Gov. Whitmer’s Literacy Crisis Sharply Divides incoming American Bar Association President and PuLSE Institute Editor-In-Chief

In a recent landmark decision, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of black schoolchildren in Detroit by affirming the right to literacy protected by the U.S. Constitution. The quality and access of education to African Americans has a long, difficult history in this country, as literacy was outlawed for enslaved blacks and black schoolchildren have fought countless battles to demand the education denied to them through Jim Crow policies. These brave and historic battles were routinely waged in courts across the country, with brilliant black legal minds serving as soldiers on the frontline affirming these basic educational rights for black children.

At The PuLSE Institute, Detroit’s independent anti-poverty think tank, we prominently supported the right to literacy case, including hosting a panel discussion with the lead counsel of the case, Attorney Mark Rosenbaum. 

Once the decision affirming the right to literacy was announced, The Institute published columns analyzing the historic verdict of the case. Specifically, we spotlighted the overlooked context that the case was rendered against a white Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, who contradicted her campaign declaration supporting the right to literacy, failed to champion that right as governor, and actively fought the case instead.

Despite the significance of the Appeal Court’s decision and the historic context of education for blacks in this country, Reginald Turner, the incoming president of the American Bar Association (ABA), the premier organization of attorneys in the nation, took issue with a column written by The PuLSE Institute’s editor in chief, Bankole Thompson, an esteemed black journalist, who has championed issues of poverty and inequality in Detroit, and is a notable critic of the city’s uneven recovery. In his column, Thompson, who delivered the 20th Annual Slavery to Freedom lecture at Michigan State University in February, and the author of a pair of books on former President Barack Obama, made the case that Governor Whitmer’s actions in fighting the right to literacy case defied the spirit of the renowned Brown v Board of Education decision that overruled the despicable separate but equal educational legal doctrine.

Turner, a prominent black lawyer from Detroit, who sits on the Board of Directors of Comerica Bank and Masco Corp, spoke about the need for lawyers to pursue access to justice in his first speech as incoming president, and stated that “members want the ABA to help them be more efficient lawyers and to address public policy issues that are critical to the administration of justice.” However, his questioning of the point of Thompson’s article that gives detailed, historic, legal and political accounts of the need to pursue the right to literacy and education for black schoolchildren, is inimical to the notion of access to justice he preached before ABA delegates just three months ago.

In pursuit of truth and justice for the affirmation of the internationally recognized human right to literacy for black schoolchildren in Detroit, and for the basic dignity of black humanity, The PuLSE Institute is publishing this exchange yesterday between its editor in chief and the incoming president of the ABA. The exchange is important to hold elected officials and prominent blacks with access to power and resources to account for distributing justice for the masses of blacks.

Dear Bankole:

I’m not sure I get the point of this article.  The Governor of MI doesn’t make education policy, which is the work of the independent Department of Education.

Please let me know your thoughts.

Thank you, and best wishes to you and yours for health and peace in this challenging time.

RT

Reginald M. Turner
CLARK HILL PLC                                    
500 Woodward Ave | Suite 3500 | Detroit, Michigan 48226

313.965.8318 (direct) | 313.309.6818 (fax)
rturner@clarkhill.com | www.clarkhill.com

Dear Reggie,

I’m baffled by your inquiry to say the least. You don’t understand the point of my column in The PuLSE Institute when I invoked the most landmark Supreme Court case of the 20th century, Brown v Board of Education, the brilliant legal minds of Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall, who argued the case and became the first black Supreme Court justice in the United States, and countless other architects of history to affirm black people’s right to have quality education? As the president of the American Bar Association, you are arguably the top black lawyer in the country. Marshall, Houston, and others like Judge Damon J. Keith paved the way for later generations such as yourself to reach the upper echelons of society by waging legal battles to secure the right to equal and quality education for black students. Given the weight of this history, I must ask, what exactly do you not understand?

In your effort to inform me that the Department of Education makes education policy, did you read the majority opinion from the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals written by Judge Eric Clay? This second highest federal court in the nation found the proper parties, including the governor, were indeed sued, and therefore responsible, in this right to literacy case for Detroit’s black children. Who are you to question that decision?

Your demeaning questioning of my column is the reason why many blacks in the underprivileged class in Detroit feel that some of us in the black intelligentsia and the professional class are sometimes out of touch with the vexing issues of the day including poverty. If Gov. Whitmer doesn’t make education policy as you said, why did she go into Benton Harbor and attempt to shut down the only black high school there within months of being elected governor? Did you send her a note last year Reggie to tell her she was out of bounds and that education policy was beyond her authority? Did you come out publicly, write a letter to editor etc to condemn her actions in Benton Harbor, since she doesn’t control education policy according to you? I spent four days in Benton Harbor, where  I wrote 7 columns – the most I have written on one subject- forcing Whitmer to stand down. When the pressure was on, she sent me a personal text message on my cell phone at 6:00AM trying to get me off her back…she didn’t succeed. She finally backed off Benton Harbor because some of us refused to be taken in by the trappings of executive power and political expediency. 

I’m very disappointed with your question. It is insulting and totally arrogant. You should know that as a writer and an author, I understand very well the politics of language and certainly understand linguistic subtleties.  As you know, you and I have been around for a long time in this town and participated in many equity battles. I remember when you represented Mayor Kilpatrick during the No on E Proposal, the push to return the Detroit  schools to an empowered elected board. Kilpatrick was on the other side to keep state oversight going, and I was writing then, giving legitimate claims to the voices of oppressed- black Detroiters. I remember one of the Election Commission meetings chaired by then Detroit city council president Maryann Mahaffey, when you came in to discuss the ballot language representing the administration….the public was concerned that the Kilpatrick administration was going to make the ballot language confusing to get a different outcome at the polls….so you of all people should know my position and the thrust of my longstanding journalistic work. Like you, I have had a front row seat to the most important issues that have defined Detroit for a long time. 

Frederick Douglass reminded us that in the grand struggle for equity, writers, journalist can render the most permanent good.

My work is a continuation of what Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois and others did with their pen and their voice to affirm black humanity, and in so doing affirm our collective humanity. I suggest you review the works of these illustrious black voices who boldly applied political pressure to meet their demands for justice, equality, and basic human dignity for black people. Perhaps then you will understand the essence of my column, and I invite you to keep reading The PuLSE Institute as well.

Bankole Thompson 
Op-Ed Columnist 
The Detroit News 
Writes Mondays and Thursdays 

www.detroitnews.com 

Editor-in-Chief 

The PuLSE Institute 
Detroit’s Anti-Poverty Think Tank    
www.thepulseinstitute.org 
  
Host, REDLINE 
910 AM Super Station-Detroit  
Weekdays 
11AM-1PM EST 
 
Follow him on Twitter @BankoleDetNews 
E-mail 
bankole@bankolethompson.com

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