Brown stands behind vote on racism resolution
On June 23, the Newberg School District board of directors passed a resolution condemning racism and committing to be an anti-racist school district. The resolution passed by a vote of 5-1, with the lone nay vote cast by director Dave Brown.
Brown then wrote and delivered a lengthy explanation of his position, claiming the resolution had ties to the social justice organization Black Lives Matter and was wrong in principle. In his statement, Brown claimed the resolution came from a "far left" political position and that anti-racism is a tactic that only seeks to divide people. His statement received extensive backlash on social media from hundreds of users who called the no vote "racist," "ignorant" and "lacking empathy."
In the aftermath, Brown said he is not reconsidering his position despite the resolution's passage, and conversations with other board members have only strengthened his resolve on the issue.
"I knew this was going to pass," Brown said. "I'm not always in lockstep with our board on stuff. But some of the statements about white supremacy and statements about hiring staff of color, I didn't agree with that. I don't care about your color. I want the best people to do the job. I don't like labels on stuff and right off the bat, when I say something like that, people will call me racist."
Brown said the resolution was put together hastily and without consultation of all board members prior to its drafting. He also said he didn't understand why the school board — which he said should focus only on school matters — made a statement and held a moment of silence for George Floyd, the Minneapolis man killed by police on May 25 whose death sparked nationwide protests against racial injustice.
Brown took particular issue with the mention of white supremacy in the district's resolution, which acknowledged the existence of institutional racism at the national level and locally.
"I don't believe that all white people are racist, and I thought that was really inflammatory to include the words white supremacy in the resolution," Brown said. "I knew my vote wasn't going to be popular, but then people started saying that because I voted no I support racism. A few people around town were demanding an answer for why, as if I was tearing their world apart or something. It's ridiculous."
The resolution states that the school district stands for "social justice for our Black and other marginalized communities in Newberg," and that the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery have strengthened a need to address issues of racism. This includes issues of racial bias in local schools, whether that be among students and staff or through district policies and discipline rates.
Brown took issue primarily with the portion of the statement that committed to dismantling systemic racism in Newberg schools and engaging in anti-racist practices. He also said he doesn't believe in the resolution's commitment to a diversity in hiring, which he said prioritizes skin color over qualification for a job.
"I spent my whole career sticking up for people who were being treated differently for their race, for their gender, whether they're good at sports or not, or anything else," Brown, a former tennis coach at Newberg High School and newly hired girls tennis coach at Canby High, said. "I know there is bias and injustice going on, but in my 20 years in Newberg I never saw a staff member being racist, and it's not as bad as people make it out to be. I've seen racism go the other way, too.
"If we're talking about being anti-racist, then the labels and accusations start. That's as damning as someone being racist in the first place. What's happened to me personally out there is horrible. You can't say 'I support all lives.' I'm not going to sit back and say one life matters more than the other — that would be prejudiced and racist."
According to its mission statement, Black Lives Matter was founded to "connect Black people from all over the world who have a shared desire for justice to act together in their communities" against systemic injustice and violence by the state. The BLM movement has since gained allies outside the Black community and across the country and world, gaining national prominence in the wake of Floyd's death and the ensuing mostly peaceful protests.
It is unclear where Brown's perception of BLM comes from, but he maintains that the anti-racism resolution put out by the school district has connections to BLM and is a slippery slope.
"This entire resolution is all coming from a strong left movement out of the Black Lives Matter movement," Brown said. "Ever since May 25, this thing has been steamrolling out of control. If we go to a socialist, Marxist country like the Black Lives Matter movement wants, then you're going to have a system that's bad, and we won't have the freedoms we have today.
"Every single kid is important to me and people on the left, they don't seem to want to listen to that. I want every single kid to be treated well and I don't care if they're an immigrant here first day or if they're white and have lived here their whole life. I don't want us to pick and choose how we're going to provide our education based on color."
'It's a bit confusing, to be honest'
Board chairwoman Brandy Penner was among the board members who voted yes on the anti-racism resolution. She said the resolution will jump-start one of the board's goals, which is to renew its commitment to combating racism in the district however it can.
"We are in the midst of adopting our board goals for the next school year," Penner said. "One of those goals is to become an anti-racist school district as a board. That includes conducting listening sessions with people of color and learn what life is like for them throughout our school district. Another part of that is board training and development, which could include shared reading lists, specific speakers, etcetera. We will also be developing an equity lens, so that going forward we will look at policy and our decisions and how they impact historically marginalized groups in our school district."
The board, Penner said, is researching what other school districts have done to address issues of racial inequality in their schools, and it plans to take myriad actions in the coming year. She said the anti-racism resolution serves as an acknowledgment of inequality in Newberg, pointing to issues such as disproportionate discipline rates of students of color as an example.
Penner added that an important part of this process is to listen to people of color in the community about their experiences, whether they be students, parents, faculty or otherwise. She hopes that Brown, whose statement angered some people of color in the community, will be willing to listen to community concerns so the board can have a united front.
"It's a bit confusing, to be honest," Penner said. "Our resolution doesn't mention Black Lives Matter and it doesn't say either way whether we are supporting or denouncing it. I don't quite know where he saw that connection.
"My role as chair is to create a space for people on the board to express their opinions and to try and ensure that those opinions aren't negatively impacting our community. It was difficult to hear that a person in our community of color could not speak during our listening session after hearing director Brown's comments. I don't think that was his intention, but that was the result."
Penner said the anti-racism resolution is a sign of progress and that she looks forward to building off of it in the coming months while addressing the other issues facing the district. With the COVID-19 pandemic, student safety and a potential school bond on the minds of board members, addressing institutional racism is one part of a larger equation.
"We're coming to a point where we know institutional racism is happening and we are asking ourselves what we can do about it," Penner said. "That's exciting. It's not going to be easy, but like anything, you have to acknowledge there's an issue before you can even attempt to make change. The resolution is certainly an acknowledgement that there are systemic racist issues that have occurred, whether conscious or unconscious."
The full resolution was posted on the Newberg School District's website at bit.ly/3fCq53S. Brown's statement was published as an op-ed on The Graphic's website on July 10 and is available to read at bit.ly/2DXWgNd.
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