Ready For Battle

DISD hired Clarence Glover to defuse a racial crisis. But is he tough enough for the job?

"I hate bigotry. I hate racism. I hate sexism. I hate classism. When I confront people with those ideas, I am ready for battle."mmm So says Clarence Glover, the new man at the Dallas Independent School District, hired six months ago to craft a more understanding racial climate for Dallas schools during the district's grand-mal seizure of racial turmoil. His hiring came fast on the heels of the publicizing, last September, of secretly made tapes of school-board member Dan Peavy's telephone conversations--in which Peavy slurred black and gay board members.

Peavy eventually resigned, but the beat went on: A few months later, a DISD teacher, Deen Williamson, told a classroom filled with black children that they should return to Africa. Williamson's firing didn't end the white-hot spate of racial conflict within DISD, either.

Brush fires became a full-blown blaze with the opening of Townview Magnet School last August. The school had promised to be a high-tech school of the future, but it became a racially charged flash point instead when parents of students who'd been labeled gifted complained that their children's curriculum had been watered down to accommodate less-adept students. Black parents responded angrily to attempts to tamper with Townview--and brought their protests to the school board. Chanting demonstrators shut down one board meeting, complaining that black board members were being left out of the decision-making process.

During the time between the Deen Williamson scandal and the Townview debacle, Glover was named the district's first special assistant to the superintendent for intercultural relations. All the brouhaha suited his colorful--and controversial--history well, since he had long ago carved out for himself a profile as a dedicated reconciler whose ideas nonetheless raise eyebrows. In particular, he has been associated with a school of thought that declares all whites to be racists, whether or not they embrace racism. Perhaps most unfortunately, he was known during the early '90s as a "melanist"--that is, an advocate of the properties of melanin. This brown pigment--according to its fans--makes African-Americans better dancers and enables some to move objects with their minds.

If his ideas have seemed cockeyed in the past, Glover now stands to become a very important man, because he comes aboard as a peacemaker during an extremely tense period in DISD history. His hiring, however, cost the district essentially nothing: $139,281 was taken from a windfall lawsuit settlement to create what will eventually be a five-person department concerned entirely with the reconciliation of racial issues among a multicolored population that long ago ceased to be black and white. Glover's salary, as head of that department, is $62,000.

If you listen to the grumbling among some board members, nothing is also exactly what DISD has received so far in return. In particular, they cite Glover's conspicuous absence from the continuing controversy at Townview. Although Glover has sat in on school-board meetings and met with concerned students at Townview, he hasn't been dousing the district's blazing fire.

"People would think Clarence would be a person who could have or would have been deeply involved with Townview," says former DISD board president Sandy Kress. "As it turns out, Pettis Norman played a role in bringing people together," he adds, referring to the businessman and former Dallas Cowboy. "Pettis just had the desire and jumped into it."

New board president Bill Keever concurs: "I can't tell you that Glover has played a large role in any of Townview's debates."

Although other board members give Glover's short tenure higher marks, it's doubtful that any true measure of his performance can be taken during this time of political turmoil.

"I think he's very capable," says board member Kathlyn Gilliam. "He knows what he's doing. I don't know of anybody that the school district could have done any better with."

But fellow board member Kathleen Leos says, "It is hard to get a good read on him." Opinions about Glover might seem "a little vague" right now, she adds, because board members are trying to allay the racial tensions among themselves.

Racial politics isn't the only reason why it's difficult to assess Glover's performance so far. Only six months ago, he strode into the complicated system of egos, personal histories, and sometimes overlapping responsibilities that make up any school district. Although Superintendent Chad Woolery has refused comment on Glover, not even responding to written questions, his right-hand man, Special Assistant to the Superintendent Robby Collins, points out that Glover is only a member of a team who cannot write his own job description, or flit about to the projects and skirmishes of his choice. "He's not an independent operator," Collins says. "If you are asking if he can get out on his own, the answer is no."

