Jackson School Board calls for unity after trustee’s ‘whiteness’ remarks reveal division

JACKSON, MI – It became clear to some of its members on Tuesday that the key to moving forward in the new year is creating unity on the Jackson School Board.

The clarity came at the board’s Jan. 17 meeting after nearly two hours of comments from community members both in support of and against social media comments made by trustee Kesha Hamilton about “whiteness” being evil.

Hamilton tweeted on Dec. 18, saying” Whiteness is so evil. it manipulates then says, I won’t apologize for my dishonesty and trauma inducing practices and thinks you should applaud it for being honest about its ability to manipulate and be dishonest.”

The nearly three-hour meeting was mostly dedicated to community members defending, criticizing and dissecting Hamilton’s intentions behind the comments.

A common thread among board members seemed to be an acknowledgement that the board’s own disagreements in the past year haven’t set a good tone for the district to properly address complex issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.

RELATED: ‘Whiteness’ remarks by Jackson School Board member defended, criticized during tense meeting

The variety of opinions about Hamilton’s comments put into focus there’s an obligation among board members to educate themselves on the realities and challenges certain populations continue to face and do something about it, Derek Dobies, a new board member and Jackson’s former mayor, said.

“I think that some of the language and tone in some of the past board meetings has probably felt threatening to both sides of the perceived divide on the board,” Dobies said.

“I’m happy for the opportunity to start fresh, start new and work together on board unity and collaboration. I think it’s important to note that unity doesn’t mean conformity – we can respect diversity of opinions and we can disagree without being disrespectful. Tonight probably offers a good step to for us to continue to educate ourselves about racial justice.”

There is a “desperate need” for JPS to refocus its priorities as it addresses the impact COVID-19 has had on students, Board Vice President Shalanda Hunt said, adding it’s the board’s responsibility to create realistic, smart, obtainable goals on how to move its DEI efforts forward in a meaningful way.

That can only happen if board members are intentional about trying to understand what JPS is facing and the perspectives board members offer, Hunt said.

“We can only address these issues if we can come together, agree to disagree, understand and take the time to ask those clarifying questions,” Hunt said. “At the fundamental level, our actions, our words, our beliefs should come from a place of love, with the intent to educate, inspire, call to action and invite those other quiet voices into those crucial conversations.”

Some community members at the meeting said Hamilton shouldn’t be a part of the board’s future, asking that she resign for the social media comments they described as “appalling,” “disgraceful,” “hateful” and “racist.”

“Either blatant, open racism is acceptable at JPS or it is not,” Jackson resident Stephanie Riley said. “The board must make a stand tonight or lose all credibility with every parent, student and teacher at JPS and the ‘silent majority’ that supports this school district with our tax dollars.”

Hamilton, who is Black, recently provided additional context to her social media comments on “whiteness,” saying she used a description provided by the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which describes whiteness or “white racialized identity” as referring to “the way that white people, their customs, culture and beliefs operate as the standard by which all other groups of are compared.”

Parma resident Rebekah McKenney, a friend of Hamilton’s, was among several teachers, residents and supporters of the trustee at the meeting who said they understand Hamilton’s point of addressing the concept of the term “whiteness,” rather than viewing it as a direct attack on white people.

“It’s uncomfortable to hear criticism and opposition to the way things are and have been, but if we aspire to be good people who believe in fairness – which I think is true of most of us – it is important to hear what others really think, feel and experience,” McKenney said. “It’s crucial to learn about others’ experiences. We’re called to take action – not to silence or intimidate- but to work together to problem-solve to achieve fairness and equity.”

Hamilton, who works as a racial equity consultant with Diverse Minds Consulting LLC, has spoken out as a school board member on several occasions regarding district policies and practices she views as biased, discriminatory or racist, including its attendance/tardy policy and its criteria for selecting a valedictorian. She also is the chair of the City of Jackson’s Racial Equity Commission.

Hamilton also has been an open adversary of Superintendent Jeff Beal, with the district hiring a third-party law firm to investigate an incident between the two after a January 2022 board meeting. The investigation found there was nothing to substantiate Hamilton’s allegations that Beal engaged in harassing or bullying behavior.

Hamilton did not apologize for her remarks or for pushing the district on what she believes are issues of inequity, crediting her supporters for pointing out that racial disparities do exist and the only way to address them is to face them.

“The real issue is not actually about me and I realize that,” Hamilton said. “What I am experiencing publicly as a Black woman is what many of our Black students and other vulnerable and marginalized groups are experiencing privately.

“The real issue is an attempt to disempower, bully and intimidate citizens of the global majority and other marginalized groups into being quiet.”


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