How much do I love Richmond? Enough to spend two hours at a school board public hearing last night.
I was invited by a friend who was concerned about the impact of a proposed re-zoning of the school districts. He mentioned something about “re-segregation” and “going backward in time.” But I also got an invitation from Margaret Howlette at Clark Springs Elementary School, where I volunteer as a “lunch buddy.” She was concerned because the proposal would close Clark Springs! (her exclamation point, not mine).
I needed to go.
I told my daughter Catherine later it was a fine example of the First Amendment in action—the freedom of speech—because everybody who wanted to say something got to say it and the members of the school board just sat there and listened. Some of the things they had to listen to were hard: one woman told them they should be ashamed of themselves for what they were considering; another told them they worked for “the people” and as one of the people she was putting them on notice. Other things were touching, like the second-grade boy in the orange shirt who stood on tiptoe in front of the microphone and said, “Please don’t close my school!” Some of the speakers appealed to the head; others appealed to the heart; some just needed to get something off their chest.
What impressed me about the whole process was the idea that in this country you can get a hearing. Those school board members sat there the whole time, and except for calling down someone who booed loudly from the back they did not speak. They listened, or at least appeared to be listening, to every word.
Who knows what words stayed with them as they left Thomas Jefferson High School last night? Who knows what thoughts troubled their dreams? I do know this: that as a leader you sometimes make decisions that are unpopular. But I also know this: every word that is spoken—even the most critical one—stays with you. It gets tumbled together with all the other factors in the decision-making process. Sometimes it is that word that makes all the difference in the outcome.
I did not speak last night. I listened. That’s how much I love this city. I can only pray that the members of the school board did the same thing, for the same reasons, and that—in the end—they will be led by love and not by anything else.
It’s hard to believe that this is how the Kingdom of Heaven will come to Richmond, Virginia, but respectful talking? Respectful listening?
That’s always a step in the right direction.