MONTCLAIR, NJ - Montclair's Interim Superintendent Nathan Parker has admitted to and apologized for making a statement regarding racism that has him on the hot seat with parents in Montclair. However, an apology is not enough for a growing group of parents.
The group behind organizing the growing momentum of parents calling for his resignation is the National Independent Black Parent Association (NIBPA). According to organizers, NIBPA is a grassroots organization created with a mission to completely and entirely eradicate racism in the educational system.
Kellia Sweatt, the President and Organizer of the Montclair Chapter of the NIBPA, states, “We are like a pit-bull when it comes to racism in the Montclair Public School system, especially when it is directed at our black students who attend the Montclair public school system. The reason for this is because we have a clear understanding of racism/white supremacy and how it works."
Sweatt, a lifelong Montclair resident and educator, has been at the forefront of bringing Parker's statements to the public Board meetings and leading the call for his resignation.
Sweatt said, "The NIBPA has zero tolerance for racism and black oppression. This is why the Montclair Chapter of the NIBPA is strongly and steadfastly calling for the resignation of Superintendent Dr. Nathan Parker, who stated at a meeting that he doesn’t really care if a teacher is a racist, so long as they do not allow it to disturb the ability to instruct."
Early fall, the public was made aware of Parker's commentary. Since this commentary allegedly occurred within the public school district, Sweatt reached out to board member Jessica de Koninck by phone.
She informed de Koninck of the concerns of the alleged statement and encouraged her to inquire about the comment further.
Each following Board meeting that the NIBPA attended they sought clarity, Sweatt added. Their questions and concerns went unanswered since the fall.
During the November 18, 2019 public board meeting, Sweatt said that she again brought the comment and concern forward with little response from Board members or Parker.
Shortly after making her public comment, Sweatt says that she was contacted by a member of the Montclair branch of the NAACP, who confirmed that they had also heard those same words from Parker at one of their education committee meetings.
Sweatt further explored and asked for clarification from the NAACP committee chairmen who was seated a few rows behind her, who also confirmed the statement was made during their meeting.
Sweatt added, "Due to the evil reality of the social construct being based on institutional racism it relies upon maintaining black oppression and keeping African-Americans and people of African descent at a disadvantaged and denied true access to opportunities, wealth and power. Schools are not only for information. They are also for the process of socialization. Because of this, they are a small version of the society that we all are well aware of and all of its social ills that harm people."
On December 4, 2019 during the following public board of education meeting, the NIBPA shared their new findings publicly regarding the confirmation of Parker's statements from NAACP leaders.
On December 5, 2019, the NAACP education committee responded by inviting Parker back to it's meeting.
Sweatt says that she believes he was invited back to give a response regarding the uproar during the previous board of education meeting. With nearly 12 to 15 people present, Parker confirmed the allegations and added an explanation for his commentary.
Since the topic had been covered prior to her arrival at the December 5 NAACP meeting, Sweat demanded additional response from Parker, but was met with resistance by NAACP leaders.
When the NAACP Educational chairman James Harris intervened by informing Sweatt that Parker had already answered that question, Sweatt pushed further and explained the importance of hearing him for herself, as she is charged with reporting back to the community. A discussion ensued and Sweatt stated that the chairman continued to intervene and confirmed that Parker had admitted to making the statement.
With Parker still present and seated beside Harris during the exchange, Sweatt inquired from others in the room who had heard firsthand and who had then become additionally concerned by Parker's admittance of the commentary. Parents spoke up when Parker's further explanation concerned them, as well. According to eyewitnesses at the meeting, Parker had told them that since he grew up on a farm where his family employed four black families, was why he felt comfortable around black people.
The NAACP had been addressing several community matters between December and January that resulted in a shake-up of the NAACP education committee, after Harris came under fire for remarks on Hasidic Jews during a December 30 meeting. Diane Anglin has now taken over as the interim NAACP education chair, following Harris' 6-month suspension.
