July 20, 2012

Name change!

After a struggle that lasted several months, many community members in Charleston are celebrating a major symbolic victory. The Kanawha County Board of Education voted 4-1 yesterday to add the name Mary C. Snow to Charleston's West Side Elementary School. Snow was a prominent African American educator who was an inspiration to many black and white West Virginians.

The struggle was intense at times. Check this earlier post for a description of a community meeting in February that brought out hundreds of people. The board had earlier voted down the measure, but two members changed their previous votes.

It was an interesting campaign for several reasons. First, I was baffled by the way the board majority (like the school's faculty senate) initially dug itself into a position of opposition. One member, to wit Pete Thaw, the lone holdout, went as far as saying "I will fight this issue until hell freezes over and then fight on the ice."
To me, it would have made more sense to graciously yield, and then call on the community to increase its support for the school.

Several things contributed to turning it around. First, when further negotiations seemed fruitless, a respected member of the African American community, Linda Ealy, ran for the board in the May election. She didn't win, but ran a good shoestring campaign and garnered a significant number of votes--significant enough not to be ignored.

Second, and probably most important, the community leaders who led the effort for the change continued to engage with the school, its staff and its students and tried to be as supportive as they could. One recent example involved finding hundreds of book bags to give out to each student. Over time this kind of positive engagement seemed to wear down the opposition. Opposition to the name change from school staff evaporated while some board members re-evaluated their position.

That kind of positive approach can be hard to resist. It's hard to keep scowling at people who persist in helping you out. In that sense, this is a good example of a campaign carried out in the spirit of positive nonviolence.

A final note. Yes, it was about the name. But it was even more about respect.

NOTE. El Cabrero is about to hit the road for a while so posts will be irregular. Not that they've been like clockwork lately anyway...

1 comment:

Beth Wellington said...

Thanks for the update...I've got an update on my "to do" list for this 12/21/11 post:
Let's Remember Mary C. Snow: An Open Letter to The Charleston Gazette http://bit.ly/mary_snow