In his address to the lunch crowd, Judge Dinkins spoke for a bout 20 minutes, focusing his remarks on the public education situation in Metropolitan Nashville. Among the attendees were Judge Dinkins’ colleagues Judge Kelvin Jones, who introduced him as speaker, and Chancellor Russell Perkins, along with several local pastors and ministers and community leaders and church members.
Prior to the address to the audience, Judge Dinkins said in an interview that he planned to to talk about “challenges the community faces and some of the initiatives that new Metro Schools director Dr. Shawn Joseph is planning to institute, and the fact that the community needs to embrace him and support him as he moves forward with his vision.” Judge Dinkins has been working on the transition committee for Dr. Joseph. Dinkins had invited Dr. Joseph to attend, but Joseph was unavailable due to out-of-town travel.
“Over the past several years the schools have resegregated, and that presents a challenge; just in terms of the value of a desegregated and a diverse educational environment,” said Dinkins.
“There are some preparation challenges, children needing to be fed and prepared when they come to school, and that’s something that the community can do a better job at… Community groups, churches, civic organizations have a tremendous responsibility and need to get on board, so to speak.”
For the audience, he pointed out data from a report that demonstrated how many schools are in trouble. He reviewed the desegregation and resegregation of Nashville schools. He also raised important questions for us to consider.
“Do we as a community truly value diversity in education? and are we willing to do what it takes to have a diverse educational program? We also have a very crucial achievement problem, an achievement gap. In the ‘Athens of the South’, the ‘It City’ of Nashville, to me that is a blemish. We cannot be where we should be if we are not educating our children better then we are now.”
He borrowed a saying of Rev. Fuzz that “sometimes we have to comfort the afflicted, and other times we need to afflict the comfortable…. we have to do a better job of preparing our teenagers for parenthood.”
He warned about the way the community treats the present schools director, reviewing treatment of past directors and their harassment and mistreatment in the media and by political factions. “If we have brought the man here to run the school system, then he needs to have the keys to the car and be allowed to run the school system.”
He said “we need to commit ourselves individually, when we look in the mirror in the morning, say ‘I will live today so God can use me, and I can be an instrument of God’s will.’ And if you are not doing that you need to go back to bed until you get up with that mindset.”
He noted that First Baptist East Nashville was home of the school desegregation case and referred to one of its members, the lead plaintiff the late A.Z. Kelley as “one of the finest men to walk this Earth; he never had two nickels to rub together, but if you needed one, he had one for you.” He shared the Feb. 16, 1994 funeral program of Kelley, where Rev. Charles L. Dinkins, the Judge’s father, was pastor and the eulogist. He said Kelley reminded him of Abraham: “Here I am Lord, send me.” He said, “We need to grow up and to train up a a new generation of A.Z. Kelleys and Abrahams.”
In closing, he urged us all to support Dr. Joseph and to squash any negative sentiments toward him that we encounter.