Glover sees his assimilation into the school-district administration--or lack of it--in a different light. He likens it thus far to walking in a mine field where "things could blow up on me." He says that Woolery and others have kept him invisible, busying him with smaller wars than Townview. He has been dispatched to several schools to mediate less-publicized complaints, including a situation at O.M. Roberts Elementary in which black parents were complaining about discrimination from a Hispanic principal. He has also--he claims--offered to serve as point man on the district's major racial problems, like Townview, but has been rebuffed.

"I would like to be more high-profile," he says. "I have done my part. Should the superintendent choose a different route, that is his choice. I cannot force myself into these things. I walk in and try to do something and..." He slaps the top of his desk and wags his finger, as if chastising a child. "Emotionally, they aren't dealing with me."

If it is too early to evaluate how well Glover is calming racial tensions at DISD, it is timely to take a look at the background of this man who, despite a reputation in some racial-conflict-resolution circles, is little-known in Dallas despite his 16 years here.

Today, the DISD appears to be on the road to racial ruin. Will Glover's influence make a difference?

Early on a recent Friday morning, Glover, 40, is reflecting upon the influences in his past that have brought him to his current career juncture. He is a tall, lean man with an elegant bearing, and is wearing a dark suit, slip-on loafers with dark socks, and a bright-yellow T-shirt advertising a new Spanish-language television show the district is producing.

His office is adorned with symbols of the influences he describes, particularly in the form of his parents' photograph and his certificate of ordination as a Christian Methodist Episcopal minister. Although he has never presided over a CME congregation, Glover nonetheless considers his career path to be ministry--a social ministry that he has styled after the goals of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

If the view seems a bit lofty, he came by naturally a sense of destiny that perhaps amounts to noblesse oblige.

Glover grew up in a sizable all-black community in Louisiana--Cooper Road, now a suburb of Shreveport called Martin Luther King Community. Glover's family was among Cooper Road's most-prominent residents. His great-grandfather owned land and hired others, both black and white, to sharecrop cotton on it. His father, also named Clarence, was a community leader, spearheading civil-rights demonstrations in Shreveport and also attending to more practical matters, such as helping Cooper Road establish its first sewer system. Glover's childhood was that of a privileged son watching his community strive to create an environment where blacks could lead productive lives, without harassment.

"My early years were really about self-determination, seeing African-Americans work together for a cause," he says.

His mother, Elizabeth Glover, remembers that from an early age her oldest son was a reconciler who hated to see others at odds. She says that he often persuaded bickerers to discuss their differences. And, she says, he had a big heart: "He was a kind person, not self-centered. He always went one step beyond to help people."

Perhaps it was the church that nurtured whatever selflessness Glover possessed. His family helped found the Christian Methodist Episcopal church in Cooper Road and, during his late teens, Glover was on track to become one of its leaders, according to Bishop Thomas Hoyt, presiding bishop over the fourth CME district. Hoyt explains that the "C" in CME originally stood for colored. When that changed during the 1950s--when Clarence was about 2 years old--the denomination began making attempts to bridge the gap between black and white Methodists. "Clarence was brought up with an early respect for multiculture," Hoyt says.

Two experiences knocked Glover off the conventional bishop track. The first, Glover says, is that early on he became obsessed with the ideals of Martin Luther King.

Shortly after King's assassination, Glover's father took his 10-year-old son to Memphis to the Lorraine Hotel, where King had died. The elder Glover was besotted with King and constantly pointed out parallels between his own life and the slain leader's. He made much of the facts that both he and King had fathered four children and were civil-rights leaders. He had intended this pilgrimage to ensure that his boy understood the gravity of beliefs that are valued greater than one's own life.

Glover remembers that he paced the length of the room, sat on the bed, reverently touched the furniture. With him was a tour guide, who gave the young boy a photograph of King lying in his coffin. "This man died for you," the guide said. "He died for me. He died for all of us, for our freedom."

The visit had enormous impact upon the young Glover. "As I grew, I wanted to learn a lot more about Martin Luther King," he says. "His speeches became part of my speeches in school. His philosophy of nonviolence became part of my own."

As his father did before him, he began to notice similarities between his life and King's. They both had strong father figures. They both entered school intending to become lawyers, but let their strong ties to the church dictate their ordinations instead.

