unity among us all. The question I must ask and answer is, “What will I do?” And you, “What will you do?” Let’s do something so we can all enjoy that “more perfect union” and enjoy the party!
With the recent Supreme Court ruling making same-sex marriage legal in all of our United States, we must move forward in a reasonable manner balancing two of our most important national principles: 1) religious liberty and 2) citizen’s right to due process and equal rights under the law. As opposed to drawing battle lines let us be respectful of one another even, and especially, as we differ regarding the “moral rightness” of same-sex marriage.
With regard to the religious liberty of those in positions to issue same-sex marriage license, we would not want anyone to be coerced into doing something that they could not do in good conscience. If any governmental officer, such as a county clerk, because of his or her religious belief, cannot in good conscience issue a same-sex marriage license, then let’s just make sure that there is someone within the county clerk’s office who has the authority, and can in good conscience issue the license.
Also, even before the Texas Clergy Protection Act of the 2015 legislative session, clergy have had the option of refusing to officiate a wedding. Honestly, I don’t think any same-sex, or opposite-sex couple for that matter, would want a clergyman, or any other legally authorized officiant, conducting their wedding if the clergyman could not officiate in good conscience and with complete affirmation of their union. Anyone in the wedding business, be it venues, cakes, or flowers, who can’t in good conscience provide the services to a same-sex couple can state that in a kind respectful manner and perhaps even offer referrals to those who can and will provide the services. And in the same fashion the same-sex couple on the receiving end of that message can and should respond with respect and kindness, “Thank you for your time,” and move on.
Perhaps, we have become too caught up in the religious right – as in “I’m right and you are wrong,” and in demanding our religious rights and liberties. It is not too late to begin focusing more on our religious calling – to love God and our neighbor as ourselves.
Given the occurrences of the past few days regarding the City of Tyler pulling its sponsorship of a local author’s, Lou Anne Smoot, scheduled Adult Summer Reading Program presentation and taking down the display of information and resources set up by East Texas PFLAG, a local affiliate of PFLAG National, I’m asking myself, and our Tyler community, what is the REAL concern here and what can we do to make our community better and stronger – a true community with common unity.
It might be said that this is a done deal. a dead issue. Corrective action was taken by the city. I applaud that action. The PFLAG display is back up, and Ms. Smoot’s talk will continue as planned, albeit without the sponsorship or promotion from the City and Tyler Public Library. The reason given for that action being the City’s perception that Ms. Smoot’s talk would be “political.” Purportedly, the fact that the news release announcing the event, written and published by the city/library staff, contained a quote from a current politician gave City Hall the perception that the talk would be “political.” Although some may question City Hall’s “political” perception and their reasoning behind it, we all can, out of respect for the persons, authority, and policies of City Hall, accept the decision for non-sponsorship of the event.
Some concerns regarding the PFLAG display focused on the proximity of the display to the library’s children’s area. The display was and is in the main check out and information area of the library, adjacent to, but not in the children’s area. The display is not of the sort to draw children’s attention – – no colorful pictures, stuffed animals, or dangling ornaments. It contains books, brochures, and pamphlets with words on them. Some of those words are faith communities, gay, family, lesbian, ally, transgender, safe schools, homosexual, bible, and healthcare. In reflecting upon this concern, I would think that if a child were old enough to be inquisitive and ask a question, then this would be a wonderful opportunity for parenting. The parent(s) could answer the child’s questions and offer information and guidance as they, the parent(s). deemed appropriate.
This “library incident” has brought me, and I hope all of us, to a greater concern and questions. How do we perceive, approach, behave toward and relate to other people, especially those we believe to be different from that which we perceive ourselves to be. How do we get to know the “other?” Do we want to know others, to seek to understand, and to strive to live with respect and acceptance of those we perceive as different? If we answer, “Yes” to these latter questions – and I hope we do – I would propose that the best thing for us to begin doing is to share our stories with one another and listen to one another. It is in the sharing of our stories that we as a people and a societal community are able to know and gain some understanding of each other. Hopefully, a knowing and understanding that will better able us to relate to one another in a more positive, accepting, respectful manner regardless of our race, culture, religion, sexual orientation or any other aspect of our being that may be different. It is in sharing our stories that we find our commonalities and the threads that can truly unite us together as humanity and a community.
I applaud Ms. Smoot for her courage and willingness to be vulnerable in sharing her story. I equally applaud those who take the risk to listen and especially those who might perceive Ms. Smoot as different from them and still take the risk to listen. Regardless of the differences we perceive in one another — race, culture, sexual orientation, religion, physical ability or disability, gender identity, economic status, or gender expression — we are all human and have in common the most basic aspects of our humanity — life, family, relationships, the gamete of emotions — from joys and sorrows to love and anger – and ultimately death. Can we not share our stories and listen focusing on these common aspects of our lives that we might all grow and live better together. Can we not celebrate the diversities that enrich our communities and our world?
I conclude with a quote from Christian ethicist, David Gushee,
We will honor creation and human life together, across religions, nations, and cultures, or we will perish together. Treat life as sacred! This is God’s command – to all humanity. The response is up to all of us.
From The Sacredness of Human Life by David P. Gushee,
Maybe we need a story telling hour for adults at the Tyler Public Library.
I would think after weeks that this story would have run its course in the news cycle, but apparently not, as we continue to see the headlines, photos and videos of thousands of Central American unaccompanied minors crossing our southern borders seeking asylum. It’s about immigration and children – subjects that typically rouse our passions. Plus, immigration and children in the package we are currently experiencing may put our passions in conflict with one another and that makes for more “story.” One may feel equally passionate about issues of immigration – legal or illegal — and caring for the well being, both short and long term, of children regardless of their ethnic or cultural origins. So – what do we do? Or, maybe more to the point – What did we do?
I know this is difficult – being honest about our own culpability always is – but let’s first of all acknowledge and be accountable for our responsibility in the current situation. Since Columbus first stepped foot on the American mainland near today’s Trujillo, Honduras, in August 1502 during his fourth voyage, the native peoples and their lands have been exploited by Anglos/Americans. Read the history from the establishment of the “banana republics” in the 19th century with their sprawling banana plantations to the U.S. led destabilization of Central America which began in 1954 with the overthrow of the elected Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz whose plans ran contrary to the interests of the United Fruit Company, a U.S. corporation owning much of Guatemala’s fertile land, along with railroad infrastructure, and a port. Let’s not forget the U.S involvement, both covertly and overtly in the Central American civil wars, gorilla wars, and military coups of the 1950-1980’s. Are we not surprised that with decades – even centuries — of exploitation, government instability, chaos, and lawlessness all exacerbated by extreme poverty within the population that corruption, gangs, drug use, and violence increased exponentially. And now we have thousands of children seeking to escape the violence and poverty streaming across our southern borders. Yep, no doubt, our national policies and actions through both Democratic and Republican administrations during the last two hundred years have contributed to the current humanitarian crisis on our borders. As a people and a nation we must acknowledge our culpability and complicity in this human tragedy. Can we not take this first step toward a solution? Let’s stop blaming everyone and everything else. Let’s stop maligning children and parents seeking safety, sanctuary, and hope in what we claim to be the greatest nation on earth. Let’s be the greatest nation and seek a solution that is just and compassionate and offers life and hope for all.
NOTE: I realize I have jumped into the fray with this post. As I stated in the previous post, for me the landmarks of our spiritual journey and subsequent growth are those times we take an honest look at ourselves and take responsibility for our actions, hold ourselves accountable for them, and move forward with new vision, hope, and resolve. Perhaps this is one of those landmark occasions when our nation needs to do just that!
I don’t normally reblog other folks stuff, but this caught my eye and raised my blood pressure! One of my irritants these days is the media and how our so-called journalists are not reporting the NEWS. What we get is a bunch of editorializing and pandering to politicians, celebrities, and big corporations — dah, THE MONEY. Ethical journalism seems to be the exception as opposed to the rule in today’s media world. Also, my partner and I were in North Carolina last June doing some speaking engagements when the good folks of NC began their Moral Monday protest against the shenanigans and bad legislation coming out of Raleigh. We admired their spirit and grit! Well they are are at it again by the hundreds of thousands and our national “news” media did not cover the event. What can we say? What can we do? Maybe if folks in other states (Kansas, AZ, Idaho, Oklahoma, TX for starters) pulled off protest on the same day and on the same scale as the North Carolina group then, maybe, just maybe, the media folks would wake up and cover the real “news” for a change. Just a thought! I’m done ranting, for now!
That is a picture of around one hundred-thousand people marching through Raleigh this past Saturday, protesting a whole raft of screw-everybody-but-rich-white-male-Repub laws that are being foisted upon the populace by North Carolina’s 100% Teapublican government. And here is a link to more such pictures. Oh, and here is another link to a local report.
And did you hear about this on the national “news” programs, Gentle Reader? No, you did not. You heard about the Olympics, various celebrity peccadillos, a politician’s 1990’s sex life, and lots of finger-pointing tripe from Congress.
It is apparently too much to expect our Infotainment industry to cover a huge grass-roots march by ordinary people, asking for ordinary things, in an ordinary way. You see, the “news” media is no longer about news, and hasn’t been since the 1970’s. The Reaganistas deregulated the media , making truth play second fiddle to profits. Second fiddle, Hell…
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