John Lewis ES – Brookhaven’s New Elementary School
Work Session Discussion – Video and Transcript
Stan Jester – DeKalb Board of Education
We’re discussing renaming the school after a sitting Congressman. My understanding is that elected officials cannot receive extra compensation or any gift of more than nominal value. By placing somebody’s name on a building, structure or billboard, that certainly has a monetary value. What are the federal election or gift laws on this?
Nina Gupta – Nelson Mullins – outside legal council
There is no monetary value associated with naming a school building unlike stadiums which auction off naming rights, public schools don’t do that.
But if we did, we would make some money. Point being, it has value.
There is no legal prohibition against naming a school after an elected official.
Not specifically, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not legal.
There is no legal prohibition against it.
There is no legal prohibition against naming something, but it has monetary value. It’s not the name, but it is a gift to the sitting Congressman.
I don’t see how it has monetary value. I don’t think there is any legal basis for it.
The part about naming the Skyland school in this agenda item, it and of itself breaks every policy and regulation we have for naming schools. Mr. Orson and I have discussed this a couple of times. I have asked him to ad nauseam to include the Brookhaven community and I would ask him again as a friendly amendment to please not to rename the Skyland school in this agenda item.
Marshall Orson – DeKalb Board of Education
I believe our process was sufficient. The Latin America Association is based in Brookhaven and participated in this process. I’m more than comfortable with this recommendation. It is appropriate. He’s an iconic figure for Atlanta and our nation. John Lewis has demonstrated his bonafides for over 50 years. For DeKalb to do something like this is monumental.
There is no doubt John Lewis is a prominent figure. This is one of those things where we need local control and DeKalb is pushing this on the Brookhaven community of which I don’t believe they have had much if any input.
I move that we take off where we are pushing this to the Skyland building.
Melvin Johnson – DeKalb Board of Education – Chair
Seconded by Mr. McMahan
I just have one question to the board. I ask you, “Do you believe this is the name the Brookhaven community would chose for their elementary school?”
Dr. Joyce Morley – DeKalb Board of Education
What makes the Brookhaven community so different than any other community that they cannot wear John Lewis’ name?
We need to call the elephant in the room. The elephant in the room is the fact that Brookhaven doesn’t want somebody of a different color on their school. A school building is an edifice for learning. We need to stop with our stereotypical views. We can have it on names in the South, but we can’t have it names in the North.
I am satisfied with what Mr. Orson has done. He came to me and I asked him the questions. If I was going to put anybody’s name on something, I wouldn’t want to be disrespected like that.
We need to look at where our hearts and minds are and the reason for the descension and divisiveness in this country today. It’s because of people with their racist attitudes and mindsets who are afraid to come and deal with it. In the final analysis, we’re all born and we’re all going to die. We cannot keep playing these games and wonder why our children are confused and mixed up. It’s because of the leaders we have trying to lead who don’t like the children they see, don’t respect them, nor respect their colleagues.
I’m fed up with it. That’s the only reason there is a problem with this name. It has nothing to do with this pretense. We’re here to do a job, not whose name and why it isn’t … why don’t we call a spade a spade and stop playing games.
Vickie Turner – DeKalb School Board
I said to Mr. Jester earlier, there has to be a willingness to accept the opinion of our legal attorney. There is no monetary value, we’re not giving him the building. We’re just putting his name on the building. Last time I checked you don’t get any money for putting your name on a building.
I believe part of educating our culture, our children, is that they would have opportunities to be educated about phenomenal leaders. We all have agreed this Congressman has done some phenomenal things in history that we all are recipients of. In particular us people of color. I won’t call him a personal friend, but I had the chance to award him … he’s a humble man.
It would behoove us to educate our children. This is a man in his 80s who will be transitioning in the next 10 years. But, for our children to be educated about who he was and the phenomenal differences he made in our lives so we can sit up here. It would short change the community of Brookhaven because they need to come into this century and acknowledge John Lewis.
Mr. Jester, we have to look at ourselves in the mirror and challenge ourselves as to why do we think what we think. We need to grow as people and adults. The best place to start is with our children. It’s to teach them about the historical figures in our history of color. We’ve been good about recognizing others, but not those of color.
Jim McMahan – DeKalb Board of Education
To be clear, Mr. Jester supports naming a school after Congressman Lewis. I think the issue is the representation without a voice. The process that Mr. Orson has been a part of, he’s been asked to name a school that is in his board district. The caveat is that he wants the name to go to the permanent school not located in his district.
From a process stand point, if you’re looking for a permanent solution and you’re not including the permanent location, that is the context of the discussion. It’s not about black or white. In evidence by naming the Barack Obama elementary school that was a unanimous vote.
I support naming Congressman John Lewis elementary school. I also support the community supporting that. I appreciate Mr. Orson’s advocacy and time spent on this, but if it is a permanent name for the permanent location, I think the challenge was that it was not asked of the permanent community.
Dr. Joyce Morley
You can’t change a person’s heart nor their mindset in an evening. A lot of this is the vestiges of what is taking place in this country. There are wars here in America and DeKalb County. Wars of perpetrated frauds.
When we can call a spade a spade and accept other people. Mr. McMahan, I appreciate your explanation, but that is not the discussion. We raise issues when we don’t want something to take place. We use that as a cover up. We won’t call it what it is.
