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Rev. Bennett: Chaos Or Community?

November 9th, 2012 · 8 Comments · Analysis and Comment, Education

The Rev. Anthony L. Bennett is senior pastor of Mount Aery Baptist Church. He was among several city ministers who urged a no vote to Tuesday’s charter question. See his commentary below that he penned for the CT Post:

In the winter of 1967, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. began to put on paper what would become his final book entitled, “Where do we go from here: Chaos or community?” This book articulated some of the tensions, complexities and challenges faced by the Civil Rights movement and American race relations in light of the emerging black power movement.

I believe this title, “Where do we go from here: Chaos or community?” best describes the dilemma we, the citizens of Bridgeport, face following our rejection of the charter revision committee’s education reform question. On this past Tuesday, the voting citizens of Bridgeport answered a resounding “no” to the effort seeking to establish a mayoral-appointed Board of Education. As one of the thousands of “no”-voting citizens, I thank every person, organization and supporter who stood up for our right to choose who will represent us in the policy and governance decisions of our school district. In spite of the confusing way in which the charter revision question was positioned and presented on the ballot, a sufficient number of voters understood what was at stake for them and the children of this school district. Subsequently, the majority of Tuesday’s voters chose not to give up their right and privilege to cast their vote in future Board of Education elections.

As much as I am tempted to savor the victory in our right to vote for Board of Education members being preserved, I hear Dr. King’s question being asked among the various stakeholders of our Bridgeport community. Now that we have chosen to continue the process of electing our Board of Education members, where do we go from here? Do the Board of Education and the divided charter revision camps delve into a chaotic communicating process that ends in stalemate? Or do we engage in a process that moves us toward a more healthy sense of educational reform where a broader section of the community participates and shapes that reform?

While I certainly am not seeking to suggest that I or this essay can provide a comprehensive blueprint for this movement toward a healthy educational community, I seek to offer some reflections from the many conversations I have engaged in with members of the Bridgeport community.

The first insight in moving forward is for our mayor, Excel Bridgeport, A Better Bridgeport and members of Bridgeport Regional Business Council to realize that many of us who voted no to the charter revision question actually very deeply desire education reform. We indeed desire the students of Bridgeport learn in state-of-the-art schools with optimal classroom size, a curriculum that is relevant and meets the highest of standards, appropriate resources and teachers and administrators who are compassionate, competent and qualified. We also understand members of the Board of Education need to be competent in their ability to govern such a complex and dynamic system as our educational system. Those of us who voted no to the charter proposal care no less for the children of this district than those who voted yes. We are a broad group of parents, guardians, business persons, community leaders and citizens who believe education reform is possible without silencing the voting voice of the people.

Secondly, accountability can only be achieved in an environment of transparency and public trust. The vote on this past Tuesday was also a statement to the lack of transparency of this entire process. Much of the rhetoric in speech and print spoke of our need to care for the future of our children by holding the mayor accountable in giving him/her authority to appoint Board of Education members. To be clear, the primary role of the Board of Education is to govern contracts worth millions of dollars, which really means jobs and services. Unfortunately, our children are often an indirect consequence of this power grab. A more transparent process would have helped all of our community stakeholders to weigh the pros and cons of such a shift in authority. Giving the public more information regarding this kind of a major issue can actually be a good and positive gesture toward accountability and public trust.

It appears that the mayor, Excel Bridgeport and members of the business community did not expect the citizens of Bridgeport to defend their right to elect their own representatives. However, whether you agreed with his effectiveness or not, remember that former superintendent Dr. John Ramos would constantly remind the students, parents and personnel of the district to “Expect Great Things!” I am praying that those who voted yes on the charter question will still expect great things–like a citizenry who value their right to choose those who represent their children’s interest. I want to expect that those who backed the yes vote will now put some of their financial resources into the facilitation of a process that ensures a transparent way for all of Bridgeport stakeholders to be informed of and participate in comprehensive educational reform. I am sure there are those who voted no to the charter question who might be willing to participate in such a process. Provided, however, it’s more than a photo op or a mirage of meetings to conceal clandestine gatherings making deals and decisions without broad public discussion. Moving forward, it is my prayer, and will be my effort to do my part in working through our chaos so that the children of Bridgeport might learn in the high-quality, world-class educational community that they deserve.

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8 Comments so far ↓

  • John Marshall Lee

    Thank you Reverend Bennett for a great message reminding us of multiple truths. The path to justice takes lots of work, and listening, and trial and error to approach. It is not easy or convenient often, but that way must be kept open for all in the community. It is systematic attention to the public business that is needed. It is dedication to act as genuine trustees of the public good for those elected and appointed. It is responsibility for putting resources to bear on priority problems and to lead by evaluating the performance of those you appoint and providing training and attention to their mission. It is a sense of hopefulness supported by empowering others to use their gifts and then celebrate success rather than believe it all is up to one leader whose job is made easier if all public voice is limited and silenced. Democracy is messy, but if allowed to be practiced, messy as it is, it can work, and provide a sense of community endurance that makes people proud.
    Continue to speak sense and truth to power and let’s have more Amens!!! Time will tell.

  • Ron Mackey

    Thank you Rev. Bennett for your letter and I hear you and I understand your position but how can we move forward when you have Mayor Finch, Excel Bridgeport, A Better Bridgeport and members of Bridgeport Regional Business Council who CAREFULLY made the charter question confusing and their ads were out and out lies?

    How can we trust this mayor and Excel Bridgeport, A Better Bridgeport and members of Bridgeport Regional Business Council with anything they say? They tried to pull the wool over our eyes and play us.

  • Andrew C Fardy

    Rev. Bennett, that was a great article and states what needed to be said. I have listened to you speak a few times and was impressed. I know you are not running for office but I think you should think about running for mayor.
    This is not a fairy tale wish on my part but 40 years in the background of politics. The city on Tuesday came together and voted on the charter change. There were yes votes and no votes but there were votes by many people.
    Bridgeport needs a strong non-career politician to lead it into the future. We need someone like you.
    The no group and the yes groups were made up of blacks, Hispanics and whites working together; that does not happen often enough. I think it could happen and I think the time is right for a change and I think you are the man to lead that charge.

  • Mojo

    *** Am I believing what I’m reading about an endorsement? Shut the front door! Shake a vato, Holmes!!! ***

  • countdown

    Something sure has to change to engage the residents in voting. I think Andy is on to something.

  • Andrew C Fardy

    For years and years we have had the same retreads forced upon us to represent us and govern the city.
    These people have not represented us or done things to help the people. It’s time to clean house. I believe change starts at the top. If we change the top then we can change the council and so forth.
    This last election showed if you can get the people involved you can win. It showed all nationalities can work together for the common good. Mojo I am floating what I think is a good idea.

  • Mojo

    *** More like a community in chaos affected by some type of Zombie virus, no? As far as Bennett is concerned, don’t know enough about the man in general to cast him as a possible candidate for Mayor! Many religious pastors or clergy, etc. are wonderful exciting public speakers but that of itself doesn’t make them good choices for Mayor of Bpt. He would need to earn it, the old-fashioned way! *** BLESSINGS BE UPON THEE ***

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