RALEIGH — Advocates of busing for diversity have already conceded Wake County's school board election, but more than 150 people who rallied downtown Friday night sounded far from ready to give up on the long-standing policy.
A crowd at Martin Street Baptist Church gave the Rev. William Barber, the state NAACP leader, a standing ovation when he said the organization was prepared to sue to stop the resegregation of Wake County schools.
"You have caused us to sound a new rallying call," Barber said. "You have raised up the giant and we are asleep no more."
Parents, concerned citizens and NAACP members gathered downtown for a march and meeting to plan a strategy for influencing the board's four new members, who will take office in December. The candidates who won in October voting have said they will end busing for diversity in favor of neighborhood schools, but deny that they favor resegregation.
"Wake County is our neighborhood, not just a few wealthy houses in your neighborhood," Barber said, adding that putting students in high-poverty, segregated schools is "nothing more than a form of institutional child abuse."
The new members will likely create a majority in favor of abandoning forced busing and sending students to their neighborhood schools. Three were elected earlier this month, and a fourth, John Tedesco, is considered likely to win a runoff on Tuesday given his lopsided victory in the first round of voting. His opponent, second-place finisher Cathy Truitt, attempted to withdraw her request for a runoff, but state election officials ruled this week that voting should take place.
Asked for reaction Friday night, Tedesco said the likely new coalition of board members has no intention of resegregating the schools. He said has been meeting with African-American leaders about ways to increase the quality of education for low-income students, which he called the civil rights struggle of the 21st century.
"We really want to honor the work that the civil rights veterans did a generation ago -- we have to accept that what they did works," Tedesco said.
"Our new challenge will be, how do we educate children of poverty? My sole goal is to find a way to work with this community."
Reacting to the board's likely new direction, dozens of people gathered first at Moore Square to march to the NAACP-sponsored meeting at Martin Street Baptist Church. Raleigh resident Matthew Brown, a historian who works for the state and has a niece and nephew in Wake County schools, came to the march carrying a sign that said "Separate is not equal."
Ready to resist
Word about resistance to the proposed changes in the system is going out through parent-teacher organizations and other groups, Brown said.
"The new school board doesn't want to be seen as the four people that ruined one of the best school systems in the country," he said. "We want to be sure the whole country is watching,"
Raleigh resident Matthew Booker, the father of a student at Conn Elementary and another at Exploris Middle School, a public charter school, said at the rally that Wake County's effort to maintain diverse schools impressed him when he moved to Raleigh six years ago.
"I was really delighted to see people openly celebrating desegregation," Booker said. "That's one of the strengths of Raleigh."
Chase Foster, a 2001 Enloe High School graduate who lives in Raleigh, spoke at the rally. Earlier Friday, he said many people didn't realize until this month's election was over that the school system's diversity policy was on the chopping block.
Now he is mobilizing former Wake students in hopes of showing the new board that there is still broad support for school diversity.
Foster, who earns his living advocating for campaign finance reform, said he grew up in an affluent and almost exclusively white neighborhood in North Raleigh. He said school was the only place where he interacted with people of different races and backgrounds.
"I really don't think that I'd be the person I am today if I hadn't gone to schools where I was forced to think about difference," Foster said. "The one place where we should all be bound together is the schools."
Staff writer Thomas Goldsmith contributed to this story.
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