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Hodge apology praised
Turner: ‘Apology accepted, and we go on from here’
Sharon Brooks Hodge
Sunday, May 5, 2013
By DEBBIE HALL AND BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writers
An apology from Martinsville Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge was praised Friday by city officials and others, many of whom urged the city to move on from the controversy over a quilt made by area students.
“Apology accepted, and we go on from here,” said Councilman Danny Turner.
He was one of two council members who expressed disdain at Hodge’s comments during the April 23 meeting when Piedmont Governor’s School students presented a quilt to Martinsville officials, with the intent that it be displayed in the Municipal Building.
Hodge voiced offense when a student described one of the squares as depicting “a small black person” who visited and learned about Philpott Dam, and then became a larger golden person because of the experience.
In a statement issued Friday through Martinsville’s email, Hodge apologized to students and the community for the controversy.
“In the days since the April 23 City Council meeting, many in the community have been upset with my criticism of a quilt donated to the city by students of the Piedmont Governor’s School,” her statement reads.
Although “I stand behind the observation I made, I sincerely regret the contentiousness that has resulted. I do agree with the community consensus that my remarks to students were not delivered in the most ideal manner,” Hodge wrote.
“It was never my intent to make the students cry, nor to upset those who watched the council meeting on the government channel. I ask the students and the community to accept my apology. It is my hope the community can move forward,” added Hodge, who could not be reached for further comment Friday.
“I commend her for apologizing,” Martinsville Mayor Kim Adkins said. “I thought her apology was gracious, and I hope the community accepts it and we move forward as she suggested.”
Councilman Mark Stroud said the apology “certainly was only her decision, and I am glad that she has made the decision” and issued the statement. “I admire her very much for it.”
While many support Hodge’s right to have and express her feelings, Stroud said “there is never any room for anyone to use our freedom of speech to abuse or upset anyone of any color.”
“I hope that this will help to move us forward as a council and as a community,” he said. “I certainly hope people can forget and move on.”
Councilman Gene Teague said he believes that by issuing an apology, Hodge “I think did the right thing, and I agree with her ... I look forward to moving past this.”
The apology makes that possible, he said.
“Obviously, we as a council have a lot of things to focus on,” including the budget and “trying to make sure that we continue to do everything possible to create jobs and make everything as attractive as we can,” he said.
Turner said Hodge’s apology “definitely is a step in the right direction. Some people will accept” it and move on, while others will not accept it. “But that’s just human nature.”
He does not know if it is possible to pick up now and begin anew, but Turner said during the controversy, “we have proceeded on with business as usual.”
“We have a lot of work to do and we are continuing to do that,” Adkins said. “I hope the city will accept her (Hodge’s) apology.”
Pastor Avery Preston, of Greater Love Ministry in Martinsville, was part of the City & County Clergy Coalition that spoke in support of Hodge Thursday at city hall. Preston said Friday that the message the group conveyed remains true after Hodge’s apology.
“She did nothing wrong within her rights” by voicing her complaint, Preston said, and added that the threats Hodge has received — including calls to remove her from office — are unfounded and unwarranted.
Preston also said that he believes diversity training should be offered by “people who are properly trained to give it on the federal and state levels.”
Tony Millner also was among those in the Clergy Coalition. He said the incident illustrates the continuing need for the Martinsville Human Relations Advisory Committee.
That committee was formed in 2011 and dissolved roughly in March 2012 after city council voted 3-2 to reject the committee’s proposal for a human rights and relations commission.
The proposed commission would have worked to address challenges related to race and class, ensure open and accountable government, and bridge race and class divides. It was opposed by the Chamber of Commerce and many area residents in part because it was proposed to have the authority to investigate discrimination claims.
According to Millner, the uproar over the quilt incident is proof that the committee still is needed to address race-related concerns.
“One little comment — look at how it’s got the city all upset,” he said. “I would like to think that the city of Martinsville would go back and look at this committee.”
He added that he remains confident “the city will make it through” this controversy.
Retired Henry County Sheriff’s first lieutenant Joe Louis Hairston said he is confident the community will move forward “because leadership can move forward. One of the greatest things she could have done was apologize.”
However, Hairston said, the apology should have come sooner than 10 days after the comments were made.
“A lot of this stuff that’s been going on wouldn’t have been going on” if Hodge had apologized sooner, he said. For example, he said, the Thursday speeches from the City & County Clergy Coalition might not have been necessary had the apology come earlier.
Now, however, “I think the city can move on now and put that stuff to rest,” Hairston said.
Naomi Hodge-Muse, president of the local chapter of the NAACP who also spoke at Thursday’s coalition gathering, said Hodge’s statement “should speak for itself, and this should close the matter.”