What are you looking for, Ms. Washington?
Recently, a school board member complained of people stirring up 'animosity' due to their interest in school district properties, in particular, the former elementary and middle schools that are located in the northeast and southeast side of Monticello.
Elected board member and chairperson for the board, Shirley Washington practically outright cried “racism” as the cause of this so-called animosity...at the very least, she blamed racial tensions of the past for the current issues of the present.
“There's more than eyes can see,” Washington claimed when a citizen spoke to the board about possibly selling the two empty, falling-apart schools in order to generate money for a district that has had a tight wallet. Washington continued, saying: “Those two schools have brought so much animosity in this county, more then anybody would want to deal with.”
Washington was referencing the fact that within the last year, the school district has had many citizens offer concerns that the district's habit of donating and giving-away property was a reckless misuse of property that is, technically, tax-payer-owned.
The board has heard plenty from citizens who wished that the board would sell, not give away, property that could generate hundreds, possibly thousands, for a broke school district.
But Washington's use of the word 'animosity' is perhaps a bit strong, in my opinion.
Shirley Washington is a child of the past – of a past that was, undoubtably, a time of racial tension and community upheaval.
But today, Washington is a government official and is tasked with doing right by Jefferson County's black, and white, families...the very same families who elected her into office.
At the recent school board meeting, Washington brought race into the picture.
Washington continued to dredge up history in order to give her explanation for why the people of the present care so much about what the district does with its property.
“Howard [Middle School] was built across the railroad track, and it was built for,” Washington puts special emphasis on this part, “children of color.”
“The people that are so interested in it, they never had any interest in those two schools. They were just sitting there, deteriorating. Now they are the top items on everybody's agenda...so much animosity has been given to this board. So much division has been among the citizens of this board because of those two schools.”
Shirley's words were strong...but what she didn't outright say during the meeting is what prompts my concern.
“I haven't forgotten, and I remember,” Shirley Washington adds. “I was the first person who graduated from Howard Middle School.”
Shirley Washington's words lead me to believe that, when the citizens she serves express concern over her actions, she feels they are expressing racial animosity towards her.
Shirley Washington's words lead me to believe that she thinks that, when people are concerned over the future of Howard Middle School and the Jefferson/Mamie B. Scott Elementary School, they are disregarding the past of those two schools.
When citizens come before the mic during Monday night board meetings, Shirley is tense, coiled for attacks from her constituents – from the people who voted for her.
There is a quote from Zig Ziglar that goes: “Life is an echo....What you see in others, exists in you.”
So my question is this, Ms. Washington, why are you looking, intentionally searching for racism in others? Why do you expect animosity for an African-American elected official? Why do you believe that any concern in a formerly African-American school means that the concerned individuals are rebirthing old racism?
My mother had a saying which she would often use when we came to her and complained of being treated unfairly by someone, or of being spoken to in a way we didn't like, she'd remind us that: “You will find whatever you look for.”
So, Ms. Washington, what are you looking for?