Choice of DeVos as graduation speaker riles up residents, students, alum
BY ANDREAS BUTLER
Their message was loud and clear: “Say hell no to DeVos!’’
Led by the Volusia County/Daytona Beach NAACP, local residents and community leaders as well as some Bethune-Cookman University alumni and students marched in front of the campus on Wednesday, urging the school to rescind an invitation for U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to give the address at next week’s commencement.
The invitation to DeVos to speak at the May 10 graduation at the Ocean Center has sparked national attention. DeVos is a strong proponent of school choice.
‘Slap in the face’
“The local NAACP does not support B-CU’s decision to invite Betsy DeVos as commencement speaker because of her views on public education,” Cynthia Slater, president of the Volusia branch, told the Daytona Times Tuesday.
The NAACP hosted a meeting Tuesday night at New Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church in Daytona Beach. About 100 people attended, including B-CU alumni, faculty and students.
The Volusia branch is supported by the state NAACP, which sent a letter this week calling the choice of DeVos “a slap in the face to minorities, women and all communities of color.”
Slater said DeVos – a wealthy businesswoman who doesn’t have experience with classrooms or public schools – doesn’t have “the experience, skills or knowledge to head the department responsible for this country’s education. Her values and beliefs are not in line with the U.S. State Department of Education,” Slater said.
She added, “Graduation is a joyous occasion where the speaker should provide words of encouragement to graduates. DeVos speaking at this event, I believe only raises concerns after hearing other concerns that she has made about education.”
Compared to founder
B-CU President Dr. Edison Jackson also has been roundly criticized for a statement he made in a press release about the commencement, comparing DeVos to the school’s founder, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune.
“Much like Dr. Bethune, Founder of Bethune-Cookman University, Secretary DeVos deems the importance of opportunity and hope for students to receive an exceptional education experience.
Her mission to empower parents and students resonates with the history and legacy of Dr. Bethune,” Jackson stated.
A ‘revolutionary’ action
At Wednesday’s march, some B-CU students and alum were among those who chanted, “This is what democracy looks like’’ and “Say Hell No to DeVos.’’
The students who participated said others backed out, fearing retaliation from school officials.
During the march, students looked on from in front of dorms and other buildings on campus as the marchers passed by.
“This was a start of revolutionary actions to take place. We want more to happen after this. It shows that we do have concerns and student leaders who don’t approve of DeVos speaking,” said freshman Ashlyn Denson, who did march.
‘We are angry’
B-CU students also urged the school’s brass this week to rescind DeVos’ invitation. The students held their own meeting on campus about the issue.
“We do have a plan of action, but we are not disclosing it. It’s been brought to my attention that everyone here that looks like us aren’t for us. They have sent spies,” said Taylor Durrant, a B-CU senior.
Durrant and her twin sister, Tyler, attended Tuesday night’s meeting at the church and participated in Wednesday’s march. They are scheduled to graduate next week.
Tyler Durrant added, “We are not indifferent. We are angry. We are motivated and organizing. We are very passionate about this issue. We appreciate what you are doing for us and for you having our backs.
She continued, “We have felt overwhelmed as students but welcomed here to your community. …
This is bigger than us. It’s about those students that come after us.”
Deborah Boyd, a retired educator who graduated in 1986, was one of the alums who spoke out.
“We could have gotten a better person. I don’t think she understands what an HBCU is and what it stands for. It has to be political,” Boyd said.
“I don’t understand why they got her. She doesn’t stand for our kids getting an education. She is all for charter schools. Where does that leave our kids? There are plenty of Black millionaires who could come speak and donate money to the school,’’ she added.
Black Caucus responds
The Volusia County Democratic Black Caucus also released a statement urging Jackson, president of B-CU, to reconsider the invitation.
Dr. L. Ronald Durham, president of the Black Caucus said, “We express our concern with the selection of Mrs. DeVos to address the students given her unsettling February statements that HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice.”
After HBCU leaders visited the White House in February, DeVos referred to HBCUS as “pioneers when it comes to school choice.” Critics pointed out that HBCUs were born out of a lack of options for Blacks after the Civil War.
“Her words reveal an educational ignorance that is an affront to all people of color. HBCU leaders have called her out for whitewashing this nation’s history of racial segregation. When HBCUs were founded, people of color had limited choices on where they could get an education and were almost entirely shut out from White schools.”
He continued, “Can any good come from someone completely void of understanding the struggle of HBCU’s? We ask B-CU President Edison O. Jackson to reconsider.”