An email from a sister paper started the journey: for the anniversary of the Brown vs. Board supreme court decision that integrated schools across the nation, multiple newspapers would collaborate to document the progress — or lack thereof — made in schools in Kansas.
For Newton, that meant looking around a little. The school system was not formally segregated. However, there were pockets of segregation to be found. The most noted: boys basketball. Under one legendary coach the program was segregated. Under another, it was integrated. That it occurred in the era of Brown vs. Board was more of a coincidence than anything else. Newton has been, at least formally, a bit historically ahead of civil rights movements. The integration of the movie theaters and lunch counters in Newton was, after all, about a decade before the sit-ins and marches that grabbed national attention in the south.
But we looked. We spent months working on stories — starting with basketball — to participate in the state effort, and to ask questions of our own school district. We brought up conversations during meetings of the Newton Community for Racial Justice. During those meetings, we listened. We did not write notes, collect quotes or publish articles about those meetings. We were building relationships, relationships that needed to be built and need to be attended to through the future. The NCRJ is working, diligently, on racial issues in our community.
These stories were difficult for our staff to write — is dredging up the basketball history akin to smearing a coach and walking on his grave? Are we going and looking for the black eye on our community? Are we asking questions that need to be asked?
The answer to that last question is yes. We are. Some of these questions have come up at the Newton Community for Racial Justice. One of those questions — if our teaching staff reflects our student body — led to one of the longest stories ever published by this newspaper. It was hard work. It was worth it.
The NCRJ is providing, quietly, leadership. And that is what we need in this community. Today ink is being spilled highlighting the lack of diversity in our teaching and building administrative staff at USD 373. The numbers are startling and unsettling. We do not believe the numbers are the way they are as a result of intentional efforts to make them that way.
To change the numbers, however, will take an intentional effort. The students of USD 373 deserve that effort to be made. They deserve to look up to a teaching staff that reflects them. Right now, that is simply not the case.
There is, however, another issue at play that needs the community attention. Not only are we lacking in minority representation in our teaching staff in schools — but our community leadership lacks diversity as well.
Just take a quick look. Where can you find nonwhites in positions of leadership? Not on the city commission, not on the county commission, not on the board of education. Even having the opportunity to vote for a nonwhite candidate is a rarity.
It is here the NCRJ has looked, and needs to look. It is here they need to be most active. There is a need of a group to step forward to cultivate and support nonwhites as community leaders and decision makers.
We need not look for the tokens, or make them tokens. This is not a checkmark on a to do list. That simply is not good enough. We need to fully embrace what having leadership that reflects our community looks like.
That very well could start in the schools, with a commitment — and there are signs of that commitment being made — to changing the look of teachers, principals and others.
The time is now.
— Kansan Editorial Board