Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Elected by Unanimous Vote--Virginia Pollard Joins the Lower Merion School Board

In an historic turn of events on Monday, October 25, 2010, the Lower Merion School District School Board of Directors elected Mrs. Virginia Pollard, an African American, to a position as Board of Director to replace a recently vacated seat by Linda Doucette-Ashman who relocated out of Pennsylvania. People say this moment in time is historic because a wealthy, majority white suburban school district and school board membership seated an African American. Mrs. Pollard is not the first African American to become a Lower Merion school board member, although it has been decades since the last. There are plenty of points to be made, but these few make this Board's unanimous vote amazing.

No one thought it would happen, like it did.
The thought was that, at least, the vote would end in a 4 to 4 tie and be decided by the Courts. At best, Mrs. Pollard would win by a 5 to 3 vote. Eight school board members were obligated to interview the final four of 31 candidates in an open forum as top school administrators and a standing-room only crowd attended. Mrs. Pollard made it as one of four in the final round. Each candidate was asked the identical seven questions in sequence. Mrs. Pollard was the third person to be interviewed. All of the candidates were excellent finalists, one would win the seat.

With the impending November 2 elections around the corner, Democrat or Republican politics was not the prevailing issue on the floor. Rather, electing Mrs. Pollard, a clearly qualified candidate, was an opportunity for school board members to begin to heal racial pains and divides sustained over decades that culminated more recently with several unresolved federal lawsuits and many resolved and unresolved, on-going due process hearings brought against the school district by African American families and organizations.

The PEOPLE challenged and changed the outcomes.
If there was any indicator that the Board's vote would not have ended as unanimous, it comes with the body language of a long-standing board member, Gray Friedlander. The usually stoic Mr. Friedlander seemed to have taken on a twitching disorder as he sat listening to the dozens of commentators intent on convincing him and the entire Board to vote for Mrs. Pollard; eyes rolling, legal pad covering his face to converse with Ms. Guthrie, red-faced, selective inattention, teeth-gritting and then calm attention to his seeming favored candidates. This behavior went on for hours into the night, a couple of breaks, and suddenly he sat calmly. Perhaps resigned.

Candidate supporter after supporter commented (overwhelmingly for Mrs. Pollard). Black, white, brown, young, old, Boy Scouts, two former township Commissioners (including Maryam Phillips via a letter), at least two sitting commissioners (Steve Lindner and Cheryl Gelber) sat among the crowd, Republicans, Democrats, and even a woman who dared the Board to make a liar out of her (she had no faith in them electing Mrs. Pollard to the Board). White people told the Board it is time to include Blacks who have been ignored and disenfranchised for years; it was time for them to take the gift this opportunity presented to make the right decision. Blacks and Whites spoke of the Mrs. Pollards extensive community involvement, skills, and history with which they and all of Lower Merion would be complemented. Mrs. Davis, unintended to speak, ask the Board, "if not now, when?"

It was even fun.
Attendees shared plenty of laughter. Reverend Pollard opened public comments with a request to the Board to do as the music soul legend James Brown and "Please, Please, Please" vote for Mrs. Pollard, his wife of many decades. In other light moments, James Brown would be referenced by other commentators and even a board member. Then attendees watched with eagerness when James Brown was called to the podium to make a comment. A white man appeared and identified himself as, "the real James Brown" and the audience roared with laughter. What a moment.

A word about redemption.
Lynn Kugal, who during the racially heated redistricting federal lawsuit brought against the district by African Americans admitted that she did not know that Ardmore was a predominant minority sub-community within Lower Merion leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of many, nominated Mrs. Pollard to become the next school board member. There were no other nominations. Within minutes Gary Friedlander and every other school board member voted to seat Mrs. Virginia Pollard as the Lower Merion School District Board of Director. They made the right decision, as implored to do by Lower Merion residents.

The vote was unanimous, by the end.
The audience jumped to their feet energized by amazement and joy. No one sang we shall overcome, but the sense of triumph and healing was as pervasive as the face-wide smiles of several board members and most of the attendees. At that moment, a point of community pride was manifest.
Truly this was a win-win for Reverend and Mrs. Pollard.
It was a win for Lower Merion students.
It was a win for the Lower Merion community.
It was a win for America. Yes, America.
Mostly, it was a win for the prayer team who stands on Simpson and Spring Avenues in Ardmore every night in any kind of weather praying for change.