Don’t Push Me Cuz I’m Close to the Edge: For Kelly Williams-Bolar

28 Jan

Kelly Williams-Bolar, a single mother of two daughters, ages 16 and 12, is serving day 9 of a 10-day suspended sentence in an Akron, OH jail for –wait for it – “records falsification” after modifying documents so that her  daughters could attend school in a better school district than the ones near the subsidized housing where they currently live. To add insult to great, great injury, Ms. Williams-Bolar has been denied, by virtue of her felony conviction, the right to complete her teaching degree in special education that she is merely a few credits shy of reaching as a college senior at a local university. Are you enraged yet?

We have an effed up funding structure in this country in which public schools are largely funded through property taxes. This is one of those structural policies that is based solidly on our hierarchical race and class structure, while giving the appearance of being totally race-neutral. Yet again, a fundamental right in our country has been tied to property rights in such a way that poor Black and Brown folks have highly restricted access, because of both our historical and current relationship to property. And it is not merely about class. Let us not forget the decades and decades of housing discrimination, which forced Black people to live in segregated neighborhoods, with lower property values, or the fact that it is still the case, that large numbers of Blacks in previously white neighborhoods are perceived to be a drag on property values. Finally, histories of white flight and gentrification led to stellar schools in the suburbs, while gutting the economic base of urban communities.

We are living in a moment with a resurgence of the most rhetorically and physically violent kinds of right-wing politics that we’ve seen since the Reagan-era. Right wing extremists, Tea Partyers included, are self-soothing themselves like the immature human beings they are with fairytale narratives of personal responsibility.  And the Reagan-era and its creation of the infamous “welfare queen” stereotype [yes the term didn’t even exist before the 1970s, and it referred to one Black woman in Chicago who had defrauded the system to the tune of $150,000–in other words an extreme and rare case] is a cautionary tale about how poor Black women become particularly severe casualties of these kinds of conservative temper tantrums.

For Kelly Williams-Bolar is the model of personal responsibility. She made the negotiation that many folks –including rich white parents—make all the time. She desired what was best for her children. And therein lies the first fallacy – as a welfare queen, which she must obviously be as a single mother living in the government sponsored housing, clearly she couldn’t care about her children. Second, Williams-Bolar was actively positioning herself for a career that would allow her to make a better life for her children by obtaining a college degree, teaching special needs children—the other throwaways of our effed up system, no less. If she hadn’t been locked up, she might have been just the type of person that President Obama invited to attend the SOTU earlier this week, as a model of the American dream-in-progress.

Instead, she is being punished by a system designed for her to fail. Conservative irrational guardians of the legal system and its supposed sanctity have actually told themselves that the letter of the law outweighs the quality of the three human lives at stake in its enforcement. But when you don’t see Black people, and specifically Black women as human, and in fact, when you are only capable of seeing them as criminals who drain the system, then you will feel justified in doing anything to lock them in the coffins you have built for them, even if it means you have to bury them alive in the process.

The school system hired a private investigator to spy on Ms. Williams-Bolar and her two children as she walked them to the bus stop a few blocks from her home each morning; the act of surveillance itself suggests that Black parenting is criminal.  Yet, what kind of neighborhood must they have lived in if this mom had to accompany her two teen/tweenaged daughters to the bus stop each day?  Rather than spying on them, perhaps we could have a conversation about their obvious lack of safety.   And I wonder how much this little “spy service” cost taxpayers.  Moreover, it reminds me of Patricia Hill Collins work on the politics of surveillance and containment. Black women are always being watched in the spaces that we live and work, making us and our practices highly visible, while our conditions and motivations, remain largely invisible.  Any attempts for us to buck limiting trends or ideologies, are swiftly contained with the kind of political fervor, that lets you know just how radically insurgent and threatening the act of a Black mother caring for and educating her children actually is.

