When I read about the case of Kelley Williams-Bolar, I find myself confused. The 40-year-old Ohio mother of two is being sent to jail for using her father's address to send her two daughters to a school in a better district. Williams-Bolar lives in a housing project in Akron, Ohio, and had sent her children to school in Copley Township using her father's address.
Williams-Bolar's father, Edward Williams, is also being charged with fourth-degree grand theft for stealing more than $30,000 in school services for the two girls. Williams-Bolar herself will spend 10 days in jail and be placed on probation. Also, the judge in the case, Patricia Cosgrove, made it clear that she was using Williams-Bolar to set an example for other parents who consider doing the same thing. The judge went out of her way to tell the woman that she gave her jail time "so that others who think they might defraud the school system perhaps will think twice.''
Besides being a single mom, Williams-Bolar was going to school part time in the hope of getting a job as a teacher. The judge noted that because Williams-Bolar has been convicted of a felony, she will no longer be allowed to teach in the state of Ohio. Therefore, the punishment that she and her girls will face is set to last a lifetime.
The Kelley Williams-Bolar case strikes a chord with quite a few people in the black community for a few reasons. Most directly, a lot of kids can remember their own mothers doing the same thing to try to break the cycle of poverty that so many of us confront as children. Inner-city schools are inadequately funded, so many parents have no choice when it comes to finding ways to get their kids a good education. Some of the children I mentor attended poorly performing inner-city schools and even though they did what they were told, most of them were unprepared for college after graduation and had never even done any homework.
One has to also wonder why there is a $30,000 funding differential between the school that Williams-Bolar sent her children to and the one that was in her district. Logic seems to imply that if funding were roughly proportionate between the two districts, it would simply be awash, where one school's spending could be compensated by another school's savings. But this is not the case in a world where far too many people of color are locked in to the horrible schools in their districts, as our elected officials continue to ignore the problem. Many of these schools don't have books or quality teachers, while the kids in the suburbs are given everything they need to be successful. The idea that citizens are now being put in jail for attempting to access educational equality is nothing short of being Jim Crow-like in nature.
Black family economic inequality also plays a huge role in this case. It's hard to imagine that the judge would have been compelled to make an example out of Williams-Bolar were she not a poor single mother from the projects. If she were a wealthy woman from the suburbs, she would have been able to afford the kinds of attorneys that keep people out of jail, and she also would not have been forced to break the law to help her girls get access to a good school. This case just stinks to high heaven.
Dr. Martin Luther King reminded us many years ago that a moral man or woman has the right to violate unjust laws. Williams-Bolar's decision to break the law of educational apartheid to give her daughters a better future is no different from those who broke the law to teach slaves how to read. Access to education should be a fundamental American right, but as it stands, being poor has now become a crime, especially if you have the audacity to demand equality.
Kelley Williams Bolar Update: Petitions, Anderson Cooper 360, ABC News Jump In
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and a Scholarship in Action resident of the Institute for Black Public Policy. To have Dr. Boyce's commentary delivered to your e-mail, please click here.