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Leaders weigh in on quilt controversy

Thursday, May 2, 2013

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Regardless of whether they agree or disagree with Sharon Brooks Hodge’s criticism of a quilt presented to Martinsville City Council last week, some area black leaders and community activists said they felt the situation could have been handled better.

“I think it could have been handled differently. It was an unfortunate incident that should not have happened, but things like that will happen and there is no way to preclude things like that from happening 100 percent,” said Curtis Millner, a member of the Henry County School Board who also has headed the Fayette Area Historical Initiative (FAHI).

He and some other local leaders and activists commented on a controversy with Hodge, a Martinsville City Council member, over the quilt, which highlighted experiences of the Piedmont Governor’s School students while doing a citizen survey for the city.

After the students presented the quilt to the city to display, Hodge said she was offended by a square that depicted a dark-colored figure — representing the students’ lack of knowledge — on one side of a dam or bridge, and a gold-colored figure — representing the students after their studies and research — on the other. Hodge said she hoped the quilt would not be displayed at city hall and suggested students consult with others “of dark color” in the future.

A majority of the Governor’s School students involved in making the quilt are moving forward, but “perhaps the young man and the young lady may not” move on as quickly, Millner said this week, referring to the student who described the square to the city council and the one who was responsible for its design.

Millner said if he had been offended by the square at the April 23 meeting, “I would have voiced my displeasure with the Governor’s School staff, and not have talked with a student like that in front of the TV and city council.”

Millner said he was told by the Governor’s School staff that Dr. Nina Huff, teacher at the Governor’s School, apologized at the council meeting, and the situation now “will be made a teaching tool to move forward.” He added that most students now are preparing for a test.

Brian Pace, director of the Governor’s School, said students “are just moving forward” and maintaining a “focus on what we need to be doing in the next few weeks (before the end of the school year).” He declined further comment.

Millner said that while he views the situation “as a negative, I also see (that) something positive can come out of it on a local level. We are being made more aware as to things of different races and ethnic groups and what offends them, and perhaps we will learn to work more closely with them.”

Retired Henry County Sheriff’s first lieutenant Joe Louis Hairston said, “I thought the quilt was great, and I thought the Governor’s School students did a great job. They did a lot of hard work putting it together, and I think they took a lot of pride in putting it together and presenting it to the city.”

Martinsville “should accept the quilt with pride and display it, and I think those kids should be praised for what they did and not be criticized,” Hairston said. “I think she (Hodge) will learn to think” before she speaks.

“When we learn to respect others, we will be respected. Nobody likes to be hurt, and I think these children ought to be praised for their work,” he said.

Pastor Randy Martin said he understands Hodge’s point of view, and he thinks that many others “would have felt that way when the young girl presented it as a ‘little black person.’ I think that’s the whole thing that” offended Hodge.

However, “I don’t think it should have just blowed out of proportion like it has now,” Martin said.

Although he feels that Hodge felt “like she had a right to think” and feel the way she did and to express her feelings, “I feel like she (Hodge) could have been a little more professional and kept it” on a different level, Martin said.

He does not know how to move forward and allow the community to heal, but he suggested “some kind of apologies could be done. Sometimes, what bothers some doesn’t bother others.”

When all is said and done, “I think we just need to pray and ask the Lord to help us with (finding) the right way to go on,” Martin said. “God is able to bring peace and closure to the situation.”

Valeria Edwards, an officer with the Martinsville-Henry County Chapter of the NAACP and a retired educator from the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, said she has not viewed the recorded council meeting in which the situation began.

“The only thing I have heard is second and third hand,” she said. From that information, Edwards said she has concluded that “it is unfortunate, as we are here in this time, that such issues still exist.”

Edwards said that while she was not taking a side of right or wrong, “if an apology is due, then hopefully that will come from wherever that needs to come from.”

Martinsville, she said, “is already becoming a ghost town because of jobs. We need to unite and have a meeting of the minds. Somebody who may not feel they were wrong may have to make that first step to apologize and say ‘I’m sorry.’”

Trying to sweep the situation under the rug will make it fester, not subside, Edwards said.

The Rev. Mabel Finney, of the New Bethel Christian Church, said she views the situation as a way to bring people to the table “for conversation, and we need to be able to come to the table with open eyes and open hearts. We just can’t come there with anger and frustration” and think anything will improve.

“Some reactions are based on experiences, and it’s difficult to have understanding” of certain things if a person lacks experience, she said. Also, “I think all children should be treated equally.”

Faye Holland, who operates a local business, is a member of the Fayette Area Historical Initiative (FAHI) and involved in other community initiatives, said she has “mixed feelings about the whole thing. I don’t think that was the time or the place for Sharon to express her thoughts and feelings.” Rather, Hodge “could have waited till later,” she added.

Although Hodge was entitled to have her feelings, Holland said “I think it was poor judgment in kicking it out there at that time, and I’m a little down-hearted about” the entire situation.

“It’s not something I would have ever done. Sharon is a good person. She really is, but sometimes, I don’t understand her thinking,” Holland said, asking, “Do we all need diversity training?”


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