Wednesday, May 25, 2016

In Amite, NO BEARDS ALLOWED (except when in the field): The hypocrisy of the Andrew Jones saga

Andrew Jones, #3, pictured in full beard during this past basketball season.

The following is a letter I sent to Tangipahoa Schools Superintendent Mark Kolwe and their school board.

26 May 2016

Dear Superintendent Kolwe,

Last night, I watched “The Nightly Show” with Larry Wilmore. In the first segment, he discussed the case of Andrew Jones at Amite High School. Living in New Orleans, I was already aware of the case, but I watched Wilmore present the absurdity of this situation to the nation.  For the past week, this case has been a national embarrassment to the school, the parish, and the entire state. For me, it represents a tremendous lack of judgment and a colossal failure of leadership. It also exposed blatant hypocrisy present in your school system.

So, I began to research this situation more closely and I want to present my findings. My hope is that you will issue a public apology to Mr. Jones and his family. Additionally, since this once in a lifetime event was ruined because of what appears to have been an ego contest with an 18 year old, I recommend that you offer restitution to him in the form of a scholarship for college.

In your letter, which appears in the Amite Tangi Digest, you write:

The Tangipahoa Parish School Board Student Dress Code Policy states that “beards will not be allowed.” As Superintendent, I am obligated to ensure that all Board policies are followed.

Indeed, the Student & Parent Handbook explicitly states this on page 8 under Student Dress Code, item #1 under dress code regulations grades 4-12. On page 9, it then describes how dress code violations will be handled, with the first violation resulting in a notice to parents and students (essentially a warning), and a subsequent violation resulting in a one day suspension due to disrespect of authority.

Jones and his family contend that he has worn a beard all year, and that he shaved part of it before the ceremony. I tend to agree with them, not because I know them, but by this story in the Hammond Star recapping the basketball season found here:

The picture shows a young man, wearing a #3 on his jersey, who looks like Andrew Jones to me, with the fuller beard as he has described. I then checked the roster for the Amite Warriors and confirmed that Andrew Jones wore #3. (,la)/basketball/roster.htm).

So the question is, why would you wait until graduation, after he has completed all requirements to graduate and will no longer attend the school, to finally enforce a policy that has been unenforced for an entire year? More specifically, why would you punish your top student, 4.0 grade point average, and three-sport athlete with academic and athletic scholarships to Southeastern Louisiana University, on the very last day of his formal association with Amite High School?

Yes, you are obliged to ensure the policies are followed. But policies were ignored during the football season. He was allowed to play football against Bogalusa in October, where the Amite Tangi Digest reported, “This would help set up a scoring drive that resulted in Walker hitting Andrew Jones for a 33-yard touchdown reception.” He was still playing in November, as the team played against Port Barre, The Advocate wrote “A fumbled punt snap gave Amite the ball at the Port Barre 39, and Walker drilled Andrew Jones with a 39-yard touchdown pass that made it 40-0.” He wore a full beard, in plain view, all through basketball season in the spring.

The height of the hypocrisy is that you personally made a case for an exception to a rule in the name of fairness for students. In late November, a fight between Amite and Bogalusa resulted in Amite being removed from the football playoffs for violating the Louisiana High School Athletic Association rule that players are automatically suspended for the next game if they leave the bench area during an altercation. In fact, you sued because you felt the decision was too harsh. In an Advocate article, it reads “Taking away the opportunity for senior players to continue their quest for a state title was also deemed unfair by the Tangipahoa contingent.”

At a school where only 36% of the students go to college within a year, where 80% of them are Black, and the average ACT is below 16, you are more willing to fight for students to participate in athletics than you are for an athlete who shows academic accomplishment to give his valedictory address at his only high school graduation.

This facial hair rule, one that was not enforced all year long, is now non-negotiable at the very end of the year. Again referencing the handbook, page 10 explains discipline and indicates that administrators will “implement the Student Code of Conduct in a fair and consistent manner” (#3), “implement Board policy in a fair and consistent manner” (#7), and “use professional judgment to prevent minor incidents from becoming major challenges” (#5). There is nothing fair or consistent in the implementation of this rule, and now this minor incident has become a national embarrassment.

The interim principal, and you as superintendent, failed on these responsibilities. However, if you are willing to exercise leadership, you can work to make amends to Andrew Jones and his family. Here are my suggestions:

1.              A public apology should be issued to Andrew Jones and his family. It is still okay to say “I’m sorry” and “We made a mistake.”

2.              Work within the local community to find a venue for Andrew to give his commencement address. He should still be afforded that opportunity.

3.              Some form of restitution would be appropriate in the form of a scholarship to assist with his first year of college. That moment has passed and cannot be relived, but a scholarship would serve as a tangible expression of regret.

Please understand that these actions display a, hopefully unconscious, bias that allows you to advocate for Black students on the field or court, but to be punitive when it comes to academics. The vast majority of them will never be professional athletes, but they can use their athletic ability to pay for college. And so when you have a true scholar athlete like Andrew, he must be celebrated profusely so that he becomes a role model for others to follow.

It is my hope that you will rectify this situation as best as possible.


Walter M. Kimbrough, Ph.D.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

HBCU Presidents: Prince's New Power Generation

Yesterday I spent the day with a unique group of HBCU presidents. We are generally early 50s and younger, have children under 18, maintain an active social media presence, and have working spouses. Two years ago I noticed that there was a shift happening in the HBCU presidency. From 2004 to 2014, about 15 new HBCU presidencies were given to people under 50, approximately twice as many as there were from 1994 to 2004.

These younger presidents were also beginning in a social media era, with Facebook starting in 2004, Twitter in 2006, and Instagram in 2010. So it made sense for us to have an informal network of peers to discuss issues from family balance, to being seen sometimes as the kids in higher ed leadership, as well as the issues that all presidents face. Our initial meeting was a dinner during the HBCU Week conference in September of 2014 and the idea was to do a one day summer retreat, which we held in New Orleans last summer. We had a dinner as well this past September, and our retreat yesterday.

Currently, 22 of the 78 four year HBCUs are led by presidents who are in their early 50s or younger, so I think it is fair to say we have a movement. Just in the past 2 weeks two younger presidents were named at West Virginia State and Texas Southern Universities. So our group has great potential in helping to shift the narrative about HBCUs.

Yesterday we were hosted by Florida Memorial University led by President Roslyn Clark Artis. Seven presidents attended, as well as Dr. Lorenzo Esters from USA Funds which sponsored our summer meeting this year. A lot of the work that USA Funds is doing is important for HBCUs, and we actually have an opportunity to lead in efforts to improve student success.

I'm really excited about the networking and support that occurs during the year with this group. We generally have had about 12-15 people attend the fall dinner, and hope to have the summer meeting grow as well.

I want people to know that HBCU presidents are working together to leverage collective ideas and initiatives to strengthen our sector. Younger presidents have an opportunity to impact this sector for several decades, and we're committed to work collectively to change not only the narrative but the reality of HBCUs.

The Prez