Most on DISD board have issues with naming school for Callejo

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by By TAWNELL D. HOBBS / The Dallas Morning News thobbs@dallasnews.com

wfaa.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:47 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 2:46 PM

A majority of Dallas school trustees have concerns with naming a new elementary for lawyer and civil rights activist Adelfa Callejo, who came under criticism last year for comments she made about then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Trustees will consider the naming at today's board meeting. Their concerns mostly stem from Callejo's comment in a TV interview in February 2008 that "Obama simply has a problem that he happens to be black."

Callejo supported Obama's opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton, in the Democratic primary. Her supporters say the comment, which was denounced by the Clinton campaign, was taken out of context. A lengthy clarification was released last week by Callejo's nephew, Michael A. Gonzales, who chairs the Hispanic Leadership Forum.

In the two-page clarification, Gonzales did not discuss Callejo's exact words, but wrote that she was simply trying to describe Obama's challenges in Texas.

He wrote: "She said that many Hispanics felt that local black leaders had used Hispanic numbers to achieve their goals in employment and contracts and had not been sensitive to Hispanic needs. She stated that for this reason Barack Obama would suffer the backlash.

"She also said that she did not think that was fair to Barack, but it was no secret that a divide existed."

But some trustees aren't altogether satisfied with the explanation, which they note comes more than a year after the comment was made and has yet to be uttered publicly by Callejo.

"I haven't heard from her," said board President Adam Medrano. "I have heard from other people, but I haven't heard from her about the comment she made."

Callejo did not return a call to her office Wednesday.

Shortly after making the comment last year, Callejo said it was in response to concerns from Hispanics that they would have reservations about voting for a black politician because of experiences in the Dallas area, including fights over funding in the Dallas Independent School District.

Medrano said Tuesday that he and some other trustees believe Callejo should apologize for making the remark.

"Several trustees want an apology, and so far we haven't received it," he said.

But trustee Nancy Bingham, who nominated Callejo's name for the new Pleasant Grove campus, doesn't believe an apology is necessary. She said that Callejo's body of work should be considered, not a single comment taken out of context,

"I chose Adelfa Callejo because of her grass-roots activism," Bingham said. "Back when she was making her pleas for civil rights, it wasn't real pretty to be an activist. Plus, she is a woman who is a role model."

Gonzales included with the clarification information on Callejo's support of the African-American community, such as fundraisers she held for black politicians, and awards she's received.

Trustee Leigh Ann Ellis said she's considering abstaining from the vote. She said she feels that Callejo and her family need to work things out with the African-American community before trustees consider the naming.

"I haven't seen a formal apology from Adelfa or a formal explanation," Ellis said. "My concern is I don't want the district to open a new school and there's going to be hard feelings. Everybody needs to feel proud of the name of a school. "

Ellis said she'd like the board to consider the naming next year after there's been some public dialogue. Two new Pleasant Grove elementary schools are planned to open in 2011 and 2013, but it's unclear which is being proposed for Callejo's name.

"Let's bring everybody to the table and sit and work this out," Ellis said. "Let's clear the air on it."

Trustee Lew Blackburn said he would like to hear from the public on the matter. But he added that Callejo needs to explain what she meant in making the comment.

"I'd rather hear from her than hear from her nephew," Blackburn said. "A lot of people are against a school being named for her."

Trustees Ron Price and Carla Ranger have been opposed to the naming, while trustee Jack Lowe says he will support it. Trustee Jerome Garza wasn't available for comment.

Trustee Edwin Flores, who supports the naming, said the comments made by Callejo came during a heated campaign and her contributions shouldn't be overlooked.

"She's just unbelievable," he said. "She's a trailblazer. For decades, she has fought for the civil rights for every American citizen."

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