The following statement was issued by the Community Coalition on Race at 2:56 p.m. on April 17, 2012:
Last Thursday, the Community Coalition on Race held its annual BOE Candidates Forum. We are noted for providing a safe environment for candid conversation—especially when it comes to issues concerning race. That was our intent at our BOE Candidates Forum.
The format we have used since we began hosting these forums is to develop questions relevant to the Coalition’s mission, which we then provide to the candidates beforehand. The questions focused on the relationship between school policies and integration, student success, and the minority achievement gap. Each candidate prepares his or her responses in advance.
After these have been addressed, the Schools Committee gathers questions from the audience. The committee groups these questions according to topic and selects the most representative items to submit to the moderator.
The forum was proceeding as planned with all candidates participating, a racially mixed audience of 85 to 90 attendees present and solid responses given to the advance questions distributed to the candidates by the Coalition. The tone of the evening turned when a question submitted by someone in the audience questioned the affiliation of one of the candidates with a person named on the card who had made public statements expressing a viewpoint connecting race, culture and academic achievement. The question was read because it represented a concern expressed on six other cards that had been submitted.
We feel a commitment to hold to our standard for candor in acknowledging a variety of opinions in the community. We understand that questions that focused on a comment made on “black underachievement” at a BOE meeting submitted by the audience made some people feel uncomfortable.
We had to assess seven questions on the topic on the fly--in the midst of the debate-- and to select one which seemed the most representative of all. Given the number of questions submitted by the audience that focused on that issue, a decision was made to ask the question in the interests of being transparent and of bringing forward even those issues that are painful.
The moderator appropriately offered to pull the question and to move on when concern was expressed by some of the candidates. It is extremely important to the trustees of the Coalition on Race that we remain true to our mission to be candid about race in our community. We feel that it was appropriately transparent and authentic to ask the question, but regret any perception that is was presented in a manner that did not allow all the candidates to contrast their points of view with that of the individual in question. As always, our intention is to promote transparency in public discourse and we continue to strive to do so.
Anthony Greene, Chair
Nancy Gagnier, Executive Director
South Orange/Maplewood Community Coalition on Race