On April 17, 2012, I attended the regular meeting of the Minneapolis School Board. During the public comment session, I and many other speakers, addressed the board asking them not to approve the proposed contract with the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT). Each of the speakers spoke with passion, but in respectful tones, and even complimented the board on progress that has been made in closing the achievement gap.
Later in that meeting and after the time allotted for public comment board members addressed the public. Director Richard Mammen chose to personalize and direct his comments to Lynnell Mickelson, co-founder and President of Put Kids First Minneapolis, and to me. I serve as the liaison to MPS from the Coalition of Black Churches and the Minnesota State Baptist Convention. Mr. Mammen apparently took exception to an op-ed co-authored by Ms. Mickelson and myself which appeared in that day’s Minneapolis Star Tribune.
After initial comments Director Mammen directed his remarks to me. Firstly, he made a comment about me residing in Plymouth as if it somehow matters where I currently own a home. This should not be an issue, especially because many MPS employees live outside of Minneapolis and they make positive and significant contributions to our students and the district. The point he was attempting to make with that comment is elusive.
Secondly, he challenged me to a race to end the achievement gap and stated that “he would win.” My response to that petulant and outrageous remark is very simple. I have been engaged in this race for more than 14 years and the records will support that. I will not use this commentary to list the many contributions the organizations I have been, or still am, a member of have made to close the achievement gap. I will outline those accomplishments at the proper place and time if Director Mammen is interested in doing more than grandstanding from the podium.
I will, however, invite him to join the work that the Coalition, the Minnesota State Baptist Convention and other organizations like the AALF are doing and will continue to do. This race cannot end too soon and the victor will be our children, particularly those of color who are currently victimized by the gap. Quite frankly that was the point of the op-ed in both Insight News and The Minneapolis Star Tribune. The pieces asked the Board to not be satisfied with tinkering around the edge of change, but to take bold and substantial steps to end the notorious gap. This work is not about Bill English, but it is and will continue to be about the education of all children, particularly those who are not achieving.
The purpose of this open communication is to inform Director Mammen that his attack will not distract the work I do on behalf of all students and specifically students of color. I am not intimidated by his personal attack and I will not cease in offering constructive criticism whenever or wherever I choose.
Since Director Mammen called me out and challenged me to a race to close the achievement gap, I accept his challenge and offer my own. I challenge Director Mammen to a public debate (anywhere and anytime) over the need for substantial reform in k-12 education. I challenge him to a debate that will focus on the issues and not engage in personality differences or attacks on the character or integrity of either of us. A debate would, however, be a marvelous demonstration for our students of how to discuss legitimate differences on issues in a respectful manner. At this time we could also discuss any issues that Director Mammen raised in his tirade against the op-ed, Ms. Mickelson and me.
Finally, I am quite proud of my association with Put Kids First Minneapolis and Ms. Mickelson. Her volunteer work and advocacy for all students is something that all citizens can admire and support regardless of the view on the issues.