I was very saddened to hear of the shocking passing of a man much too young to be taken.
Rodney Ellis was the immediate past President of NCAE, and I considered him a friend who helped me professionally and personally.
I met Rodney through email. He had kindly read and responded to a couple of op-eds I had written. He invited me to a workshop and asked that I speak at a press conference and a teacher rally in front of the capitol building. It was there that I met the Rev. William Barber.
Since then, I have seen Rodney on a couple of more occasions, most recently at the Network for Public Education Convention this past spring in Raleigh. He presented on the workings of ALEC and other interests who seek to privatize public education.
Throughout his tenure as NCAE President, he always responded to my emails with encouragement and strength.
But I will always remember Rodney as a fearless leader for public schools. He led NCAE through some of the most turbulent assaults on public education by a state government bent on weakening it. Rodney stared down those on West Jones Street and stood up for our public schools. He helped protect teacher rights in the court of law and he advocated tirelessly for equity for all students.
Even if you are a teacher who is not a member of NCAE, Rodney Ellis fought for you as a comrade in arms.
People who know me are familiar with a black t-shirt that I wear often. It says, “I (heart) Public Schools.” In the heart is the NCAE logo. Rodney gave it to me. We wore them for a march in Raleigh to peacefully protest lack of funding for public education.
And when I woke up this morning, before I heard the terrible news of his passing, I put on that shirt to begin the day’s adventures with my family.
And then I heard the news.
I was glad to have had that shirt on today. Actually, I will wear more often because it has a powerful message, especially in this election year. Rodney worked incredibly hard to put people in a position to affect positive change, and I would like to think that he would keep telling us to educate people about what is happening in public education and then encourage them to vote.
God speed, Rodney Ellis.