The Gwinnett County school district is the state’s largest school system. It is also one of the most diverse — 76 percent of Gwinnett’s 176,000 students are people of color. However, voters had never elected a person of color to the school board until Tuesday.
Everton Blair, a 26-year-old African-American who works in the nonprofit sector, won an open seat in District 4. Blair graduated from Gwinnett’s Shiloh High School, which is also in District 4. He went to Harvard, and after graduation he taught in Atlanta for two years through a program called Teach for America. That’s the experience he says he’ll bring with him to the board.
“There are so many instructionally-relevant experiences that I feel I can translate to where we need to go, what our students need now, and how we’re going to get them there,” Blair said at an October campaign event.
While he recognized the history-making impact of becoming Gwinnett’s first non-white school board member, Blair said his age also sets him apart.
“Our school board is very seasoned,” he said. “So, because of that age gap, there’s a lot of younger folks who have not yet had the opportunity to put their energy and support behind a peer of theirs.”
Three of the board’s five current members have served since the 1990s. Blair said his presence would bring some balance to the board.
“I’m humbled by the support that this community, the one where I grew up, has shown,” Blair said after his win. “Most excitingly, I am ready to learn and to hear from others. This is collaborative work, and I will do everything I can to honor the commitment to our students, teachers, parents and community members.”
Emory University associate professor of political science Andra Gillespie says when voters elect people who resemble the community they represent, it confers a sense of legitimacy on the organization.
“If you live in a diverse area, but one group consistently holds the reins of power, that doesn’t look particularly legitimate, particularly if you are not a member of the group that always holds power,” she said.
However, Gillespie says, electing a diverse board does not necessarily mean particular groups of people will be well-represented.
“Having a candidate of color run for office-or even win office-doesn’t necessarily guarantee that representation will change substantively,” she said. “You can’t just look at somebody and say that just because they are African-American or Latino or Asian American that they’re going to vote in particular ways.”
Blair defeated businessman Chuck Studebaker to win the District 4 slot. Another African-American candidate, Wandy Taylor, competed for the District 2 seat. She lost to Steven Knudsen.
Correction: This story has been corrected to show that Everton Blair works in the nonprofit sector.