Hartford Courant reporting – Harold Sparrow withdraws candidacy for Hartford School Board

In a breaking story entitled, Amid Controversy, Sparrow Withdraws Candidacy For Hartford School Board, the Hartford Courant is reporting that Harold Sparrow has asked Mayor Bronin to withdraw his nomination for the Hartford School Board.  The Courant reports,

Mayor Luke Bronin’s embattled nominee for the city school board, YMCA official Harold Sparrow, has withdrawn his candidacy on the eve of Monday’s confirmation hearing, stating that controversy over his past employment had become a distraction that would take awhile to overcome

[…]

Sparrow, 60, president and CEO of the region’s YMCA, was nominated Thursday to fill a vacant seat on the board, with the mayor anticipating the city council’s approval at a special meeting Monday evening.

But then came revelations Friday that Sparrow had once led a black clergymen’s group during a time when the organization was openly against gay marriage.

In 2004, the same year that Massachusetts became the first state in the nation where same-sex couples could marry, the Black Ministerial Alliance of Greater Boston put out a public statement calling for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Sparrow was the group’s CEO and executive director from 2002 to 2007.

Former state legislator and blogger Jonathan Pelto noted the alliance’s stance in an online post late Friday afternoon. Within hours, Sparrow had distanced himself from the 2004 statement, telling The Courant that it did not reflect his personal views, that he was “unequivocally” in support of marriage equality and LGBTQ rights, and that he has pushed for inclusiveness at the YMCA of Greater Hartford since becoming its leader in 2015.

Bronin told The Courant Friday night that he was unaware of the alliance’s anti-gay marriage position when he nominated Sparrow, and was “deeply troubled when I learned of it.” But he had planned to move ahead with Monday’s vote after speaking with Sparrow and being assured that he was committed to a “welcoming and supportive environment” in the city schools for all students, including those who are gay, lesbian, transgender or questioning.

The full Hartford Courant story can be read at: http://www.courant.com/community/hartford/hc-harold-sparrow-hartford-school-board-0130-20170129-story.html

Harold Sparrow – Founding member of a Boston Charter School, former private school trustee –  nominated to Hartford School Board

As previous Wait, What? posts explained, (See:  Breaking News – Hartford Mayor nominates anti-gay marriage leader for vacancy on the Hartford School Board and Update – His group’s anti-gay marriage position did not represent his own beliefs says Bronin nominee for school board) Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin is trying to put Harold Sparrow on the Hartford School Board.

And what is Harold Sparrow’s experience with education?

  • Closing the Hartford YMCA’s successful and popular Read to Succeed Program…
  • A founding member of a charter school in Boston that is now ranked among the worst schools in Massachusetts…
  • A former trustee for two private schools, one that charges $45,000 a year and the other $37,000 a year…

When nominating Sparrow, Bronin cites his “extensive experience in organizational leadership and management,” but under Sparrow’s so-called leadership, the YMCA closed its successful Read to Succeed Program last May.

Read to Succeed was a specialized literacy program that had been successfully educating Hartford residents to read for more than 30 years.  By all accounts it was an extraordinary program and Sparrow’s handling of the situation was a blight on the reputation of the YMCA.

Although the YMCA’s Mission Statement reads that it provides literacy education services to adults, the program was shut down in disregard to widespread anger and opposition.

Hartford Courant’s articles and its Letters to the Editor section was filed with outrage and condemnation.

Comments and observations included;

“Read to Succeed does not duplicate the services of any other community adult literacy program — it is a unique, individualized program that helps adults with learning disabilities.” 

“The YMCA of Greater Hartford has lost its mission! Why close one of the only programs at the Downtown branch that impacts Hartford residents and aligns with the states workforce ready literacy skills and the YMCA’s own mission?”

“Truth is the Read to Succeed literacy program is needed now more than ever before as our future workforce demands for literacy skills is at its highest.”

“It’s a great loss for our community, especially those who are trying their best to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and be educated in a more firm and direct way.” 

“This vital program teaches adults with dyslexia and other cognitive challenges how to read using a multisensory language approach.”