"It's not that I saw myself as Martin," he says familiarly. "It's just that I saw these paths."

Glover traveled to Atlanta and says he came to know the King family. "They became my teachers," he says. "They began to teach me that a minister need not be a pastor. To be a minister dealing with social issues is a legitimate call." (Attempts to reach the King family for comment through the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Atlanta were unsuccessful.)

Still, Glover intended to be a pastor. That he never became one is, according to Bishop Hoyt, the second incident that determined his maverick path. Glover came to Dallas in 1980, a freshly ordained minister and graduate of Grambling University, expecting to lead a congregation. He enrolled in graduate school at Southern Methodist University only after an appointment as pastor had not materialized. On campus, he found himself becoming more and more of an activist, and he recognized another call. "He went into an alternative ministry instead of a parish," Hoyt says.

Glover's role at SMU was, according to university chaplain William Finnin, expansive and energetic. At the time Glover matriculated, SMU was primarily--and staunchly--white, the school that many of the children of Highland Park assumed they would one day attend. Finnin credits Glover with helping the school make a smoother transition into multiculturalism than it would have otherwise. "The conflicts that arose at SMU were predictable but no less painful, but we were all growing, and Clarence was right there," Finnin recalls.

According to others, Glover also cut a rakish figure. Certainly his presence on campus was self-styled and startling at conservative SMU. He was often seen in African regalia, beating a Ghanaian drum at cultural events in the student union.

"Here was this man who came to campus in Egyptian garb. We'd never been exposed to that," says Kristin Sullivan, former editor of the Daily Campus. She remembers that more than once Glover took the newspaper to task for what he saw as insensitivity toward blacks. Sullivan says she once ran a front-page story about the Kappa Alpha fraternity's cook, a black woman. In the accompanying photograph, the cook was holding a plate of fried chicken. As if that weren't enough, the paper condescendingly addressed the woman by her first name.

It was Glover who called and complained that the story was racist. "He brought a level of debate to the campus that needed to be held," Sullivan says. "He became the point man for race on campus."

Glover remembers that his first meaningful leadership role took place when the campus senate was considering removing seats set aside for black and Hispanic student representatives. The senate rationalized that minority representation was not needed, but Glover felt the effort was discriminatory by any measure. He argued for constituency politics, and as his presentation to the senate closed, unfurled a petition with hundreds of signatures. The minority seats were saved.

Soon afterward, he was hired by the school administration as a counselor for black students. His SMU career continued to rise: He became coordinator of intercultural programs, then director of intercultural education and minority student affairs. He lectured, gave seminars, and helped the school establish celebrations of black culture that are still observed today.

Glover says his largest contribution was that in 1986 he helped develop a campus policy against racial and other forms of harassment. The policy protects anyone from "words or acts deliberately designed to disregard the safety or rights of another and which intimidate, degrade, demean, threaten, haze, or otherwise interfere with another person's rightful action" regardless of race, ethnicity, age, gender, disability, sexual orientation, or religion.

According to Jim Caswell, vice president of student affairs, Glover's role in the policy was "influential." He says Glover was very persuasive and had the best interests of students at heart. He also describes Glover as dogmatic to a fault, adding, "Clarence is a preacher. When you are in Clarence's presence, you are getting the message." Caswell believes that the policy has made a difference because students and faculty are now aware of which behaviors the school finds unacceptable.

Glover believes in policy: He says that he's spent a significant amount of his time at DISD drafting a policy for the district that has much in common with SMU's, and that when violated calls for penalties--everything from reprimands to terminations. The policy was approved by the school board in March. (Assistant superintendent Collins says that Glover shouldn't get all the credit, and that policies against religious and racial harassment have been in place since 1976. What Glover has done is consolidate them. "It's much-more-administrable policy," Collins says.)

At SMU, not everyone was getting the same message Glover was sending. Comments from some former students suggest they found him self-serving and, in a foreshadowing of the melanin controversy that continues to compromise Glover's credibility, downright wacky at times.

