Medgar Evers students stage Sunshine Rally in the Rain: Pollard's Attempt to Duck Students Thwarted

by Gloria Dulan-Wilson

This is both an article and a quasi transcript from the recently held rally at Medgar Evers College. The importance of this information cannot be ignored. For anyone who thinks that our Black youth do not care or are not involved in what's going on, please disabuse yourself of that illusion right now. For those who want to know about the petition's 31 questions, see my blog dated May 5, 2011 for details. Additionally, for those who think they can get away with abusing their own people because of the seeming backing of outside puppet masters, you are sadly mistaken; and your days are numbered in that role. There is a new (or is it old?) breed rising, and they are demanding that the sun shine on the deeds of those who think that under the cover of darkness they can get way with the backstabbing, undermining and othewise counter productive actions against their own for pay, for comfort - their ain't that much immunity in the world. When the people find out, then you are out. GDW

After weeks of being ignored by President Pollard, the Medgar Evers Coalition students staged a “Sunshine Rally” on one of the rainiest days in May on the sidewalk in front of Medgar Evers College. Undaunted by the rain, the students gathered as planned at 11:00AM brandishing signs and loudspeakers, demanding respect, and encouraging other students to join them an sign their petitions.

Joining the students were members of the surrounding community who braved the weather to stand in solidarity with them. The rally was called a sunshine rally to shed some light on serious questions that had been raised by the students in reference to budgetary concerns, as well as egregious acts on the part of the current president, William Pollard, against faculty, staff, students and programs, since his coming to Medgar Evers in 2009.

Their initial request for sunshine meeting has been consistently ignored by Pollard. The fact that the students demonstrated in rain sent a clear message about their displeasure and disappointment at the lack of respect accorded them on the part of the college’s administration.

Gracia Clinton, one of the organizers of the event spoke eloquently before a combined group of faculty and students. “The petition was submitted and we asked him to give us a weeks’ notice so we could let the students know and they could be present for a town meeting. Instead he had some one call who only wanted to meet with the two of us.”

Members of the Medgar Evers Coalition, who coordinated the rally, had petitions on hand to be signed by the students, many of whom joined them on the sidewalk in front of MEC’s main building at 1650 Bedford Avenue, shouting: “We demand respect! We demand respect!”

One student, who was not part of the rally, observed that they (Pollard) had purchased a huge and very ornate sign for the new science building that had to cost more $10,000, while the student study centers have been cut back, and while there are not enough computers for MEC students.

Another student, who joined the rally, and carried a sign demanding respect, stated, “He is not respecting the students. I’ve personally spoken with him one time before, and when he asked me my name, and I told him my name, he asked “What good is Nefetari going to do? Yes he did. When he asked me my name and I told him it was Nefetari, he asked me my name, and I said Nefetari, he said what good is a name like Nefetari going to do for me in society.” An indication that there is a disconnect when it comes to cultural awareness on Pollard’s part.

Gracia Branch, one of the coordinators, co-originator of the petition, and a demure, soft spoken a public administration major, attends MEC with her daughter. She stated: “The president wanted to meet with just me and one other student. An I told him I could not do that since the 500 students who signed the petition also wanted answers from him as well. We need truth - that’s what I’m saying - know the truth and the truth will set you free. We as students need to be free from the gossip and rumors.” An unidentified male student stated: “If he had given us a respectful response, we wouldn’t be out here demonstrating today. It’s about president Pollard not dealing with the wishes of the students, that is why we are out here in the rain. All of the controversial questions going on around here and he blatantly disrespected us. Did you know about that open meeting that he had with the Chancellor? It was not an open meeting - it was by invitation only! If your name was not on the list, you did not get in.”

The meeting with the chancellor was definitely not open; and most certainly was not a town hall meeting by any stretch of the imagination. There must have been a very short list of invitees, because the small auditorium in the new Science and Technology Building was only half full 70 people at the most were in attendance. Goldstein, who addressed the handpicked faculty and staff, could not escape some serious questions about budget, policies and the future of Medgar Evers - but that's for another blog entry - sorry!

Ms. Branch further stated, “These are the questions that the students have. There are more questions, we just couldn’t fit them on one sheet of paper. So we took the most critical questions and put them on the back of the petition. He is saying that they are rumors and some of them are not true. Instead of trying to pick a select few students, why not meet with the entire student body and get everything out in the open? Meet with the entire student body. Explain to them exactly what is going on. And that is what we are asking for. And we demand respect because we did not get respect from his office.”

She continues: "What about the academic standing of the students - he said he is concerned about that. The faculty goes out of their way to get books and materials for the students. They get no support from the president. They explain things to us and try to make sure we have what we need to succeed. Pollard just keeps cutting back."

