Inez Anderson watched the nine young dancers negotiate a complex set of moves, her hands mirroring theirs.
“I had a dream,” she sang along to the music, giggling with a child who missed a beat during the practice last week.
The Moving E-Mage dance troupe spreads Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of equality via hip hop and modern dance at local multicultural events.
Some people wish Anderson would stick to dancing.
At Post Falls Junior High recently, Anderson was involved in a demonstration of another sort that resulted in chaos on the school grounds.
Students wandered on and off campus, telephoned the news media and encouraged their fellow classmates to leave class in protest of racist remarks at school.
The protest began after a student was overheard calling Anderson’s 14-year-old son Faheem “nigger.” Anderson says the students “got a taste of their Constitution” and had a “real-life learning experience” about their rights.
Frustrated teachers and parents counter that all the kids got was two days off from school. And the school got an undeserved black eye, they say.
Critics portray Anderson as choreographing the noisy student walkout just as she authoritatively leads her own children and their friends through their dance routine.
Anderson denies that she orchestrated the protest, but she’ll readily take credit for leading the local fight against racism.
“If I sit in the background and don’t say anything, it’s saying that I approve,” she said.
But Anderson’s credibility is crumbling. A half-page advertisement last week in the Post Falls Tribune, paid for by citizens and businesses, declared its support for the school district in the aftermath of the walkout.
For her role in the protest, Anderson has been charged with two counts of enticing children to leave school and two counts of verbally abusing teachers in the presence of children, all misdemeanors punishable by a $300 fine or six months in jail per count.
Dozens of parents called the school district to complain about the disruption.
“No child should have to put up with any harassment at all, but I think she’s gone about it in a very destructive way,” said Jeff Cheeseborough, a youth advocate who is on the school district’s antiracism steering committee.
“She set herself up against the community as a whole that didn’t side with her,” he said. “That really has a lot of people not trusting her.”
Anderson is fighting a battle that’s encompassed all of her 36 years. She grew up the oldest of nine children raised by a single mother in a mixed-race Chicago neighborhood.
When she and a handful of other black children passed a test that gave them entrance to an all-white public school in the early ‘70s, riots prevented their attendance.
During the riots, one of Anderson’s friends was shot and killed, she said.
“Racism was a day-to-day thing for me, and racism has always been a part of my life,” Anderson said.
Anderson met her second husband, David Anderson, a white man, at Fairchild Air Force Base nine years ago. The couple settled in Coeur d’Alene where they struggled to be accepted as a mixed race couple and fought for acceptance of their three black children at school.
Anderson said that racism was a common problem in the Coeur d’Alene schools, but at least one administrator saw it differently.
“She had a way of blaming any problem that (her son) Faheem had at school as something that was racially motivated,” said former Bryan Elementary School principal Dan Hicks. “We finally got to the point where we had to limit the conferences we had with Inez to after-school conferences, it would be such a disruption.”
Anderson said the only time her children were not harassed was when Bob Olson was Bryan Elementary’s principal.
“He was a very fair man,” Anderson recalled.
In 1991, Anderson’s car was sabotaged, she believes. The brakes failed, causing her to drive into a telephone pole.
The day after the accident, she got a phone call. She told police the caller said, “We have not killed you yet nigger. You can’t drive anyway. If you get another vehicle, we will do it to that one, too.”
Finally, the Andersons moved to Wisconsin for several months, but unhappy there, returned in 1993 to live in Post Falls.
Last year, Anderson’s two older children staged a walkout to protest racism in school. It prompted a flurry of meetings, district policies and activities designed to promote tolerance.
It also drew the interest of white supremacists. Some high school students and the Andersons received threats, and white supremacist literature turned up at Ponderosa Elementary School.
With that in mind, Post Falls Police Sgt. Pete Marion watched the walkout unfold at the junior high two weeks ago. Marion said he was concerned not only about students leaving campus during the walkout, but strangers coming onto campus, too.
“The adults that kept walking on and off campus, I didn’t know who they were or why they were there,” Marion said. From his observations and interviews, he concluded that Anderson was to blame for the protest and charged her with enticing children.
“She was certainly involved to the point of almost running the entire thing,” he said.
Many teachers were angry and tense after the walkout. They said many of the students who protested were guilty of name-calling themselves. They also saw Anderson cursing at teachers a few days earlier.
“Many feel like they’ve been singled out or victimized by a gross generalization,” said junior high principal Don Boyk.
“It’s been depressing,” said teacher John Pettoello. “It’s frustrating to me, after all these years of trying to be a good teacher, to hear the teachers in this school being called racist.”
Several teachers said the incident destroyed trust between teachers and students.
“If they were doing what they’re supposed to be doing, this wouldn’t have happened,” Faheem Anderson said after dance practice last week. The boy said he would consider another walkout if people keep calling him names.
While some minorities choose to ignore name-calling, Anderson can’t bear to tell her children to ignore racist remarks. Many human-rights workers agree that those remarks should be challenged.
Name-calling is being reported more frequently as malicious harassment, and more schools are adopting zero-tolerance policies to deal with it.
Post Falls has a zero-tolerance policy on harassment.
Students and Anderson failed to let that process work, however, and staged the walkout instead, administrators said. So last week, the district adopted a new zero-tolerance policy aimed at unwelcome adults: No trespassing and no loitering rules are the new tools for controlling campus.
The reactions by police and school officials are “the typical response, almost,” said Sherri Louis, a member of the Spokane Human Rights Commission. “Inez and her family are the victims in this case. What’s going on is institutional racism.”
In Spokane, she added, “At least there is more than one person trying to fight the whole system.”