Evicted By Racist Police In 1947, A Black School Board Member Wants Change. Her Colleague Disagrees
A Cuban-American Miami-Dade County School Board member is opposing a proposal to enhance the district’s anti-racism curriculum and empower a student task force to examine racial injustice, arguing the district has been a “stellar example of inclusion” and claiming that any historical instances of discrimination propagated by the district were quickly righted.
Marta Pérez offered her comments in response to the plan’s sponsor, a Black school board member whose own family was made homeless and community destroyed by the school board and city of Miami in 1947 to make way for an all-white school.
The proposal from Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall would direct the superintendent of the nation’s fourth largest school district to review and enhance curriculum that addresses racism and multiculturalism and establish a student task force that would “discuss institutional systemic racism in our society” and report back to the school board quarterly.
Pérez, who has served on the board since 1998 and represents a western part of the county, said during a virtual school board committee meeting Wednesday it “pains [her]” that she is unable to support the plan.
“The events of Minneapolis were horrific,” Pérez said, referring to the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. “They were tragic, and the subsequent riots, et cetera, loss of property — it's a horror for our communities.”
“But in my opinion, this school district is a shining example, throughout the years, of inclusion in all matters, including race, ethnicity, disabilities, et cetera. And if there has ever been a wrong, we have stepped up and corrected it very, very quickly,” Pérez said.
She argued the district administration should instead focus on the educational fallout of the COVID-19 crisis.
“Reviewing reports and developing curricular guidelines,” as Bendross-Mindingall proposed, “will detract from this mammoth task of preparing for this school year with so many of our students needing so much academic help,” Pérez said.
Pérez also said she has "expertise" in racism and discrimination in Miami-Dade County because she previously worked in the “inner city.” That's a coded term often used to refer to majority Black communities. While there are historically Black neighborhoods in Miami’s urban core, the largest majority Black city in Florida is Miami Gardens, in the northern part of the county.
The proposal’s sponsor, Bendross-Mindingall, won a seat on the school board in 2010, more than six decades after police abruptly threw her and her family out of their Allapattah home, displacing them and 34 other Black families and taking their land by eminent domain under pressure of racist white residents and local officials.
“I'm the little girl who was put out of my house at 3 years old in the rain so that they could build a school. How dare you. How dare you. It didn’t stop there,” Bendross-Mindingall said, seemingly in response to Pérez’s comments.
Steve Gallon III, the only other Black person on the nine-member school board, wore a T-shirt bearing a picture of Floyd that included tears streaming down the late man’s face. Using video conferencing software for the meeting, Gallon appeared in front of a background picture of Emmett Till, a Black boy who was lynched by white racists in Mississippi in 1955.
“Despite those who will espouse that we're in the midst of a pandemic, the pandemic for people of color and Black people in this country didn't start in March,” Gallon said, speaking after Pérez. “The pandemic started 400 years ago. We've been living under the pandemic of racism, poverty and injustice. So we're going to lean into that unapologetically.”
The president of United Teachers of Dade, the district’s teachers’ union, reacted to Pérez’s comments on Twitter. Karla Hernandez-Mats wrote: “Unbelievable.”
Bendross-Mindingall also said she has received letters from current students alleging racism from school staff, including a principal. WLRN requested the letters under Florida’s public records laws and did not immediately receive them.
Other school board members supported the proposal and argued it could be even stronger. For example, board member Susie Castillo suggested it could include a workforce training component to combat racism among school district employees.
Ultimately, the academics, evaluation and technology committee, which Bendross-Mindingall chairs, approved the proposal. Pérez is not a voting member of the committee but could have co-sponsored the proposal and declined the opportunity. The full school board will consider the plan during a meeting next week.
Superintendent Alberto Carvalho gave a full-throated endorsement of the proposal and called the current movement for racial justice “a watershed moment that cannot be ignored.”
“We must recognize that despite the best of intentions, policies, practices, tools, strategies and our overwhelming commitment — not only ours, but those that preceded us — to dismantle racism and bias in our communities, even in our system, … we must collectively do more,” he said.
At different points in the meeting, both Bendross-Mindingall and Carvalho echoed the rallying cry of protesters who have taken to the streets all over the world in recent weeks: “Black lives matter.”