Embattled Youngstown school board member Lock Beachum should have found comfort in entertainment icon Bill Cosby’s presence in the city Friday. After all, Beachum’s comments about black students that triggered a verbal backlash pale in comparison to Cosby’s well publicized commentaries about young blacks.
The fact that the former Youngstown school principal and the internationally renowned comedian and social critic are black lends credence to what they have to say.
Yet, there are some in the African-American community who have taken exception to their views.
Eleven days ago, Beachum suggested that the school district’s $48 million projected deficit was largely caused by the loss of city students to charter and private schools, or open enrollment.
“We can’t continue losing students,” the former principal in the Youngstown schools system and former member of city council told his colleagues on the school board. “You’re losing the best students. You can’t climb out of academic emergency losing your best students. I doubt we’ll climb out of academic watch this year. If we do, it’s going to be almost a miracle.”
Beachum could have stopped there and saved himself a major headache. But that isn’t him. He has never been one to pull punches. So, here’s what he added:
“Board members, you have to understand, you need a diversified student population. The perception is that Youngstown is an all black school district.”
He pointed out the Youngstown district has lost 90 percent of its white student population. A diversified student body improves the academic performance of all students, he argued.
However, his comments were called “disrespectful, unacceptable and racist” by The Parent Student Union and United Front for Educational Justice. The self-styled community organization demanded that Beachum recant his comments and called on the other board members to repudiate him.
The group threatened “sanctions” if its demands weren’t met.
If Beachum’s comments are “racist,” what about Bill Cosby’s long-standing criticism of the way black parents are raising their children and the way young black men dress and behave in public?
The entertainer, who performed at Powers Auditorium Friday night, has garnered a lot of attention with his brutally honest assessment of the black community in America.
In one of his broadsides, as reported by the Daily Mail, Cosby took on black parents whose priorities are skewed. They buy their children expensive sneakers, but fail to ensure they have proper communication skills, he said.
Referring to the civil rights movement in which blacks demanded education equality, Cosby said: “These people marched and were hit in the face with rocks to get an education and now we’ve got these kunckleheads walking around. I can’t even talk the way these people talk: ‘Why you ain’t,’ ‘Where you is’ …” He said he blamed the child until he heard the mother and father talk.
“Everyone knows it’s important to speak English except these knuckleheads,” he said. “You can’t be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth.”
His comments went viral and were debated in the newspapers and on the air.
But, Cosby was unapologetic.
“I feel that I can no longer remain silent,” he said in a statement quoted by the Daily Mail. “If I have to make a choice between keeping quiet so that conservative media does not speak negatively or ringing the bell to galvanize those who want to change in the lower economic community, then I choose to be a bell ringer.”
In a way, that’s what Beachum was doing when he talked about the exodus of white students from the troubled city school system. He was ringing the bell to the reality that a diversified student population is essential for the district’s academic and fiscal recovery.
Rather than being demonized, he should be applauded for his honest appraisal of what lies ahead if major changes aren’t implemented.
Indeed, the Youngstown district is on borrowed time. If this year’s state report card does not show a marked improvement from the current academic watch designation, the Ohio Department of Education may well step in and close the failing schools, or in the extreme, dismantle the school district.