Pennridge Diversity Meeting Meltdown Demonstrates Why DEI Is Desperately Needed

Adrienne King has a simple message for DEI supporters: “Get up, get out, and do something.” 
hate has no home
The Pennridge Area Republican Club President doesn't want these signs in the community. Will you buy one?

A local Republican leader set a Pennridge School District, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion committee meeting ablaze Wednesday night with her incendiary personal attacks against a local Black family, leading to vocal outbursts by exasperated parents, an order for the live video feed to be cut, and an abrupt ending to the event. 

Pennridge Area Republican Club President Kim Bedillion used her public comment at the CommUnity Committee Meeting to undermine the group’s effort to craft a mission statement and attack committee member Donte King and his wife Adrienne, go after their family business, and vilify “Hate Has No Home Here” signs being sold in the community. 

Before Bedillion finished, members of the board and audience disgusted by the personal assaults began to speak over her, while admonishing committee chairman David Reiss for allowing the use of public comment designated for agenda items to be hijacked. Reiss even ordered the live video feed to be cut in an apparent attempt to cover up his failed leadership and the embarrassing melee that was unfolding as a result. 

For all her neighbors, upset with what they witnessed Wednesday night, not to mention previous meeting nights, Adrienne King has a simple message: “Get up, get out, and do something.” 

“We all have the power to create the change we need to see for the better of our school district,” the former school board candidate added.

Past efforts to incorporate DEI into the district were axed in August by the previous school board in a 6-1 vote. The Anti-Defamation League called the decision “illogical, unethical and deeply harmful.” The current CommUnity Committee was then later formed with both DEI opponents and proponents, seemingly to investigate whether it was actually needed in the district and how to implement it. Four months of work, and the group has yet to even agree on a mission statement. 

Many in the Pennridge School District don’t believe that their neighbors who oppose DEI school initiatives and wrongfully conflate it with Critical Race Theory (like Bedillion), actually represent the larger community. They suggest that although some celebrate the removal of Black authors from curriculum, and call out Black authors like Frederick Douglas and Langston Hughes as being too oppressive, they aren’t representative of the district as a whole.

They are wrong. 

Based on the final vote count in November, they are the majority.

“The people who ran on an anti-DEI slate won and they are the face of our school board leadership,” King noted, actually agreeing with a point Bedillion made during her diatribe. 

But, while this may be the case now, it doesn’t have to be moving forward.

“How are we going to make this look different? What’s the groundwork we are going to lay now to ensure a different outcome in 2023?” King asked.

When I talked to Donte, who handled the attacks during the meeting with grace, he explained that Wednesday night wasn’t an isolated incident. It’s part of a broader pattern of trauma suffered from experiences in the Pennridge School District.  And this conversation isn’t new for his family and it’s not political, it’s their lives. 

“As one of the few vocal Black families in the community, if I don’t show up then my voice and the voice of others like me won’t be represented,” he said.

This made me rethink my own views about the committee, which I’ve always thought was, at best, a farce, given its de facto leader Joan Cullen who, as the ADL pointed out, doesn’t understand “how racism and other forms of oppression function.” But, even if it was essentially set up to definitively bury DEI in the district, the Kings don’t have the luxury to not stay and fight for what is right. And, if we are their neighbors who truly support them, we must follow their lead. 

“I can’t hide the fact that I am a Black man. My daughters can’t hide the fact that they are African-American,” said Donte.

Hilltown Township’s Steven Rash, whose wife Leah is on the committee, was really taken aback by how the meeting melted down, not to mention a racist epithet hurled at another Black committee member by someone in the audience, which led to a heated argument.

“I’ve never seen something get so out of hand here before,” said Rash who was at the meeting. “I am really fearful something violent is going to happen at one of these things.”

This also calls into question Bedillion’s opposition to “Hate Has No Home Here” signs.

“What is she promoting by saying ‘Hate Has No Home Here’ is a bad symbol? Is she promoting hate?” added Rash. 

It seems that hate does have a home in the district, or is at least tolerated. 

Darren Laustsen, a Perkasie father of one student in the district, watched Wednesday night’s meeting online in horror.

He was irked that Bedillion, who isn’t even a parent with a student in the district, would make mean-spirited comments targeting a parent-volunteer, his family, and his family business. Never mind the comments were a complete disregard for the rules.

“It almost seems like she was intentionally trying to provoke people for how blatant it was,” said Laustsen. 

He sympathizes with DEI proponents like Donte who volunteered to join the committee in a good faith effort to start a dialogue and legitimately attempt to heal a community torn apart by toxic politics.

“I’m not some left-wing socialist trying to bring a woke agenda to the schools,” Laustsen added. “I just want good schools.”

And DEI shouldn’t be some toxic partisan issue, but it is, thanks to people like Bedillion. 

There are many benefits DEI initiatives bring to the classroom, not to mention the broader community. And this week’s meeting provides yet another example of why it is needed. The question you have to ask yourselves is: What am I willing to do to advocate for it? 

It’s worth repeating Adrienne’s words: “Get up, get out, and do something.”

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Cyril Mychalejko

Cyril Mychalejko is the Editor-in-Chief of the Bucks County Beacon. Read his columns on Sundays and follow him on Twitter.

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