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How does the CEO of a Charter School conglomerate not know what BIPOC means: And other tales of White Supremacy from the Grand Rapids Power Structure

May 2, 2021

A few days ago, there was a video of a late April meeting of the Board of Directors for the Grand Rapids Promise, which you can watch here.

The Grand Rapids Promise was created in 2019, just as Teresa Weatherall Neal was stepping down as the Superintendent of the Grand Rapids Public Schools.  

What grabbed people’s attention about this board meeting, was a question asked by board member JC Huizenga, then the response by Teresa Weatherall Neal. (around the 45 minute mark)

JC Huizenga asks the questions, “what does BIPOC stand for?

Teresa Weatherall Neal says, “It’s just another name for non-sense, JC.”

JC Huizenga then asks, “I’m wondering, does this discriminate against Asian people,  Jews who aren’t wealthy or Syrian Refugees?” All the while Weatherall Neal is shaking her head in affirmation of Huizenga’s comment.

Weatherall Neal talks about how she had to deal with the term BIPOC while she was GRPS Superintendent. “Black signifies all people from Africa. So everyone is lumped together.” 

Now, these comments are offensive on so many levels, which people have been pointing out on social media. The comments from Huizenga and Neal are racist, anti-semitic and they demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of the importance of the use of the term BIPOC, which stands for Black, Indigenous and People of Color. 

However, in addition to the racist comments that were part of the Grand Rapids Promise board meeting in late April, there is other important contextual information we think is important to share.

First, JC Huizenga is the CEO of the Charter School company known as National Heritage Academies, a Grand Rapids-based company that runs Charter Schools in 9 different states across the US. So how is it that the CEO of company that education focused not know what BIPOC means?

In addition, JC Huizenga is a member of the Grand Rapids Power Structure. Huizenga is a major contributor to the Republican Party, both at the state and federal level. The National Heritage Academies CEO also sits on the Board of Directors of the West Michigan Policy Forum, which seeks to influence public policy at the state level; plus Huizenga sits on the Board of Directors of the two major far right Think Tanks in Michigan, the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Second, it is important for this community to know that during her tenure as the Superintendent of the Grand Rapid Public Schools, Teresa Weatherall Neal not only pushed the school district to adopt a more business-friendly approach to education, plus under her leadership the structure of the GRPS created a two-tiered system of education where certain schools committed to students with promise, while other schools essentially were designed to cater to students who would not go on to college. Most importantly, Teresa Weatherall Neal did all of this under the tutelage of Betsy DeVos. In fact, Neal was the only school superintendent that went to Washington DC to be part of the swearing in ceremony for DeVos, when she became Secretary of Education in the Trump Administration.

Lastly, it is important to point out that while JC Huizenga was asking what BIPOC meant, and after Teresa Weatherall Neal repeatedly referred to the term as “nonsense”, none of the other board members of the Grand Rapids Promise spoke up or objected to the White Supremacist language that was being used during the board meeting. Grand Rapids Mayor Bliss said nothing, the head of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation Diana Sieger said nothing, the head of the Grand Rapids Catholic Schools – David Faber said nothing, GRPS Board member Kristian Grant said nothing, and Kate Pew Walters said nothing!

As Dr. King once said, “Silence is the voice of complicity.”

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