Editor’s Note: The following is an open letter to the community and accompanying statement via email sent to Seattle Public Schools’ Superintendent Denise Juneau by Mr. Clyde Merriwether, a prominent member of Seattle’s African American community. This letter is being published as a courtesy to promote public awareness/accountability and the opinions expressed are those solely of Mr. Merriwether, and do not necessarily reflect or represent the opinions of the staff and/or management of The Seattle Medium Newspaper.
To Whom it May Concern and Be Of Interest:
As I have been sitting here thinking about Juneteenth and the Emancipation of Black people in America, and as a Black man in America on Father’s Day Weekend, I have been reflecting on my contributions to society and the emasculation of Black Men in this country. It’s is past time I speak out on something I’ve been dealing with for some time. It’s something that has been weighing on my mind for some time, that elephant in our community’s room!
In this case, the change I’m speaking of is what I perceive to be the systemic elimination of Black Men in leadership positions within Seattle Public Schools.
Sadly, in 1986, I was expressing similar concerns about the emasculation of Black Men in the U.S. Attorney General’s staffing where of the ten African Americans employed as Assistant Attorney Generals, nine were women and the newcomer a man. In many respects it is not that dissimilar to the lack of Black management in the NFL. This problem is systemic throughout our society.
Given what is currently taking place in America, I feel there is an opportunity here for change. I’m writing the attached letter (below) to the school district and sharing it publicly to express my disappointment and concerns over what appears to be the continuation of such immoral and racist patterns and practices toward Black Males in this and other systems.
I would appreciate your participation in addressing and exposing this issue. It is but one example of what’s been happening around this nation.
From The Outside Looking In
Dear Superintendent Juneau:
It is past time to discuss the racial inequities and injustices that continue to pervade the Seattle Public Schools. Set against the backdrop of some of the most powerful images and examples of violence against the black community and African-American males in particular, this is the time to converse frankly about what you are going to do about the near complete lack of African-American male leadership within the school district and acknowledge what I believe is the continued focus on removing and demoting those that remain.
When you came aboard as Superintendent, there were at least four African-American males in senior leadership positions within the administration. Within the first several months, you reorganized the leadership team and almost instantly there were zero African-American men in leadership positions. Some of these men were terminated. Others were allegedly asked to resign or left “voluntarily” because they could see the writing on the wall. The obvious pattern here has been to replace them with mostly White women, a Black female, and White men.
When I and others expressed concerns about these events, you expressed a seemingly sincere desire to support more diverse hiring practices. We believed you when you met with various organization and expressed your concerns about the lack of positive role models for African-American youth in our school system. However, it remains apparent that your words have not been accompanied by any action. In point of fact, it appears that your actions to date have been directed toward doing just the opposite.
The African American community is therefore left with asking ourselves questions about what direction our school system is headed. What will it be like when not one African-American male remains in any leadership positions within the district, a direction that will presumably continue, based on your actions to date, if not challenged by our community?
Why hasn’t even a single African-American male been hired to replace any of those that you have fired or demoted ? Tell me/us why the Executive Director of the Department of African American Male Achievement is a woman. Under Dr. Larry Nyland, African American staff members were encouraged by his willingness to meet with African-American male leadership, both within the school district administration and within the district at-large. This included principals and the former athletic director, Eric McCurdy.
Unfortunately, it appears that you have shown very little interest, if any, in including black men in your leadership team. And, in my opinion and the opinion of others, you have shown little to no interest in complying with the District’s own policy of promoting racial equity in your administration. In fact, I believe that it is your intent to do exactly the opposite.
In a more specific case, we have been forced to ask ourselves why is it that Eric McCurdy must continue to sue the school district before any justice is done regarding his termination. We ask ourselves why is it that you take the word of a white woman over the word of one of the most respected African-American males within the district.
A white woman made an accusation of harassment against her black superior and the school system just rushed to support her without the appearance of the due diligence required to discover the facts of the case? This same white woman received half-a-million dollars without the district , in my opinion, doing anything to resist or contest her lawsuit and without anyone coming to Mr. McCurdy’s defense either in the media or courtroom? I must ask how is that possible without a predisposed racially motivated intent?
Despite the school district having investigated and addressed the matter long before you arrived on the scene, you saw it fit to pay $500,000 to Mr. McCurdy’s accuser and then [in my opinion] publicly humiliate him, failing to fight for him or protect his name. Was it just because he dared to be an African-American man with the audacity to supervise a white woman? So when an unfounded accusation of sexual harassment against an African-American man by a white woman was lodged, the school district just buckled and paid $500,000 to make the situation go away? At the same time, when that same African-American man asked for justice, the school district has to pay and waste thousands of dollars in legal defense to defend its position?
I/we demand answers to these questions. Above all, we want to know why it is that African-American males remain so grossly under-represented in district leadership positions. Why can your district not hire, promote, or otherwise maintain African-American males? Just what is the problem in that regard?
Your actions are speaking louder than your placating words. The Black community has had enough of double speak. We have a president of this country that is doing enough of that for everybody.
I/We would appreciate receiving whatever justifications you can supply for the actions you have and haven’t taken.
What happened to the following and who replaced them by sex and ethnicity?
Dr. Brent Jones
Dr. Lester Herndon
In addition, I/we are asking how is it that an African American Male Director, whose position was given to an African American female from a middle school, was awarded the position without even asking three qualified African-American male High School principals if they wanted the position.
Short of any reasonable and documentable explanation we will mobilize and consolidate our efforts accordingly. I and others, both Black and White, are concerned by the apparent trend.
[phone number omitted for privacy]