From the Editor

Drescher: Be foes if you must, but don't be strangers

Executive EditorMay 5, 2010 

Chris Malone, let me introduce you to David Forbes.

At a rally Friday, Forbes was critical of the Wake school board majority, which is ending a diversity-based assignment policy in favor of neighborhood schools.

N&O reporter Thomas Goldsmith called Malone, a Wake school board member who lives in Wake Forest, for comment. Malone said he was not familiar with Forbes.

"This guy has a right to his opinion, but he's wrong and we're right," Malone said.

Let me tell you a bit about "this guy."

Forbes, 69, is the pastor at Christian Faith Baptist Church. He was raised in Raleigh, attended segregated schools and has been active in the city and its faith community for decades.

As a college student 50 years ago at Shaw University, he helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, often called SNCC, which became a major force during the civil rights movement. He was the first person arrested for taking part in Raleigh's first sit-in demonstration in 1960.

Recently, Forbes has led the Triangle Lost Generation Task Force, which has worked to keep young black and Latino men on the right path.

He is one of this community's most respected religious leaders. In 2008, he received the Distinguished Service Award from the N.C. Council of Churches.

He is someone Chris Malone ought to know.

In turn, Malone is someone Forbes should know.

Malone, 52, joined the school board after the October elections. He is a case manager for an insurance investigations company.

He served on the Wake Forest board of adjustment and planning board before serving as town commissioner from 2001 to 2005. He lived most of his life in New Jersey before moving to Wake County about 20 years ago. Although he is no longer a newcomer, he represents many people who are.

Much of the recent debate about the Wake schools has been driven by newcomers.

We've had a steady stream of newcomers here for decades. They have influenced every facet of life, from our businesses to our restaurants to our hockey team.

For the most part, they've made life better.

But that doesn't mean they shouldn't appreciate what they found here or be unaware of our history.

In particular, they need to know about the decision in the 1970s to merge the Raleigh city and Wake County school systems. That decision was one of the most important in this community's history.

The merger deterred white flight from central Raleigh and helped keep schools integrated only a few years after desegregation.

The merger kept public schools here strong. It also helped many of the city's core neighborhoods thrive.

That wasn't the strategy often used in the Northeast, where poor cities often are surrounded by affluent suburbs. But it's a strategy that served Raleigh and Wake County well and helped make this a magnet for people from all over the world.

In the debate about Wake schools, both sides would do well to listen to the other and acknowledge that each side has valid arguments.

Longtime residents who support the diversity policy would do well to stop calling neighborhood-schools supporters racist. Newcomers who support neighborhood schools would do well to understand the decisions that helped this community get to where it is today.

If both sides got to know the other, they might find they have more in common than they think. And they might find some common ground.

Maybe there is a way for more kids to go to school closer to their homes, to maintain a certain level of diversity and to raise the achievement of kids from low-income families.

As for Malone and Forbes, they also would benefit from getting to know each other.

I propose the three of us go out to lunch. I'll pick up the tab.

john.drescher@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4515

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