Dr. André José Branch became president of the San Diego chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in January. The professor at San Diego State University’s College of Education has a PhD in curriculum, a master’s degree in counseling, and a bachelor’s degree from Kings College in New York. He is a specialist in multicultural education.
On February 27, he sat down for an interview with the Reader, a condensed version of which follows.
SDR: What drew you to the NAACP?
A.B.: The NAACP has been instrumental in gaining civil rights for African-American people and people of color since its inception in 1909. I recognize I could not enjoy the quality of life I enjoy, the job, the home, the educational attainment that I’ve had without the work of the [association].
SDR: Do you think in the last decade gains of the civil rights movement have been eroding or steadily progressing?
A.B.: No I don’t think it’s been steady progress. There have been battles and decisions that slap us backward, and we have to get up, dust ourselves off and keep walking forward and try to achieve those gains again.
Most recently I was in a meeting with the chief of police, Shelley Zimmerman, and she provided statistics about the police stops. The statistics showed quite clearly that African- Americans and Latinos are stopped disproportionately as compared to whites and Asians.
SDR: Lots of folks are excited about these body cameras. What good do they do?
A.B.: Now in our city we are told by Zimmerman that crime is down; she attributes that in some cases to the wearing of the body cameras, but both the Garner event and the Michael Brown event provide evidence — anecdotal though it may be — that people across the country, people across the world seeing events of police brutality, it means nothing, it hasn’t been effective with getting one police officer charged.
SDR: What motivated you to address the Sweetwater trustees on February 23?
A.B.: Two African-American individuals contacted the NAACP, saying they applied for the three principal positions recently open in Sweetwater. I went to the board meeting because they both are highly qualified individuals, both with doctorates in education, both of them have successful administrative experience in the San Diego Unified and both at the secondary level — and neither of them got an interview.
It wasn’t just that these people didn’t get interviews; we were also informed that the hiring committee had made recommendations and the board was to vote on them that night [February 23].
There seem to be conflicting reports about what the job announcement actually listed as requirements. One of the complainants reported to us that when he called to find out why he didn’t get an interview, he was told, “You do not have secondary-school teaching experience.” But secondary-school teaching experience was not a requirement on the job announcement.
Prior to the board meeting, I spoke on the phone with the president of the school board [Frank Tarantino], and he told me that the duty officer [filling in for the interim superintendent] had informed him that the applicant did not have to have secondary teaching experience.
Something is not right at Sweetwater if the candidate is told that you need to have secondary teaching experience and the president of the board was told by staff that [applicants] needed to have secondary experience, not necessarily teaching experience.
And, there are presently people who are principals in the district who don’t have secondary teaching experience. So, it would appear that the candidates were disqualified inappropriately.
When the district went ahead and filled two of the three open positions that night, it sent a chilling message to the African-American community. There are 1161 African-American students in the district. There are zero African-American administrators….
SDR: What if there aren’t any African-American principals? Why does it matter?
A.B.: Children in their schools need to see people of all racial and ethnic groups, including African-Americans, in positions of power and authority. When African-Americans are not in those positions, it sends a clear message not only to the African-American children but to white children and other children as well — about who can be in charge, about who can be a principal.
Children need role models; they need to see people in their racial and ethnic groups occupying these positions so that know they too can occupy them.
Children also need to be in schools that have cultural diversity that influences the policy-making at their schools. Presently you have administrators in Sweetwater making decisions that govern African-American children, but those policies and decisions were not made by people who reflect the background of those children.
White children in many school districts learn an inappropriate sense of entitlement when they see white people in positions of power and authority and no people of color.
I told the board president [Frank Tarantino] we [the NAACP] are interested in working with Sweetwater in reviewing its policies and procedures so that this kind of injustice does not happen again.