I attended a breakfast meeting this morning sponsored by the non-profit group, Hope in the Cities. The keynote speaker was former Mississippi Governor William Winter, a champion of public education who succeeded in passing major education reform legislation for Mississippi while in office.

Considering the massive political upheaval surrounding everything related to the Richmond Public Schools, Gov. Winter’s visit was timely.

Attendees were very diverse in terms of age, race, and the organizations they represented. City and suburban school districts sent representatives, as did major corporations (e.g. Capital One, Bon Secours), non-profits (e.g. YMCA, Red Cross), and faith-based organizations.

Sadly, out of hundreds of people there, only 1 was an elected official, Sheriff Woody. Considering the theme of the breakfast, Innovating for the 21st Century: Healthy Integrated Public Schools,’ it was disappointing that NONE of our school board officials came, and NONE of the members of city council or county boards of supervisors came.

Considering the distinguished reputation of Hope in the Cities (who’ve been around for almost 30 years and recently helped bring about the reconciliation statue in Shockoe)- and the who’s who of non-elected officials who were there, I was a bit surprised that no elected officials who deal with education were there. Former Richmond Mayor Walter Kinney and former City Manager (and current DC City Manager) Robert Bobb both attended.

Griping about politicians aside, Winter’s address was inspiring.

The main point he made was that until we address the racial divides in our community, we’ll never be able to solve the education problem.

As long as black and white folks live separate lives without coming together for honest conversation about our similarities and our differences, then we will continue living out segregated and isolated lives- in education and in other areas.

People from every walk of life share a common goal: quality education for their children.

Gov. Winter suggested finding ways to come together, across the divides of race, class, and jurisdiction, to achieve that goal.

But as long as we still have racism, racial prejudice, and massive disparities in educational attainment and income which we don’t talk about or address as a community, then we won’t be able to achieve healthy public schools in the Richmond region.