“[Due to] the impending termination of the Greater Hartford YMCA’s Read to Succeed program, countless Greater Hartford area residents will be denied the benefits of this life-changing adult literacy program.”

“Most students at Read to Succeed have been unable to find success in conventional adult remedial programs.”

“Read to Succeed has offered the hope of a better, more productive life. Students have realized the importance of adult literacy skills to raise children who have strong literacy skills, to keep themselves and their families healthy, to be self-advocates, to reduce crime and to be active in their communities. “

In addition to the mishandling of the Read to Succeed issue, Harold Sparrow’s experience with education policy is extremely minimal, at best.

Sparrow served on two elite, private school boards, the Park School Board of Trustees in Brookline, Massachusetts from 2002 to 2008 and the Beaver Country Day School in Newton, Massachusetts form 2008 – 2011.  The Park School charges $37,000 a year to attend while the Beaver Country Day School’s tuition is $45,500 a year.

Neither of these experiences would possibly prepare him for the challenges facing Hartford’s public schools.

In addition, according to documents filed with the Department of Education in Massachusetts, Sparrow was a founder member of the Boston Bridge Charter School, which is now one of the lowest performing schools in Massachusetts.

Interestingly, while his on-line bio reference his time on the two fancy private schools, there is no mention of his role with the Bridge Boston Charter School in Boston Massachusetts.

A rush vote by the Hartford City Council on Mayor Bonin’s nomination of Harold Sparrow is expected today – Monday, January 30, 2017.

Update – His group’s anti-gay marriage position did not represent his own beliefs says Bronin nominee for school board

As Massachusetts moved toward its historic approval of same-sex marriage rights, the Boston Ministerial Alliance engaged in a heated and hateful campaign to stop the effort.  Their campaign included issuing a statement condemning gay marriage;

It is with a clear conscience that the Black Ministerial Alliance adds our voice to those speaking on the subject of marriage

[…]

We believe marriage to be a unique covenant established between a man and a woman…

We acknowledge the pain and suffering of the men and women in the gay and lesbian community who are in long term relationships. However, given the most recent opinion of the Supreme Judicial Court eliminating the possibility of Civil Unions, we support the call for a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman.

The Black Ministerial Alliance of Greater Boston, Inc.

But now, the individual who served as the group’s Executive Director at the time says the effort did not represent his beliefs.

In a strongly worded denial, Harold Sparrow (Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin’s nominee to serve on the Hartford Board of Education) released a statement in response to yesterday’s Wait, What? post entitled, Breaking News – Hartford Mayor nominates anti-gay marriage leader for vacancy on the Hartford School Board.

Sparrow wrote;

“I regret that a 2004 statement issued by the ministers of the Black Ministerial Alliance of Greater Boston, an organization for which I worked as an employee more than a decade ago, has raised questions about my personal views on equal rights for all. That statement does not reflect my personal views, nor does it reflect my personal faith. I want to say clearly and unequivocally that I support marriage equality and LGBTQ rights. — See https://www.facebook.com/MayorBronin/posts/613781482144501)

Although Reverend Harold Sparrow served as the Executive Director of the Black Ministerial Alliance of Greater Boston form 2002 – 2007 and apparently coordinated the group’s activities including their political efforts, he now reports that their actions on gay rights did not represent his personal beliefs.

During the same period, the organization’s President was Bishop Gilbert Thompson.

The vitriolic tone of the debate can be seen in a variety of published documents in which Bishop Thompson condemned those who sought marriage equity.

The Boston Magazine quoted Bishop Thompson, president of the Black Ministerial Alliance as preaching,

“We are standing against demonic forces that are out to destroy not only marriage, but family…We are not against any person, but certainly we stand in favor of marriage being what it actually is — the union of a man and a woman,”

Boston Magazine went on to explain;

Thompson’s success in building up Jubilee has produced leverage felt well beyond his ministry. Especially in his role as president of the Black Ministerial Alliance of Greater Boston, an advocacy group that claims to represent more than 20,000 congregants, he’s often in the news—inveighing against abortion and same-sex marriage…”

Thompson was also the figure quoted in the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) Report saying;

“It offends me that the proponents of same-sex marriage are trying to incorporate discrimination language in their argument. As an African American, I know something about discrimination. I was born black! It was not a decision on my part.”

