A spate of racist incidents hitting area schools in recent weeks has placed Kansas City in “a time of crisis,” black leaders, students and their parents said at an emergency town hall on Saturday.
The meeting, organized by the Kansas City Defender, the Kansas City Black Panthers Revolutionary Party and the Black Futures Coalition, was called in following a walkout of students at Raytown South High School and three other school districts launching inquiries into racist incidents.
“Young black college students shouldn’t have to endure terrorism, shouldn’t have to endure threats,” said Ryan X, editor of the Kansas City Defender, who called it a “moment of crisis.”
“We no longer have time for the future of black children to be on the line, to be lost.”
The defender reported as hundreds of students staged a walkout Friday at Raytown South High School to protest the series of racist events that have swept through local schools.
Last week, the students of Raytown South received a worksheet which included racial slurs just days after a teacher at Raytown High School used the N word in class.
On Thursday, the Olathe school board met for the first time after a photo has circulated of a white student at Olathe South High School asking a white student at St. James’s Academy to come home with a sign saying, “If I was black I would choose cotton but I am white, so I choose you for HOCO ”.
Last week, the Park Hill School District announced it was partnering with the Kansas City NAACP after the students circulated a petition demand the return of slavery.
Black students from Raytown South told KCUR that while these recent events were disappointing, they were not surprising given the racism they face on a daily basis.
Sixteen-year-old Breanna Bonner said she felt specifically targeted as a black woman by the school administration for things like her behavior or dress code.
“As I walk down the hall, I feel like I’m on trial,” Bonner said. “It is as if we are constantly being watched.”
Bonner said she and other students believed that after the school administration asked to help them with their walkout on Friday, they ended up co-opting the event and turning it into a “rally of encouragement “which took away the message they were sending.
The Raytown District has yet to respond to a request about the status of its investigation into the incidents. But spokeswoman Danielle Nixon wrote in an email on Saturday that staff participated in student-led walkouts at Raytown High School and Raytown South High School to show their support.
“Staff participation was not meant to silence the voice of our students; the intention was to provide a platform to amplify their voices. Working together is the only way to start seeing positive change, ”Nixon wrote.
She also said the district has a cultural competency committee that aims to address any inconsistencies in its school policies and make adjustments where necessary.
Officials from the Park Hill School District, Olathe Public Schools and St. James Academy said they were investigating the incidents at their schools, but could not release details of the disciplinary action in because of concerns about student privacy.
Bonner said she wanted to know more from local districts dealing with racist issues in their schools.
“I think we need to move beyond these measures of performance activism that some schools are taking and we need to move on to policy change,” Bonner said.
She said the changes included removing police from schools and changing disciplinary policies so that black students don’t continue to discipline oneself at disproportionate rates.
To address these issues, Bonner and his colleague from Raytown South, Christjin Bell, co-founded the school’s Black Student Union this week. They also want to send a message to students in other districts that they are not alone in the face of the racism they face.
Leaders at the town hall meeting also wanted to build solidarity between the border districts between the states of Missouri and Kansas. They encouraged families and parents to organize themselves and encouraged them to continue having conversations about racism in their schools.
Murray Woodard said he came to the meeting out of concern as a parent to two black girls who attend school in Blue Springs.
“When I think of the state of emergency for black students in education, I don’t think of the acts that have just happened here recently… because racism is happening in our schools every day,” said Woodard.
Woodard said more needs to be done to elect and support black members of school boards in the area.
Members of the KC Black Panther Party said they were working to provide questionnaires and progress reports to school residents to find ways to eliminate systematic racism.
The Kansas City Defender said it plans to hold more town halls and opportunities for local families and students.