By Jim Morrill
At a Martin Luther King Jr. Day protest over school policies, the head of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP Monday announced a campaign to urge the CIAA basketball tournament and other groups to boycott the city.
Pledging to "expose Charlotte for the racist bastion it is," NAACP President Kojo Nantambu announced a drive to keep the CIAA, NCAA, PGA "and any other 'A'" from coming to Charlotte.
He also said his group would ask the national NAACP to consider asking the Democratic Party not to hold its 2012 convention in Charlotte.
His comments came just before he led about 100 people on a march through uptown to protest the decision by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to hold classes on the King holiday to make up one of three days lost to snow last week.
Carrying signs and chanting "No justice, no peace," the group marched to the Levine Museum of the New South and on to the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture.
The protest came on a day that many interracial and interfaith groups joined to mark the holiday and honor King's memory. And it came on the heels of other controversies involving schools and the African-American community.
Many in the mainly African-American crowd who gathered in the morning chill outside the government center were fired up over the school's holiday decision.
"We will not sit here and allow you to disrespect not just an American hero but a global hero," NAACP vice president Dwayne Collins told protesters. Speaking to the crowd, Deshauna McLamb, who brought her two children to the rally, said: "This city has run havoc over this community."
"And today we're saying 'No more, no more.'"
School closings at root
In November, the NAACP and others protested a school board decision to close eight schools. Officials acknowledged the closings would disproportionately affect minority families. At least seven complaints are pending with the U.S. Education Department's Office of Civil Rights.
"I think there's a lot of deep concern about public education in particular that is perhaps mushrooming into other things," Mayor Anthony Foxx said of the proposed boycott. "A greater level of informed dialog is needed... particularly given all the challenges we're facing in the next six (to) eight months with local governmental budgets."
Nantambu said school officials "never would use the 4th of July or Easter or Christmas as an alternative (school) day." In an interview with the Observer on Sunday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said using the King holiday as a makeup day was "clearly insulting and hits a very raw nerve."
Foxx has said the holiday makeup day was "regrettable." But, he said, "Given the challenges so many young people are facing, it's hard for me to make the argument that if class is in session they shouldn't go."
U.S. Rep Mel Watt, speaking at a Queens University of Charlotte event, said "the mayor's reaction was where I would come down." Watt, who is from Charlotte and represents N.C.'s 12th district, called Nantambu's description of Charlotte as a bastion of racism "probably a little overboard."
The Democratic National Committee is expected to name a site this month for its 2012 convention. Charlotte is one of four finalists. Will Miller, executive director of the group trying to bring the gathering to Charlotte, said Monday he hopes a boycott "wouldn't become an issue."
"I would hope that's not the sentiment of more than a few people, if that's the case," he said.
How many parents kept their children out of school Monday was unclear. A spokeswoman for Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools said attendance figures weren't available Monday.
But many African-American parents had no problem sending their kids to school.
"The best way to honor the life and legacy of Dr. King is to have our children in school," said the Rev. John Hicks, a Davidson pastor and member of the Carolinas Public Insight Network, a group of readers who share their knowledge for Observer stories.
"I would seriously doubt that Dr. King would be happy to know that local leaders would prefer having kids stay home and play video games rather than get an education," added Hicks, whose son attends middle school.
"After seeing the test scores for CMS, the NAACP should be the LAST organization in Charlotte to protest any day our children are not in school when the doors open."
Many schools throughout CMS incorporated King in the day's lessons.
At Rocky River High, for example, students in a 9th grade literacy class studied connections between King and Mahatma Gandhi of India. A literature class analyzed King's use of language, including his cadence syntax and his call-and-response technique.
One Rocky River student who missed classes for the uptown protest was 10th-grader Colby Johnson.
"I wanted to do more than read about the dream," he said. "I wanted to live it."
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