HCHS students stage anti-racism walkout

Yesterday afternoon, a group of approximately 100 Habersham Central High School (HCHS) students staged an anti-racism walkout following the Habersham Ninth Grade Academy administration and Habersham County Board of Education’s (BOE) decision to remove a Black Lives Matter sticker from a teacher’s classroom.

The walkout, lasting about thirty minutes and organized by students Duren Chambers and Christopher Buckley, featured multiple speakers and around 25 students who were there in opposition of the anti-racism walkout.

“We were so grateful for all the people that came out. And we were also even more grateful that we didn’t have the pushback like we thought we would have,” Chambers said. “The response we got was amazing. Everyone said they were just so moved by what we all had to say and that they were so excited to move forward with this.”

HCHS student and football quarterback Joshua Pickett stands for a moment of silence and delivers a speech about the challenges Americans have faced in 2020, asking students to “be kind to everyone we encounter.” (Photo: Daniel Purcell)

HCHS speakers and other organizers included students Joshua Pickett, Jose Virgin-Ortiz, Kayli Bongolan, and Christopher Buckley.

Bongolan addressed the BOE’s decision to remove the Ninth Grade Academy teacher’s Black Lives Matter sticker, which superintendent Matthew Cooper stated the reason for as Habersham County Schools not allowing political merchandise in schools.

“My parking spot is #363, and every day, I see political stickers on bumpers, windows, Et Cetra,” Bongolan said. “How can this be displayed, but not our movement of anti-racism? The administration’s hypocrisy is perplexing and should make you all wonder if they themselves really show concern, or are allowing today’s [walkout] to satisfy the youth.”

BOE member John Elger, who recently announced his plans to step down from the Habersham BOE, suggested a ban of Confederate flags on school property if the Black Lives Matter slogan could not be displayed on school property.

“Well, I just thought fair was fair. I agree with the superintendent, it is a hard decision to make that BLM sticker come down. As he pointed out accurately, there’s a real debate whether that’s a political statement or social statement, and probably, it’s both,” Elger told Now Habersham. “I think he did the right thing, but fair is fair. And anyone who thinks that the Confederate flag is not both a political and a social statement is deluding themselves.”

An estimated 100 students participated in the walkout to show the administration and school board that taking steps towards anti-racism in Habersham schools is something they’re passionate about, and believe needs to be taken more seriously. (Photo: Daniel Purcell)

The controversy following the sticker, the response online, and the racism students of color have experienced both on and off HCHS campus lead Chambers and other HCHS students to stage the walkout.

“I’ve just seen throughout my years of school the way certain people get treated in the hallways, comments are made around the lunch tables. And it’s a lot of things that kids don’t even think matters, [they say] ‘Oh, it’s a joke,'” Chambers said. “But I personally have several friends who have come to me, just so distraught and really upset about [racist] things that other people say about them.”

Chambers, as well as other students who spoke at the walkout, emphasized the need for stricter policies to enforce anti-racism on campus.

“Obviously someone’s going to get in trouble for [engaging in racist behavior], but it’s kind of on the same level as any other kind of bad thing a kid would do,” Chambers said. “And I don’t think that you should put that on the same level as somebody getting a dress code violation.”

HCHS senior Duren Chambers helped organize the anti-racism walkout. She says there’s a whole community of students “who are ready to see change.” (Photo: Daniel Purcell)

The involved students have asked their community to become involved in their cause for change by taking steps to be actively anti-racist and kinder to others, as well as help them make those changes in their schools.

“We still support this [Ninth Grade Academy] teacher. We still support all of our black, our Hispanic, and our Asian neighbors,” Chambers said. “There is a whole community of students at Habersham Central High School that are ready to see change and are ready to start working to make it happen. And we would love nothing more than to see the community help us as well.”

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