Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge offended by gift
“The good ole boy network is going to stop. I am a voice for the black people. I am not one of your locally home grown house negroes. I don’t shuffle, I don’t tap dance, and I don’t take out the garbage… Some of the citizens in Martinsville need to wake up because I am black. I am also a voice for black people and we are tired, we are fed up and we are not taking it anymore” said Sharon Brooks Hodge, a member of Martinsville City Council, speaking to a Martinsville television reporter.
The interview was in response to an incident at a Martinsville City Council meeting where a group of the most gifted and talented students of the region were presenting a quilt they had made for Council to display to the public. The presentation was the culmination of a citizen perspectives study they had conducted as part of a class research project at the Piedmont Governor’s School and the quilt was intended to illustrate their learning process.
Each student made a square for the quilt of an event that impressed them during the course. The square in question illustrated a field trip to the Martinsville hydroelectric dam. “…The small black person represents us before we learned all the information and then the bigger gold person is how he feels after he’s been enriched with all the different knowledge” a student said as the quilt was being displayed before Council.
“Excuse me. Um, why is the small black person the negative image?” Hodge said.
“It’s not negative. It’s just showing how much we increased” said the student.
“I take offense to that” said Hodge.
After the rest of the squares were explained, the student who made the square that upset Hodge approached the podium and told her “I didn’t mean to make it offensive.”
“Whoever reviewed that to make a small black person the before and the gold which you are afterwards, considering you only talked to 10 percent of black people in a city that’s 45 percent African-American, I take offense to that and I hope that you do not display that” Hodge said.
“They weren’t prepared for that. They all cried” said Dr. Nina Huff, the teacher who taught the class and led the presentation. After the tense encounter Huff and all the children left Council Chambers stunned and in shock.
“The square focused on our visit to the hydroelectric power plant, which was an amazing learning experience for us. The student placed a small dark figure to the left of the dam and a larger gold figure to the right. It symbolized our being in darkness about the value of the facility before our tour and glowing with new knowledge afterwards. It was never viewed as anything but positive” said Huff.
Councilman Danny Turner said he went to the Piedmont Governor’s School the following day and apologized for Hodge’s remarks. Councilman Gene Teague said the entire incident was “regrettable.” Councilman Mark Stroud said toward the end of the meeting that the words he had for the incident “were not appropriate to say during a Council meeting.”
Mayor Kim Adkins flatly called Hodge wrong when Hodge implied to a reporter that Adkins supported her actions. “While I regard Ms. Hodge to be a diligent member of council and have been impressed with her eagerness to learn everything she can about city government and her role as a member of Council, I find her combativeness to make a point disheartening and counterproductive…”
“I have a new perspective that our new generation of leaders, those currently in high school and younger, for the most part, as demonstrated at our last Council meeting, are growing up in their formative years, to see those of different races not so different at all. It will be our new generation of young adults, who will create a new normal in our city where a description of skin color will not ignite an emotional response as what had occurred on April 23rd” said Mayor Adkins.
Hodge has stated Mayor Adkins called her the morning after the meeting and apologized for not standing up for her.
The experience for the students have left them “extremely upset and confused” reports Dr. Huff. “We’ve talked about it quite a bit. We’ve talked about it as a team. We know why we did what we did. We believe in the reason we started the quilt and the passion that drove the quilt. All of that was based on positivity and celebration. We know what’s in our hearts” she said.
“The way that it was done was very hurtful. I’m always welcome to people’s views and ideas, but the way it was done really shocked them, because they meant so much positive and good” Huff explained.
The quilt is on the desk of newly appointed City Manager Leon Towarnicki. According to a live television interview on WYAT-TV40 with Mayor Kim Adkins and Councilman Gene Teague it is unlikely the issue of displaying the quilt as intended will come to a vote. The matter will most likely be decided by Towarnicki in consultation with Council.
According to verybestofvirginia.com, Dr. Huff says, at this point, the location is irrelevant.
“The quilt was made and donated as a gesture of gratitude to the Council and was entirely designed with thoughts of growth, unity, and teamwork. Whether it hangs in the Martinsville Municipal building or the walls of my classroom, it will always remind us of the dedication and passion that drove its creation” says Huff.
Hodge is already on record as being critical and admittedly uninformed on the City’s educational system. She is quoted in the Martinsville Bulletin as referring to the Boys & Girls Club, which had been allocated a little more than $15,000 from the city in its current fiscal year as being no more than “glorified baby-sitting.”
“I’m not well-versed on issues involving the local schools.” Hodge told the Martinsville Bulletin during her election campaign. She said she sent her two daughters to the private Caldwell Academy in Greensboro, N.C.
Hodge also has expressed favor toward segregated schools. “Hodge said she would favor same-sex or same-race classes in schools if they are not publicly funded. She said parents should be able to put their kids in such class ‘if you feel like your child is going to learn better in them’ by not having to contend with social issues that could impede the learning process” according to a Martinsville Bulletin article.
Despite Hodge’s negative attitude toward the local educational system, and her expressed interest in returning to a more segregated and defined time of black and white, a former African-American student of the Piedmont Governor’s School might beg to differ.
Laren Graves, an African-American graduate of the Piedmont Governor’s School recently told the George Mason University alumni newsletter “I have never felt that being a minority or being a woman disadvantaged (me). “Just by showing up, you change their perspectives” she says.
“I’ve always looked at ways to eliminate those disparities,” she said.
Givens graduated from the Piedmont Governor’s School and three years later she held degrees in English, Government, and Politics from George Mason University. At twenty-seven years old, she is now the Director of Human Resources for Pooler, Georgia.
Sharon Brooks Hodge would prefer students and educators be taught about the disparities so they could be sensitive to them. She calls it “diversity training.”
The students of the Piedmont Governor’s School, as evidenced by the successful Laren Graves, no longer carry the baggage of racial disparity that Hodge does.