John Williams’ school board seat wasn’t even empty, much less cold, when the first candidate to replace him threw her hat in the ring prior to Monday’s night’s board meeting.
Kamilah Long, 40, a former college professor who’s the manager of capital campaigns and leadership alliances for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, announced Monday that she wants to be considered to replace Williams, who revealed last week his plans to resign during the meeting.
Williams’ resignation was effective immediately, and the remaining four board members are now tasked with appointing an interim board member for the remaining two years of Williams’ term. The board has scheduled informal Q&A sessions with prospective applicants June 26 and July 10, interviews July 17 and a vote to fill the vacancy July 19.
Long’s media liaison Morgan Lindsay issued a press release Monday morning announcing Long’s decision to seek the position. Later, Long and a group of about 50 supporters — some were also there to address another issue the board was set to address — showed up at the board meeting.
“First of all, I do want to take this time to recognize and thank (Williams) for six years of service,” Long said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. “And tonight being his last board meeting, I want to honor his dedication to the students of the community.
“I believe that I can be an asset to the students, the parents, the administrators and the other school board members when it comes to cultural competency and my ability to be a voice for the students of color who currently do not have someone who looks like them in a position of authority in the school district. And I would like to run because I believe we can do more to prioritize a safe and welcoming learning environment for all the students.”
Long, who moved to Ashland in 2014 and has a son in the high school, said the board should do whatever it can to make Ashland schools safe for its students.
“For me, definitely, the priority for a school board member should be to create a safe place for students to learn and be educated,” she said. “And also, you have to factor in how to do that, and if you factor that in you have to deal with budgets and money and funding. And me having extensive experience in development, I think that will play a vital role with ways to also fundraise for the school.”
A former creative consultant for the Lowndes County Board of Education in Valdosta, Georgia, Long has overseen OSF’s $5.1 million “Access for All” campaign, whose goal is to make the campus more accessible, particularly for those with mobility limitations. OSF will celebrate the completion of phase 2 of the three-phase project Thursday at 5 p.m. with an “Access for All Brick Courtyard Celebration” that will feature live music, food and beverages.
Long’s press release referred to “a documented increase in hate speech and hate-related incidents” in the Ashland school district, particularly at AHS. “On a regular basis,” it stated, “students of color endure racist taunts and jokes from their schoolmates. One black student reports being called the n-word multiple times an hour, day after day, week after week. Another has been told to sit at the back of the bus and has endured the pain of their classmates laughing at lynching jokes. This tension has even given rise to physical altercations. These incidents are acts of violence that are meant to demean, intimidate, belittle and destroy the spirits of students of color.”
When asked where the increase in hate speech and hate-related incidents are documented, Long said she’s heard multiple accounts from the students themselves.
“And also,” she said, “it’s been confirmed by the principal that these things have happened, and also members of the community who I’ve spoken with, who have children who have been involved in those incidents.”
When asked why examples of racism at AHS were included in the initial press release announcing her candidacy, Long said the point was to get people to notice.
“I thought it was important so we could call attention to what’s happening to students of color at this school, and to kind of shake people up with some facts,” she said. “That usually gets people’s attention. I feel like also, they will never hear it said because literally the school cannot go and say what people have done. But I can. I can say what’s been done here.”
The release also stated that: “The inaction of the school board on these issues over past decades and especially this past year is a symptom of white supremacy and systemic racism in the Ashland School District.”
Asked if she’s concerned that such a strong statement may put current board members on the defensive before they even have a chance to meet her and other candidates, Long said the most important thing was the health of the entire district.
“It’s not about white guilt at all,” she said, “it’s about supporting the community. Everyone is affected by this. That’s why it’s important to have the EDI (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) initiative, so that we can all learn how to deal with these situations in the most effective way possible.”
Long, who recently started volunteering at the high school as a mentor, said she was encouraged to seek a spot on the board by Ashland High School’s outgoing senior class president, Evan Mouledoux. That wasn’t an option when every seat was filled, but after Williams’ announcement last week, Mouledoux brought it up again.
“And the next thing you know, here I go,” Long said.
Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.