The report went on to quote the BMA leader as saying,

“The massive evidence from social science research shows unique benefits to society and especially to children of a wedded mother and father.”

Meanwhile, Harold Sparrow, who served as an anti-Elizabeth Warren spokesman for Republican Senator Scott Brown’s losing 2012 campaign will go before the Hartford City Council for approval for a seat on the Hartford Board of Education at a special council meeting on Monday, January 27, 2017.

The Scott campaign utilized Sparrow to mock Elizabeth Warren’s claim that she was of Native American heritage.

 “Scott Brown, throughout this campaign, has taken on an issue that I think is very derogatory to” Warren and her claims to Native American heritage, said [Boston Mayor] Menino,

Scott Brown’s campaign responded by dispatching two African-American activists

[…]

One of the activists, Harold Sparrow, former executive ­director of the Black Ministerial Alliance, said Warren, not Brown, is to blame for the prolonged focus on her ethnic roots.

“It was a credibility issue that was raised, and Elizabeth Warren has said she should have responded sooner,” said Sparrow, who has been Brown’s friend since they were teammates on the Tufts University basketball team. “If she would have responded sooner, it would have gone away. But she didn’t.”

In May 2015, the YMCA of Greater Hartford selected Harold Sparrow to become its 5th President and CEO.  He came to Connecticut from the YMCA of Greater Boston, where he served as Senior Vice President of Operations.  Sparrow joined the YMCA of Greater Boston in 2007 after leaving his position at the Black Ministerial Alliance of Greater Boston.

Breaking News – Hartford Mayor nominates anti-gay marriage leader for vacancy on the Hartford School Board

Yesterday, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin nominated Harold Sparrow, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Hartford, to serve on the Hartford Board of Education.

As the Hartford Courant explained, Bronin is now trying to persuade the Hartford City Council to hold a rush vote on Sparrow’s nomination, apparently trying to get a vote as early as this coming Monday, January 30, 2017

Harold Sparrow is new to Hartford, having been appointed President of the Hartford YMCA in the spring of 2015.  His principal experience was serving with the Boston YMCA and as Executive Director of the Black Ministerial Alliance of Greater Boston from 2002 – 2007.

In support of Sparrow, Bronin was quoted as praising his nominee for his “extensive experience in organizational leadership and management.”

Bronin is either unaware or worse, intentionally overlooked, the critical role that Harold Sparrow played in opposing gay rights and marriage equality when he was working in Massachusetts.

As leader of the BMA of Greater Boston, Harold Sparrow played a leadership position in the organization’s high-profile opposition to gay rights and marriage equity.

According to the Boston Globe, Sparrow’s organization was the key signatory on an anti-gay, hateful letter dated February 7, 2004 that read,

It is with a clear conscience that the Black Ministerial Alliance adds our voice to those speaking on the subject of marriage

[…]

We believe marriage to be a unique covenant established between a man and a woman…

We acknowledge the pain and suffering of the men and women in the gay and lesbian community who are in long term relationships. However, given the most recent opinion of the Supreme Judicial Court eliminating the possibility of Civil Unions, we support the call for a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman.

The Black Ministerial Alliance of Greater Boston, Inc.

Covering Sparrow and the Black Ministerial Alliance, the Boston Phoenix added,

“BMA does not keep its religion separate from any of its activities. Sparrow keeps a large VOTE FOR JESUS sign in his office window. When BMA has been in the news, at least in recent years, it’s usually to register the group’s strong opposition to gay marriage.”

Also in 2004, PBS (the national Public Broadcasting Service) ran a special report on Black Churches and Gay Marriage, quoting a representative of the Boston Ministerial Alliance as saying,

“It offends me that the proponents of same-sex marriage are trying to incorporate discrimination language in their argument. As an African American, I know something about discrimination. I was born black! It was not a decision on my part.”

The report went on to quote the BMA representative as saying,

“The massive evidence from social science research shows unique benefits to society and especially to children of a wedded mother and father.”

Now Mayor Bronin appears ready – intentionally or unintentionally – to bring that type of thinking to the Hartford School Board.