UPDATE: Akron mom released early from jail in school residency case
Most of us at BlackVoices are familiar with the case of Kelley Williams-Bolar, the Ohio mother of two who was sent to jail for sending her children to the "wrong" school district. Williams-Bolar was sentenced to 10 days in jail, three years probation and community service for using her father's address to avoid sending her kids to the school she considered to be dangerous and inadequate. At AOL BlackVoices, we were one of the first to hit the issue nationally, and fortunately, other media outlets are starting to take notice.
In addition to being sent to jail, Williams-Bolar and her father are being charged with fourth-degree grand theft of school services. As a consequence of her conviction, Williams-Bolar will never be allowed to teach in the state of Ohio, which is the profession she was pursing. The judge also made it clear that she was sending Williams-Bolar to jail as an example for other parents thinking about doing the same thing.
The case sparked a firestorm of national controversy and conversation about educational inequality and the notion that a mother had to break the law in order to give her daughters access to a quality education. Millions of parents expressed support for Williams-Bolar, for they too could recall their own parents making the same sacrifices for them. There have been Facebook groups created to support Williams-Bolar and change.org has created a petition on her behalf to have her record expunged. The petition drew nearly 20,000 signatures over a three-day period and is growing by the second.
Yesterday, I got a call from CNN's 'AC360,' and it appears that we will get the chance to talk about the Williams-Bolar case on the show tonight. This is in addition to other media outlets from as far as Japan that have called me about the matter. I was happy to see the national media pick up this story because it is far bigger than one person. It is really about addressing the fundamental human rights violations that lead to a two-tiered racialized reality in America when it comes to our economic, educational and criminal justice systems.
Black family wealth being significantly lower than that of white families (due to slavery and Jim Crow) reminds us that had Williams-Bolar been a wealthy woman from the suburbs, it is highly unlikely that she would have been used as an example by the court. I am compelled to believe that the prosecutor would have used his discretion to keep this incident from permanently staining her record and would not have forced this law-abiding mother to endure the dehumanization of walking around in a dirty jailhouse jump suit for nearly two weeks.
Most white Americans don't have to break the law to get their children access to a good education. But millions of Americans, disproportionately those of color, are being forced to jump the legal fence to sneak their kids into quality academic programs. Having a decent, safe venue of education should be a fundamental American right, not something we have to break the law to receive. While it might have been illegal for Williams-Bolar to fight for her kids to get into a good school, we must remember that it was also once illegal for slaves to learn how to read. My point is that legality is not always the same as morality, so the argument that she's wrong because she broke the law is simply invalid.
This case is clearly about more than just one person. I am not here to vouch for Williams-Bolar or her family, for I am just getting to know them personally and we should be careful to keep our minds focused on the broader issues at hand (in case the powers-that-be attempt to slander Kelley to divert the national media attention). It is about thoroughly examining the structure of our legal, educational and economic systems in America. President Barack Obama, more than a year and a half ago, chose to use the Henry Louis Gates case as an opportunity to argue in favor of an awkward conversation on race that never happened. The problem is that an inconvenience being thrust on one of President Obama's Harvard cronies was hardly the venue for the president to talk about what happens to the common black man or woman in America. But if the president or anyone in Washington wants a real opportunity to talk seriously about racial inequality in America, the Williams-Bolar situation is a textbook case of what is racially wrong with our society. I hope that the Congressional Black Caucus, the NAACP, the National Action Network and other major organizations get involved in this case. It is an opportunity to help millions of people.
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.