Cameron Johnson with a George Floyd inspired, Black Lives Matter face mask, remains stoic as she continues to be concerned about the state of civil rights. Photo by Kaylaa White.

Students, Community Members March Over Summer To Show Support For Minorities In George Floyd Era

Coming into the 2020-2021 school year the world, and the local community has had to come face to face with issues regarding civil rights, racism, and discrimination that remain a prominent obstruction for equality in our nation. 

As a result of the community coming together to raise awareness about these issues, on June 6th 2020, Prince George parent, Francis Ferebee, and community leaders were able to successfully organize a Black Lives Matter March in Prince George County. 

“There were students, teachers, parents, and community leaders of all backgrounds together for one purpose. The key is, although it was labeled a Black Lives Matter protest, in reality, it was a call for unity and change within our community. It was not at all associated with the BLM organization but about the actual idea that Black Lives must Matter in order for all lives to matter. We were very thankful to Luca’s Italian and Morelia’s Mexican Restaurants for all of the support and understanding during the March,” Ferebee said. 

Two Prince George teacher allies who attended the march were Christian Burks and Casey Dabney.

“I felt like I as a teacher did the right thing by being present for my current, past, and future students. It wasn’t my time to teach, it was my time to listen,” Burks said. 

Although Dabney is proud of the results of the march and the impact the community was able to make, she still thinks we have work to do. 

“I believe racism and racial discrimination are issues not only in our nation but also in our community. If we turn a blind eye and believe it’s not happening, it creeps in. If we don’t put purposeful attention to equal balance, we become unbalanced. We don’t have enough leaders in place to represent the diversity of our community,” Dabney said. 

Dabney’s concerns were recently echoed at a September school board meeting, where several people who attended the summer march, spoke about the importance of racial issues being addressed and raising awareness within our schools. 

Juniors Elisha Brazile, and Tavia Ferebee who participated in the march, voiced concerns about widely known, racially motivated, conflicts last year that were left unaddressed or simply went unnoticed by those in positions to make a difference.

“We rely on the students a lot. We want them to express how they are feeling,” Assistant Principal Donna Branch-Harris said. “We have asked them to share with ‘bullying’, but we [administration and teachers] need to find a way to work together. We have heard the word snitch a lot and that isn’t productive. We do take steps in which students are concerned, especially with using Owelus last year. Students started to open up and they started having meaningful conversations… the administrative team wanted the conversation to start with us but our biggest goal was to have the students work together.” 

 “After the Black History Performance and play [The Colored Museum] people were saying very hurtful things, saying things about our  [African American] culture, saying that it doesn’t deserved to be appreciated, or why don’t we have a “why don’t we have a White History Month,” you’re not supposed to say things like that, if you didn’t want to come to the performances, then don’t come,” Brazile said. 

Both students mentioned the notorious use of racial slurs within Prince George High School, by non-African American students. 

Tavia, who hadn’t experienced any personal conflicts regarding race within PGHS, was given a rude-awakening after being called one. 

“Racial issues haven’t really affected me until a [white] student called me a certain slur, and I realized that people have gotten really comfortable saying those things,” Tavia said. 

“Kids who are not black, will go around school saying the n-word, like it’s cool, just because they have black friends, or their uncle’s, sister’s friend is black, no. And I’ve heard them say it with the “er” at the end, that’s not right,” Brazile said. 

It goes without saying that although progress has been made, there are still strides that need to be made to make our learning environment more comfortable for students of color, especially at an institution like Prince George High School, where there is a constant circulation of new students due to the military. 

“The first step is being able to have real, difficult, transparent conversations that are productive and not emotional. Fostering an environment of safety, free from retaliation and threats,” Ferebee said.

“Also, we must be willing to hear and try to understand the viewpoint of others. It’s not easy to accept change or things we don’t know or understand but we must be willing to listen and try to sympathize. Teachers must be examples of an inclusive growth mindset. Be willing to learn and integrate ideas and traditions of others who are a part of our community. Prince George has the potential to be an amazing place full of diversity, tolerance, and acceptance but we have to start in the schools. The students often mimic the negative behaviors and ideas they have been exposed to by those who should be modeling better.” Ferebee said. 

The impending election has undoubtedly added tension within the PG community, but Ferebee is confident that with the impact of the march and efforts from our citizens, everyone can achieve common goals. 

“This election is just what it is. The outcome does not affect the mission or the goals we have set. No matter who is in office, the goal is the same, to bring unity, respect, and tolerance to our community and our country,” Ferebee said.