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<br />Countdown to the future

For some, at the core of all the schools debate and discussion is this question: “What is to be done about reaching the children in the poorer areas of the city? by Tony Jones
Special to the Tri-State Defender

Four days, 96 hours and thousands of increasingly tense minutes before the crucial March 8 vote concerning the direction of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools, less than five percent of the city’s eligible voters had come forward to take advantage of the early voting process.

That opportunity ends Thursday (March 3) when the polls close at 7 p.m. At issue is the referendum on whether to transfer the administration of Memphis City Schools (MCS) to the Shelby County Board of Education.

For some, at the core of all the debate and discussion is this question: “What is to be done about reaching the children in the poorer areas of the city?

 At Temple of Praise Baptist Church on Riverdale, early voting traffic was brisk ton Wednesday. Thursday (March 3) is the last day of early voting for the March 8 referendum. (Photo by Earl Stanback)

To explore the question, the Tri-State Defender visited the corner of South Parkway and Lauderdale on Wednesday. Squarely in the 38106 Zip Code, the area is known as Lauderdale Sub, one of the statistically poorest areas in the city. Assessment of life here is reflected in the South Memphis Revitalization Action Plan (SoMeRap) inspired by St. Andrew AME pastor the Rev. Dr. Kenneth Robinson, the Chief Health Officer for Memphis/Shelby County, and researched and written by the University of Memphis.

An excerpt:

“Nearly 90% of the area’s total population was African American. The median household income was $34,000 as compared to more than $54,000 for the State, with more than 40% of the area’s families living on incomes below the poverty line… The SoMe RAP Study Area’s extremely low educational attainment levels, its workforce’s concentration in the secondary labor market, and relatively low median household income levels, go a long way towards explaining the high rate of poverty experienced by its residents…”

On Wednesday, Shana Robinson, 38, a graduate of Southside High School, said she is planning to vote next week. The real school problem, she said, is a lack of discipline.

“All this teenage pregnancy has got to stop. It’s not what it was like when we came up. The principal used to paddle us, but when you try to discipline these people’s children nowadays they want to jump on the principal, the teacher, everybody,” said Robinson.

“It’s got to stop. They need to crack down. They shut down all these boys and girls clubs, the schools are closed in the evenings. These kids don’t have anything to do around here but hang on the corner.”

Monica Bolden, 36, is undecided on the referendum question, but squarely in agreement with Robinson about the discipline problem.

 “I raised my little sister and I will never forget this one day they called me because she was outside smoking a cigarette. I don’t play,” said Bolden. “I walk her up to the school door and I take care of my business when she gets home. But why is it so easy for her to sneak in and out of school?”

Proudly wearing his “I Voted Today” sticker, Alfred Rainey, 54, said he voted against the merger because “it sounds like discrimination to me. It is something we really need to look into further. It feels like a trick to me.  I just don’t trust the system when it comes to dealing with us. We’ve been running the systems separately so long I just think it ought to stay that way.”

Father of six Anthony Anderson, 32, took the informal survey back to the issue of discipline.

 “I haven’t been paying much attention, but my wife keeps me informed. Believe me, mine get their school work done,” he said.

“When they took out corporal punishment that’s when things started going downhill. These kids nowadays think they’re equal to the teachers and the parents because they’ve been taught that if you hit them they’re going to call the police. But the county disciplines the kids out there.”

Anthony Lloyd, 22, had to be persuaded to speak on the record. He was reluctant because of his past, including an arrest record. He knows that he has allowed himself to become a walking statistic, but said if he can find some help, he will.

 “I kept getting in trouble. I loved them streets, why lie?  I was hard headed,” said Lloyd. “All my partners were selling dope and I wanted to do it too.  I want to go back and get my GED but it’s hard. You got to have money to do anything, but how am I supposed to get the money?”

Acknowledging that he was sporting a fresh outfit and had on clean new kicks, Lloyd said, “Yeah, you’re right,” when asked why doesn’t he spend his money on learning something instead of looking good.

 “But it’s only so much you can tell a grown man and that’s how these boys see themselves now,” he said. “I can’t tell them nothing.”

Toya Moss, 50, said she intends to vote “no” on the referendum because she says the schools are not doing enough to develop talent when it’s found, offering the story of her son, who transferred to Hamilton from Southside.

 “And they didn’t do a thing for him. And this is a good boy. All he likes to do is play basketball. He’s down the street at the church playing now. If you don’t have more programs in the school, you’re wasting talent. Anytime you have a child that gets up at 6 in the morning to go to school you need to have programs for them to get involved with.”

Exxon employee Anthony Graham, 24, said he is voting “yes” for the merger. A graduate of Manassas, he credits his foster mother for guiding him right.  

“I’ve lived all over this city, but I was taught to try to stay neat and be prepared for a job,” he said. “The two systems need to be brought together because they need to combine the best ideas and make them available to everyone.”

The closest early voting location for Lauderdale Sub is at the Mt. Zion Baptist Church at 60 S. Parkway. Ten minutes before the polls closed, no voters were in line, but poll workers said there had been a semi-steady trickle. Outside, church member David Bond, 60, stood watch.  A graduate of Booker T. Washington High School, he voted “yes,” persuaded by the tax factor.  

“If I am going to still continue to pay city and county taxes, they should combine the systems. I think this whole process has been ridiculous because there isn’t a real plan in place.  Who are you going to keep? Where are the details?  

“But I think the state should have stayed out of it and let us handle it,” said Bond.

“Look at the scholarship rate at Whitehaven High Schools, we can do this. My brother and I were raised by a single mother, and if we caused any trouble she would kill us, for real. We didn’t get in much trouble.”

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