By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"We are tired--you're doing business as usual and you need to stop it!" Gregory Beasley said, raising his voice. "You need to get it RIGHT. I'm tired of you misusing our children! You not gonna have any rest, and that's the bottom line! It's a new generation, and we're not gonna deal with this racist mentality. The good ol' boy mentality got to go!"
"Hello," the lady in the wheelchair said, temporarily occupying the amen corner.
In spite of the static, a prim lady named Ada Williams--a DISD employee charged with giving the trustees a workshop on parliamentary procedure--stepped up to the podium to formally begin the afternoon's business. Remaining stoic, she explained how Robert's Rules "help you get through a meeting. It's very important," she said. "It allows you to do it in order. It allows you to respect the rights of each other."
But the very mention of the words respect and order seemed to incite something in this crowd. I heard a low, guttural voice--"Tell the truth and shame the Devil!"--that rose quickly into higher volume and filled the room, like the sound of a Weedeater ripping through wet crab grass. "If you close a meeting, you're in trouble!" Earnestine Taylor screeched. "And if any policeman touch my wheelchair, you gon' deal with it too!"
At that point, the Second Law of Thermodynamics steamrollered Robert's Rules, and the committee meeting descended into chaos.
"How can you keep kissin' ass?" Taylor shrieked.
"Calm down, sister," said a lady in a rust-colored tunic, who refrained from heckling herself but egged the others on, grinning and giggling whenever Beasley or Taylor scored a particularly nasty bon mot.
"Mr. Keever is a grandson of the Klan!" Beasley hollered.
"I'm sick of this kissin' ass!" Taylor added.
"Don't curse," a lady near me said half-heartedly, while the woman in the tunic smiled.
"PAR-DON MOI," Taylor bellowed back.
Then Taylor and Beasley swung into full rant, piling squawk on top of squawk.
"Keever is a Klansman, he hook up with R.L. Thornton..."
"Don't touch my wheelchair!"
"These devils ain' gon' rest!"
The trustees had had enough. They got up and filed out the side door. Their committee meeting, as such, had lasted less than 15 minutes.
During this unplanned intermission, I stayed put in the board room while most people filed into the hall for a potty break.
I watched as Kathlyn Gilliam stepped back into the room to confer briefly with one of the lead demonstrators. The woman, clearly on orders, immediately turned and faced the room.
"All staff and media need to leave," she said. "Ms. Gilliam wants to speak with her people."
TV cameramen and a few DISD staffers obediently gathered their purses and papers and left, leaving only a handful of black protesters in the board room, as well as the Rev. L. Charles Stovall, a black United Methodist minister.
While Gilliam stood silently at the front of the room, her female co-conspirator scanned the seats for interlopers. Of course she stopped at me, the lone paleface. Adopting a wheedling, mock-polite tone, she said: "Ma'am, would you pleeeze leave?"
"No," I said.
"Please, ma'am--won't you respect the trustee? She wants to speak with her people," Beasley said.
"Who are her people?" I asked.
"The people of southern Dallas," he said.
"I live in southern Dallas."
"The people of her district--District No. 9," Beasley added, quickly tacking on another condition.
"I live in her district." (I was mistaken, I must admit. While I live within Dallas city limits, the children in my neighborhood go to Duncanville schools.)
"What media are you, anyway?" Gilliam's pal asked.
"Dallas Observer," I said.
"Aw, pssshhh--that explains it."
"Ma'am, why don't you just leave?" Beasley pleaded. "See--we're respecting you. So why don't you respect the trustee?"
I pointed out what I thought was obvious: "This is a public meeting in a public room, and I'm not leaving."
By then, since "her people" had run out of reasons for excluding me, the phoniness evaporated.
"Come on--let's go out in the hall and talk, since she's not going to respect us," Gilliam's cohort said loudly. "Let's go out to the van--I bet she won't follow us there."
At that point, the Rev. Stovall, who was holding a copy of that week's Observer--folded back to the page of a story exposing the racial maneuverings of former trustee Dan Peavy and former board president Sandy Kress--took pity on me. "The Observer ran a story this week that has a lot of truth in it," he said to the protesters in a reasoned voice.
Then Stovall, a gentleman, kindly introduced himself to me and passed me a card with his name, church, and phone number. "Oh, my husband's a minister, too," I said.
"What denomination?" Stovall asked.
"Church of God in Christ."
Stovall looked a little puzzled. "Do you realize that that is a predominantly African-American denomination?" he asked.
"Yes," I said.
"I want to meet that brother," Stovall said, smiling.
Beasley--the heckler in the baseball cap--overheard all of this and rushed to my side. As editor of a newspaper that ran an article rumored to support the allegations of "his" people, and as the wife of a minister to a predominantly black congregation, I was no longer an emblem of evil--a stereotype--but a human being. He offered his profuse apologies.