Corey Capers, former president of the Association for Black Students, says that Glover helped organize events and lent his voice to campus problems, but always had his head cocked to see how his efforts made him look. "He talked about himself a lot," Capers says. While at SMU, Capers took Glover's course entitled "Black and White" and was discouraged by the experience. "It was a lot of myth and mythology," he says. "A lot of the things he said--about black people having more energy and that's what enables them to do the funky chicken--really didn't enhance the dialogue."

Glover dismisses charges of self-promotion. Certainly, a dedicated self-promoter would be more widely known: Glover isn't a household name in Dallas, and even in academic conflict-resolution circles he is unknown at universities as far away as New York and as close as East Texas. The connections he made at SMU did enable him to enlarge his influence, however, particularly as a consultant to the Dallas Police Department when, in 1984, the department came under fire from the NAACP following a rash of shootings of black robbery suspects. Glover says he persuaded police to change key policies in an effort to reduce shootings. Chief among those changes was a decision to place a greater priority on preserving a suspect's life than on protecting property, he says. Glover also convinced the department to change its shooting-practice target from a black to a beige silhouette. (Police officials, when contacted by the Observer, could not recall anything about Glover's work in the mid-1980s.) And he has taken his ideas about diversity into such corporations as AT&T and WFAA-Channel 8, and to the Arlington and Duncanville school districts.

"I networked," he says of his 14 years at SMU. "Who else would not have done the same things? I gained a national reputation."

Well, yes. Unfortunately, Glover became best-known not for noble efforts at SMU and other worthy organizations, but for comments he made in 1994, when he was ridiculed in Time magazine as a prominent "melanist." It was at a time when some black scholars were hyping the pigment, which is found in the human body in greater proportion among those who are dark-skinned. "Melanists" attributed to melanin everything from superior athletic ability to supernatural powers. Glover was notably singled out: The article was accompanied by a large photograph of him and detailed his personal theory--which he was then teaching to his freshman class in intercultural relations at SMU--that those to whom God granted greater melanin content tend to value human relationships more than material possessions. "Melanin is the strongest chemical in the human body," he was quoted as saying.

The derision that followed publication of the April 4, 1994, story continues today, to the point that Glover sighs when he says, "I have never advocated the supremacy of melanin at all." He goes on to cite scientific studies about melanin, however, that he claims show melanin has great impact on the body.

Did Time misstate Glover's trust in melanin? If so, he still seems attached to the principle, if not the chemical.

Although the word "melanin" never arose, Glover recently raised hackles at a school district committee meeting with a presentation that couched old arguments in new terms.

At the inaugural session of the DISD school board's intercultural relations committee on November 25, 1995, Glover presented historical precursors to modern-day race relations, offering a socio-evolutionary justification for the differing value systems developed by those with white and dark skins. This time he blamed European culture and weather, not melanin, for causing whites to prioritize the acquisition of material possessions above human relationships--the latter being the highest priority for societies in, for instance, Africa. He said that colder climates give rise to individualism and aggression, whereas warmer climates foster farming culture and greater interdependence with others. "This is neither good nor bad," he said, "only relative."

This nugget of thought became the subject of a Dallas Morning News article and earned him a barb in D magazine, which once again associated Glover with fringe Afro-centric beliefs. It also did not endear Glover to some board members.

"He preaches racist messages," says board president Keever. "He believes all Anglos are racist and are only about collecting material things and not about having relationships. If I were about collecting stuff, I certainly wouldn't be in the school board for 30 to 40 hours a week for no compensation."

Although Glover certainly espouses his share of beliefs-from-nowhere, it would be a shame if the taint they leave on his reputation discolors it altogether. A self-described "intellectual militant," Glover possesses some views on race and culture that are not so much silly as original. And in this age of racial conflicts stalemated by political correctness, a mind that isn't afraid to see into corners could use an audience.

Glover says, for instance, that racism is not about individual attitudes toward race. "The most important thing for people to realize is that racism is a system and not an individual act," he explains. "Racism is about power." In America, the system of racism has been set up to benefit white people so that they can maintain power, he says.

