Kelley Williams-Bolar: One mother's struggle to keep her family secure
Any day now, Ohio's parole board is expected to make a recommendation in the case of Kelley Williams-Bolar. You may remember Williams-Bolar from the flurry of media attention she received early this year when she was convicted on felony charges and sentenced to 10 days in jail, two years of probation and 80 hours of community service. The crime that prompted all this? Williams-Bolar had enrolled her two daughters, ages 9 and 13 at the time, in a school district where she was confident that they would be safe.
The problem, as an Akron-area prosecutor saw it, was that while Williams-Bolar's father lives in this suburban district, she doesn't. In the county's view, she had stolen a safe educational experience for her children at taxpayers' expense. But more than 165,000 members of ColorOfChange.org and MomsRising.org and activists using Change.org saw a different story entirely. They realized the connection between this situation and the grinding economic reality in which Williams-Bolar and millions of other families across the nation find themselves.
Williams-Bolar said she made the decision to register her daughters in the Copley-Fairlawn district using her father's address after her home was broken into. Most mothers, when faced with living in a sometimes-violent neighborhood where they can't guarantee their children's safety, would do precisely what she did. This was proven when more than 165,000 people called on Gov. John Kasich to commit to fully pardoning Williams-Bolar. ColorOfChange.org, Change.org and MomsRising.org then joined forces to deliver the petition signatures to Gov. Kasich's Columbus office in February. The media attention we helped bring to Williams-Bolar's case was tremendous. The next day, the governor asked the parole board to look into her case.
Nothing short of a pardon will correct this situation. Williams-Bolar works as a teacher's aide in Akron public schools and is close to finishing her college degree— an accomplishment that will allow her to fulfill her dream of becoming a teacher. But with a felony conviction on her record, it's unlikely that that dream would become reality.
At ColorOfChange.org, we're monitoring the story and looking forward to the day when the parole board tells Gov. Kasich how it thinks he should act. Once that happens this summer or early fall, we'll update our members. They'll need to know that either their voices have made a real difference and resulted in a pardon, or that it's time to keep pushing until justice is served.
It's possible that the fight will need to continue after the board makes its recommendation. The hours-long clemency hearing last month had its harsh moments, like when the prosecutor accused Williams-Bolar of carrying out a "pattern of deception," or when a parole board member mocked her by asking "Where is the independence if you are still using [your father's] address? How old are you?"
Based on news reports, the lack of empathy displayed during the hearing was shocking. The prosecutor and some board members appeared to lack any understanding of the challenges facing so many families today— particularly the ways in which a child's ability to have a safe journey to and from school is so clearly related to her family's economic status.
This post is part of the multi-organizational #HERvotes blog carnival.