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IT AIN'T OVER!!!
Community Organizing Spurs Residents to Fight Back Against Poor School Board Leadership/Representation
EAST WACO-When the Waco Independent School District said no to historic G.L.Wiley Middle School remaining open in August, citizens protesting the decision promised not to go away quietly.
That group of East Waco citizens is proving that community organizing is not dead and is a valuable tool in change.
What the board did not know was that its decision to go ahead and close the school sparked pastors, political leaders and East Waco citizens to come alive and stand together with a plan – To organize and change the political landscape and work to elect real citizens who represent the voice of the people.
“This board has really awakened a sleeping giant,” said Dr. Jimmy Hunter of the Toliver Chapel Missionary Baptist Church. “… While we were away from the wheel, we allowed someone else to drive. No more. Our goal is to never play from behind again.”
Fighting to Save the Children is doing weekly marches and peaceful protests against the closing of G. L. Wiley Middle School.
The group pickets outside the Waco ISD administration building each Friday from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. and will continue its civil disobedience every Friday until the school board election in May.
Now, the decision to close is fast becoming a nightmare that is haunting some school board member because the group fully intends to clean house and replace those who voted to close the school.
Targeted and on deck for first oust is East Waco school board at-large member Sammy Smith.
McClennan County Commissioner and activist Lester Gibson said the growing grassroots movement was born out of frustration over the failure of its school leaders to listen and care about what the taxpaying community wanted. Its appeals and input was taken and totally ignored.
“People in this community say enough is enough,” Gibson said. “There is new energy where apathy once existed and are using that new found life to tap and generate new voters and create the kind of political action that will result in real changes on the school board and future education planning for Waco.”
It all started just two weeks before the start of the school year. On Aug. 25, the Waco Independent School District board of trustees voted to close the school and disperse the Wiley students to Brazos and Cesar Chavez middle schools and G.W.Carver Academy.
The board heard nearly four hours of pleas from the community to keep the school open before deliberating, but finally voted 4-3 in favor of a proposal to close the school.
Trustees Sammy Smith, Debbie Luce, Allen Sykes and Pat Atkins voted for closure.
The group had responded days before school's start Aug. 25 with a lawsuit that claimed Texas Open Meetings Act violations and racial discrimination in Wiley's closing. A temporary restraining order granted Aug. 21 by 170th District Court Judge Jim Meyer forced the school to open. However, the school board voted again — on the day about 100 students returned to Wiley — to close the school in a 4-3 vote.
The board's actions satisfied the judge, who after three days of hearings last week denied the plaintiffs' attempt to keep the school open while the lawsuit was heard.
The group decided to drop the suit, but it spurred efforts to start a grassroots effort that has turned into a movement.
“We tried to work with them without success,” said the Rev. Gaylon Foreman of the Carver Park Baptist Church. “We want to let them to know we want to be heard and we will be heard and taken seriously from now on. The voice of the people will be respected and we are serious.”
According to Foreman, schools in the predominantly African-American East Waco section of the city has been neglected and over the years has become the educational “whipping boy” of the district with more than its fair share of school closures.
“Our goal is to elect citizens of the community that represent the true issues affecting the community,” he said. “Secondly, this will help the community rise up to fight other social issues and injustices that plague us.”
Both Foreman and Hunter say that God is at work noting the five churches, members and community rallying and supporting the effort.
“The action is monumental because it marks the first time in a long time that Black pastors, churches and the community have come together in a show of force for change,” he said. “This effort is about helping the children have a better future. The blessing from God in this is the uniting us and making the community come together.”
According to Gibson, this first step is one of many to secure the future of African-American children and protect the integrity of the district for generations to come.
Plans are also to support and fund a legal defense fund and retain an attorney to fight future legal battles and monitor and work on upcoming redistricting.
“Our signs call on voters to Remember Wiley like Texans remember the Alamo,” he said. “We want people to remember and not forget the day the judge rendered his decision to support closure of Wiley. It motivates us to fight for change now. We want to prevent events like the Dallas Independent School District from happening in Waco.”