AKRON, Ohio — A woman convicted of a felony for using her father's address to enroll her children in a neighboring school district should be "saluted, not arrested," civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton said at a rally for her on Thursday.
Sharpton spoke to a cheering crowd of about 300 people who gathered to support Kelley Williams-Bolar at a church in Akron, a struggling industrial city about an hour's drive south of Cleveland. The rally was organized by Sharpton's New York City-based nonprofit National Action Network.
"I think this woman should be saluted, not arrested," Sharpton said to rousing cheers at the church, which was packed with people. "This is an issue that everybody ought to get mad about. White, black, whatever."
Williams-Bolar, who is black, was accused of improperly using her father's address to register her two daughters from 2006 to 2008 in the neighboring Copley-Fairlawn school district instead of in the larger, underperforming Akron city district. The 40-year-old single mother and teacher's aide said her primary concern was safety.
She served nine days in jail for records tampering but plans to appeal her conviction. The felony record could rule out her goal of becoming a teacher. Amid continued public outcry over her arrest, Republican Gov. John Kasich has asked the state parole board to determine whether the felony conviction was an appropriate punishment.
Sharpton compared Williams-Bolar to the civil rights protesters in the 1960s, saying the civil rights movement began with the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education ruling, which ended legal segregation in public schools. Trying to ensure a good education for children shouldn't be criminalized, he said.
"This is an issue about equal education and equal protection," he said.
The crowd was overwhelmingly sympathetic to Williams-Bolar, with some people holding up signs that said "Exonerate Kelley Williams-Bolar." But there also was tension in the room. The Rev. Curtis Walker, president of the city of Akron's school board, took the podium to defend its schools.
"We have a full-time police officer in our school building," Walker said. "We have metal detectors to make sure that our students are safe and well."
But Linda Lanier, a mother who has chosen to home-school her son rather than send him to a city school, drew cheers from the crowd when she stood up to speak.
"I live in Akron, and I have to be concerned," Lanier said. "Because at the end of the day, I have to do what's best for my child."
Sharpton said he plans to return to Akron to fight for Williams-Bolar.
"I think that tonight showed we can pull a crowd," Sharpton said. "Now we've got to transform that crowd into a movement."
Information from: Akron Beacon Journal, http://www.ohio.com