Wed04232014

An immature Memphis faces a very grown-up discussion

It seems as if God has intervened in Memphis to bring “pubescent” males and ambitious females in local leadership positions together on a collision course with the very thing they (and we) have avoided for so long.
 
 Tony Nichelson

It seems as if God has intervened in Memphis to bring “pubescent” males and ambitious females in local leadership positions together on a collision course with the very thing they (and we) have avoided for so long. The discussions of race, class, education and economics in Shelby County have been glossed-over, avoided and postponed since court-ordered school busing led to a quick and dirty separation of half of our citizens in 1973.

Time literally stopped in this community between the years 1973-78, in the evolution of Shelby County as a cohesive community. This urban reality was, of course, not unique to Memphis, but our unique “differences” still have never been ironed-out, always lurking just beneath the surface of our skin color, our cultural fabric, and our fears of really coming together… or at least understanding the other side.

In this present “educational” crisis, it appears that no single board, agency or individual has the jurisdiction (or the gravitas) to make a binding decision. Nor do they seem to have a monopoly on ideas for solving one of this community’s most divisive issues ever. Race, class, economics and education in this community must now be viewed in light of a subtle shift in local politics, with “leaders” who have never proven that they can lead.  It is largely due to the short-sighted decisions of these people (the Memphis Council capriciously cutting $93 million from MCS in 2008), and the ambitious proclamations without forethought of those people (the Shelby County Schools Board seeking Special School District status) that we find ourselves coming to a day of reckoning for answers to “white flight,” urban crime, secession from Shelby County, and roughly eight percent voter turnouts for the past few elections.

The Charter-Surrender / Special School District issue is forcing the hand of fate, that Shelby County would now have to answer questions of civic responsibility, economic development for the “inner-city”, racial misunderstandings, small-time partisan politics, and last of all, separate-but-equal educational provisions and accommodations.

After all, what could the “differences” really be between City and County schools that are a scant 20 miles apart?  I’ll tell you the difference… people, politics, prejudices and personalities are the differences. And whether we like it or not, all of these things will be revealed as we make our way through this Charter-Surrender episode. It seems as if God has intervened in Memphis to make us all grow up a little bit.

(Anthony Nichelson is Public Affairs director for the Citadel Radio Group and founder of the 110 Institute.)

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