According to another demonstrator, Medgar Evers High School Prep does not have priority at Medgar Evers anymore, even though it is affiliated with the school and has been for at least two decades. The students are no longer given access to the college.

As the rain intensified, the students were informed by retired congressman Major Owens that they have a right to assemble on the sidewalk, but they also have a right to go inside the building, since they are registered students at MEC.

After standing in the rain for nearly an hour, the students went inside the 1650 Bedford Avenue main building and proceeded to the auditorium, where faculty and seniors were gathered for a meeting being presided over by Howard Johnson, current provost. It was learned that Pollard was to have chaired the event, but had informed the students and other sources that he would be out of town, and not available for either the meeting, or the students requested audience with him.

There were extra police on hand, observing the rally. Prior to Pollard, Medgar Evers did not have - nor did it need - a police presence. When asked why there was heightened security, they had to admit that nothing negative had occurred to warrant it - “just a precaution,” one policeman stated.

While the provost was going over some of the mundane issues of the meeting, one of the MEC Coalition members shouted from the back of the auditorium, "We demand respect; what is going on with our budget?"

The students were invited to come in and have a seat, but were told they had to leave their signs outside in the Auditorium lobby. After a few more routine speeches, Ms. Branch was invited up to speak.

She started off slowly, and very respectfully, "It is a shame that students have to resort to storming in on a faculty meeting - we do much better than that - " and was interrupted by the provost, who stated that she did not introduce herself.

"I’m sorry, my name is Gracia Branch, and you, sir?" The entire room roared with laughter.

Gracia Branch continued, "My major is public administration, and as a future public administrator, I am charged in my class to stand up for what we believe in, setting the pace for the next generation of Public Administrators, staff members in the society we have to show integrity and true morals. We cannot stare away from the things that we are passionate about, and we are not distracted by things that are not of importance. With that said, as I was saying before, we students do not want to resort to any kind of immoral things by storming in on a private meeting - that is not what we students at Medgar Evers stand for, but when we call for a meeting; and we are not given that meeting - only that we need answers, the answers that we need have to do with our education. We don’t care about the politics or the undermining stuff that goes on behind closed doors with faculty and administration staff. Our main goal here today is to get answers. How does President Pollard and his administrator plan to do what is right for Medgar Evers students. What are his plans for this college. There has been a lot of rumors. A lot of money has been spent in different areas that we the students know could benefit us as students. And all we wanted was a simple meeting - meet with us. And as I stated to v.p. Vanray (?) I don’t know you, sir. I don’t know if you are in this room today…"

A voice from the back of the room intoned "Right here!"

Ma. Branch bowed slightly and responded: "Hello! Finally, we meet. We got together as students because we want answers. We want to make sure that when we leave Medgar Evers, we the students are able to compete with the other colleges out there. We know that quote/unquote we’re in a “recession” and we want to be able to get the jobs and the proper equipment to equip us to compete with these --- because students are afraid. They are afraid that if they start coming out that something will start happening with their financial aid."


Branch continues: "So these are the questions the students have; they really don’t know what their rights are. As a public administrator, we are fortunate - some of us at least - are fortunate to know what our rights are as students; and not just as students, but as individuals living in this society. And that is why we stand up for the students of Medgar Evers today - to get answers, this is not it."

As she continues to address the audience, she begins walking across the room, and starts speaking to a person who is scrunched down in his seat - that person turns out to be none other than Medgar Evers current president William Pollard - who was allegedly out of town on business. So, go figure! How is it that he is both out of town and at the faculty meeting at the same time? Could this have been an effort to duck the students, once again. As long as the rally was outside on the sidewalk, the students had no way of knowing that Pollard was really at the school. The unexpeted turn of events that brought them into the auditorium revealed that the President had not been away, just ducking them.

Branch: "Yes, after the fact we found out that you had called for a town hall meeting (ADDRESSING POLLARD , WHO SAT SLUNK DOWN IN HIS SEAT IN THE VERY FRONT ROW, TRYING TO BE INCONSPICUOUS) "- with all due respect, sir, we asked you to inform us so that we could get the students together to meet with you. We asked you to give us time so we could inform the students of Medgar Evers. What we did with our own resources was get flyers, get this information out. Now if you had given us the opportunity to inform the students, then the town hall meeting would have been a success. I didn’t even know about the town hall meeting; and I felt very disrespected, me and my colleague, Ms. Bonita Grant, who reached out to you; and you know, that doesn’t show integrity as far as I’m concerned."

This statement got no response from Pollard, who was being spoken to by one of the police officers - yet another display of disregard for the students.

