Realizations from election meeting


As many may know, there was a called meeting last week of the Fayette County Board of Elections regarding how to proceed with the special elections following the death of Pota Coston, one of our Board of Commissioners.

When I heard of the meeting, something immediately stirred within me, for having read what happened at the last Board of Commissioners meeting, and seeing the tone in our nation, I knew this meeting could further fan the flames of racial tensions within our community. As one who hates conflict, I was inclined not to attend. But the more I thought about it, the more impressed I was to go. And I am so glad I did.

I had the privilege of witnessing how resident after resident voiced their opinions respectfully, despite how politically charged this issue had become. I could not have been more proud. Additionally, I came to realize a few things that I think strike at the heart of this issue.

My first realization is that the push to district-only voting, rather than at-large voting, is more of a partisan issue than a racial one. In fact, in a moment of candor, I believe several speakers expressed this as well.

Given that, statistically, blacks have been shown to vote Democrat about 90 percent of the time, it seems that having political representation was often times, and possibly intentionally, conflated with having racial representation.

While our laws do speak to protections for groups of citizens based on race and gender, it does not codify protections based on perceived under-representation of a political party. It is incredibly disturbing that there are those who would intentionally use racial tension to advance their partisan position.

My second insight concerns an implication that Fayette County is somehow “racist.” Of all the various words that can be used to describe citizens, for me, “racist” is one of the most hurtful.

For, while it must be admitted that in every community there are “bad actors,” the term “racist” suggests a conscious and systematic, negative pre-judging, and disrespect of individuals because of the color of their skin — and this swings both ways. But should this term rightfully be ascribed to Fayette County?

Whether you shop at the Pavilion in Fayetteville or The Avenue in Peachtree City; whether your children attend Flat Rock Elementary or Peeples Elementary; each of our districts are well resourced and are well served by our elected officials.

In all my international travels, I know what it feels like to be judged and treated differently because of my race, and Fayette County is hardly racist.

When I think of the kindness of my neighbors, the care teachers have given my children, the great service I experience when I solicit most of our business establishments, accusations of racism simply do not ring true. To imply otherwise greatly disturbs me and causes me to question the motivations of those who do so.

The third thing I realize is a result of the words of one of the Board of Election members who spoke about what the county would look like 50 years from now, and the need to promote diversity. But the more he spoke, the more confused I grew, because he seemed to insinuate that diversity comes through only one political party. Really?!

I know many people of diverse backgrounds who are identified within both political parties. By advocating district-only voting, citizens of Fayette would only be able to vote for one member of a board, rather than all five, and we could essentially only hold that one board member accountable for serving the one district rather than all five. Does this promote unity or separation?

I therefore find it ironic that one would advocate, in the name of diversity, that citizens forsake their right to vote for five district seats, so they could “secure” a political seat of just one. Such a policy could easily promote a re-segregation — which ended over 50 years ago.

My final realization from the Fayette County Board of Elections meeting came from the words of one of the speakers who eloquently shared how she never felt represented until Pota Coston came knocking at her door. She said no one had ever come to her door before. She was so impressed that she joined her campaign.

I think when someone passes away, we can’t help but recall things that stood out about them, just as this woman did. As for me, I recall how Pota was always gracious to me, and I don’t remember her ever being partisan or exploiting historical feelings of racial disenfranchisement to garner a “Democrat” seat.

She campaigned the old-fashioned way, door-to-door, connecting with people, and even garnered the respect and support of several representatives on the other side of the aisle. She was truly decent and an amazing woman.

If I were to ever run for public office, I would want to do it the way Mrs. Coston did. I would want to rise above partisan politics and campaign, not just to a racial demographic or a single district, but I would want to run a campaign that spoke to all the people of this county.

However, in light of comments I have recently received, I do want to make several things clear. First, I do not live in District 5. Second, I have no desire to serve in public office. Finally, as a full-time working wife, mother of five, volunteer in my church, and at my kids’ school, I hardly imagine having the time to do so.

The people of this county deserve to have as its public servants people who are willing to put in the time to serve, and ones who do not create divisions that drive us apart, but strive to bring us all together.

[Bonnie B. Willis is co-founder of The Willis Group, LLC, a Learning, Development, and Life Coaching company here in Fayette County and lives in Fayetteville with her husband and their five children.]