Fivecoat-Campbell
February 17, 2006

 

 

 

When considering the Smith verdict,
not much has changed

by Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell

Just when you thought your views of the Kansas City, MO School District couldn’t get any worse, a judgment against the board’s president comes along to sink it even lower.

The judgment against David Smith didn’t concern his actions as school board president, but was about his actions as president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City. A jury found that Smith told Tameka Bryant, his then vice president of the organization, who is also African American, that she couldn’t hire a white woman for a position. He then reversed her decision to hire a Hispanic man for another leadership role within the organization.

According to quotes in news outlets, Smith told Bryant, “A white girl can’t run a club in the inner city.” Of the Hispanic man, he reportedly told Bryant that the club’s leadership didn’t want a Hispanic man to run the Kansas City, KS office.

The jury found that Smith then retaliated against Bryant’s objections of his hiring practices by firing her.

The incident reminds me all too well of the first time I was made aware that I too, was the member of a minority community.

I was 25 and working in a large finance office. As it usually does amongst co-workers, the subject of salaries came up one day.

To my horror, I learned that two of my male counterparts (one black and one white), who were both hired on the same day as me and had comparable experience, had received $3,000 more a year and had been given substantial raises upon their 90-day review. I, on the other had, who had taken classes at my own expense to learn enough of the Spanish language to be put in charge of the highly volatile California loans, had not only been hired in at less, but was given less of a raise upon my 90-day review — although our job review ratings were the same. The black man had a college degree and I still needed to complete my senior year for a bachelor’s degree. I could understand his being hired in at more, but he was still making the same as the white man who did not even have a year of college.

This is why Smith’s practices, as found by the jury, are disturbing on so many levels. I’m sure Smith, as the member of a minority community, at one time or another has felt the disappointment of being discriminated against.

The Boys & Girls Club in Atlanta obviously thought a “white girl” was qualified to do a job in the inner city of Atlanta, as this is where Bryant knew the woman when she worked there.

As for the Hispanic man, why wouldn’t he be able to lead a group in a city where Hispanics represent the fastest growing minority population in that city?

It’s disturbing on an even deeper level when some other members of the Kansas City MO School Board say they were stunned by the jury verdict and continued to back up their president.

This is just another example about how out of touch the school board seems to be with their constituents. The Hispanic community is also growing in Kansas City, MO, and while they also represent about 17 percent of minority children in that district, they have not been represented on the school board since 2000 when Sandy Aguirre-Mayer decided not to seek reelection.

Mayer said she first ran for the school board in 1996 when she was a parent with children in the district and when she said, “I still believed in the public school system.”

The Hispanic community as a whole has become disenchanted with their public school system over the past few years. Initiatives to start their own school at the Guadalupe Center and bring into the area private charter schools geared toward the challenges faced by Hispanic students is most evident of that.

While leaders in the Hispanic community in Missouri realize that it is up to them to step up to the plate to run for board positions, most feel the Hispanic population has become so disenfranchised from the system; they are tired of trying to bring themselves into the fold.

“There has not been good relationships with the superintendents, they just haven’t been responsive to the (Hispanic) community,” said Bernardo Ramirez, associate director of Guadalupe Centers, Inc.,

“There’s been almost an apathy toward the Hispanic community by the superintendents and the city in general, feels like he (Superintendent Bernard Taylor) has had his hands tied by the board.”

So members of the Kansas City MO School Board are kidding themselves if they think, as they recently expressed in interviews after the verdict against Smith, that this case has nothing to do with them or the perception the people have of their board, especially within other minority communities.

And finally it is disturbing that the Boys & Girls Clubs still back their president and have no intention of taking disciplinary action against him.

I wonder what their reaction would be for example, if one of their president’s had been found guilty of saying that a black man couldn’t run a program in white suburbia?

Furthermore, no one in the civil rights or journalism communities in this city has commented publicly on the courage of Bryant, a minority woman, to stand up against her former boss and say these hiring practices were wrong.

While stories have been printed that laments on how out of character these allegations were for Smith, where has been the applause for Bryant by the ACLU, columnists and editorial boards?

After all, the jury did find in her favor! Apparently, not much has changed in the nearly two decades since I personally discovered genderism exists.

It took fortitude, confidence and a strong spirit to do what Bryant did. One can certainly tell she was raised somewhere more progressive than Kansas City. It’s those traits I wished I had learned growing up here; maybe, I would have stood up to my boss nearly 20 years ago too, instead of just leaving my job for the next woman.

Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell can be contacted at fivecoat@kcnet.com.


              
              
                 

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