I’m a member of the Indianapolis Public Library Board and our monthly meetings are televised, which is an important service to the community. In fact, most local government committee meetings are televised and are also archived on the Indy.gov website.
Occasionally someone will tell me that they’ve seen me on TV and that always makes me smile. As many may not know, we actually have what is called a joint committee meeting, which is not televised, but is open to the public. This is where we come together in committee format to discuss items that are coming before the full board so when you see the final discussion and vote as televised, we’ve already had some conversation about it.
Don’t mistake the conversation for being a rubber stamp to what is dictated by the chief executive officer. Most of us on the board recognize that person answers to us and to you not the other way around. I wish more people who serve on public boards would understand this relationship and act accordingly. The board is responsible for ensuring that the best interests of the public are represented, as dictated by our appointing bodies, and additionally, we ensure that the employees of the organization are treated fairly and equitably. This is no small task, and we, on the Library Board, are all volunteers.
There is always a pre-determined ebb and flow to how the meetings are run and toward the beginning there is opportunity for public commentary. We allow people to sign up in advance, but someone who has not signed up may also take an opportunity to speak. I find this to be the most informative part because a lot of times it is either community partners or people who use the services of the library and we need to hear their voices. The system is big and we are operating on a macro-level, so the stories and day-to-day experiences are what we need to know and understand to make sure we are reaching everyone in our growing and diverse community. When someone comes before us, and I recognize that this can be a little intimidating, it is important we honor and acknowledge what is being said and also find a way to make sure that if they are presenting a problem, it will certainly be addressed, if possible. There are some problems that are beyond our control or resources. And yet there are others that will take a little time, but the important thing is that we listen and learn.
I am spelling all of this out because I became one of those government television viewers when I sat down to watch the Indianapolis Public School Board in their deliberations this past week. I no longer have any young children in school, however I am deeply interested in the educational opportunities for all children in this community, which is why I serve on the library board. This is also why I pay attention to what is happening, especially in the largest school district in the state. The future of these children very directly affects my own future. Their success is my success, their failure is my failure and sitting on the sidelines is not an option. Granted, I am not in any other way tied to the IPS system, but what I did witness gave me a little sense of alarm that I felt compelled to write about.
I watched a young boy and his mother, Keana Moore step to the podium and he began to speak about his experiences at IPS School 43. I have no idea how old he is but I am very clear on the pain he was expressing and he asked for help, which I’m assuming he is not receiving based on his passionate plea and his mere presence. He was courageous as he stepped to that mic and spoke his truth and his struggle, and his mother, Moore followed up with some very important facts about the level of school discipline and harm that is taking place at that school, of promises stated but not met and the continuing downward spiral that is occurring. I don’t know all the facts, but I know what I heard and what I witnessed. After her son spoke, she encouraged him to say, “Thank you.”
The response from IPS School Board officials was silence. Silence can and often is a violent response in this context. It perpetuates the invisibility of a structural system that disregards the humanity of those most deeply affected and suffering from its policies. It is a marginalizing response to those who most critically need to be heard and is unacceptable especially from elected officials. If you don’t hear me when I speak, I will often find other ways to be heard, out of desperation. Even if further research is needed to get to the heart of what is being said, the appropriate response, and yes I am being deliberately judgmental at the very least, is acknowledgement and an empowering and celebration of the child who stepped up to that mic and spoke his truth. We all need to find out what’s going on at IPS School 43 and support this child and others who are fighting for their future.