Church is fine setting for civil rights forum

May 4, 2011 

I read with interest the comments of Wake County Board of Education member John Tedesco and board attorney Ann Majestic as they criticized the decision of the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights to hold a community forum at Martin Street Baptist Church. While I respect their opinions, I believe that their negative assessment of Martin Street as the chosen venue for the forum was ill-advised.

Martin Street Baptist Church has a long history of involvement in the spiritual, social, economic and sometimes political health of Southeast Raleigh. While it is first and foremost a house of worship, it is also a welcoming place of spirited discussion, debate and dialogue as it relates to the beloved people of Raleigh. For Tedesco to suggest that a "more neutral site" - wherever that might be - be found is unfounded because the essence of Martin Street has always been to open its doors to all citizens, regardless of race, color, class, gender or political affiliation.

Further, the creation of the first high-poverty school in this area, Walnut Creek Elementary, birthed out of the school board majority's student assignment policy, is within 2 miles of this site location. From what I understand, the complaint by the NAACP and supported by other groups is based on racial discrimination. Who could better help OCR understand the effects of this than those directly impacted by it?

Majestic and Tedesco seem to have falsely concluded that everyday citizens can't think for themselves. The residents of Southeast Raleigh are not a faceless mass of biased, closed-minded individuals suffering from a case of social amnesia. To suggest that they can't formulate a "balanced representative view" is regrettable.

Not everyone living in this area has embraced the NAACP's complaint with the BOE and some have not discounted the position of creating neighborhood schools. Can one really assume that the entire neighborhood is of the same opinion? I think not.

Tedesco and Majestic are entitled to their opinions, but their viewpoints on this particular issue involving the OCR's meeting venue are a sobering reminder that more honest discourse is needed in order to meet the needs of the thousands of citizens who live in and around Martin Street Baptist Church and beyond.

Rev. Dr. Earl C. Johnson

Pastor

Martin Street Baptist Church

Raleigh

The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response.

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