By Michael E. Miller
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Carey says she plans to schedule faculty sessions that feature conflict resolution and peer mediation, as well as multicultural awareness. "And we want teachers to stop waiting until Black History Month to talk about blacks," she adds sharply. "Mandy [Offerle] inherited the situation there, but it was a wake-up call and that school will now be better than it's ever been."
The February 27 fight had a marked impact outside the walls of the school, spurring communitywide response in West Coconut Grove and considerable self-reflection among that area's leaders about how to better tie the neighborhood to Gables High. John Due, director of the Black Affairs Office of the Metro-Dade Department of Community Affairs, has overseen the recent formation of the Coconut Grove-Coral Gables Community Council, which brings together educators, ministers, parents, students, and community-based organizations from the Black Grove and a small, predominantly black area of southeast Coral Gables near South Dixie Highway.
Among the council's objectives: build a "surrogate parent program," as Due calls it, for students from homes with little or no parental presence; establish a tutoring program for black students; review the Coral Gables Police Department's affirmative action policy and sensitivity training; and encourage more community participation in the school's PTA. (At the time of the arrests, not one black parent was active in the PTA, according to Dade County School Board member Frederica Wilson.)
"We need to reestablish that sense of self-worth [in the community]," explains Due. "And we need to develop a new partnership between the Coral Gables community and the Coconut Grove community. At one time there was a partnership based on master-slave relationship. These kids from the Grove are here to stay. The Grove isn't going to go anywhere. We can either benefit from having a diverse bi-community, or we can have continuing conflict."
Though she commends the efforts themselves, something about their timing troubles English teacher Amy Scott. "What are we teaching our children?" she asks. "That through the process of law and order and communication nothing gets done? That through violence they get a voice?"
Whether the students actually gain that voice remains to be seen. So far, at any rate, the loudest voices have been those of the adults A police, administrators, school district officials, parents, community activists, and politicians A all of whom have unceasingly jockeyed for possession of the bullhorn of public expression, usually with diminishing effect.
The Dade County School Board's March 8 meeting, its first after the incident, was a case in point, as speaker after angry speaker took the podium to denounce the police, the school, the school administration, the school board, and society's neglect of the underprivileged in general.
"I want to serve notice that the PULSE organization [People United to Lead the Struggle for Equality] does hold the school board responsible for what happened to the children they are responsible for overseeing," announced PULSE president Charles Gray when his time came to address the board. "We know the conditions, we know the situation that exists in our schools, and when something like this occurs, I don't think we need to hide or try to push it back for someone else to do it. But I think we should do what we can to protect our children."
Then came Patricia Due, educational chairwoman of the NAACP and John Due's wife: "Enough is enough. The NAACP...[is] requesting a comprehensive investigation of the principal and her policies that led to the beating and arrest of our children.... If you cannot take care of children, perhaps it's time again to ask the office of civil rights to come in to look at a system that is very hostile to blacks and African-Americans. You decide if you're responsible."
Finally, toward the end of the procession of speakers, a young black man sporting a goatee, sideburns, and the hint of an Afro took the podium. In a calm and measured tone, he introduced himself as Jelani Gould-Bailey, a junior at Gables Senior High, and proceeded to offer the school board and the audience an articulate and rational analysis of the situation, free of angry rhetoric. The school board members had finally caught a glimpse of the battlefield amid the verbal flak.
Gould-Bailey's presentation was unique for another, more potent reason: He is an actual student. He served as a reminder that the fundamental issue at hand was neither politics nor rhetoric, but flesh and blood, the well-being of young people, children.
Two weeks later, as a result of an investigation into the incident, the Dade State Attorney's Office dropped charges against four of the six defendants A nineteen-year-old Chauka Xavier Hunt, seventeen-year-old Rachel Dukes, seventeen-year-old Frederick Gooch, and eighteen-year-old Octavius Veargis. Prosecutors also reduced the charges against the other two defendants A eighteen-year-old Lorenzo Woodley and fifteen-year-old Lolyndo Bethel. Woodley is scheduled to stand trial June 5 on charges of battery on a police officer and resisting arrest without violence; Bethel will be tried this Tuesday on identical charges. State Attorney's Office investigations into the students' participation and police conduct are still under way.