Diversity vs. Equality – letter writer questions 8th grade African-American promotion ceremony in Antioch

Dear Editor:

Pastor/minister Dr. Lamont A. Francies, also Counselor for Antioch Unified School District currently at Black Diamond Middle School campus, is the subject of community outcry this week as word of his “Antioch Unified School District 8th Grade African American Promotion Ceremony” began to spread on blogs and social media.

Starting with a column by Barbara Zivica in the online version of the Antioch Herald, entitled “Watchdog – Black only graduation ceremony in Antioch violates Supreme Court decision” published Sunday, May 31st, 2015 at 12:43 a.m.Barbara Zivica provides as support for her piece a photo image of a flier for the event and of an wmail containing it. The email was from an ASUD email address and addressed to other ASUD email addresses and included the text of the flyer as well as contact Information for Dr. Francies at his AUSD email and phone number. The flyer, clearly stating that it was an “Antioch Unified School District 8th Grade African-American Promotion Ceremony” also, like the email, includes Dr. Francies as the contact at his AUSD Email and Phone Number.

A subsequent article in the Antioch Herald by John Crowder entitled “African-American 8th grade promotion ceremony in Antioch raises concerns, organizer explains” on Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015 at 5:33 p.m., related information from interviews and comments from various ASUD officials and Dr. Francies, indicating that the event was not intentionally sanctioned as an official ASUD sponsored event. Some even defending the event as appropriate, but not as an AUSD sponsored event. It was also noted that similar promotion celebration events have been held at Holy Rosary church.

In another Article on East County Today entitled “AUSD Explains ‘African American Promotion Ceremony’ flier” on June 6th, more comments as well as questions and answers from various AUSD officials were presented. The article includes an Editorial comment which expresses the opinion that the event was not endorsed or sponsored by AUSD and the district does not want to take any responsibility for it.

In further research I found an Article in the Contra Costa Times archive from 2/4/2014 by Trine Gallegos entitled “Antioch Middle School honors MLK and its top students, too,” in which were excerpts of an interview with Dr. Francies about an Antioch Middle School event honoring MLK combined with an “African-American Honor Roll Banquet”. Quoted in the article, Dr. Francies, repeated several times, the benefits to the community. He is sometimes referring to it as community and occasionally as African-American community as if they are synonymous.

It is my opinion that pastor/minister, Dr. Lamont A. Francies, who is also a counselor at Black Diamond Middle school, and as such a part of the school administrative staff for the school district, is the root of the controversy. I believe that this man is violating the trust of the community, by promoting his social and religious beliefs on the students under his and others responsibility. I believe that in his capacity as an educator, he is there to serve all students by furthering their education and achievements, regardless of their ethnicity or religious beliefs. I fear that the school district has been hijacked for one individual’s personal social and religious agendas.

The AUSD needs to take responsibility for the actions of its staff and deal with the problem by not only clarifying policy but acting on breaches of policy with expedience and authority. Dr. Francies should be fired from his position in order to bring the trust lost from all of the community back into the equation.

Lately, we hear the phrase “celebrate diversity” quite often, and I support the idea that we should celebrate the differences in us that makes us individuals. It is a very important cultural and heritage based concept. But we as a community are trying to make the celebration of diversity the evidence of equality. Diversity and equality by their standard definition are complete opposite concepts.

Dr. King was a very inspirational speaker and very significant catalyst to the creation of Civil Rights Act. His one speech, that I think is most often quoted is the “I Have a Dream” speech. In that speech he lays out what is his definition of equality. It was not treated “different.” It was not treated “better.” It was not “reparation.” It was “equality.” Equal treatment for all. I truly believe he is looking down on us now and shaking his head at what we as a community have done with his dream.

We are failing our community, children and future generations, by claiming diversity defines and demonstrates equality instead of doing the right thing inclusively by them. Civil Rights are about all of the things that we share equally and not about trying to compensate for current or historical inequities. Neither is it about celebrating diversity and emphasizing the individual or the group. It is about sharing and celebrating in equality, all of things that we have or should have in common. One nation created equal.

Doug Knowles, Antioch

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