Baldwin County schools have seen three major events in the last four months that demonstrated the need for a community conversation about racism, bigotry and homophobia. And after many difficult conversations, we have a commitment from the principal at Spanish Fort High School to work together with parents and students to make a better community for our kids.
In June, we discovered the biased and non-academic reading list and class materials from a long-time teacher. This received national news coverage and is under investigation.
In September, a Baldwin County student thought it was a good idea to “put the panic back in Hispanic.” This student held a sign at a football game with those words when her team was playing against the Spanish Fort Toros. Her community is densely populated with migrant farm workers which only made matters worse. Once again, national news coverage.
Now, we have another event that highlights the need for a cultural shift in our area. A local student composed a rap with lyrics that vilify every race and ethnic group and the LGBT community. He went so far as to call for mass genocide.
And these are only the episodes that were reported. These individual moments speak to a much larger problem. If we, as a community, do not realize the need to address the underlying attitudes that empower oppression, then we will never heal.
Since the first incident, I have asked for the school system to take the lead in this conversation to no avail. This time, a group of parents are taking the lead to work for change. The first Saturday after the rap was published, I, and several other parents, met at my house to discuss how we could be a part of the solution. We had heard that the boy who wrote the rap wanted to apologize, and our kids were not overly interested in his words. I encouraged them to take a step back and realize that if they refused and shut him down, there was no path to healing. While I knew that their feelings of pain and frustration are well-founded, I also knew that there had to be a way forward.
The boy called the kids to apologize, and while everyone recognized that it takes time to change a perspective, they all tried to give him a greater understanding of how his words impacted each of them.
Sunday, my husband and I met with the parents of the boy who wrote the rap. I know them and their children. It was a painful, difficult conversation. It was one that required both sides to show empathy and concern for each other’s children. It required respect for each of our perspectives. It was one I did not look forward to, and I am sure they didn’t either. Thing is, when I reached out to them to invite them over, my biggest fear was that they would not accept. But they did. The courage it took for them to face the parents of a child their child had hurt was admirable.
We discussed how we could work together to help all of our children learn a greater understanding of each other and the world they live in. How could something like this happen to parents who were doing their best for their child? Where did things go wrong? Questions we don’t have all of the answers to, but ones that are important to ask. We agreed that we would work together going forward to find a path to healing.
Monday, the group of parents who met on Saturday went to the school to offer some plans to improve the cultural of our school with the hope of expanding it around the county. We were able to speak with the principal and an assistant superintendent for two hours and come up with a practical list of action items to help move us forward. They agreed to the following:
I recognize none of these things will solve the problem of ingrained bigotry in our community. But we can have a start. And I am all in. Are you?
I am asking each and every one of you to start out path to healing by supporting a pledge of unity wherever you are. Please click here to sign a pledge of unity for your community and share on your social media using #takethepledge #unityfor(nameyourcounty)
Mine will say: #takethepledge #unityforBaldwinCounty