Faith

Church forum to discuss racial disparities in CMS discipline numbers

The Rev. Henry Williams, senior pastor at New Zion Missionary Baptist Church, said he hopes the event will center on answers and solutions, not pointing fingers.

It’s no secret that African American students in public schools are disciplined more frequently and more severely than their white counterparts. But why is it happening, and what can be done about it?

Those are some of the topics that will be discussed tonight (April 5) as New Zion Missionary Baptist Church hosts a forum on “Inequity in the distribution of discipline within CMS.”

The Rev. Henry Williams, New Zion’s senior pastor, said the forum is not about playing the race card.

“That’s not what we’re trying to do,” he told Qcitymetro. “What we’re trying to do is make sure there is a positive opportunity for every student and for every person. The numbers don’t lie, and the numbers say that is not happening right now.”

According to an article published recently in The Charlotte Observer, black students who attend Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are suspended at almost nine times the rate of white student.

What the numbers show

Of the 23,648 CMS students who received short-term suspensions in 2015-16…

• 13,209 were black males
• 1,119 were white male
• 2,042 where Hispanic males
• 5,403 were black females
• 360 where white females
• 644 where Hispanic females

And it’s not just an issue with CMS.

“The district’s suspension rate for black students is similar to the state’s,” the Observer write, noting that white students in CMS are less likely to be suspended than their counterparts statewide.

Williams said tonight’s forum grew out of a political/letter writing team his congregation has formed to better understand and address social concerns.

“You couldn’t continue to just blame it on the elected officials without trying to have some type of conversation or dialog with them about it, and you couldn’t just leave it to churches to pray about it,” he said. “You’ve got to come together somewhere because there has got to be a line that we’re all misunderstanding there, because the severity of the difference is escalating. It can’t continue.”

Williams said that while some students in the black community are “out of control,” he said he also recognizes that black students are frequently punished more severely than their white counterparts when the two commit similar offenses.

Williams said he is not looking to assign blame – especially to teachers – but to open a dialog between the community and elected leaders.

Who will be there

Participating in the discussion will be:

• Vilma Leake (County Commissioner)
• Colette Forrest (chair, Black Political Caucus)
• Thelma Byers-Bailey (School Board)
• Bob Simmons (executive director, Council for Children’s Rights)
• Joel Ford (N.C. state senator)
• Mark Jerrell, who will moderate the event.

Noting that he and many in his congregation have children in public schools, Williams said the Black Church cannot afford to be silent of on issues that impact our communities.

“Preaching or teaching, whatever people define it as these days, I think it’s a combination of not only divinity but also practicality,” he said. “If you don’t practically inform the people, I think you’re just motivating, and I choose to not motivate; I choose to empower.”

WANNA GO?

Date: Wednesday, April 5
Time: 6:30-8 p.m.
Place: New Zion Missionary Baptist Church
Address: 217 West Todd Lane Charlotte, NC, 28208

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