Access to quality education as a basic civil right was a major theme during the NAACP’s Rosa Parks Observance Day ceremony Sunday at the Old Courthouse downtown.
“Education is definitely a top priority for us,” said John Gaskin, who was recently sworn in as a member of the NAACP’s National Board of Directors.
A speech from suspended Ferguson Florissant School District Superintendent Art McCoy closed the event, and Gaskin said the choice sends a message that the civil rights organization is committed to putting classroom success above politics.
“Dr. McCoy has made serious advancements,” Gaskin said. “He goes above and beyond in his job to raise funding for economic empowerment to hire students and to pour resources back into the school district. Why would a school district want to let go of someone who’s doing a fantastic job?”
During his speech honoring Rosa Parks, McCoy pointed out that Parks was inspired to refuse having to sit at the back of the bus by the murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American who was brutally killed in Mississippi in 1955 while visiting relatives.
“Rosa Parks said her life was changed because she was affected at the core,” McCoy said. “It gave fuel to her fearlessness.”
He then asked the audience: “Who’s your Emmett Till?”
During his speech McCoy touched on his suspension with pay by the Ferguson Florissant school board in November, but did not specifically address any of the reasons his contract could be terminated by the school board.
“I’m not afraid of the allegations, and the comments and the conversations because those who have touched somebody, know somebody,” McCoy said. “Those who I’ve worked with know a person, so that the accusations and things that are said are just like noise that blow away in the wind."
McCoy declined to answer questions after the event. The school board has repeatedly declined to comment on his suspension, calling it a personnel matter.
The move has brought sustained outrage from many community activists and public officials.
A hearing with the school board over his suspension was scheduled for Monday night, but that’s been moved to March 12 and 13.