New Haven Board of Education President Darnell Goldson abruptly called a recess during Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting after several community members raised concerns over what they described as racist rhetoric at the previous board meeting.
During the public participation section of the Aug. 27 Board of Education meeting, Rev. Boise Kimber — a black civil rights activist and the pastor of the First Calvary Baptist churches in New Haven and Hartford — criticized community members for trying to interfere with personnel decisions meant for New Haven Public Schools administrators and calling for disproportionate funds to be diverted for the English Language Learners staff at Elm City schools. Kimber is a controversial figure in New Haven and created a stir at board meetings in 2017 when he pushed for the creation an all-boys school.
“The black community has not protested not one move of anybody,” Kimber said at the Aug. 27 meeting. “We ain’t said nothing of you people having three [English language specialists] directly, we ain’t said nothing about that. … But if you want to move one assistant principal, you want to move one guidance counselor, everybody from the other communities are writing letters, getting their kids to write letters — let’s start playing the game.”
Throughout the nearly two-hour public participation section of Wednesday’s meeting, several community members and city officials condemned Kimber’s speech at the earlier meeting.
State Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, said he felt it was his duty to stand up to “unfounded” attacks on members of the community. Candelaria said he was concerned that the English Language Learners program in the district has just one director and two supervisors, whereas 47 percent of students in the New Haven public school district are Hispanic, and many of them are English learners.
“I am here because, as a leader, it is important to stand up for everyone in my community,” Canderlaria said. “We must continue to find gaps in services. … We must push forward to achieve equity across the district.”
Ward 6 Alder Dolores Colon, who serves as the chair of the New Haven Board of Alder’s Black and Hispanic Caucus, criticized Kimber’s remarks at the meeting, and Kelsey Steele, a local pastor, condemned Kimber’s language in a written statement that was read aloud at the meeting.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Kimber said that no one had called him or communicated to him concerning his comments at the previous meeting in recent weeks.
“If it was that bad, if you felt that what I said was racist … I live in the city, you know where to find me,” Kimber said. “I will always stand with the people for whom I serve.”
Kimber said that at the Aug. 27 meeting, he proposed holding a racial equity forum to Goldson and left the meeting almost immediately after delivering his remarks.
Rodney Williams — Ward 21 Democratic co-chair and a frequent attendee of board meetings — defended Kimber in a speech, praising him as a public figure who has “done a lot” for the city’s black community. He added that attacks on Kimber will worsen rather than heal the disunity in the district.
“This is not going to make it better, this is going to make things worse,” Williams said. “The residents need to be talking, not necessary the clergy.”
District parent Maritza Baez said that division is not productive and that community members and advocates should represent all kids in the district. In her comments to the board on Wednesday, she pointed out that most community members who participate in public participation are cut off by board members if they surpass the three-minute time limit for speeches. But, she said, Kimber was allowed to speak without interference from board members.
After Baez directly criticized Williams for defending Kimber, Goldson called a five-minute recess.
“This is a business meeting of the Board of Education,” Goldson said. “Our rules are very clear, we are not to impugn or attack individuals. We are here to talk about policy, we’re here to talk about children’s education.”
Kimber is president emeritus of the Greater New Haven Clergy Association.
Isabel Bysiewicz | firstname.lastname@example.org