About 40 people gathered at St. Paul United Methodist Church on Sumter Street to thank the former superintendent for the contributions he made to Gainesville students. The event was hosted by the Newtown Florist Club and the Gainesville-Hall County Chapter of the NAACP.
The Gainesville City Board of Education fired Ballowe on July 3 with a 3-2 vote divided along racial lines, with the two minority board members voting against his termination.
In a letter to the community included in the celebration’s program, Faye Bush, executive director of the Newtown Florist Club, wrote that the purpose of the education rally was "to express our sincere thanks to Dr. Ballowe for outstanding work, and to mobilize the community to protect a proven model of academic excellence that may be at risk of being dismantled."
Multiple speakers at the event said they were unsettled by the way the Gainesville community has responded to the school board’s budget dilemma — a roughly $5.6 million deficit.
Some speakers said they believe some members of the community used the budget problem as a vehicle to oust Ballowe.
Bush wrote the goal of the rally was to give Ballowe an "honorable farewell," but the Newtown Florists aren’t saying goodbye to Ballowe. They’re standing with him as "he prepares for the challenges that lie ahead."
Rose Johnson-Mackey, co-pastor of Truth and Deliverance Outreach Ministries, said the Southside community is planning to hold a march through the streets of Gainesville soon to support Ballowe’s Gainesville Model, which she and many others in the community credit for the academic success of minority students since Ballowe was hired as superintendent in 2001. Johnson-Mackey said she and members of the Newtown Florist Club also are planning a news conference in Atlanta regarding what some perceive to be an unjustified firing of the superintendent.
"We’re not playing around here. We’ve come too far," she said. "We’re going to hold a press conference in Atlanta because everybody needs to know how they’ve mistreated our superintendent."
Johnson-Mackey said that for the first time since integration, and due to Ballowe’s methods, minority students in Gainesville city schools are achieving at the same levels as white students.
"We’re participating in a moment in history that we’re in right now," Johnson-Mackey said to citizens at the rally. "I’m here to tell you that we support (Ballowe), and we stand in solidarity with him.
"I remember when we first stepped foot into Gainesville High School," she said. "Dr. Ballowe was an agent of change. All we have ever wanted, he brought to the school system. Things are beginning to change now."
Ballowe said at the celebration that he was humbled by the Southside community’s outpouring of support. He also said he was grateful for their trust in him and takes pride in the success of their children.
He said he followed through on the promise he made to parents when he was hired in 2001 to help every child of every color achieve in Gainesville city schools.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I am no longer the superintendent," Ballowe concluded. "So the rest of the story is in your hands to be written."