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Racist Insult At High School Leads To Community Discussion

Current Events Have A Way Of Bringing Out People’s ‘True Colors’

Pastor Phil Yates of Little Zion Baptist Church said current events had a way of bringing out people’s “true colors.”

Robert Moore

Herald Staff

Students, parents and educators met Thursday night at Mercer County Senior High School to discuss recent incidents at the school. It was a contentious meeting that lasted nearly three hours and no one seemed happy with the results. The one thing everyone could agree on: it was going to take more than one meeting to heal the deep divide within the student body, in the staff and in Mercer County as a whole.

“We’re going to be working on this for the rest of our lives,” said Head Football Coach David Buchanan.

That morning, African-American students received a racially insulting message on their cellphones via the Airdrop app.

Parents were concerned, not just about that incident, by what they perceive as a pattern of treating minority students differently than white students.

“Today is not the first incident,” said Tomika Haygood. One of Haygood’s children received the message. She said she had complained to school administrators about previous incidents but nothing seemed to have been done. Haygood said that, after one of her children had complained about a racial incident during a school organized activity, the administrators had taken her child off the team even though the child had done nothing wrong.

“I want everybody to stop acting like it doesn’t exist,” Haygood said.

“We don’t take any situation or any issue lightly,” said Assistant Principal Terry Yeast.

However, administrators were flummoxed in how to handle the incident on Thursday. AirDrop is a service available as part of the operating system on Apple devices. It allows users to exchange messages and information without using mail or a mass storage device. School officials contacted Apple only to find the insulting message was untraceable.

By the end of Thursday, officials could not do anything except advise students to change the settings on their iPhones from allowing them to receive AirDrop messages from everyone to only allowing messages from their contacts.

According to Esther Hayslett, director of pupil personnel and safe schools for the Mercer County School District, the message sent out Thursday violated school policy and state law. However, they have no one to punish.

School Superintendent Dennis Davis said school administration has tried to recruit more minority educators with little success.

Terry Yeast also said it bothered him that Haygood had posted about the incident via social media.

“You went straight to Facebook,” Yeast said. “We didn’t get a chance to deal with it before it went straight to the media.”

“If you were doing what you should be doing, you should not worry what’s been said on social media,” said Haygood, who noted that two of the Mercer school principals had not attended the meeting.

She said the only way she and other parents were going to get any action on the issue was by shining a spotlight on it. “It needs to make you uncomfortable to make something happen,” she said.

According to the federal government, African-Americans make up less than four-percent of the population in Mercer County. Black students often find themselves alone in an all white classroom where their every action is scrutinized in a way their classmates are not.

“If we try to express who we are, we are being too dramatic. We’re being too loud,” said one of the students, whose name is not being revealed to protect her identity. “I’m just trying to be who I am.”

At the same time, she said she felt uncomfortable taking her complaints to school officials. Sometimes because it’s an educator who is perpetuating the abuse.

“As a student, I just feel like you all don’t care about us,” she said.

Officials said they were trying to be more responsive to complaints. Superintendent Dennis Davis and Athletic Director Donald Wayne Smith said they had tried to recruit more minority teachers to Mercer, with no success.

Smith also took the opportunity to complain about African-American students about what he called “loose and easy language,” exchanging racial insults with one another then complaining when a white student uses the same language.

“The white kids call each other that now,” Smith said. “I want it eradicated.”

According to the FBI, hate crimes—ranging from murder to vandalism and including rape, robbery and assault—increased 17-percent in 2017, the third year in a row hate crimes have increased. The spike in hate crimes has happened even while violent crime in America continues to fall.

According to the FBI, over half of the victims—60-percent—were targeted because of their race, ethnicity or ancestry.

At the meeting Thursday, Pastor Phil Yates of the Little Zion Baptist Church in Burgin, said a current event—such as the controversy over Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam having worn blackface, or even the onset of Black History Month—acts as what he called a “trigger.”

“Some people will trip up,” Yates said. “Their true colors will come out.”

Trevor Short said students—all students, black and white—need to learn how to deal with other people who are not like them.

During recent conversations about economic growth, some community leaders have said that if Mercer County truly wants to grow, residents need to learn to be more open minded.

Mike Willand, executive director of the Harrodsburg-Mercer County Industrial Development Authority, said companies are looking for a “welcoming climate.” That means being open to new ideas and new people.

But for Short and the others gathered at the high school auditorium last week, it wasn’t time to consider the potential economic impact of racism on Mercer County.

“These kids are hurting right here and right now,” Short said.

Administrators say they would like to hold another meeting, with all principals in attendance, in March.

To learn more, check out this week’s issue of the Harrodsburg Herald.

1 Comment

  1. Debra Raines on February 14, 2019 at 12:20 pm

    The first thing needing be done is acknowledgement that their is a racial problem. Have workshops at the Mercer County Schools to help people learn how to get along with people of all colors, we are ONE human race. Hiring teachers of other colors will not help when someone is being racially attacked. Shame on the Principals who didn’t attend the meeting, they should be removed from their position, they’ve shown that they don’t care about the education of all the students at Mercer County Schools and that they do not support the continuing growth in having better relationships with each other in the community. Something good can come out of this if you choose to be part of the solution.

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