“I’m not gonna lie to you… I lost hope,” said Tony Hunter, Father of 3 active children, including 18 year- old Emmerson High athlete, Jayda.
Her father has spent a lot of time on gym bleachers, cheering for Jayda consistently since 4th grade. But when news reached the family that a recent Section 6 decision allowing spectators at sports events included all schools except Buffalo Public Schools, they were devastated. Superintendent Kriner Cash was citing Covid 19 precautions as the reason for his decision to disallow spectators. “I was frustrated at watching all these other areas on WNY Athletics all the time, where private schools and suburban schools have spectators. All the Superintendent could say was that ‘It’s not safe.’ Well, my question is, why is it safe for everybody else, but not safe for us?”
Tony Hunter wasn’t the only Buffalo parent in despair, after initially raised hopes came crashing down. What he didn’t know, was that help was just a community coalition away. From our unique position of outside occupation, Buffalo parents know full well that our children get nothing we don’t fight for. Word got around quickly that our majority Black district was the only one excluding parents from sports events, and parent advocates gathered immediately in the hallowed halls of the Mount Olive Baptist Chruch. There, the familiar sting of exclusion was emphatically voiced by clergy, parent advocates, and community members at a March 5th press conference.
Bishop Michael Badger, member of the Urban Think Tank touted “Some of the lowest (Covid) infection rates in all of Erie County.” He called the ban “Just another example of a system that should educate children first, but has become an employment system which caters to the needs of adults first.” Aymanuel Radford, who is a former athlete and sports coach announced a petition drive to demonstrate support for parent spectators. He was also disturbed about the exclusion of the media from end of season games. “The coverage that the media gives allows our children to get better opportunities,” he said, adding that high school seniors treasure those last home games and the ability to look up into the stands and see their parents. Robert Chapman, father of a City Honors Junior stressed the need for normalcy and equality, the lack of which contribute to underlying mental health issues. He cited the loss of exposure for Buffalo athletes without media coverage, and insisted that 30 individuals (two spectators per athlete) could certainly distance themselves responsibly in a spacious gym. Keisha Lawrence, Aunt of Bennett High School senior DeMario James reported that she had hired a videographer to compile highlights for him.
In an impassioned and forceful appeal, “We The Parents” Co-Chair Duncan Kirkwood acknowledged a litany of ills facing parents and students in the era of Covid; mental health issues, isolation, rising rates of depression and suicide. He also cited advantages enjoyed by suburban schools in spite of pandemic related concerns: an active effort for in-person or hybrid learning, high quality sports coaches and more. “Black families in Buffalo,” he said, “are getting the short end of the stick. We can at least give our families moments. It might seem trivial – to see your child play basketball…but that’s an important moment. The last game of organized sports – the last moment when you’re with your teammates and can perform at the highest level in front of your family…that means something to our community, to our parents and to our families. Don’t take that away. Especially when 5 minutes in every direction, families are getting to do that.”
DPCC (District Parent Coordinating Council) President Wendy Mistretta punctuated the “marriage of convenience” between the District and its students in just a few words: “We know we have a right to public education,” she said… “But frequently it feels like public education feels they have a right to us.”
At the close of the press conference, “We The Parents” Co-Chair Sam Radford reported being told by a School Board member that suburban schools get concessions because those parents and communities are pushing, making an argument on behalf of their children. Factually though, Buffalo parents have sustained the most organized, consistent and passionate advocacy on behalf of our children of any in the region. Factually, Buffalo parent advocacy has been a trailblazing beacon for the entire nation. This most recent campaign is one more in an endless, exhausting effort to compel those who have colonized our schools to, in Bishop Badger’s words: “fight for our children like they fight for theirs.”
That’s clearly not the intention, but we can report that the community’s intentions have triumphed once again. Tony Hunter and other parents of seniors have been granted the ability to join their children for final, precious moments as a result of the community effort to sway administrators. It appears that parents of other grade level athletes and even some media outlets have also been allowed in to cover games, though at the time of this writing there hasn’t been an official announcement of a policy change. But we can also relay Tony Hunters’s report that his daughter Jayda had one of her best games of the year! She rocked. And her parents know that – because they were right where they were supposed to be.