A week ago this morning, Shay Stewart-Bouley woke up, sat down with a cup of coffee to read the morning news, clicked on my column and, as she recalled to me Thursday, “nearly passed out.”

The column focused on the fallout from an executive session held by the Portland Board of Education in August to discuss an email. It was sent to leaders at City Hall by Robyn Bailey, a longtime school employee who had just been appointed interim principal of Lincoln Middle School.

In her email, dated June 10, Bailey complained about Twitter posts by two members of the just-elected Portland Charter Commission, one of whom was Stewart-Bouley. I won’t add insult to injury by repeating Bailey’s specific criticism here – suffice it to say she described Stewart-Bouley’s tweets with words that were both inflammatory and, from where Stewart-Bouley sat, deeply hurtful.

I should have called Stewart-Bouley before using the quote to get a better perspective on what Bailey had alleged. I didn’t. And for that, I apologized to Stewart-Bouley privately Thursday and do so publicly here today.

“How did we get here?” Stewart-Bouley asked me early in our 35-minute phone conversation. “And how do we make it right?”

In addressing the first question, I’ll first say I’ve been reflecting a lot over the past week on three words of wisdom my dearly departed father used to offer whenever he saw me hurtling toward an objective without occasionally pausing to realign what I was doing with what I was hoping to achieve.


“Slow down,” Dad would say patiently, “and think.”

I wish he’d been here to whisper that advice last Thursday as I sat at my keyboard and pounded out the column on Bailey and the school board.

At the time, as I told Stewart-Bouley, I was focused on two things.

First, I was angered by what I saw as a lack of due process for Bailey, however offensive her words may have been to many. I felt that the board’s executive session skipped over the various layers of due process that a public employee deserves before that person’s fitness to serve is on the table without any opportunity for her to explain or defend herself.

Second, I was fed up with the tone of Portland politics these days, where civil dialogue has given way to something more coarse, more angry and less tolerant of dissenting points of view.

What I sailed right past was the reference to Stewart-Bouley’s tweets. In constructing the column, I saw the content of Bailey’s email more as background to the issue at hand. And I quoted from it in detail not to deliberately shame Stewart-Bouley but rather to provide readers an up-close understanding of who had said what about whom.


As I explained to Stewart-Bouley, it was as if I was driving down the highway distracted and didn’t notice that the speed limit had dropped. And now here I was getting a ticket for speeding and telling the officer, “I didn’t even see the sign!”

That’s not an excuse. To carry the analogy one step further, I deserve the ticket.

For Stewart-Bouley, who was gracious in accepting my apology, the column’s impact went beyond a morning that went from solitude to panic in the time it took her to read a partial quote.

She told me how it now feels to ride the ferry to and from her home on Peaks Island, trying not to notice the disapproving looks being cast her way. Or to go into the island store and feel the chill that comes over the place upon her arrival.

“There’s a real-life implication,” said Stewart-Bouley, who moved to Maine from the Midwest in 2002. “I’m not back home in Chicago where I don’t see my neighbors. I live on an island that has one grocery store and one café.”

Beyond my reference to her in the column, we talked about the fact that Bailey’s husband, William Bailey, was an unsuccessful candidate for the city’s charter commission last June.


Much has been made about the fact that my column made no mention of Robyn Bailey’s direct connection to the election. As I told Stewart-Bouley, I simply wasn’t aware of it – had I known, I’d have included it in the column without hesitation.

We talked about the ins and outs of Twitter. I explained that I have an account not to tweet but primarily to contact people when I don’t have their phone number. Thus, when I sent her a direct message Saturday morning asking her to give me a call and heard no response, I assumed wrongly that she did not want to talk.

It turns out, after I repeated my request via email a few days later, that Stewart-Bouley had not seen my previous message due to, she surmised, filters on her account that block some messages.

We also talked about writing. As the longtime author of the blog Black Girl in Maine, Stewart-Bouley said she understands the complexities of putting a column together. We recalled a column I wrote nine years ago that included her thoughts on the low percentage of Black people in Maine – as a member of that community, she spoke with humor and insight about moving here from a much more diverse and heavily populated place.

“People here are actually nice,” she told me at the time. “They speak to each other.”

Given the weeklong twitterstorm that followed last week’s column, I headed into Thursday’s conversation with apprehension, unsure of where it might take us and how it might end. By the time it did end, Stewart-Bouley and I agreed it was time well spent.

So, on we both go – Stewart-Bouley to the charter commission and her many other endeavors, and me to this platform I’m so blessed to occupy. One that demands, even when the news sends me into overdrive, that I slow down and think.

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