Roy S. Johnson is a Pulitzer Prize finalist for commentary and winner of the Edward R. Murrow prize for podcasts: “Unjustifiable”, co-hosted with John Archibald.
This is an opinion column.
One parent. One.
One poor, misguided parent.
One cowering parent.
One superintendent. One.
One poor, misguided superintendent.
One weak-kneed superintendent.
Together, they scuttled appearances by award- winning children’s book author Derrick Barnes at three elementary schools in Hoover, just a few miles south of downtown Birmingham. Scuttled them because, well, we really don’t know.
And yet we do.
Barnes, who’s Black was slated to get Black History Month off to a rousing, empowering start, reflecting messages that anchor his work. Messages of good. Messages of confidence. Messages of hope. Messages he’s shared with children in schools, daycare centers, and churches for over a decade.
Yet not in Hoover.
Not in Hoover because one parent—one— complained. Complained about his so-labeled “controversial ideas.” Ideas allegedly expressed in Barnes’ social media posts. Ideas never articulated in posts.
Parents’ complaints and concerns should always be respected and addressed. I fully made sure mine were when my children were young. In an instance such as this—or anytime a parent doesn’t want their child exposed to a guest speaker, to a lesson, to anything the school is offering to educate and elevate students, the parent typically has the option of holding their child out while the others took part in the experience.
This parent had that option. Instead, Hoover City Schools Superintendent Dee Fowler caved, capitulated to the concern, the cloaked it all—or tried to—with calamity over a contract.
“This guy’s kind of controversial and so a contract would be very much needed,” Fowler told my colleague TrishCrain.
Hoover produced docs showing they asked Barnes’ rep three times for a contract. Barnes rep told AL.com they don’t do contracts for appearances that pay less than $5,000. Barnes, who lives in Kansas City, sent three invoices for $3,300 each—covering the fee and travel—for the school appearance, as well as for library and school appearances in Hoover and Alabaster.
In short, after a bunch of not-so-disguised deflecting, Hoover canceled Barnes.
Hoover, a school district where nearly one in four students (23.5%) is Black.
Hoover, where one in four school principals (25%) is Black Hoover, where almost half (41.4%) of assistant principals are Black.Hoover, where almost half (44.4%) of district administrators are Black.All of which makes canceling Barnes even more absurd and egregious.
On Monday, Barnes threw up his hands—I’m done with y’all, he must’ve finally sighed—and canceled his other scheduled appearances.
I’m encouraged to hear numerous Alabama schools and libraries reached out to Barnes’ rep and tried to welcome him. So far, nothing’ been scheduled. For now, he’s done with y’all. Understandably.
In a Facebook postMonday, Barnes termed the cancellations “narrow- minded thinking of a small few,” including “a phantom parent who was concerned with my work supposedly fitting into the boogie man category of critical race theory.”
One parent may have been able to cancel a Black children’s book author, but ‘y’all can’t cancel Black history.
Not this month. Not any month. Not at all.
No matter how hard you try. No matter how much you fear.
Ron DeSantis can’t cancel Black history.
No matter how hard he tries. No matter how much he fears. No matter how much he demonizes and devalues segments of our journey with which he disagrees.
Alabama lawmakers can’t cancel Black history.
No matter how much they cloak it in “divisiveness.” If you’re from around here, you’ve no doubt heard of HB7, a bill pre-filed before the upcoming legislative session—and similar to a bill that didn’t survive the 2022 legislative session—that would make it illegal to teach “divisive concepts” about race, sex, or religion in K-12 schools or higher education. (Pre- filed, by the way, by Rep. Ed Oliver, R-Dadeville, he of the so-claimed party of “less government”.) Concepts the bill does not articulate. Because thoselawmakers can’t. Or won’t. If it somehow passes through our heavily right- tiled legislature and is signed by our Republican governor, it still won’t cancel Black history.
No matter how much they fear their sons and daughters might actually learn a whole truth that’s gone previously untaught. No matter how much they wrap their wails about critical race theory—and still, dare one of them to explain what CRT actually is—in new toilet paper. It’s still toilet paper.
They can’t cancel it because it’s their history, too. It’s America’s history. It’s the truth.
One person’s “controversial” is another’s certainly.
One person’s “divisive” is another’s “dialogue,” yet another’s respectful “debate.”
Barnes is the only two-time winner of the prestigious (and hefty $50,000) Kirkus Prize. He’s also won Caldecott and Newbery literary awards.
“This has to stop,” he shared on Instagram.
It does. Even if it does not, one parent, one superintendent, one governor, one legislator- –neither ignorance nor fear—will cancel Black History.
Not this month. Not any