A proposal to encourage students to send medical supplies, books and magazines to black children in southern Africa generated a bitter and sometimes personal debate at Wednesday night's D.C. school board meeting.
"My colleague from Tennessee doesn't seem to understand the purpose of Martin Luther King's life," said at-large board member Frank Shaffer-Corona, after Alaire Rieffel (Ward 2) had criticized the proposal to pledge board aid to the Southern Africa Support Committee. Rieffel had said the proposal was badly written and could be in violation of board rules against collecting money and goods from students.
"Where was Martin Luther King killed?" asked Shaffer-Corona later in an interview. "That's Tennessee's legacy. That's where she's from..." Rieffel complained to board president Minnie S. Woodson that Shaffer-Corona had made a "personal attack on me."
Carol Schwartz (Ward 3), who with Rieffel makes up the two-person white minority on the school board, also spoke against the resolution amid the derisive murmurs and frowns of other members.
At an earlier closed meeting, Schwartz said later in an interview, Shaffer-Corona had ridiculed her with last year's estimate of $800,000, the remarks.
"She tried to nit-pick the resolution in committee," said Shaffer-Corona. "I finally got sick and tired of it and I told her that we might consider Palestine part of Africa for the purposes of the resolution. Then we'd contribute to the Palestinians... You know whose enemies they are, the Israelis, her people. She wouldn't object to it if this were for the Jews."
The board finally voted 7 to 3 to enact the resolution -- joining in the celebration of Zimbabwe week Jan. 28 through Feb. 3 -- with Conrad Smith (Ward 5), who is black, joining Schwartz and Rieffel in opposition.
"Given the conditions of our schools, with students who can't read or write, I can't see why the board is occupying itself with Zimbabwe," said Smith. "No one on this board was elected to represent foreign nations."