Branch: "We had 31 questions, and our first question was can you begin the meeting with a full disclosure for the college budget. The reason we want to know that is because we as students have a right to know what is done with the budget; how has the budget been spent. Teachers talk all the time about students not getting involved in their education. This is the stand that we’re making now - we’re getting involved. We are asking you to present that budget."

Ms. Branch then turns to one of the fellow demonstrators, "Akil, you had a question, also. Would you stand up and ask your question."

As she takes her seat, another student approaches the front of the auditorium, Akil Townsley: "To whom it may concern, we do apologize for disrupting your meeting, as we know faculty and administration is very important to the school. But this is also a very important situation as well."

Provost Johnson, "Please identify yourself."

Townsley responds, "I’m sorry, my name is Akil Townsley. My major is public administration, and I am a freshman in my second semester. Would you like to know more about me sir? I have concerns when I came to the college, I saw that there was a controversy going on at Medgar Evers College. And as an advocate in the elementary schools for my children, and in the community at large, as block association president in my community, I wanted to know more about what was going on. So as I seen the president at different meetings, and heard him present stories about his childhood, people wanted to raise pertinent questions about the college. These were just questions, but things like this raise red flags for me."

He looks directly at Pollard, and continues: "One of the questions I would like to ask is will more money be made available for student scholarships, computers, the writing lab and the learning center? More library assistance, etc. Me knowing that the president of the college - President Pollard, sir, me knowing that you have been the president of a college before here, you are more likely to have more experience being a president - I just didn’t understand some of the history that was going on when you took the administrative - leadership role here. Leadership role at the college. For instance - you started tampering with the library, which really hadn’t bothered anybody. I really didn’t understand that. I had my high school diploma, and I didn’t think I needed - I really didn’t understand that, sir. I know there were supposed to be some upgrades done on the library, but, to suspend the services in the midstream of the semester, I thought that was - I didn’t see the importance of that. The writing center, I know that in the public school system, the department of education 50% of our students are graduating; and maybe if you give or take a little bit, less than 50% of them are guided from high school coming to college; and when a high percentage of them get to college are taking remedial courses, our writing center has been expunged; although there has been some type of writing lab, or whatever have you now, that’s been replaced, it is not the core of what was there - input from the beginning."

At this point, he pauses for a response; but receiving none, continues: "The original - the learning center. The Learning center from my understanding has been shrunk from that and that’s why we want full disclosure of budgets so that we can start our own think tank; so that we understand more of what’s going on; so that we can demand analysis, as students seeking to be scholars. We just need some information, because knowledge is power. We just need some information from the president because you don’t mind having the meeting with us. Because there are more than 31 questions that the students have. When they came out to sign the petitions, they came up with their own questions - hey, what about this, that and the other? Hey, we don’t know the answers to these questions. We are students seeking answers. We are students seeking answers. We didn’t say x,y,z, all we know is that there are some facts - but there are rumors and we wanted you to eliminate the rumors. And a lot of students don’t know you. The only reason that I know you is because I have been out to the meetings; I’m in the community. But a lot of students who come to the school don’t know you. And they would like to know you. They say, hey, we don’t know who this guy is. They’ve seen a lot of other adults come around - and have asked them “are you the president of the college?” And you’ve been here almost two years - and I don’t know what that says. Like I said I’m a freshman; only my second semester; but I don’t think it takes a scholar to figure that one out. Thanks for your time."

He pauses for yet another minute to see whether or not there will be a response on Pollard's part. Johnson steps up and asks: "Does any one from the faculty that they would like to raise at this time; if not I’m asking for a motion to adjourn" A pre-planned motion from the side adjourns the meeting, even though there several faculty members who had raised their hands.

Neither Pollard nor Johnson answered or responded in any way to the students’ questions. Faculty who raised their hands were ignored. And the students left with no more respect than when they entered.

However, this rally was a success on so many more levels. Students demands made the front covers of several locally based Black communications, as well as News 12. Students are not going to allow these questions or concerns to continue, and now plan to take it to the next level. What does that mean? Stay tuned. More to come.

For those of you who are interested in participating in the Medgar Evers Coalition, log on to www.MEfortheCommunity.org, or email MECCoalition@gmail.com, or call (718) 710-4528; or go on www.Facebook.com/MEfortheCommunity.

Just a Personal Note: I cannot think of a more fitting day to be writing this article than on the 86th Birth Anniversary of Brother Malcolm X, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz. His spirit, and that of Sister Betty Shabazz walks with those students and faculty and those who stand for right to respect, justice, freedom, parity at Medgar Evers and wherever else we happen to be.

This is about Communiversity and keeping a covenant with your community - Now that you know; what will you do?

Stay Blessed &
Gloria Dulan-Wilson

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