when speaking with fellow board member Karitsa Jones. The heated conversation was brought about while the board discussed an article written by The Chattanoogan that mentioned a possible influx of migrant students coming into our county. Rhonda quickly spoke up and stated that she only represents the concerns of parents and students who “pay taxes” (Hamilton County Schools, 2021, 51:42) in Hamilton County. Ms. Jones then pointed out to Mrs. Rhonda Thurman that we shouldn’t “put the cart before the horse” as these are, only possible scenarios for the board to plan for at this point. Ms. Jones further advised Mrs.Thurman to be careful of her choice of words as their jobs are to reflect the voices and concerns of all families in the county. Mrs. Thurman quickly rebutted by declaring that she is “not a racist” and was tired of being labeled as such. This was, to say the least, a very odd retort since Ms. Jones made no mention or allusion to racism, a fact she quickly pointed out to Mrs. Thurman.
This entire conversation has been long overdue. From the tone-deaf question Mrs. Thurman had the gall to ask, to the fact that she only wants to represent a certain portion of Hamilton County, Ms. Thurman has shown time and time again where her concerns for students lie. Ms. Thurman has blatantly addressed specific problems to marginalized groups as if they’re an inconvenience for her to even hear about. As a student of color, I am compelled to point out that a school board member being oblivious to the fact that race literally affects every aspect of our education is irresponsible and a blatant act of negligence. The sheer privilege Mrs. Thurman exudes is almost stupefying when the students of color have to be their own advocates for education because their leaders refuse to. I would go so far as to say that she cannot properly serve as a board member if she refuses to see the plethora of problems that students of color are facing every day. These outdated views are harmful to spread because of the rhetoric she uses to describe the students and families in this situation. This group of people may be further isolated from conversations about education if we aren't careful with our words. This seems like an ominous foreshadowing of the future for students of color whose leaders are more offended by an accusation than by the problems the students in their communities are facing. My main hope for the Hamilton County Board of Education is that more members have the same courage as Mrs. Jones to call out insensitivities and to hold their fellow comrades accountable to the statements and actions they make.
Although these have been some disparaging remarks, there is always room for growth and change. Before growth can be made, we must first acknowledge that we’re dealing with hypotheticals right now but being a board member means you represent members of the county. Whether this is a real scenario or not, we must debunk the myth that immigrants “don’t pay taxes.” They patronize at the same stores we do, get gas at the same pumps we fill up at, and work the jobs that some Americans refuse to do. I doubt that throughout their living in this country, when they pay for things, they say, “We don’t have to include tax in the price. I’m not from here.” Essentially they’re supporting our economy and government with little to no benefits.
Additionally, there are already people in our county who came under these circumstances before this article was released, so it is the job of all board members to represent these perspectives. Also, everything in education has to do with race because race impacts every student’s life and experiences. Whether they come from a privileged family or disenfranchised community, their race has affected their opportunities and education from birth. Finally, to minimize the perspective or concerns of different groups of people because we disagree with their lifestyle is inherently inconsiderate and should not be taken lightly. If we can acknowledge these four ideas, only then could there be room for growth and acceptance. Until then, I fear her rhetoric could be divisive and a hindrance to the potential of educational expansion and inclusion in our county.
Change isn’t made overnight. Where there is knowledge and compassion, there is room for new ideas to form. We should redirect our attention from their citizenship status because there are kids in our county who need support and acceptance. Then, we can begin to get the correct help and resources to address concerns for these families. This work is never easy, but it is a labor of love that these children deserve. Ideally, the board can get them integrated into our schools with the proper support. In that case, we could have an expanded perspective of education in Hamilton County, enhancing the overall quality of education for all children.