Rev. Nelson B. Rivers, III (Courtesy Photo)
Rev. Nelson B. Rivers, III (Courtesy Photo)
Rev. Nelson B. Rivers, III (Courtesy Photo)

By Barney Blakeney
Special to the NNPA from The Charleston Chronicle

The search for a new Charleston County schools superintendent has been an ongoing controversy. Last week that controversy persisted with the backdrop of the massacre at Emanuel AME Church.

Rev. Nelson Rivers of Charity Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston criticized school board chair Cindy Coats and county school board members for going forward last week with the interviews of the three finalists for the job as Charleston mourned the murders of nine worshippers at Emanuel. The murders are among the worst atrocities in American history.

“Your decision to conduct the interviews of the candidates last week in the aftermath of the racist act of terrorism was unconscionable. Your level of insensitivity and disregard is amazing. How could you expect the necessary participation from the Black community, the clergy and others so soon after the brutal murders of our families and friends?”

“Among all the calls for healing and understanding, your actions stand alone as the glaring contradiction,” Rivers said. “Many elected leaders of our community spoke in unison about what must be done to not go back to business as usual … but apparently to you, it was business as usual.”

The school board interviewed the finalists June 22, 23 and 24 after the June 17 murders at Emanuel. Rivers asked if the board’s decision to move forward with the interviews was born of arrogance. He asked that the process of naming a superintendent, slated to happen this week, be delayed to allow community input. The board is expected to name its choice for superintendent by the end of the week.

Board member Rev. Chris Collins participated in the interviews, but feels critics have a valid point. His colleague Michael Miller also participated in one of the interviews. Miller said despite the atrocity at Emanuel, the school board still had business to conduct.

Charleston NAACP Vice President Rev. Joseph Darby supported Rivers’ contention over conducting the interviews even as mourners encircled Emanuel just one block away from school district headquarters on Calhoun Street.

“I keep looking for signs that the majority of the school board has an interest in all schools, children and families. I’m still waiting, but based on what I’ve seen thus far, I’m not holding my breath and will be very glad when the next election comes,” Darby said.”

Former school board chair Ruth Jordan said she thinks it was in poor taste to conduct the interviews as mourners grieved almost in front of the district’s offices. Moreover, conducting the interviews during that time didn’t allow many who wanted to participate in the process that opportunity, she said.

Jordan noted that high profile national figures such as presidential candidate Jeb Bush cancelled visits to the city during last week out of respect in the wake of the tragedy.

Conducting the interviews shows insensitivity and a lack of compassion and did not accomplish its goal of giving the public a chance to meet the finalists, Jordan said.

“They (board members) can’t say they held a public forum. The public was in mourning and was unavailable,” she said.

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