His own man

Sore losers say the white establishment bought and sold Ron Price. Don't believe it.

As for the most frequent charge against him--that he's sold out to the white establishment--Price quips, "I'm still waiting for my receipt."

While white businessmen contributed generously to Price's campaign--the full amount won't be known until campaign reports are filed in July--their buying power didn't extend to the ranks of the black southern Dallas voters who make up most of District 9.

What attracted them to Price? In a city that's truly fed up with "business as usual"--we're talking about Gilliam's messy business here--something about Price stood out plainly. It's his overwhelming innocence: a quality that, until now, no one has ever considered an asset in Dallas politics.

"My friends and I, we're not negative-thinking people," Price says. "We're positive-thinking individuals. We believe the world can change, and it will change.

"Ms. Gilliam's generation fought a strong, strategic battle through the civil rights movement," he adds. "My generation was the beneficiary of that fight. We had an opportunity to grow up with white children. We were able to get a better understanding of different cultures--which made us universal people, not just community people.

"Today, I'm a strong supporter of the African-American community. But I'm not gonna demoralize another group to promote mine.

"I'm my own man."

Last Wednesday, Ron Price was running a little late. In fact, he'd been running late all week.

His DISD secretary had him penciled in for a 10 a.m. speech at William B. Travis Elementary on McKinney. The topic, according to his schedule: "Education."

"Hmmm," the secretary said to me. "That's kind of a broad subject."
Actually, it seemed rather appropriate for Price--or what little I'd heard of him up until then. This is a guy who speaks only broadly, who spouts nonstop platitudes--little gems you've heard many times before from a variety of extremely familiar sources.

He rolled them all out at Travis Elementary's assembly for school volunteers, achieving a maximum density of motivational aphorisms per cubic foot of hot air.

"I'll speak from my heart, because that's the way my mother taught me," he began. "It is time to put our children first, regardless of what color they are."

Speaking smoothly--he hadn't prepared a speech, but has years of testifying in holy-roller churches under his belt--Price brought smiles and cheers to the group of white and Hispanic volunteers.

"We must become a united village," he said. "Our children watch what we do. It's important we give them great role models."

Yeah, yeah.
Afterward, I tracked down Price in the reception room for what would turn out to be my only extended interview with the rookie trustee.

I had 45 minutes--interrupted by bites on a Wonder Bread sandwich, brief conversations with well-wishers of all ages and colors, photo sessions with smiling teachers and pupils--to hack through the platitudes and get to the real Ron Price.

After a while, I realized I'd never cut a hole in the happy talk. It's impossible. Price speaks in aphorisms because he truly believes them. They're his manner of discourse, his means of expression. (It could also be a sign of a lack of knowledge and depth, but he can belie that perception once he's firmly in his role at DISD.)

Along with it comes a genuine respect for elders, a sure sign of his old-school upbringing.

"I'm in this to bring unity to the board--unity to the whole city of Dallas," he said. "That's just my main agenda. Because I know in my heart that children watch everything us adults do. And we are hypocrites if we tell them to get out of gangs, and we're ganging up on one another."

I asked Price to elaborate further, but one thing he wouldn't do was bad-mouth Gilliam. He hadn't come to diss her; he came to bury her.

"Ms. Gilliam is a beautiful person," he said. "But we do need to put a younger person in there."

Asked if Gilliam had communicated with him in any way during the recount, Price shook his head. "Every now and then I caught her..." He scowled and squinted. "The evil eye! But it doesn't work on me. I was like, 'Oh no!'" he added, making the sign of a cross with his forefingers.

Price went on to talk about his work with the Pearl Guards--a group of boys from South Dallas' Pearl C. Anderson Learning Center that he united around a mission of community service, including a well-publicized campaign to shut down liquor stores located near inner-city schools.

Beginning with 13 youngsters in 1992, Price molded and shaped the boys' characters, teaching manners, leadership skills, and what it means to be a man. Instead of choosing only the brightest students, he hand-picked a diverse bunch: boys from stable, two-parent homes; "at-risk" youths; even a special ed kid.

Richard Harper, one of the original 13, now an 18-year-old student at Paul Quinn College, recalls how at first the Pearl Guards were seen as a "geek thing. We were called 'Price's Puppies.'" But after a while, fellow students acknowledged that the Pearl Guards, clad in their trademark navy blue suits, were going places.

"Ron Price was taking us out and putting us on stage and having us speak in public--there were so many avenues he opened up," Harper says. "What sticks with me most is how he said he was paving a road for us."

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