Stevon Cook, in his first meeting as president of the San Francisco Unified School District, shed a long-standing tradition on Tuesday.
Meetings in the district have long opened with the Pledge of Allegiance. But he opted for a reading that he said also expresses a love of country.
“When you learn, teach. When you get, give,” he said before the meeting. It was a quote he credited to poet Maya Angelou, who attended George Washington High School in San Francisco.
Cook stressed the move was not a demonstration in the same vein of Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback in San Francisco who knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality.
“I was looking for creative ways to express admiration for the people that make the country what it is,” he told The Washington Post on Thursday.
He told the San Francisco Chronicle that the current political climate was disappointing and that the Trump administration “has been attacking our liberties.”
But he said he has refocused the change to emphasize contributions of Americans to extend service to others, liberty and opportunity.
“I don’t spend much time thinking about President Trump,” he said.
Although there is a requirement that schools conduct a pledge or similar activity, there is no such requirement for school boards, said district spokeswoman Laura Dudnick.
No one in the audience appeared to mind Cook’s new introduction, according to the Chronicle. But reports about the meeting have generated some backlash online.
Cook’s fellow board member Rachel Norton told The Post she supports Cook and his reasoning. She told the Chronicle that Cook’s selection “feels respectful and it feels thoughtful.”
“Maya Angelou is an alumnus . . . so who better to start a new tradition?” Norton told the Chronicle.
Cook says he plans to skip the Pledge of Allegiance at the next board meeting later this month. But he says he’s open to reading quotes from people other than Angelou.
He’s considering quotes from Toni Morrison, Harvey Milk, James Baldwin, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, the Wright Brothers and more, he told The Post.
Cook said he’s open to ideas from the community but hopes to keep the recitation to 10-15 seconds.
“I hope it starts a trend,” Cook said.