Therefore, all white people are racist and only whites can be racist, because all whites benefit from the system and only whites can.

Blacks and other minorities, Glover says, can be bigoted, insensitive, and discriminatory, but they do not have the power to concoct a system that will undercut whites.

And if liberal whites bristle at being labeled racist, Glover tries to bring the focus closer to home. The racist system is like sexism, he says, in that all men benefit from sexism--the system they created to wield power--whether or not they want to in this age of evolving roles. Women simply haven't acquired the power to set up a system to benefit themselves. "You are talking about the dynamics of a collective act," Glover says.

Glover's philosophy examines racism objectively, taking the personal sting from the word by declaring that racism is not an individual act.

There may be no greater indication that Glover sometimes spouts not nonsense, but new sense, than the fact that other racial leaders distrust him, often without being able to condemn him for specific acts. Racial politics are dominated by highly visible leaders, and also by dogmatic and often divisive thinking on all sides. It's a system that may not easily tolerate a man who is thinking for himself and whose goals are broad and best accomplished behind the scenes.

When he describes himself, Glover says he is not a political player in the usual sense of the word--that he doesn't place first emphasis on jockeying for power. He claims to conduct war against hidebound ideologies in favor of reconciliation among groups. His prize, he says, is changed minds.

When his former clients describe him, they talk about peacemaking. "He brings people together," says James Rose, an administrator in the Arlington Independent School District who experienced Glover's methods firsthand when Glover was a consultant there.

When other activists describe him, they hesitate to offer praise. Lee Alcorn, the president of the Dallas chapter of the NAACP, says he will be watching Glover with a "jaundiced eye," and explains that Glover "hasn't been too visible. I doubt that many in the community would consider him to be a player."

It was Alcorn who escalated the district's current racial crisis by leading the protests against the school board, which resulted in the shutdown of one meeting and the cancellation of another. And he isn't happy with Glover's performance at the protests, when Glover met with protesting students at the behest of the superintendent. Alcorn claims that Glover tried to intimidate them into stopping the protesting.

Glover would eventually apologize to the students, whom he claims misunderstood his purpose in speaking to them. He says he wasn't trying to bully them into ending their protest. He simply wanted them to examine their own goals and motivations, and consider whether they were ready to fight for the long haul.

But Alcorn finds this hard to believe. "We are not going to be content to have a black face in that position," he says. "We want to see some concrete efforts on his part."

Richard Evans, director of the Dallas-based African-American Education Network and an activist who helped develop the Townview Magnet school, says there is concern that Glover is "a pawn and is an instrument of the establishment."

"He has traditionally played the role of very passive and conciliatory," he adds. "He has always been the sort of mediating type. That has been interpreted as passivity by those who take a more-militant stance."

(None of this surprises a former SMU colleague of Glover's, Alphine Jefferson, now working for the College of Worcester in Ohio. Jefferson refers to Dallas' traditional black organizations as the "homegrown Dallas Black Mafia." "They all thought we were handkerchief heads because we worked at SMU," he says. "If you did not do what they said or participate in the things that they did, they would say pretty unkind things about you.")

Hispanics, who constitute the largest minority in the district, are worried about Glover because they fear he may ignore their needs. "A lot of blacks don't know our history and therefore aren't able to articulate for us when issues of diversity come up," says Michael Gonzalez, chairman of Dallas Hispanic Citizens.

Glover brushes aside these concerns. "The issue is not playing to any one agenda. It is to stay in focus," he says. He says it calmly, as though he doesn't know his office chair is actually a powder keg, and that he's perceived as an enigma.

He is called a racist and a reconciler, an activist and an agitator, a preacher and a pawn. Stories drawn from his past can prove or disprove all these labels. In his new leadership role, he will accomplish either much or little. He says that one of the greatest factors in the outcome is that he's "interculturally friendly"--that he plays to no one group or minority and has friends in them all.

The interview over, he is striding down a hallway, headed to a ceremony that will launch the district's Hispanic television show. He greets whomever he passes in the hall, offering them bright, promotional T-shirts hawking the show.

His hand goes out to everyone.

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