Dozens of parents, teachers and community members chastised an Elgin Area School District U-46 school board member Monday night over a Facebook post about Black History Month, with some calling for her resignation.
The Feb. 1 post by school board member Jeanette Ward quotes author Jason L. Riley's book "Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed." It was posted on Ward's U-46 board member Facebook page.
Ward quoted Riley as saying, "Blacks have become their own worst enemy, and liberal leaders do not help matters by blaming self-inflicted wounds on whites or 'society.' The notion that racism is holding back blacks as a group, or that better black outcomes cannot be expected until racism has been vanquished, is a dodge. And encouraging blacks to look to politicians to solve their problems does them a disservice."
It created a firestorm of criticism. Speakers Monday called Ward's post "racist speech" and "irresponsible" coming from a school board member under the guise of honoring Black History Month.
"When we honor Black History Month, we ought to know what black history is all about," said Myrna Becker adding she was appalled by the racism embedded in Ward's post.
Ward, who is white, has said her Facebook post on a page where she is identified as a U-46 board member was intended to offer a different perspective on Black History Month.
Danise Habun, a member of the Elgin Human Relations Commission, said there is nothing about Ward's post that honors black history.
"There was nothing respectful toward or celebratory of Black History Month contained in the passage posted by Ms. Ward," Habun said. "If her words and the quoted passage from the book is indeed to offer a fresh perspective, it appears as if there has been a failure to communicate. It continues to blame the victim, and ignores institutionalized racism. As an official elected to represent all members of the U-46 school district, Ms. Ward is to be held to a high standard of behavior and conduct."
Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein of Congregation Kneseth Israel of Elgin called the controversy "a teachable moment."
"Freedom is an awesome responsibility. Leadership is an awesome responsibility. Facebook, too, comes with a responsibility," she said. "I would urge the U-46 school board to have a Facebook policy in place."
Ward was not without supporters in the audience.
Scott Swanson, a Bartlett resident, said regardless of race, color or creed, people should be able to freely express their First Amendment rights as citizens.
"We should emphasize personal responsibility and self determination," he said, adding that Ward was echoing sentiments of some black leaders.
Streamwood resident Bill Wright urged school board members to leave personal agendas aside and focus on representing the district's more than 40,000 students.
"Where are the students? Where are they in all of this conversation?" Wright said. "Put aside your personal differences, get together, go out there, get to know your community a little bit. ... Kids have shown far more responsibility, more openness and tolerance, than we as adults have done."
At the end of public comments, Ward unapologetically said her Facebook page represents only herself and not the entire school board.
"I want all people to succeed. There is one race -- the human race. Did I not honor that African-American author by quoting him? I stand by quoting Jason L. Riley," she said.
School board member Traci O'Neal Ellis said the community's message has been heard loud and clear. "Either everybody counts or nobody counts," she said.