It is no small irony that the address Williams-Bolar used is her father’s. The children’s grandfather pays taxes though he has no school aged children. Why can his grandchildren not benefit from his tax dollars? Because when you really think about it, the children at the better schools are primarily beneficiaries of decades and decades of unearned privileges, racial and economic, passed down to them by their grandparents. So in a new-school remix of the grandfather clause, the system denies the Black grandfather the right to bequeath a generational legacy of access to economic and educational opportunity.  He, too, was prosecuted.

The prosecutors are also considering additional charges in order to receive restitution for the approximate $30,500 in tuition costs that the girls benefited from in their time at the “illegal” school.” I wonder how much “tuition” costs at the school in Williams-Bolar’s neighborhood.

Times like this I feel like the end is near. My sentiments about this moment  are best summed up in the chilling Reagan-era words from Melle Mel’s 1982 classic, The Message.

“Don’t push me, Cuz I’m close to the edge.

I’m trying not to lose my head

Uh huh huh huh huh

It’s like a jungle sometimes

It makes me wonder

How I keep from going under…”

You can support Kelley Williams-Bolar by sending funds of support to National Action Network Akron Chapter, c/o Kelley Williams-Bolar, P.O. Box 4152, Akron, Ohio, 44321.

9 Responses to “Don’t Push Me Cuz I’m Close to the Edge: For Kelly Williams-Bolar”

  1. Sister Toldja January 28, 2011 at 12:02 PM #

    Great piece on a heartbreaking story. My friend told me yesterday that if he was 80 and done everything he felt he’d wanted to do in this world, he’d have walked in that courtroom and shot the judge and the prosecutor in this case. It sounds extreme, but I feel him. To know what lengths these people will go to punish this woman for what she did- and not simply by taking the kids out the school, but to make it virtually impossible for this woman to have a career that will give them a better life- is sickening.

    I wrote a piece about this case for Clutch and what broke my heart even more was that two young Black women from Copely actually sided WITH the school district, claiming that the Akon kids are nothing but an “embarrassment” and a nuisance.

    • crunktastic January 28, 2011 at 12:31 PM #

      Thanks for the comments, Sister Toldja. I’m looking for your piece over at Clutch, and unfortunately I got sidelined by Dan Tres Omi’s piece, which was great! But I’m so damn disturbed by the comments. WTF!

    • Taylormay February 9, 2011 at 10:14 AM #

      Um hi, I’m one of those Copley girls who sided with my hometown. I didn’t say Akron kids were a nuisance as I was born there and lived there until I was eight myself. Its not just Akron kids either…

      imagine spending your hard earned money to give your kids a diverse, and expensive learning experience only to be followed by the same type of people who made your childrens’ learning experience virtually impossible.

      The saddest part about these isn’t that parents are stealing from the district but rather these kids aren’t realizing their parents’ sacrifice and actually getting an education. It sucks as a black girl to see the people who are getting in trouble look like me and to know they just don’t care about life.

      Like you said, you wouldn’t hesitate to steal from a district and lie to allow your kids to go to another school but what about the people who actually sacrificed and spent the money or lived in the poorer areas of the district which is as much as a nice house in another city just so your children can get a great education? What if those same kids who make learning difficult do it because they don’t understand their parents sacrificing and lying to give them something better?

      Do I think she deserved to be convicted of a felony and thrown into jail like a thug? of course not! But there are other pieces to the story like how the district tried to get her to pay the bill and she told them several times she wasn’t paying it- what was the district supposed to do? Usually the parents run away when found out about (like a friend of mine) but she continued sending her daughters there without paying.

      There are lots of cases in Copley but this is the first that has gotten this far. I know the Akron superintendent is trying his best to allow her to get her license and I hope she is able to graduate and teach so that she can truly give her daughters the privilege that should be afforded to all American children- a positive and safe learning environment.

