Angry men and women stood in the unforgiving noontime heat before television cameras Wednesday to explain why Newark parents should boycott the opening of school next week–but none was more persuasive than Deseret Richardson who didn’t come there for that reason at all. Richardson, 83, barely able to walk, was forced to be there, to enroll her granddaughter in school and, when she left, she was sobbing.
“Why are they doing this to us?” cried Richardson, an immigrant from Dominica who raised six grandchildren, two of them war veterans. “Are they doing it because we are poor?”
A helpful school security officer found Richardson a chair and moved it to place outside Newark Vocational Sc hool–the so-called “enrollment center”– where there was just a little shade. The woman had dressed in formal clothes, a long-sleeve top and a long, black skirt because, well, that’s how you dress when you are dealing with people in government. You showed them respect and you hoped they would show it in return. But to Deseret Richardson, the school system, under Gov. Chris Christie and his superintendent, Cami Anderson, wasn’t showing anyone respect.
“I tried to explain to them that I have watched these children all their lives,” said Richardson of her grandchildren. “I have taken care of them when there was no one else. And I will do that until I die. But they didn’t want to listen.”
Richardson lives near Barringer High School. Has for years. That’s where her other grandchildren had gone, including the sailor and the solider and the young man who made it into Cheney State. That’s where she intended to send her youngest granddaughter, also Deseret, Deseret Segura.
But Cami said no. Cami has a plan she calls “One Newark.” She won’t tell anyone how she devised the plan. Cami–who lives far away with rich friends in Glen Ridge and has enough money not to worry about such things–insisted this woman somehow find a way to get her namesake all the way across town to Shabazz High School.
Thousands of children are being forced to attend schools outside their neighborhoods. It is destroying the system. It is destroying the city.
And this is what this cruel woman calls “school choice.”
“I will not send her across town to a place I know nothing about, I will not, if it’s the last thing I do, I will not,” Deseret Richardson wept. Her granddaughter daubed the old woman’s eyes with a tissue and repeated softly, “It’s ok, Te-Te,” her pet name for her grandmother. “It’s ok.”
Some people who had been at the press conference witnessed what happened to Deseret Richardson and Deseret Segura.
“This is so unbelievable, why is Cami doing this?” asked Daryn Martin, a parent leader who is part of the effort to persuade parents across the city to keep their children home from school next week. “It makes no sense.”
Oh, yes, it does makes sense to people with the mindset of a Cami Anderson. This is a test of wills. Anderson, the willing and ambitious tool of a governor running for president, has to show she can push a city around–because then Christie can show the rest of the country what a badass tough guy he is. A Jersey Guy, say the sycophantic media who are trying to ride his broad coattails to salvation.
Tough guy? No, just a punk. A man who can be cruel to grandmothers and children with special needs who will be getting on to buses in the dark just to please his warped sense of power. Meanwhile, he sends his kids to $35,000-a-year private schools like Delbarton because, he says, money doesn’t improve education.
“I am the decider,” he told the city’s newly-elected mayor. He doesn’t have to listen to anyone. Not old women. Not children. Not to elected officials.
Not to Ras Baraka. Not to Deseret Richardson.
This is not about human needs. This is not about treating people with the respect they deserve. This is about Cami Anderson, as cruel and frigidly cold as any bureaucrat could be, enforcing her will on a city made up of tens of thousands of people like Deseret Richardson who remember a time when registering your children for school meant walking across the street and signing up with the principal. As it still does in white suburbs.
But that was before large charter school corporations like KIPP and Uncommon Schools made friends with people like Cami and smelled the chance to make millions through their friendships with women like her and politicians like Christie and Cory Booker. Screw the people–there’s money out there to be made because taxpayers pay for charter schools even though they are privately operated and give high salaries to their administrators. They’re going to turn Newark into the charter school capital of New Jersey–maybe even the United States.
The boycott effort has gotten off to a late start, but Sharon Smith, a leader of the boycott-organizing PULSE (People United to Lead the Struggle for Equality), hopes more and more organizations–especially churches–will join the effort. Councilman John Sharpe James, from the city’s South Ward, was there to endorse the boycott and he said Baraka supports it as well. Council President Mildred Crump came to lend her support and held Deseret Richardson and promised her she would try to fix her problems.
“How can they do this to people?”Crump wanted to know.
Parents who want to know more about the boycott are encouraged to go to PULSE headquarters at 962 Bergen Street or check in on the Web at #NPSboycott4freedom. PULSE will hold an information session at Clinton and Tracey this week during a 24-hour vigil for peace beginning Friday at 6 pm.
Smith says parents should keep their children at home. For those who cannot, she says, PULSE will provide safe havens in churches and retired teachers to watch the kids and provide instruction.