As an African American, I am sick and tired of it because I have lived it all my life. Systematically coming in and finding reasons why things shouldn’t be a certain way under the guise of everything. We tell our children to get an education and then we slam the door on them. We tell them to get all they can and they find themselves at the bottom. Until everyone in this country is free, nobody is free.
John Lewis didn’t fight for one group of people, he fought for everybody. This man has never said a racist comment against anybody even though he was beaten, bitten by dogs, he still stands. He still has never raised the question whether we should love each other.
We need stop playing games. As board members, I’m ashamed to be around anyone who will play games and not call a spade a spade and not be realistic about why they don’t want something.
I believe Marshall vetted this the right way. This has been going on for weeks. Now we find every nit picking thing we can do. We need to ask ourselves if it was somebody else’s name, if it was a different persuasion, would we say the same thing. As the Governor of Ohio said, “no”.
If it was a white man driving that car, would he have been killed, no. If this was a white man whose name was going on this building, would we disagree, no.
The children don’t know the race. We need to teach history. It can’t be “his”story and “her”story. We cannot become like Texas where we want to take slavery out of the textbooks and pretend it never happened.
When we have a mindset like this, slavery still exists. Take off the shackles, but we bind their minds and hearts. We are still not free. We need to look at ourselves. I’m sick and tired of people being shielded because they don’t want to accept their short sightedness, short-mindedness and their closed hearts to accepting differences.
I will go along with the school being named, it’s just a name on a school. My thing is, what’s going to take place in that school. It gives children pride. This man can compare to many others. He’s still here. We got to stop playing games.
That’s why God had people born head first, so we would know they are human beings. You don’t know whether they are male or female. We’re the ones that prescribe racist, sexist tendencies on our children. They’re not born thinking like that. They don’t see it. It’s because of the leaders that make it difficult. We don’t have to go to the middle east.
John Lewis has often said that we are better than where we were but not quite where we need to be. There’s a lot of truth to that statement. We need to recognize what the naming of the school represents.
I do want to address the procedural matter. I called every board member and told them that the name must follow to the permanent school.
We are at a challenging time. A lot of what is going on here is a reflection of that. It’s apropos to name a school like this after somebody like John Lewis.
What was heartening is the parent participants in this process, all of whom were Hispanic were the ones who pushed the idea for naming him. They saw themselves and their children as Americans and that John Lewis represented the ideals of what America stands for.
I can see no better time to bestow an honor on an American for the ideals for which everybody in this room believes in.
I’m very sad. It’s because what’s happening in our country. DeKalb was all this in the past. Buildings were named after people that we didn’t get a say so at all. We just showed up with our children at school. When we get an opportunity as African Americans to be proud of an iconic figure in our history that a building bares his name, we have to fight.
Then I’m reminded, Mr. Jester, of the word I brought last month. Anything worth living for must be worth dying for. We have to challenge ourselves. The agenda we get every month doesn’t disturb me as much as the hidden agenda and there is always a hidden agenda. I think we all have to ask ourselves, what is the real story. What is not said and what is implied.
I’m sad today that we are in a battle over something that is much deeper than what we want to admit. Most of us know what it is. I’m going to stand for what is right, what is just and what is pleasing. Not just to you or mankind, but to a higher authority.
Dr. Michael Erwin – Board of Education
I’m sad also. I am very insulted Mr. Jester by your comment. It’s not the first time and won’t be the last time. Your comment was, “Would Brookhaven have chosen this name if they had the ability to chose”. That is a direct slap in the face of the history of African American in this country. I can’t believe you let that out of your mouth.
I also blame Mr. Orson. Because Mr. Orson, you have put this board in the position of having to go through this discussion because I don’t think the communication was there. You called board members, but you called them last week.
We are having to defend you along with John Lewis. I don’t see that the board should be doing that. You didn’t follow the protocol as Mr. Jester has brought up.
This is ridiculous.
It’s been weeks since I reached out to everybody. I was clear in my conversations. I didn’t generate this idea. It was pushed by the parents on this committee.
I tried to bring everybody to the table. If we learn more about each other and we learn about the things that are just below the surface that we still have to deal with as a community, I think that Congressman Lewis would think that it is worth while.
Why do these two board members feel like they were not in the process of picking the name that were going to impact their district?
It was a unique set of situations. I called everybody and everybody had a chance to talk to me about this. I told everybody the name was going to travel with the school. In hind sight, if they have a different perspective I can’t take responsibility for that. I did the best I can.
As a committe, if this wasn’t acceptable, we had an alternative. We had a plan B. We didn’t have any objections.
My only objection to this was the lack of local control and breaking rules and regulations.
I’m disappointed and to some extent offended that when I asked the question, “Do you believe this is the name that the Brookhaven community would chose for their elementary school”, … If John Lewis is so great, I think we would all say yes. But all of a sudden everybody starts bringing race into this … black and white. I didn’t do that, y’all did that. Why are you always bringing race into this?
Because it’s about race
It’s not about race. It’s about local control. That’s all it’s about. All of a sudden, everything is race. I’m offended.
Dr. Joyce Morley
The only reason you approve of Barack Obama elementary is because it’s in a black neighborhood. Would you let Barack Obama be the name of the school in your neighborhood? No. Let’s be clear about that.
It’s always black and white with you isn’t it. And .. “bringing Brookhaven into this century” … you should be ashamed of yourself.
[Calls for the vote. The vote to remove John Lewis from the naming of the school in Skyland fails. The vote to approve ISC and the new school in Brookhaven as John Lewis elementary passes … 6-1]