Longform

The New Racism

Page 4 of 5

A spokesman for the Arizona Department of Education says there is no mandate for the hours, days or weeks a school spends on black history or culture. However, some black figures, most prominently Martin Luther King, must be incorporated into a school's curriculum.

In any case, the charge that black history and culture are ignored in a school's curriculum is nothing new. Oscar Tillman, president of Maricopa County's NAACP, hears parents complain of it often. Neal Lester, professor of African-American studies at Arizona State University, says when students come in, unfamiliar with black literature, "I'm not surprised. Just disappointed."

But what really disappoints Michael Mack, what brought him to New Times in the first place, has nothing to do with black history or even hip-hop. It has everything to do with basketball. Mack says his son and other kids were kept off the team because they're black.

Tim Butler has been the head coach of Millennium's basketball program for four years. In that time, he has often given black players the opportunity to play in high-profile roles, particularly on the varsity team. But last October, no black students made the boys' jayvee basketball team. So Michael Mack, whose son tried out, says he met head coach Tim Butler one day at Millennium before he went to practice.

Butler refused to speak with New Times. Mack's son talked, but asked that his name not be used, as did four other minority students -- all of whom wonder if they were cut because of the color of their skin.

What follows is Mack's version of the story.

When Mack confronted Butler that afternoon in October, he wanted to know, first off, why the tryouts lasted only two days. Mack has coached before and, in his experience, sometimes you don't know a kid's name after two days.

Butler told Mack he knows talent when he sees it -- and he and his staff needed only two days to see it.

Mack asked why no black kids made the jayvee or freshman squads.

Butler said race played no role when he determined his teams. He said he's a Christian man.

Mack persisted, saying teachers today should be more sensitive to their students. He brought up Columbine. In Mack's view, what happened there was, in part, teachers' insensitivity toward struggling young men.

Mack says Butler ended the conversation.

The next day, Mack says, he got a phone call from Bill McMillian, assistant principal and athletic director at Millennium. McMillian wanted Mack to come in, saying that he was troubled by some of the comments Mack made to Butler. Mack asked if he should bring a lawyer. McMillian said if he did, he would not talk.

So instead, Mack brought a tape recorder and hid it in his coat pocket. (Under Arizona law, only one party needs to know a tape recorder is being used.)

Mack gave New Times a copy of the tape.

The father listened as McMillian and Dennis Runyon, another assistant principal, talked about the previous day. "The thing is," Runyon said, "you come in in a semi-unannounced situation . . . you go into that environment and in a single meeting when discussing [why] your son was cut, you've extended the conversation to the point of discussing the shooting at Columbine and who's at fault. That's a threat in [Butler's] view."

Mack said he was only trying to make a point about kids' self-esteem -- how teachers need to foster it as well as parents. Mack called Butler "paranoid." He called Butler "half a man" for not being present at the meeting. Mack said when he talked with Butler the day before, he was made to feel like a "second-class citizen."

Runyon said he knew what that felt like. He told Mack he came to Millennium from a high school in Philadelphia where he served as principal and where 50 percent of the student body was black. "I learned a lot," Runyon said. "I learned a lot about relationships. . . . But I also went through relationships, just to relate to what you're feeling, I had parents that wouldn't meet with me, that wouldn't talk with me, because I was white. They wouldn't come in my office. . . . So, I understand what you're saying about that. I respect that --"

"It's very bad here," Mack said. "Black parents don't get involved in a lot of things."

"I went through some experiences where I grew," Runyon continued. "I learned about that. So I understand that there's a definite" -- pause -- "feeling that can be there."

After talking more about Columbine, Mack said to Runyon, "You know, a lot of times, I feel that teachers aren't as diversified as you are. You know, maybe perhaps they should take diversification classes."

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Paul Kix