Admiration for ‘unique’ Nevergold

OBSERVER Photo About 170 people were in attendance for Monday’s luncheon honoring the memory of Martin Luther King Jr.

One of the most significant points made by guest speaker Barbara Seals Nevergold earlier this week at the luncheon honoring the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Dunkirk Moose Club involved herself and her spouse.

Nevergold, who is currently best known regionally for her role as president of the Buffalo school board, celebrated her 50th wedding anniversary with her husband, Paul, in December. About a month before she was married, King made a historic stop in Buffalo at Kleinhans Music Hall.

It was a visit not completely embraced then by the African-American community.

Nevergold said many key leaders in the Queen City were skeptical and resistant to what King’s priorities were at that time. His focus had shifted from the efforts of civil rights and equality, she said, to promoting opposition to the Vietnam War and a crusade to end poverty.

“He wasn’t particularly received warmly in Buffalo by the people you would have thought, that is the ministers and the leaders of the black community,” Nevergold said.

Even her father, a minister, was not supportive of that November visit. But that’s about all she remembers from that time, which is understandable.

Her life was quickly transitioning. She was in her second year of teaching French at Southside Junior High School and days away from becoming a newlywed.

“In November 1967, I was preparing for my own integration experience. I was getting ready to get married to a Caucasian man,” Nevergold said leading to a tremendous round of applause.

Just like today, America then was at a crossroads. While the Vietnam War was playing out on the televised nightly news, America — especially the South — was uncomfortable with the idea of different races going to school and working together. Interracial marriages also were rare — and before Nevergold and her husband tied the knot, the Supreme Court invalidated previous laws banning the practice on June 12, 1967, in the case of Loving vs. Virginia.

“My husband and I did not consider ourselves revolutionaries,” she said. “But we weren’t ignorant of the fact that we were kind of doing something that was unique.”

Her husband sat proudly at the head table. He made the drive with her and two of their grandchildren to Monday’s luncheon that was attended by about 170 people from the community — possibly the largest attendance in the history of the event.

Besides the personal journey, the issue of Buffalo schools and education also was a part of her 30-minute speech.

It could not be overlooked. The district seemingly is a constant pressure-cooker, filled with characters and controversy that included former board member Carl Paladino. Even state Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s example on Wednesday during his budget presentation reflected poorly on the district as he proposed added funding to high-need districts. “Right now we have no idea where the money going,” he said. “(The state has) a formula, we direct it to a district. But what does Buffalo do with it? What does New York City do with it?”

City schools, across the nation, struggle. There’s almost no way around it.

Demographics are what drive educational success for children. Those who come from households where there’s two incomes from two parents are most likely to excel in their studies.

What’s the main difference between Buffalo and Orchard Park schools? It’s not who is smarter. It is who is better prepared for an education. On numbers alone there are 79 percent of the students in Buffalo who are economically disadvantaged compared to only 13 percent in Orchard Park.

“We have a system that has institutionalized inequity with a one-size fits all standardized testing system the state uses,” Nevergold said, noting this adversely affects challenged districts. “Education researchers tell us poverty is the major factor contributing to poor educational outcomes, especially in urban districts.”

Some of her solutions to these issues include prekindergarten classes for 3-year-olds, extended day and summer-school programs for students as well as increased development for teachers and participation from the parents. “As an educator, my focus has been to advocate for equity for all children in our system, to advocate for increased resources to resist the assault that undermines public education and to vigorously oppose people leading the charge,” she said.

Nevergold spoke with passion and with authority about bringing positive results to the embattled district. That’s a good sign for Buffalo — and all those children who attend its schools.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401