The Racist Who Suckered Millions from Education Reform

Chalkboard Review, Unsplash
SHARE:

How does a racist radical dupe a bunch of billionaires and prominent nonprofits into funding his bigotry?

Chris Stewart is the CEO of Brightbeam, an education reform organization whose board members have included former Obama education secretary, Arne Duncan, and the former head of education at the Walton Family Foundation. 

At first glance, he seems respectable, but Stewart has a secret identity—one he has used to write racist and hateful diatribes that would shock his elite backers.

Stewart has been funded and promoted by some of the education reform movement’s top foundations and advocacy organizations. The Walton Family Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the City Fund and others have spent millions bankrolling Stewart and his ventures. 

He shared the stage with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at the ExcelinEd national conference in 2019, was featured in a recent education reform documentary, and is a mainstay on panels at education reform conferences.

These organizations—whether blindly or knowingly—support a man whose real, racist beliefs are anathema to everything they claim to stand for. 

In the early 2000s, Stewart owned and operated a blog called “American Hot Sausage” where extremist and racist diatribes were published under the pseudonym “Reverend Rahelio Soleil.” Although the blog is now defunct, some of “Rahelio’s” rants can still be found at other websites.

Stewart’s ownership of this pseudonym was revealed in a front-page article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2006. No additional blogs under the pseudonym were posted after the scandal, and Stewart sold the domain soon after. At best, Stewart’s backers failed to do their due diligence before giving him a platform and piles of cash. 

While Bloomberg donated $15 million to founding the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, Stewart’s pseudonym wrote his disdain for mourning the loss caused by the terrorist attacks, claiming “September 11th is just another day in which nothing extraordinarily superhuman happened…nothing of important [sic] anyway.”

Sickeningly, he adds: “3,000 is not that many dead. Especially considering the amount of deaths we have caused or allowed internationally. Now, go tell Toby Keith and the nation of retards he represents to write a song about that.”

As the Walton Family Foundation donated a considerable amount to the Center named for Harriet Beecher Stowe (the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin), the so-called “Reverend Soleil” gave “Coon of the Week” awards to black people he “considered too cozy with the white power structure.”

In an article by “Rahelio” titled “How do we draw the N****r line?” he states, “The simple answer is that [Justice Clarence] Thomas is not black because he shares almost nothing in common with common black people. He is white with black skin.”

He then admits, “That is a racist statement, I know. I am a racist. America is racist. Only drunk people and liars would say differently.”

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative spent millions on Hispanic-education environments. Stewart spent half of his term on the board of Minneapolis Public Schools suspending and silencing Principal Tim Cadotte for attempting to boost Hispanic and ESL programs—which Stewart claimed were anti-Black.

Cadotte was cleared of any wrongdoing, but only after what the Star Tribune called an “inquisition” that “can probably be best described as surreal, the work of a system either hellbent on retribution or so enamored of its own bureaucracy that it cannot see it has wasted the better part of a year…” 

These kinds of scandals, which rocked Minneapolis for months, should have made Stewart too toxic to touch. Indeed, his antics were so reprehensible that the head of the Minneapolis NAACP condemned them. 

But if the foundations backing him have ever held reservations about embracing Stewart and his extremist views, they have never expressed them. In fact, Stewart has picked up where Rahelio Soleil left off, slightly tempering his language, but retaining the racially separatist messaging. 

Stewart continues to harass anyone who doesn’t share his conviction of America’s irredeemable racism. In 2021, he accused conservatives of only supporting black people who he claims “exist solely to scold Black people on behalf of white people.” 

Echoing Rahelio’s “Coon of the Week” awards, Stewart recently called a group of black individuals supporting the 1776 Project a “splashy right-wing commercial for coon camp” and labeled a black Republican candidate a “Trumpanzee.”

When a young black education reformer at the American Federation for Children said last November that parents were “rising up and demanding what’s best for their kids,” Stewart accused him of being “down with banning everything except white nationalist history.” More recently, he belittled black people attending Moms for Liberty events for being what he called “nonwhite tokens.” 

He has lambasted critics of Ibram X. Kendi for supposedly engaging in “cheap white nationalism” and compared those questioning Critical Race Theory to KKK members removing their “hood.” 

Stewart even admitted in a 2020 interview that he assumes all white teachers are racist and believes that no white teacher is redeemable from racism. 

How have huge philanthropic organizations and the bulk of the education reform movement been fooled into putting their full weight behind such a character? Chris Stewart simply tells them what they want to hear—like that he is supposedly a libertarian who supports education reform—and they believe him without a second glance.

Stewart may present one face to his supporters, but it only takes a few minutes of scrutiny to unearth a more disturbing character. 

“Rahelio Soleil” is alive and well, pocketing cash from gullible donors who either haven’t taken the time to investigate their perfidious investment—or don’t care to.

Tony Kinnett
Tony Kinnett is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Chalkboard Review. He is an award-winning science teacher, and the former science coordinator and head instructional coach for Indianapolis Public Schools, until he was fired for whistleblowing information concerning the school system's use of racist material. In February, he was appointed the director of the education nonprofit Choice Media, now Chalkboard Media.