Howard County Students Speak Out
Students at Mount Hebron High School in Howard County, Maryland walked out of school on Feb. 2 after a student video with a racist message was shared on social media.
Community members turned out to support the students, including Rev. Janelle Bruce, Esq., the Youth Pastor at St John Baptist Church. Bruce noted,
I fully support the students because I understand the magnitude of damage, sometimes irreparable, that unaddressed racism can cause—whether it be systemic or individual. Racism adversely effects the psyche of the students who are targeted and the entire learning process.
Most of the media could not hear the students’ speeches, therefore the students’ explanation of the walkout was missing or misrepresented in some of the local and national coverage. We share here the speech given during the walkout by one of the students, Lina Kebede.
Note that this was just one of the presentations. Many students shared experiences of racism in the schools, making it clear that the walkout was about much more than the video.
Hello, my name is Lina and I’m a Junior here at this school. I would like to speak to you all about the lingering problems at Mount Hebron. As you all know, recently a student at Mount Hebron was live on camera saying obscenities towards the African American race. This video was reposted by many people on several different social media sites and highlights a problem that has crept in the shadows of Mount Hebron for many years.
We have not come to chastise this individual for the mistakes that he has made but rather our desire is to bring attention to the racial issues going on, not only in Mount Hebron, but our community as a whole. We believe punishing this student with suspension, or similar consequences, will not solve the problems of racial discrimination at the school, but will instead do more harm than good. By punishing the student, you will teach other students who share his views to hide their prejudices for fear of receiving similar consequences. Suspending the boy will not stop other students from sharing his views and the efforts made to alleviate the racial issues in our community will fail.
Many in the community saw the video and wanted the obvious response to be efforts to end racism in our schools and communities. Sadly, it is impossible to end racism. Racism is a problem that has persisted in not just schools, but all of American culture since the founding of the nation. What we wish to accomplish instead is establishing an environment of tolerance and understanding among all students so they can work together regardless of racial barriers or beliefs in order to accomplish change. The reason we are talking today is to demand several actions to solve these problems.
First, we want teachers and staff throughout Howard County to take up a more adamant stance towards incidents of racism in the school. All too often racial microaggressions and bigger race issues alike have been ignored and the action that is generally taken is nothing short of appalling. For example, people have been making fun of my black features such as my natural big hair and lips. Another incident where I was personally attacked was when I was in class and a girl called me the N-word and mockingly told me that, “Black people are ugly when they come out the womb.” After I heard those words I immediately left the class and talked to administration. They offered me empty promises, claiming that they wouldn’t tolerate that behavior and telling me there would be a meeting to address the situation. Nothing was done at all, there was no meeting and the student was not punished for the derogatory terms thrown at me.
Sadly, my story is not unique. If you were to ask many of the other minority students in Mount Hebron, you will hear many stories similar to this. Action is not being taken to combat incidents of racism and discrimination, and instead the school system is allowing obscenities like the ones directed towards me to go unchecked and unheard. The recent incident with the individual posting his racist video is being treated the same way. After the video of this student was spread, the superintendent of Howard county contacted Howard County parents erroneously urging them to delete the video. While this was said under the guise that spreading the video would cause more hatred, and by removing it we would be sparing students from being subjected to his ignorance. In actuality, all this will do is erase the fact that the student ever spoke that way in the first place. As we all know, the only reason that this issue has gotten attention, the only reason why all of you are here even listening to this speech now, is because the video of this student has gotten enough attention on social media to expose the racist ideas held by some students. We will not delete these videos as a way to show that we as a school and community will not allow remarks like the one’s that have been made to be ignored, nor will we tolerate that kind of behavior.
Secondly we want the school to incorporate mandatory ethnic studies classes into the school curriculum. Ethnic studies classes are offered as an elective in Mount Hebron’s course selection, but there are too few students willing to sign up for these classes to actually make them last. These classes commonly end up being cancelled, showing how much Mount Hebron students as well as staff value learning about other cultures. Like most schools in the country, Mount Hebron’s curriculum is extremely eurocentric in how it teaches students about history and social science. Ethnic studies courses have been shown to help give students a better perspective as to how other cultures behave. It is strange that a school with half of the students being minorities takes no strong action to teach students about how people of different races, religions, and sexualities experience life. It is foolish to think that we could try to create a community full of understanding and tolerance for people of all backgrounds if we take no action to teach students about what those backgrounds consist of. History has shown that if we leave the students to decide for themselves whether they want to participate in these courses, that they will not do it. Mandatory ethnic studies classes are needed in Mount Hebron to promote the tolerance of others in our school.
The third and final change that we, as students, want are changes to the Student Government Association. The SGA recently had a meeting to address the issue of the students video, but they failed to include Quad A, Delta Scholars, and Alpha achievers; organizations built to uplift people of color. On SGA, only one member of it’s entire organization is African American. They chose to address an issue about someone attacking the black community without including African American organizations or other minority groups in their discussion. In order to truly create change in our community, we must unite as one, which means including those who are directly affected by situations. Commonly in society, we leave the planning of how to deal with one group’s problems up to people that cannot connect with the issue or our feelings.
We want to be allowed more participation from other groups and organizations on not just this issue facing us today, but the issues that will affect us in the future. This speech has been made to address the issues of racism that have plagued Mount Hebron for far too long. Some choose to defend the individual who was in the video, not because what he said was right, but because they want to preserve the good name of this affluent school. To me, this is a form of oppression because our own students and staff are choosing to ignore our biggest problems and silencing those who speak out against them, just to preserve our status. Exposing racism, admitting we have a problem, and actively taking steps to prevent those problems is not the sign of a “bad” school, but the sign of a school willing to learn from its mistakes and come to terms with its own faults. Hiding issues like this in the shadows and allowing racism, hate, and bigotry to persist in our school system would make us even worse than just a bad school. Those who care more about our communities image rather than solving the issues that plague it are the reason that problems like the ones we deal with now still persist. At the end of the day, our protest is not being done to become friends with those who defend what was said in this hateful video.
This protest is solely to demand respect for students of all races, religions, sexualties, and disabilities within the Mount Hebron community and all of Howard County. I would like to thank all who helped and supported us in making this possible and bringing attention to issues that need to be solved. All of you have been my inspiration to be courageous in the face of the many trying to stop me from coming out and standing against oppression. We want all of Mount Hebron to use this incident as a lesson of what we are now, and what we should be striving to be. We want these demands to be seen not as attacks, but as a conversation among our community that is long over do. Thank you for taking your time to come out and hear this.
© 2016 Lina Kebede
Learn more about the Mount Hebron protest by following #HoCoStudentWalkout.
Find resources for Teaching #BlackLivesMatter.
Listen to an interview with Lina Kebede and another student on the Kojo Nnamdi Show.