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Group backs Hodge, encourages area unity
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A group of local clergy members and others, calling itself a City & County Clergy Coalition, held a press conference Thursday on the steps of the Martinsville Municipal Building to address the recent controversy over a quilt Piedmont Governor’s School students presented to the Martinsville City Council. The group said it supports Sharon Brooks Hodge, who was offended at a square on the quilt. Pictured are (from left) Bishop Lorenzo Hall, the Rev. Thurman Echols, the Rev. Avery Preston, the Rev. C. Lee Hagwood, the Rev. James Hagwood, the Rev. Tyler C. Millner, Tony Millner, the Rev. Charles Whitfield, the Rev. Kenneth Lucas and Naomi Hodge-Muse. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)

Friday, May 3, 2013

By SAM JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

A group of local clergy members and others on Thursday gathered on the steps of city hall to show support for Martinsville City Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge and read a resolution suggesting ways to amicably end the controversy over the image on a quilt that has gained national attention.

The group, calling itself a City & County Clergy Coalition, held its press conference to vent concerns over the reaction to Hodge’s remarks about a patchwork quilt that Piedmont Governor’s School students presented to the council on April 23.

The students said the quilt highlighted their learning experiences while conducting a citizens survey for the city. Hodge said during the meeting that she was offended by a square depicting a dark-colored person, which students said represented their original lack of knowledge about local matters, and a gold-colored person, which they said represented the knowledge they gained in their studies and research.

Since the council meeting, Hodge’s remarks have been reported by media nationwide and the incident has gained traction on social media. Her comments drew criticism from people who thought it was inappropriate for her to berate the students publicly.

The clergy coalition met publicly to “raise concerns” about the outcry over Hodge’s remarks, the Rev. Tyler C. Millner said.

The group sought to bring the incident to a conclusion by having all those involved engage in sensitivity and diversity training to prevent such miscommunication in the future.

Pastor Charles Whitfield of First Baptist Church of East Martinsville said the “onslaught of threats” against Hodge and calls for her resignation or removal from the council were “unfounded and unwarranted.”

“Councilwoman Hodge simply stated an objection to a statement made during the presentation given by students,” he added.

“We agree with Councilwoman Hodge that the description of the swatch could be interpreted by some African-Americans as offensive,” Whitfield said, adding that Hodge did not insult the students personally.

Instead, Whitfield said, the coalition believes Hodge was merely voicing her concern over the description of the figure on the quilt. He stated that the coalition recognized that the image of the black and gold figures themselves may not be inherently racist, “especially to those who are not informed about how these historical depictions and symbols generate stereotypes that still can intimidate people of color today.”

Whitfield said the description of the contrast between the black and gold figures “created an offense to many” citizens. He said that after the council meeting the coalition was made aware of threats on Hodge’s life and well-being.

“Injustice anywhere allows injustice everywhere,” said Bishop Lorenzo Hall of Reach Out Apostolic Tabernacle Church, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Hall said the coalition wanted to take the first steps to “guide the community” through the issue, and he suggested a new educational platform “would be an excellent opportunity that allows all citizens to become better informed.”

Hall read the coalition’s proclamation, which suggested that Hodge “should not be threatened by individuals” or government entities “especially entertaining any thoughts to removing her” from city council.

The proclamation also suggested that all those involved in the incident would benefit from sensitivity and diversity training “from a qualified team” trained to work with state and federal agencies. The coalition resolved to “accept this incident as a learning opportunity for all who are involved,” Hall said.

Also, the Governor’s School students should be allowed to determine how the image of the “‘little black person’ will be replaced” on the quilt, Hall said. After that is done, a ceremony would be held “within a week celebrating our efforts to bridge our differences and adversity,” he said.

Brian Pace, director of the Governor’s School, declined to comment Thursday on whether changes to the quilt were planned and referred the issue to the city council.

No questions were fielded after the proclamation was read. “This statement represents our sentiment and our thoughts” on the matter, Millner said.

Naomi Hodge-Muse, president of the Martinsville-Henry County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), thanked the ministers for speaking out.

“It’s a wonderful thing that democracy works and freedom of speech has not been lost,” she said.

Hodge-Muse said the connotation that may have been associated with a small black figure on the quilt could have the same damning effects as some traditional sayings such as “a black cow gives no milk; a black hen lays no eggs ... Storm clouds are black; black is evil; black is devil’s food cake,” Hodge-Muse added.

“The Martinsville City Council has had in the past some good members of the black community. They have been, for the most part, soft spoken and caused few waves. For that, they have been liked by everyone,” she said.

However, Hodge-Muse said, the furor over the quilt incident has “caused much concern.” Hodge-Muse pointed out that Hodge is the first black woman to serve on the council.

“She voiced an opinion. She did not scream, nor was she profane,” Hodge-Muse said. “And yet, she has been assaulted on every line.”

Hodge-Muse said Hodge ran on a platform that included improving conditions on the west side of Martinsville.

“The city gets a block grant yearly” because of the needs of the west side, Hodge-Muse said. However, she said, the money is spent “everywhere else but the west end,” including the New College Institute (NCI) to put utilities into the school’s new building.

“So when Sharon (Brooks Hodge) elevates this conversation, now she is under attack. One must wonder what the motives truly are, because truly, what she said was not that offensive” and should not have led to a petition to remove her from office, Hodge-Muse said.

Hodge-Muse closed by saying she supports Hodge. “We are sorry that someone had their feelings hurt, but this is America, and freedom of speech goes for all.”

“Just because you don’t like what I say does not give you the right to stop me from saying it,” Hodge-Muse added.


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