SACRAMENTO — Acclaimed Harvard professor Dr. Cornel West had decided to throw himself into the firing-of-Chris Orr issue that has plagued Christian Brothers High School since October.
Dr. West, who was raised here in Sacramento, wrote an open letter to express his support for a man he has known for decades. The public correspondence puts the matter in the national spotlight.
Dr. West’s letter, 342 words in length on university letterhead explains how Orr comes from a family of “moral nobility and spiritual royalty,” and insists that the fired principal “exemplifies more integrity, character, and vision.”
But in conclusion of the letter, dated Nov. 25, Dr. West reprimanded Christian Brothers High School’s board members of their actions adding that he believes that “there are ugly racist and retaliatory components shot through this painful affair,” he stated.
“I feel this hurt in a personal way given the kind of noble human being I know Chris to be. So I am calling on the legitimate authorities to render accountable those leaders responsible for this miscarriage of justice. I also call for Chris to return to Christian Brothers High School if he so desires,” Dr. West’s letter reads.
“Furthermore, if this unjust situation is not morally and spiritually rectified, we will have a massive national controversy on our hands. And I will do everything in my powers to preserve the dignity of Chris Orr,” the prominent and provocative educator added.
Dr. West’s letter was released three days after two members of the school board, a staffer and their attorney from Christian Brothers met with the Community Leadership Council in effort of finding a resolution.
Both groups met at the Sierra Health Foundation’s office. Betty Williams, the President of the Sacramento Branch of the NAACP and Chet Hewitt, president of the Sierra Health, were in attendance.
Not much was released from the meeting in terms of details. But Dr. West’s letter was a sure indicator that he has some skin in the matter as he monitors the situation from Massachusetts.
Dr. West’s nephew, who is named after him, graduated from Christian Brothers and his brother Clifton West taught and coached cross country and track at the high school.
Dr. West is a professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard Divinity School. He knows the Orr family well. Dr. West also spoke at Aspire Langston Hughes Academy in Stockton when Chris Orr was an administrator there a few years ago.
Orr was fired on Oct. 11 from Christian Brothers. He was hired for the position on July 1, 2017, and became the school’s first African American principal in its 143 years of existence.
Many members of the Orr family has attended the Oak Park school, including Orr’s brother and sister. His own children are currently enrolled as well.
“…I am deeply disturbed by the mistreatment of Chris that constitutes a violation of the grand La Sallian ideals,” Dr. West wrote. “This sad situation should in no way tarnish the grand reputation of Chris Orr or impede his prophetic witness as an undeniable force for good in higher education.”
Dr. West’s older brother Clifton has been a part of the movement hoping to restore Orr back into the position of principal of Christian Brothers. He has attended meetings at Dr. Ephraim Williams Family Life Center in Oak Park and he was seen at rallies for Orr in front of the school.
Clifton was track and cross country coach at Christian Brothers from 1987 to 1994. He said some of his “treasured years” were spent at the school at that time. West has been associated with the Parochial Athletic League since 1974.
“I look at it from the standpoint of what we’re here to do,” Clifton West told The OBSERVER. “I’ve known Chris’ father since the seventh grade. Chris was put here to service students and that what he was doing. As far as I can see, that is what he’s been penalized for.”
West also said, from his perspective, that the students at Christian Brothers are basically taught honesty and respect in the classrooms of Christian Brothers. But the actions of the school’s president and the board members are “diametrically opposed” to teaching in the classrooms.
“What I mean by that is that you’re taught integrity, the value of credibility, but the (president’s and board members’) actions don’t mirror those things,” Clifton West said. “In fact, those actions mean that, ‘Hey, they only mean this until authority comes into play.’ When you look at those actions versus what you’ve been taught, you could have a casualty of values.”
By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer