Some years ago, the General Assembly made school board elections in South Carolina nonpartisan, for the very good reason that partisan politics are ugly and it was felt that public education should be above the partisan fray.
The system has worked well for more than 20 years because people thought that education was too important to politicize. The fact that a group of rogue Republicans violated the spirit — and perhaps the letter — of the law by running the A-Team reflects on the timbre of our times and the quality of political leadership in Charleston County today.
Yes, everybody says education is important, but how many are willing to work for better schools purely for the children's sake? How many more teachers could have been hired, how many books, videos, and computers could've been bought with the money the A-Team spent on their school board coup?
One person who doesn't give a damn about politics is Michael Miller.
Miller is the owner of Michael & Company, a barber shop and hair-styling salon in West Ashley. Among the people who sit in his chair each week are school teachers and principals and, like any good barber, he listens to what they have to say. And what he hears are stories of kids in need. Sure, they need books and backpacks and other school materials, but they need something else. Many of these kids come from homes where parents are barely present. They get little support and little direction. Their constructive role models are few. As a result, they come to school ill-prepared to learn. They bring their domestic problems into the classroom in the form of inattention, acting out, and violence.
Miller did not come from such a background. Growing up in Goose Creek, he had a stable home. His parents had good-paying defense industry jobs in the North Charleston-area. He graduated from Goose Creek High with a soccer scholarship that took him to Benedict College, then to Howard University. Upon graduation, he returned to Charleston to marry and start a business.
No, Michael Miller didn't come from the projects or from a broken home, but he has seen enough of the world to understand what is wrong with so many of Charleston's young people today.
"You know what those kids need more than anything?" he asked me recently. "They want to have a caring adult in their life. They want to have someone to tell them when they've done something right — or to tell them when they've done something wrong. They just want somebody who cares."
For many young men and women in Charleston County Schools, Miller has become that person. Working with the two barbers and two hair stylists in his shop, he is going into schools to offer mentoring and tips on grooming and training to find a job.
"With some help and support, some of these kids will go to college," Miller said. "But they don't have any role models. Nobody in their families has ever been to college before. They will be the first ones and we want to show them how to get ready. And for those who can't go to college, there are other possibilities. You know, everybody needs a haircut."
One young man is "shadowing" Miller in the barber and styling shop now and others may soon follow.
His latest project is raising money to buy school supplies for children in Title 1 schools, the poorest schools in the district, where at least 50 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunches. He and his staff raised $2,200 through donations from friends and customers. The money went to buy everything from scissors to book bags, which he distributed to schools in the Adams Run-Hollywood area. Miller is working to get a 501(c)(3) tax status next year.
Other groups and individuals are also getting involved in our schools in a purely nonpolitical way. In September, Prudential Carolina Real Estate raised $35,000 and packed more than 700 boxes with school supplies, which were delivered to 110 schools in the tri-county area. It was Prudential Carolina's fifth year sponsoring the School Wish List Program.
Businesswoman and philanthropist Darla Moore made a $75,000 donation last summer to the DonorsChoose Back to School Campaign to fund public education in South Carolina. The money was used to match donations during the Back to School campaign.
There are other groups in the Lowcountry who are trying to aid education and give kids a chance in school. And they are not seeking votes or glory. Find one of them and make a donation. If you would like to contribute to Michael Miller's organization or just thank him for doing a service for the community, he can be reached at email@example.com or (843) 991-1969.