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Published: Friday, 4/2/2004

Activist says teachers' union chief is no racist

Mr. Rose, 65, who now lives in Valdosta, Ga., spoke to about 100 people who attended the Central City Ministries of Toledo's First Thursday Dialogue luncheon series at the Toledo Club.

The former Toledo branch NAACP president and founder of Family Baptist Church said he didn't believe Francine Lawrence, Toledo Federation of Teachers President, had any racial intent when she claimed that Toledo Public Schools was on the verge of lowering teaching qualifications for African-Americans.

Mrs. Lawrence made the statements in January after she said a district administrator asked that Rodney West-Estell, a black teacher at the Lincoln Academy for Boys, be retained even though the intern board of review recommended nonrenewal.

Mr. Rose, a former ombudsman for the school system, said he "didn't see anything racist" in Mrs. Lawrence's statements. He said, though, that her choice of words was questionable.

He did not debate, though, the school board's decision Tuesday to reject the recommendation not to renew Mr. West-Estell's contract and to review the intern program, saying the board had the right the vote on the issues the way it saw fit.

Mr. Rose said he attended Tuesday's school board meeting, and was dismayed by the divisiveness of the issues.

"I don't jump on anybody's bandwagon until I know whose driving it and know where it's going," Mr. Rose said. "If you ask me if Francine Lawrence is a racist, I would say no. If you ask me if she has the best interest [of the school's students], I'd say yes."

Mr. Rose said people on both sides of the intern program issue should meet privately and away from the media. "I don't believe that common ground is so small that men and women of goodwill cannot find it if they are looking for it," Mr. Rose said.

Before addressing the school issue, he told his audience that whites and African-Americans have more in common than they disagree on, and people often fail to truly communicate with one another, which leads to fear, misunderstanding, and turmoil.

"Are we not all human before we are anything racial," Mr. Rose asked. "Are we not human before we are anything religious?"

He said the key to communication is to talk with an understanding of one another's differences in perception. Mr. Rose said without that understanding people can use identical words, but say things very differently.

Before his speech, Mr. Rose said he has entered politics for the first time in Valdosta, running for the seat of Lowndes County chairman. Mr. Rose said he is running as a Democrat in the primary and currently does not have opposition.

Mr. Rose said he decided to run to address the problems at the Lowndes County jail.

"For all of these years, I was out in the street advocating for policies. But in that position, you couldn't create policy," Mr. Rose said. "In the position of chairman, I'll be in a position to create the policies I've been advocating for."



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