By Shereen Siewert
Plans by an activist group to hold an event Saturday at Wausau East High School, following a controversial presentation on Thursday is drawing significant controversy, with two School Board members demanding the district withdraw its permission to use school property.
Kevin McGary and Neil Mammen, founders of “Every Black Life Matters,” spoke to the Marathon County Board of Supervisors for more than an hour sharing their criticism of abortion and race-based movements. At one point, McGary told the Board that Wausau Mayor Katie Rosenberg is “all in” on “exterminating black people.”
Dozens of readers wrote to Wausau Pilot & Review expressing their shock and concern over the message shared Thursday. Several teachers, who asked that their names not be shared to avoid professional backlash, said they no longer feel safe in the district and are angry that a group that advocates for the prevention of “critical race theory” being taught in schools will be allowed the space.
In an email earlier this month to Wausau Pilot & Review, District Administrator Keith Hilts said allowing the group to use Wausau East falls within the district’s guidelines. According to district policy, events can be held that do not interfere with the educational mission of schools, do not pose an unreasonable risk of physical injury or security, and do not involve illegal activities or subject matter that is “legally obscene.”
The EBLM and “Remnant Rising” training planned for Saturday aims to provide strategic training on racial and social justice issues and provide a “counterpoint to the deceptions of Black Lives Matter and Critical Race Theory,” the event information states.
In a news release, Wausau School Board members Jane Rusch and Ka Lo called McGary and Mammen’s behavior Thursday “abhorrent.”
“We are absolutely appalled that guests of our community, would come here and blatantly attack a leader of our City and our community,” their joint statement reads. “We, as members of this community, protect each other. We, as leaders, condemn the gross behavior. In addition, we are opposed to the event “Every Black Life Matters” to be held in a publicly funded building, Wausau East High School.”
Critical race theory, an academic concept more than 40 years old, poses that racism is a social construct not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies. One example scholars point to is when, in the 1930s, government officials drew lines around areas that were deemed poor financial risks, often due to the racial composition of the people who lived within them. Banks subsequently refused to offer mortgages to Black people living within those areas. Today, scholars say, those same patterns of discrimination live on through facially race-blind policies, such as single-family zoning that prevents the building of affordable housing in advantaged, majority-white neighborhoods and, thus, stymies racial desegregation efforts, according to Education Week.
But liberals and conservatives are sharply divided over the concept of CRT. While some see the theory as a way to understand how American racism has shaped public policy, others see the idea as a divisive discourse that pits people of color against white people.
Rusch and Lo say they are disappointed that Hilts did not “have the foresight to realize that an event with the words “Black Life Matters” would be a sensitive subject that would warrant further examination and approval from the board, and say they are concerned that the event will reopen wounds in the community.
On Twitter, Rosenberg called the accusations made against her, which were in response to her declaration this week calling Wausau a ‘Community for All,’ “absolute inflammatory nonsense.”
On Friday morning, County Board Chair Kurt Gibbs issued a formal apology to Rosenberg. Gibbbs said McGary’s statements went “far beyond the current community conversation.”
“I personally regret that I did not admonish the speaker during his presentation,” Gibbs said in a statement. “We do not allow public comment to bend in the direction of the personal and I would not permit a Supervisor (County Board member) to behave in such a way.
“Breaking in on an educational speaker to impose our rules of decorum would have interfered with his delivery of the message he was invited to convey,” Gibbs said. “In the moment, I decided not to disrupt the presentation. I now regret that decision and sincerely apologize to the mayor.”
See the full presentation below.