Several disparate factions filed into Henry Ford High School’s auditorium last week, each with its own agenda. Union folk came to protest the Detroit school board’s recent announcement to privatize cafeteria food services. Black, middle-aged activists and white, gen-X radical types came to oppose the state-mandated takeover of the Detroit school board. And the least raucous of the 200-plus crowd devoted parents of children who attend the dismal public schools came to hear what the school board had to say. They wanted to hear from departing public school CEO David Adamany, who delivered his final report about the enormous undertaking he shouldered for the past year. It was also the rigid little man’s final board meeting, one that many attendees made sure he would not soon forget.
For about a half-hour the crowd chanted commands including "go home" and "leave right now" at board members, who seemed used to sounds of protest. Despite the uproar, Detroit Deputy Mayor Freman Hendrix pleasantly introduced the "Ladies of Harmony," four Ford choir students who opened the meeting with a few songs. As the young, brave girls faced the furious crowd to sing the national anthem, many hollered that they would not stand for this song. And the sound of defiance continued.
But when the choir sang "Lift Every Voice and Sing," by James Weldon Johnson, they were joined by other voices. Harmony filled the auditorium with glad souls proud to sing the black national anthem; fisted hands were raised to signify black power. Hendrix also sang. And News Hits cried, listening to the angry crowd lulled by these words:
Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring.
Ring with the harmony of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise,
high as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the roaring sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present day has brought us.
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.
When the choir finished, Hendrix introduced the newest board member, Dr. Gerald Smith. "You didn’t get to have any meetings like this last year. So we have ordered one just for you," he said. But when Hendrix assured that "they won’t all be like this," the crowd got louder as if to say, "Oh, yes, they will!"
When it came time for Adamany to speak, big boos resounded. After about 10 minutes of this, Hendrix adjourned the meeting. Adamany quietly walked off the stage with the remainder of the board and much applause following him. And the audience broke off into separate groups.
On one end of the auditorium, longtime political activist Shanta Driver took the stage shouting about alleged abuses some Phoenix Academy Middle School students recently suffered at the hands of security guards. Students also gave testimonies.
At the other end of the auditorium, Detroit Public Schools employees caucused with union members about the possibility of losing their jobs, that is if Adamany’s plan to privatize the food service division goes through. Philip Schloop, business representative of the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 547, advised workers about the possible privatization; food service managers belong to the local. Schloop says that although it is one of the few departments in the school district to make money, privatization would save administrators from having to bother with personnel issues, such as payroll and hiring. There is no telling, he says, whether a new firm will hire the current workers, many of whom are former students and parents of current ones.
Frustrated parents sat hoping to attend the closed board meeting. Fortunately, a few, along with News Hits, were allowed in.
News Hits admits that it didn’t expect much from Adamany, who spent a good hour summarizing a report of the work he accomplished this past year. But we have to hand it to you, sir. We were quite impressed. If your vision is carried out, there is hope for Detroit Public Schools. Parents and board members thanked Adamany, who said that "this is the most important work I’ve done" because those most vulnerable were depending on him. Rather than detail this fine report, News Hits suggests that you check it out yourself at the Detroit Public Schools Web site, where it will soon be posted. It truly will give you reason to lift your voice and sing.Ann Mullen contributed to News Hits, which is edited by Curt Guyette. He can be reached at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]