During the January 22, 2020 Board meeting, Parker issued a public apology about being misunderstood. Anglin, who was appointed on January 15, responded that she would gather additional information after the NAACP executive committee convenes.
During public comment, June Raegner, who was present for both NAACP education committee meetings, shared that Parker stated that although he knew his statement might be controversial, he was going to state it anyway. During the February 5 Board meeting, Raegner has since stated that she's been told not to speak publicly on the matter any longer.
Parents became additionally concerned when Parker did not apologize for what he said, but apologized for the misunderstanding of what he said.
Sweatt maintains that the NIBPA is not like most political organizations because they are not a political organization, at all. Their only agenda is to make sure that racism does not exist in the public or charter school systems.
Sweatt made a correlation between the educational system to the prison system, saying, "The same criminalization that black men wrongfully endure, so does the black man child/boy. The intentional hardship, struggle and vulnerability the black woman bares, so is the black woman child/girl being set up for poverty and lack of protection. My point is--not even our children are spared the attacks of racism and all of the harm and danger it causes. This is why our goal has been to bring true tools to manage and ensure equity within Montclair Public Schools.”
When asked what the NIPBA wishes to accomplish in this situation, Sweatt states that they wish to establish equity which they have been working on for the past few years.
According to Sweatt, establishing equity in the school system is critical for each student to be given what they need in order to succeed. They want to ensure that the department of equity, curriculum and instruction is safeguarded from all persons who don’t find racism to be problematic.
They also want it safeguarded from all persons who are casual and nonchalant about issues of racism and have a track record of remaining silent and contributing to systems that oppress black families in Montclair. They have asked for additional Student Equity Advocate positions to be added to the budget and to eliminate the high paying jobs.
Sweatt stated that Parker admits to having hired individuals he knew prior to coming to Montclair, and paying salaries between $775.00 and $825.00 per day. She mentioned that Parker’s own salary is on top of the pension he receives.
"Having a superintendent who doesn’t see racism as a serious issue is the exact opposite of what we stand for and work towards," she added.
Sweatt went on to say, “Montclair is celebrated as one of the most diversified places in the country and it’s true, Montclair is very diverse in many ways. But we are fed the illusion that there is harmony throughout the township and that the issue of racism does not exist when in reality it is the main problem we have in this town."
"If the Superintendent of the Public School System does not see anything wrong with teachers who are racist, we know that he should not be in a position whose responsibility is to care about all of the students in Montclair. The statement that he has admitted to saying is reckless and demonstrates that his view of education is centered on staff and not the students. He is completely disregarding the impact and injury to students, which are children who would be on the receiving end of a racist instructor,” she expressed.
On January 25, the Montclair NAACP President AL Pelham issued a statement saying, “While the NAACP has concerns about the alleged comments by Superintendent Parker, we have tremendous amount of respect of the leadership of the Board of Education and that the NAACP would support whatever action the BOE wished to take regarding Parker. At this time, we are encouraging the Montclair BOE to continue their search for a new superintendent with all appropriate urgency.”
Referring to her time as a track runner at Montclair High School, Sweat added, "As a former runner, I believe it’s important to know your lane and to stay in it. They are simply occupying their lane and that’s fine. We are in our lane and we are accelerating swiftly, stride by stride. We are doing what we do in the spirit of Kujuchgulia. We are a self-determined and self-approved movement. Our children deserve that type of cultural commitment. For way too long African-American children and other children of color have suffered in silence with no relief. We are not accepting that as normal. Nor are we satisfied with silence when African-American children and children of African descent are being harmed and robbed of a quality grade school experience."
Sweatt concluded saying, “Montclair is complicated, but it’s beautiful because it has great potential to truly exemplify the highest level of humanity, unity and harmony among people. As rough as this work is, we continue to do it because it’s so very possible to reach that level here.”
Parker was contacted for comment, but was unavailable by the time of publication.