On Thursday evening, September 12, 2019 The Community Group hosted a dinner for African American employees of Montgomery County Public Schools.

The dinner, held at Asbury United Methodist Church in Christiansburg, brought together public school teachers, administrators and TCG members to celebrate the advances made in diversifying the number of public school employees in Montgomery County.  Through its major project, the Dialogue on Race, The Community Group has identified and been addressing public education as one of five key issue areas in which African Americans experience persistent racism.  TCG President Penny Franklin, a member (District B) of the Montgomery County Public Schools School Board, has encouraged and stewarded a working relationship for change in the public school system. MCPS has made strong progress recruiting and hiring a more diverse employee body.  Now in her seventh term on the school board, Penny is the first African American in Montgomery County history to be elected to public office.  In this year’s election she runs unopposed.

Nearly forty community members gathered to break bread including teachers, school employees, central office staff and the superintendent, Mark Miear, and members of The Community Group.  Rev. Ryan Shaeffer, pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church, welcomed the gathering and offered a blessing for the meal.  Everyone settled in to accomplish the goal of the evening:  a loud and fellowship-filled meal of fried chicken, green beans, macaroni salad, veggie salad and delightful desserts. Wanting not to keep the teachers late on a school night, Penny concluded the dinner with a  few quick words of thanks, a door prize drawing and a request to those gathered.  “Join us for the next Dialogue on Race summit, Saturday, January 25.  And, let us know how we can be of help and support for you. Several of you this evening have made connections with others from different places in the MCPS system; this will help build a network of support. Let’s tay connected.” 

Community Group members left to right: Lois Sanborn, Bill Hendricks, and Penny Franklin in the kitchen at Asbury United Methodist Church, Christiansburg VA. (Photo/Andy Morikawa)

TCG members Lois Sanborn, Bill Hendricks, and Penny Franklin sliced and plated the dessert specialties Penny baked for the dinner:  a devils food chocolate cake, a German apple streussel cheese cake, a pineapple upside down cake, and a pound cake. Asked why she didn’t turn her legendary baking skills into a business, she said, “Oh no. Then it wouldn’t be fun.”

Left to right: Guest Dominick McKee, Assistant Director of Human Resources for Montgomery County Public Schools, and members of The Community Group Nancy Nowlin, Debbie Sherman Lee, and John Nowlin. (Photo/Andy Morikawa)

Dominick McKee, Assistant Director of Human Resources for Montgomery County Public Schools, was the first guest to arrive. He and John, Nancy, and Debbie helped set the tone of the evening sharing stories, discovering common connections and enjoying new old and new relationships.  

TCG member Debbie Sherman Lee hurries to fill the dessert table before guests arrive.  (Photo/Andy Morikawa)

TCG member, Debbie Sherman Lee helped set up for the event. A retired MCPS teacher, Debbie served for 26 years in Montgomery County Public Schools. She provides key leadership in the Dialogue on Race project. She chairs the Jim Crow/White Privilege issue group issue group that works to combat the culture of racism in Montgomery County through education and engagement. The issue group has developed a team of more than 30 facilitators for dialogue and story circle activities in the community.  At the August 24, 2019 Dialogue on Race summer summit, Debbie’s team facilitated story circles for more than 200 community members gathered in 26 breakout groups.

Penny Franklin explained why she felt so emotional about the dinner gathering  in the fellowship hall of Asbury United Methodist Church.  (Photo/Andy Morikawa)

Penny Franklin addressed the gathering, sharing why she felt so emotional about the dinner gathering in the fellowship hall of Asbury United Methodist Church. She spoke her sense of celebration for the growing number of African Americans employed in Montgomery County public schools. “You are the example our black children need to see  in our schools, in our classrooms. This is the result of the work of many people, pushing for change for many years.” She thanked Deputy Superintendent Annie Whitaker and Superintendent Mark Miear for leading and supporting the many changes resulting in the growing diversity of the MCPS team. “Let us know how we can be of help to you,” she told the gathering.  

The Community Group celebrates African American MCPS employees
Guylene Wood-Setzer, Assistant Principal at Blacksburg High School, and Penny  Franklin, President of The Community Group.

The Community Group presented Guylene Wood-Setzer, Assistant Principal of Blacksburg High School, a gift card of appreciation for her many years of service. Wood-Setzer spoke of her long tenure as senior educator in Montgomery County public schools. 

Annie Whitaker, right, newly appointed Deputy Superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), draws the name of door prize winners.  (Photo/Andy Morikawa)

Annie Whitaker, newly appointed Deputy Superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), drew door prize winners for the evening. When Whitaker served as director of Human Relations for MCPS, she developed innovative recruiting practices resulting in historically successful diversity recruiting efforts.  The growing number of African American employees encompasses teachers, central office staff, building staff, and classroom aides.  Annie has worked closely with The Community Group and participates actively in the Dialogue on Race.