Sendolo Diaminah resigned from the Durham Public Schools Board of Education on Thursday, repeating some earlier advice to his colleagues on choosing his successor.
“In searching for a replacement for me, I strongly encourage this board to fill one of the huge gaps in Durham’s elected body,” he said. “And that is representation from the Latino community.”
Diaminah notified other board members by email recently that he was leaving to focus his energy on social justice activism. He was elected in May 2014.
“Over the last two years, my paid work as a trainer of black social justice organizers around the country, and my unpaid work building up organizations here in Durham and around the country that defeat politicians like Donald Trump, have grown incredibly,” he said.
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This year, Diaminah, who represented District 2, missed four of nine meetings of the board, and made one by phone.
Still, all of his fellow board members praised his contributions.
Board Chairman Mike Lee said Diaminah’s “voice will truly be missed,” and that he had served as the board’s “moral compass” on issues such as paying school-system employees a living wage.
Vice Chairwoman Natalie Beyer told Diaminah that he was “by far the wisest person in this room.”
Diaminah had kind words for his fellow board members, too. And he reminded them of the power they hold, thanks to “an upsurge of progressive voting” in Durham.
“I continue to believe that public schools are among the most important institutions in Durham, and in the country,” he said. “I feel really confident that this board shares my commitment to both defending public schools from the attacks of corporations and conservative politicians, as well as transforming them from the inside out.”
After he left the room, some audience members challenged Diaminah’s request regarding his replacement.
Diaminah had pointed out that no Latino had ever held a Durham school board seat, and that Latino students are currently the second-largest demographic group in the school system, after black students.
But that argument didn’t sway former board member Jackie Wagstaff and Lavonia Allison, both former chairs of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. During public comments, they said that the choice for the next board member should represent the will of voters in District 2,
“We’re not going to give that up,” Allison said.
Wagstaff urged the board to make an “unbiased” decision.
“When Mr. Diaminah ran for this office a couple of years ago, he didn’t run for a seat that he gets to choose who sits (in) next after he leaves,” said Wagstaff. “He ran for a district.”
The school board is required to appoint a new member within 60 days of Diaminah’s resignation. Failing that, the decision would be made by county commissioners. If that doesn’t happen, the clerk of court appoints a new member.
Lee said the process for alerting potential applicants will begin next week.
Minister Paul Scott, a Durham activist and founder of the Messianic Afrikan Nation Ministry, also stepped up to the public podium to express his concern that the promise of “majority-black school board that was supposed to be more sympathetic to black children” had become “something else.”
“It seems like when we’re dealing with the plight of black males, it always gets sidetracked to someone else,” he said.
To help address problems including the achievement gap and the school-to-prison pipeline, Scott announced that he’s forming an oversight committee, the Society to Increase Cultural Knowledge (STICK).
“We have to admit the system is broken,” he said.