      • crunktastic February 9, 2011 at 10:31 AM #

        Thanks for your comment, TaylorMay. The problem is that your analysis does not look at the historical ways that the funding for education has been tied to property taxes. Historically, this was done while Black people were being actively segregated into neighborhoods with low property values. This means that the laws themselves were written to create class and race based inequality, by literally tying school funding to where people live. So if you live a poor area, your school gets less money, which means teachers are paid less, text books are scarce, etc. This means that educational opportunities in poor neighborhoods are worse, not because kids don’t want to learn, but because the school system is set up from the time they begin in it, to reinforce the idea that they are not valued. If you went to schools with good teachers, adequate textbooks, and good facilities, then your educational environment affirmed your right to be there and offered you the resources to learn. Ms. Williams-Bolar’s children did not have that kind of access. Rather than blaming kids for a system they didn’t create (we have decades of academic scholarship affirming this point), we need to look at how systems of inequality function to teach us to devalue ourselves. Further, you assume that Ms. Williams-Bolar owed the school district. Two points: a.) do your parents pay 30 thousand dollars for you to go? B.) her father lived in the district, and I presume he doesn’t have any school aged children. So why can’t his property taxes fund his granddaughter’s education? So asking a working mother who’s in school to pay back $30000 as if she stole something she wasn’t entitled to (if it’s public education, the public is entitled to it) is ludicrous on multiple levels. Moreover, what you are advocating perhaps unwittingly is the same logic that led to the Brown v. Board decision. White schools have always been funded better than Black schools, and prior to Brown, we were told that we should accept a separate but equal system. What Brown demonstrated was that separation (based on race) was inherently unequal, but I think there is another principle at stake, namely that public education should offer equal resources to its students, and when it fails to do so, we have the right and the moral obligation to resist. That’s why folks are calling this mother the Rosa Parks of education, and based on historical comparison, those analogies are spot on.

  2. tmaismb January 28, 2011 at 1:10 PM #

    Gina at blogged about this today, as well. It seems that Ms. Williams-Bolar may have also been singled out for harsher punishment due to some legal issues her father was having.

    It’s a sad statement on how inaccessible a free, quality education is becoming for those who are not affluent in this country. And if Kelley was indeed targeted due to her father’s legal issues, it shows how corrupt the legal system in this country continues to be.

  3. aljean January 28, 2011 at 7:05 PM #

    I falsify data in a similar but different way, documenting that I live with my lesbian ex, who is the co-parent of our two kids, one each biological. I am on the lease, pay bills, etc. but I actually live in a cheaper nieghborhod and give her money to support our kids living in the expensive district. We don’t have legal rights to each other’s bio kids, but the white one actually lives half time with his black mother and sister. Our story can’t be comprehended by the systems which govern us: so the lie covers a greater truth. Names changes to protect the innocent.

  4. Truthiz January 29, 2011 at 10:03 AM #

    She broke the law. She got caught. There was going to be a penalty. However, clearly, the punishment is extreme.

    But it also begs the question: Why didn’t she just either move in with her father?…Or (if that wasn’t an option) move to a place in that same school district?

    • Koby February 6, 2011 at 10:56 PM #

      “Why didn’t she just either move in with her father?…Or (if that wasn’t an option) move to a place in that same school district?”

      Seriously? You seem to have missed the part in the story where they mention she was a single mother, in college, with teenagers. I’m glad you have such a comfortable life that you can just pick up and move into a nicer neighborhood at will. Not everyone can do that. People seem to forget that moving isn’t as simple as being able to afford higher rent, it’s also coming up with a deposit, first months rent, utility deposit, first month of the utilities. She was just doing what a good parent would do in her situation.


  1. Tweets that mention Don’t Push Me Cuz I’m Close to the Edge: For Kelly Williams-Bolar « The Crunk Feminist Collective -- - January 28, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by One who is learning, Charlene Carruthers and For Harriet, Chitra Nagarajan. Chitra Nagarajan said: Don't Push Me Cuz I'm Close to the Edge: For Kelly Williams-Bolar: race, inequality and the school system […]

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