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Cooper responds to Henrico school video apology

Joey Matthews | 2/26/2016, 4:58 a.m.
“We need not apologize for the video.” That’s the view of Henrico School Board member Rev. Roscoe Cooper III about ...
Rev. Cooper

“We need not apologize for the video.”

That’s the view of Henrico School Board member Rev. Roscoe Cooper III about the 4-minute video on racism that was shown to Glen Allen High School students Feb. 4 at two assemblies.

Superintendent Patrick Kinlaw and School Board Chairwoman Michelle F. “Micky” Ogburn publicly apologized after parents at the predominately white school complained that their children felt uncomfortable after seeing the video.

Ms. Ogburn also vowed to ban the video from future use by other county schools.

“My personal opinion is that I don’t think the video should be banned,” said Rev. Cooper, the lone African-American member of the five-member School Board. He represents the county’s Fairfield District.

He articulated his views in statements emailed to the Free Press during the past week after drawing criticism for not speaking out on the hot button issue.

“I think there are times and places for the video,” Rev. Cooper said. “Like anything, context is important. Like the age of the children, the classroom environment, the surrounding activities all matter.”

The animated video titled “Structural Discrimination: The Unequal Opportunity Race” showed white and nonwhite students lining up on a track for a foot race. The white runners competed with no obstacles and several advantages, while various forms of oppression and inequality impeded nonwhite runners.

“One of the values we want to teach all our children,” Rev. Cooper said, “is that when they see someone falling in the race of life, we want to reach back and offer that struggling individual a helping hand.”

He said he had not rendered a public opinion earlier because he had been traveling in Israel “and when I returned, I was re-acclimating to being back here and catching up.”

He said his constituents in the predominately African-American district he represents have told him “they feel this entire event will assist us in dealing with the realities of racism and our ability to address it and assess it as a community.”

He added, “We need to re-open a dialogue with all the stakeholders, including the community and the parents, and make some plans and guidelines for going forward.”

Rev. Cooper also said he believes the name of Harry F. Byrd Sr. Middle School should be changed as a growing coalition of students, parents and community members are advocating.

The Henrico school is named after the former Virginia governor and U.S. senator who was one of the chief architects of “Massive Resistance,” a state-sanctioned policy that closed down public schools in many Virginia localities rather than follow the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling ordering public schools to be desegregated to end educational inequities.

Thousands of African-American children were denied a public education as a result, while state money was allotted to all-white private schools in many places where schools were closed.

Rev. Cooper said his opinion is “not the most important” in the issue.

“I think this is a good issue for the community to determine,” he said about renaming the school. “I think this is a learning experience for our children and an opportunity to learn history and create change.”

The School Board is holding two public meetings to discuss the Byrd School name change. They are 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, March 2, at New Bridge Learning Center, 5915 Nine Mile Road, and 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 8, at Byrd Middle School, 9400 Quioccasin Road.