Last week, the Madison Metropolitan School District selected Jennifer Cheatham as the next superintendent.
The choice was not without controversy because the other finalist for the position, Walter Milton Jr., withdrew his application amid concerns about his background.
That led to questions from many about how the search was conducted. Ray & Associates, the firm hired by the district to perform the national search, apparently did not do its due diligence before suggesting Milton as a finalist.
This has nothing to do with the choice of Dr. Cheatham as the new superintendent. She needs and deserves our support.
As for many folks of color in this community, some of whom I’ve spoken with over the last several days, this was seen as yet another example of Madison talking the talk, but not walking the walk when it comes to diversity and inclusion.
The fact that there are very few prominent people of color in high-ranking positions in Madison is already an issue. To see a finalist for a prominent position that happens to be of color eliminated because of issues that anyone with a computer could have found quickly is disappointing.
When you consider the discussions about how we can increase the number of African-American and Latino students who graduate and move on to higher education, coupled with the requests before the search to think outside the box and to look at a diverse pool of candidates, it’s easy to conclude why this could be seen as yet another black eye for the progressive image Madison tries hard to project.
There are folks in both the African-American and Latino communities who have been vocal about how this process went down. Some have blamed Ray and Associates, the Madison School Board, or a combination of both. But before we point the finger at anyone, we need to do one thing first:
As an African-American man who has lived in Madison for 20 years, I can honestly say that our communities of color need to own this. This is our fault. We do this all the time. No matter the issue, whenever a decision is made that we feel affects us negatively, we complain.
We’ll point the finger at others and blame them for why it happened. We’ll accuse Madison of being tone deaf when it comes to issues concerning race and about how our voices aren’t heard. But we need to be honest with ourselves. There’s a reason why this happens.
We are not involved in the decision-making processes in Madison.
There are good people out there fighting the good fight, standing up for kids and the community. They run for office and sit on boards and committees. They aren’t afraid of saying things that need to be said in a diplomatic, but firm way. But there are not nearly enough of us doing so.
To make the situation worse, we don’t support them like we should. It’s well past time for smart, capable, qualified people of color to get in the game.
If you don’t like what’s happening in your neighborhood or community, get involved. Be a positive agent for change. Sit on a board or committee. Run for local office. Support each other. Work with others to help make this community a better place for everyone.
Until we become engaged in what’s happening in our community, decisions will continue to be made without our input. Or, we can continue to sit on the sidelines and complain when something happens that we don’t like.
The way I see it, those are our only choices. Which one will you choose?