Black community leaders in Fresno, Calif., are urging the Fresno Unified School District to re-evaluate the hiring of a white guy to teach three cultural studies courses at a brand-new middle school that will overwhelmingly serve minority students.
Rutherford B. Gaston Middle School — named after the city’s first black principal — will open in a few short weeks. It’s the first middle school in the immediate, poverty-ridden vicinity since 1979.
The protesters are unhappy because the school has chosen to hire Peter Beck, a person with white skin, over other, unidentified candidates, The Fresno Bee reports.
Beck will teach African-American studies, Latino studies and Southeast Asian studies.
On Monday morning, a small band of activists showed up in front of the sparkling new school at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Church Avenue. The local press was also there.
“We’re just saying what the community wants,” said Rev. Karen Crozier, one of the activists. “We didn’t fight for a white male or female teacher to educate our babies.”
Crozier, who appears to be a professor at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, also suggested that a white person cannot teach minority children in this instance because of racism.
“We still are at these racial fault lines, and we want someone who will be able to think critically about those racial fault lines and how do we help heal, to restore the problems that have existed,” she explained.
Another black community leader, Paul McCoy of New Light for New Life Church of God, also spoke.
“We’re all faced today with so much dysfunction and violence from young people, and that violence is simply because they don’t know who they are, they don’t know where they come from,” he proclaimed.
A spokeswoman for the school district, Micheline Golden, told the Bee that Beck has been teaching Latino studies courses for about a decade and African-American studies courses for a couple years.
“We are always looking at the best, most experienced, most qualified who can provide the best education for our young people,” she told the paper.
School district trustee Cal Johnson, who represents southwest Fresno, and who is himself a black man, robustly endorsed the hiring of Beck.
“I do not believe colorism trumps qualifications,” Johnson told the Bee. “I don’t care whether it’s white, whether it’s black, brown or yellow.”
Beck previously taught at Fresno’s Hoover High School.
One of his former students, Sabrina Fink, described the kerfuffle over his new job as “heart-wrenching.”
Fink, who is Hispanic, liked how Beck wrote quotes on the whiteboard and assigned projects for Mexican holidays in his Chicano studies class.
“He inspired all of us,” she gushed to the Bee.
Classes begin at Gaston Middle School on Aug. 18, notes local ABC affiliate KFSN.
Just three percent of the teachers employed by the Fresno school district are black. Well over 20 percent are Hispanic.