Students of Color

While Rich People Bribe Their Kids' Way Into College, Parents of Color Sit in Jail for Wanting Better Schools

While 33 wealthy, powerful parents, including the two B-list but well-known actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, were paying off coaches and testing companies to defraud their way into some of the most elite colleges and universities, a mother from Akron, Ohio, just wanted her children to be safe in school. Kelley Williams-Bolar is not a household name for most people, but she is for me. In 2011, she went to jail for lying about her residency to get her daughters into a better school district.  District officials deliberately made Williams-Bolar, a Black single mother, the face of “stealing an education” and charged her with two felonies. When given the chance to explain herself, her motivation was clear as day, “I did it to keep my children safe.” I suspect the parents now implicated in this recent scandal can’t even imagine the thought of their child not feeling safe in school. Black and Brown students at prestigious institutions of higher education often get the side-eye—and are targets of questions dripping with ugly assumptions—from people whose default is to believe that they didn’t really earn their place there. Meanwhile, rich White children are getting admitted because somebody literally changed their wrong answers on the SAT or accepted a bribe to lie about their qualifications. We all know the playing field is unlevel and that fairness is, for so many, nothing more than platitude. But there is something uniquely jarring—and repugnant— when the same folks who lecture us about virtue and justice from the Hollywood stage in designer gowns and custom jewels reveal themselves to be so selfish that they would bribe college officials to secure their children a coveted spot at University of Southern California (USC), a spot that would have quite literally changed the life trajectory of a more talented and deserving student from a poor family.

Kelly Williams-Bolar Isn’t Alone

Kelly Williams-Bolar isn’t alone. Tanya McDowell faced similar charges in Connecticut for “stealing an education.” District officials decided to prosecute a Black, single, homeless parent on a charge that carried up to 20 years in prison. According to Salon, when pressed on the disparate treatment, school officials readily admitted that they treated McDowell far more harshly than they did others “because they wanted to make an example of her.” Poor parents—and the education of their children—seem to be a hobby that exists in the abstract for the uber-wealthy and Hollywood celebrities. They wax on about injustice, privilege and equity like all good progressives do but their actions perpetuate the very system they pretend to abhor. Sure they celebrate affordable housing, in theory, but watch them when the developer wants to build it anywhere near where they live. They love public education and are so down for that “public good” that they lock arms with union leaders and teachers on strike even though they would never send their own children to their zip code assigned public school, let alone the one on the “bad side of town.” It’s laughable to even consider. And while I do not know the former “Desperate Housewife” or “Aunt Becky’s” views on empowering low-income parents the freedom to choose the best school for their children, it doesn’t really matter. In a system that is already so tilted in their favor, still they demand more and they are willing to launder money through a sham charity for low-income children and commit fraud to get it.

Those with the Most Power and Money Are Never Coming to Save Parents from Broken Schools

The outrage and subsequent finger-wagging about this case has been swift and unsurprisingly, much of it is coming from folks who Vesia Hawkins of Nashville aptly describes as “parents who loudly detest school choice but suddenly decry wealthier versions of themselves.” The FBI’s “Operation Varsity Blues” has undoubtedly shined a light on buying access to an elite education, but it is merely a high profile and extreme example of the very common practice of people and communities of means hoarding educational opportunity and literally locking the door to those who want the exact same thing for their children but can’t afford to buy it. Parents across America will be waiting forever if we allow ourselves to believe that the fat cats who live and educate their children behind walls of wealth will ever give up even an inch of their infinite advantage and privilege. They are so far removed from the pain and desperation that countless parents face every day that we can never expect the staggering educational inequality around them to even be on their radar, let alone see them join with poor families and raise up their voices in an effort to reverse it. Those with the most power and money in the educational feeding frenzy that defines America are never coming to save parents from broken schools no matter how much they pretend they care when the cameras are rolling. It’s up to us. https://www.facebook.com/BetterConversationBetterEducation/videos/392957894852208/
Photos courtesy of Lori Loughlin/IMDb and Felicity Huffman/IMDb.
Erika Sanzi
Erika Sanzi is a mother of three sons and taught in public schools in Massachusetts, California and Rhode Island. She has served on her local school board in Cumberland, Rhode Island, advocated for fair school funding at the state level, and worked on campaigns of candidates she considers to be champions for kids and true supporters of great schools. She is currently a Fordham senior visiting ...

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